By Alex Magaisa
IT is often said that people get the leadership they deserve. This claim is unlikely to be warmly received in Zimbabwe where citizens in various quarters would undoubtedly argue that they do not deserve the current national leadership which, they would arg
ue, has plunged the country into a deep quagmire of misery.
Efforts to extricate the country, if any, have so far failed to yield any tangible result.
Nonetheless, on closer inspection of the attitude and reaction of citizens to recent political developments in the opposition movement reveals that such a claim could apply with equal force to the Zimbabwe situation.
Unless citizens exercise greater vigilance towards those that claim positions of political authority, the culture against which they are fighting is set to continue, and consequently they will have no person to blame except themselves.
Citizens who willingly surrender their authority without setting and protecting the rules and principles according to which that authority is exercised deserve what they get when the leadership misbehaves.
It is arguable that Zimbabwe deserves the leadership that it presently has because from the early years of Independence, the citizens who constituted the majority surrendered their authority to politicians and either actively or passively consented to the monopolisation of democratic space and the marginalisation of minorities.
When they sought to reclaim it, the politicians were too entrenched to give it back. Sadly, this time within the realm of the MDC, we seem to be witnessing an encore of that song of the 1980s.
In a case of having learnt nothing and forgotten nothing, the salient lessons of the early 1980s that formed the basis of the current national plunge at the national level have not been heeded. A number of issues arise in this context.
There is a potentially dangerous attitude that has emanated within the opposition movement which is reflected both in sections of the leadership and the citizens themselves.
The MDC split in the wake of the November 2005 senate election has produced two factions — one led by Morgan Tsvangirai and another by Professor Arthur Mutambara.
Going by recent media reports the Tsvangirai faction appears to be attracting more people to its rallies. If these attendances are taken to be indications of voter support, then it would appear that it presently stands in the majority.
The primary point of concern arises in respect of the relationship between the majority and the minority. Considering the opposition bloc on its own, how better has it fared compared to Zanu PF in the way that the majority reacts to, and deals with minorities?
This, at the very least might provide a measure as to whether we have moved from the politics of old: the ideas, culture and practices that have stifled democratic space over the years.
Basically, in a democracy it is of crucial concern how the majority relates to the minority or simply, those holding different opinions. Democracy is often simplistically defined in terms that privilege the majority with rhetoric often laced with clichés such as “people’s power”, “majority rule”, etc.
It often portrays a picture in which the minorities are non-existent. They are obliterated and at best appear only on the penumbra. This is a flawed and dangerous conception of democracy.
Minorities manifest in various forms — ethnic, racial, political opinion, gender, etc. A single individual can belong to the minority on one issue even though he may be in the majority on another. As such, every individual must be concerned with the plight of the minority because everyone is potentially a minority. The way in which the leadership and the citizens constituting the majority over any issue react toward the minorities that is therefore significant.
The problem is that the leadership can be dismissive and contemptuous and in some cases can even unleash violence against the minority.
A responsible and mature leadership should perhaps be more tolerant of a difference in opinion. As many would recall, the 1980s were characterised by unnecessary violence against those in the minority — defined along indices of ethnic and political opinion.
Those supportive of the likes of Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Joshua Nkomo and a host of other parties suffered at the hands of Zanu PF, which commanded a huge majority.
Lest we forget, in the 1980s Zanu PF and President Mugabe attracted huge turnout figures at their rallies. But what did the citizens in the majority do in the face of these violations against minorities?
The conduct and attitude of citizens in the majority matters because it is the conduit through which they implicitly or expressly give authority to the leadership that drives and gives comfort to that leadership to behave in a particular manner.
If the leadership abuses its popular mandate it is often because it has the consent of the citizens in the majority.
There are at least two ways by which this consent is given. First, the citizens in the majority can actively consent by encouraging their leadership to, and sometimes participate in bashing the minority. Second, they can give passive consent by doing nothing in the face of abuse of the minority.
In each case, the majority shows intolerance toward the minority, which is unhealthy for the development of a mature democratic culture.
