THE opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) failed to sufficiently mobilise supporters for the recent mass action, a coalition of local civic groups has said.
>In a report titled Reflections on the Final Push: Defiance versus Repression, Crisis in Zimbabwe says the MDC’s preparedness for an effective campaign of resistance was inadequate to match the situation.
“While the MDC’s call for a stayaway from June 2/6 was well-heeded, extensive state repression clearly had an effect on the willingness and capacity of many individuals to participate in other aspects of the week of action,” the report says.
“Indeed, the aggressive role of the military and police may largely account for the non-occurrence of anticipated mass demonstrations across the country.”
However, the report states that “these factors notwithstanding, the question of the preparedness of the pro-democracy movement to engage in mass demonstrations needs to be interrogated”.
“There is a further need to reflect on four critical factors (from civil society’s perspective) that might also serve to explain the shortcomings of “the final push”, it says.
“The end game of the ‘final push’ was blurred in the messaging. While repeated advertisements in the private press, flyers and posters informed Zimbabweans that some action was imminent, communication of the specific objectives of this action was less consistent.”
The report states adverts inserted by the MDC before the action featured a cartoon of an individual resembling President Robert Mugabe being chased by a crowd led by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, which was accompanied by messages about the “countdown to the final push”.
“This could have led many readers to believe that the ‘final push’ was about chasing Mugabe out of State House, or forcing him out of office,” the report observes.
It says as the mass action drew closer, the MDC changed the tone of its messages and started urging Zimbabweans to “stay calm and peaceful as we engage in the on-going campaign to encourage Zanu PF to come to a serious negotiating table and resolve the national crisis”.
It exhorted the public to “protest peacefully – march for your freedom” and announced that there would be marches in all major city centres.
But the report says the road map and finer details for the mass action were not clear. It says the MDC was “vague about the specific form, content and timing of the action”.
“It was unclear, however, how such marches would proceed, in what way these demonstrations would yield dialogue, and what demands the MDC was making on such dialogue,” it says.
“Adverts and messages before the ‘D-Day’ demonstrations scheduled for June 6 were more clear about the venue, but did not specify the time people were to gather.”
The report says this “contributed to some frustration among activists who wanted to participate in demonstrations but who were not sure what was expected of them”.
“While everyone was looking for something beyond the stayaway, many were not sure exactly what that would be,” it states.
The report points out that Tsvangirai fuelled confusion days before the protests when he said the MDC wanted a three-month transition arrangement before fresh elections.
“A few days before the commencement of the ‘final push’,” the MDC released a statement which indicated that transition should occur in terms of the current defective Constitution of Zimbabwe,” it says.
“In other words, it recommended that Mugabe should step down from office and allow new elections to be held within 90 days of his resignation. This sent mixed messages to civil society, as it smacked of “power first, principle later.”
The fact that this was announced only days before the action, the reports notes, made it difficult for civil society to “remind the MDC of its previous commitments to a transitional phase”.
“Ultimately, because both the MDC and civil society continued to announce their different positions through the press, an honest discussion about the differences of their perspective on the way forward was compromised.”
Tsvangirai has defended his position claiming the transitional period should be short because people are starving. This has given the impression that he wants to exploit the situation to fast-track himself into power without ushering in fundamental democratic reforms.
However, the report concludes that despite these glaring limitations, “the final push was not a failure nor did it represent a step backwards”.