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Editor’s Memo

The weakest link
Dumisani Muleya

THERE has of late been an escalation of international diplomatic activity around Zimbabwe as the country’s social and economic conditions worsen.

Stakeholders at home and abroad seem to have been seiz

ed by a new sense of urgency over the issue, especially when economic conditions continue to deteriorate without any sign of change on the horizon.

The stratospheric inflation of 1 042,9%, the exchange rate crash, chaos in the banking sector and interest rates volatility, as well as persistent shortages of foreign currency, electricity, food, basic commodities and erratic fuel supplies, have heightened fears of an economic meltdown which might fuel social and political instability.  

South Africa’s deputy Foreign minister Aziz Pahad referred to this danger at a press briefing in Pretoria recently.

Several diplomatic initiatives — involving players such as the AU, US, EU, Sadc and the UN as well as churches — are currently playing out on the international diplomatic chessboard. Meetings have been, and are still being held in Harare, Pretoria, London and Washington, among other places, in search of a breakthrough.

The UN is pushing to take centre stage and internationalise the issue to expedite a settlement. These moves are building on the foundation laid over the past six years to deal with the issue.

While these initiatives seem to be bringing pressure to bear on Harare, the weakest link has been the imbalance of political forces at home. Diplomacy alone cannot resolve the crisis unless political forces are fairly balanced to create conditions for constructive negotiations.

The economic conditions and international measures against Harare may have created an environment for effective dialogue, but the weakness of opposition and civil society forces vis-à-vis the state is a major drawback.

Diplomacy on such complex issues as the Zimbabwean question usually works where there are strong support systems. In international politics, capabilities and resources of major countries do not achieve diplomatic objectives unless they can be mobilised to be relevant and credible to a particular situation.    

Opposition and civil society forces are presently fractured and disabled and this is a limitation on the broader scheme of things. This is why it is not possible for the MDC to force Zanu PF to the negotiating table. The MDC cannot use threats of mass action as leverage for talks because one cannot suspend a mass action that hasn’t started.

The reason why it was possible to force Zanu PF to negotiate the impasse in 2002 after the hotly-disputed presidential election was because of the shift in power relations at the time. After MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai nearly defeated President Robert Mugabe, it became clear Zanu PF could no longer pretend the MDC was not a factor, in particular against the background of its good showing in the 2000 general election.   

The MDC was able to force Zanu PF to talk in 2003 for the same reasons. In 2003, when the economy was rapidly declining, the MDC was able to mobilise a five-day stayaway and change the balance of forces.

In the process, it managed to reduce Mugabe to a prisoner in State House unable to direct political events but merely reacting to them despite the fact that he controlled the repressive apparatus, while Tsvangirai occupied the moral high ground.

But now things have changed. The MDC is disjointed and much weaker. Civil society movements lack cohesion. Zanu PF is weak but relatively organised and is propped up by the state machinery. To change this, the MDC urgently needs to step up pressure on the regime via democratic forms of resistance.

It must be able to withstand repression and take democratic measures that undermine the regime’s power. There is no doubt that when a dictatorship is threatened it resorts to repression. But if sustained measures are taken the regime will appear powerless in the face of overt defiance, and resistance will spread.

An extract from Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Non-democracies by Kurt Schock says the organisational template most useful for challenging the state through non-violent action in repressive contexts is network-oriented rather than hierarchical.

Compared to hierarchical organised actions, Schock says, network-organised measures are more flexible, and are thus more likely to weather repression.

The more diverse the tactics and methods implemented, the more they are able to neutralise state repression. Protest and persuasion help overcome apathy, acquiescence and fear.

Non-cooperation with authorities undermines the legitimacy, resources and power of the state to oppress its people.

Methods of protest are largely symbolic expressions, with communicative content intended to persuade the opponent, or mobilise massive dissent. Examples include demonstrations, marches, political funerals, rallies, symbolic public acts, and protest meetings. Without these, opposition and civil society forces in Zimbabwe will not shift the balance of forces and this will undermine ongoing diplomatic initiatives. This is the weakest link!

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