These points are important in the context of the developments in the opposition MDC. It is good that people have their chance to exercise their choice and follow their desires in relation to the two factions.
The part that raises concern is that which raises echoes from the past, indicating intolerance towards members of the other faction who hold a different opinion and presently appear to be in the minority. What is worse though, is the tendency to bash any person who dares to make any critical assertions against the leadership of the majority faction.
We have forgotten that the problem of leadership arrogance in Zanu PF is essentially a creation of citizens who behaved in similar fashion in the early years of Independence — citizens who chose to become angry on behalf of the leadership whenever anyone chose to make critical comments.
When all criticism is interpreted as unnecessary opposition, there is cause to worry regarding the seriousness of the movement to avail democratic space. Democractic space is not only for those who say “Yes”, but also for those who challenge the dominant order.
There is also a worrying tendency to propagate exclusionary politics mainly because of a deliberate choice to ignore the gravity of history of political resistance in Zimbabwe. This is no more evident than in the choice by some leaders of the MDC and analysts who claim legitimacy and positions of superiority on the ground that they are founders of a struggle that began in 1999, when that party was formed.
The idea of demarcating the commencement of the struggle at that point is arguably to perpetuate the primacy of the leadership that was installed at that time.
Framing the parameters of struggle in that way forms the basis of questioning, for example any person who was not part of that leadership. It is an argument that has been used to challenge the claims of citizens like Mutambara, leader of the other faction of the MDC.
But to frame the struggle in that manner is as narrow and short-sighted as it is dishonest. It also brings echoes of a Zanu PF approach to the liberation struggle evident for example in the manner in which it selects national heroes; that if you differed with the party at some point, then you are not a hero of the struggle, regardless of your contributions in the general struggle.
Fast forward and picture a scenario where the MDC gains power at some point and creates its own roll of honour — will those who have differed be eligible on that roll?
Will those, like Margaret Dongo who carried the torch of resistance before the MDC be eligible, or will it be argued that they were not part of the struggle that “commenced” in 1999?
The fact is that the MDC did not start anything new — it simply resuscitated and rejuvenated a spirit and process of resistance against abuse of power that had been present all along.
Long before the MDC and the current crop of leadership, there had been others who kept the process of resistance going and they too deserve a chance to be heard even outside the framework of the dominant faction of the MDC.
The fact that they may be in the minority does not disable them from claiming democratic space. Indeed the ability of the majority faction to accept and tolerate difference without descending into the politics of old would strengthen its credentials within and outside the country.
It is anticipated that there will be the usual voices that will argue that this article unfairly criticises the MDC faction enjoying popular support. But that is exactly where the problem lies — our capitulation to what appears to be popular opinion and failure to understand and appreciate the value of critical opinion.
Unless citizens are careful, by their passive or active consent they risk creating a similar regime and culture akin to that from which they are seeking to escape. If they do not take heed, they will deserve what they get and they will have very little cause for complaint.
The beauty of democracy lies in the fact that while you may be in the majority on one issue, there is always a chance that you may occupy the minority position on another point. As such, it is always vital to ensure that there are safeguards that protect minorities against the tyranny of the majority. Those safeguards are as much in constitutions as in the manner in which citizens and leaders react and behave towards each other.
Finally, there are lessons to be learnt from the sweet science — boxing. After 12 rounds of pulverising each other, the victor and vanquished often embrace. The victor will often show respect for the vanquished, describing him as “a brave man, a fighter, a true warrior”.
The vanquished will congratulate his tormentor, even though he might grumble about this and that. He will probably ask for a rematch.
Everyone else has something to say, but only those two men know what it was like in the ring and for that reason they respect each other. They salute bravery. They know too that at any moment it could have gone the other way. Maybe it is why so often the victor shows magnanimity in victory. Perhaps those in the political ring might learn one or two things from the old game — respect toward each other.
And perhaps too — that anything can happen and dominating the initial rounds is no guarantee of success after the 12th.
* Dr Alex Magaisa is a Zimbabwean lawyer and former lecturer at the University of Nottingham. He can be contacted through email@example.com. This article first appeared on Newzimbabwe.com.