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Killing democracy softly, cynically

By Bill Saidi

AMONG members sworn into the new senate last week were two housewives with distinctive credentials. Their husbands are members of the lower house, the National Assembly. On

e husband is a long-serving cabinet minister, the other a fairly new deputy minister.

Now these ladies could very well possess brilliant credentials as liberation war heroes. Yet, if they had not been the spouses of two prominent Zanu PF politicians, chances are that they might have had to struggle hard to make it into the senate, described by cynics as a political scrapyard turned into a juicy part of the gravy train.

The lower house itself has three members of the same family as MPs: Sabina Mugabe and her two sons, Leo Mugabe and Patrick Zhuwao.

Sabina herself is the sister of President Robert Mugabe and her political credentials may indeed be impeccable, but her sons’ are less so, to be quite honest.

Leo’s reputation was made as the leader of the Zimbabwe Football Association. His departure from that post was steeped in controversy.

Patrick was suddenly thrust forward as a Zanu PF candidate for Manyame.

Then, just like that, he was a deputy minister.

Many serious analysts, stretching their neutrality to absurd heights, could argue that there is no big deal here: all these people came by their positions legitimately, unless there is solid evidence of duplicity.

But that is being naive. This is politics, the bedrock of which is cynicism and impunity.

Marie Antoinette immortalised the quip “Let them eat cake” when asked what the people of Paris could eat as there was no more bread for them.

At the time, the ruling elite of France were stuffing themselves sick with food while the poor perished of hunger.

Marie Antoinette may or may not have said what she is said to have said, but she is stuck with the quote for all time.

But the trait most admired by many in a politician is the capacity for cynicism in the face of adversity. The relatives mentioned above would react, typically, with a nonchalant: “So what? Sue us.”

This cynicism or impunity was evident in the decision to go ahead with the senate election, right from the start.

A Newsnet survey had demonstrated candidly that most people in the country had no idea why they were being bothered with this particular trek to the polling stations.

The impunity with which the government went ahead with the election is, as they say, “par for the course” as far as Zanu PF is concerned.

You have to go back to the first election to obtain an insight into the impunity with which Zanu PF has run this country, killing democracy softly, in a manner of speaking.

In the first election before Independence, it was Mugabe’s party which decided they would not fight the polls jointly with their Patriotic Front partners, Joshua Nkomo’s PF Zapu.

This turned the election into an ethnic contest, with Mugabe’s party winning in most of the country and Nkomo’s victorious in Matabeleland.

This was the harbinger of the Gukurahundi bloodbath. We know that there will be arguments about this for a long time, but posterity will not be cheated or bamboozled.

In 1985, Nkomo, having returned from exile, led his party in their last election as an entity and won everything on offer in their turf.

In 1990, the united Zanu PF faced another offshoot, Edgar Tekere’s Zimbabwe Unity Movement, which they creamed.

Tekere lost to Mugabe, but Patrick Kombayi lost much more: he was crippled for life. His opponent in the election was Simon Muzenda, who died in 2003 and was immortalised by Zanu PF as “The Soul of the Nation”.

One of the people arrested, charged and convicted as a result of the attempted murder of Kombayi was an employee of the Central Intelligence Organisation. The cynicism with which Mugabe pardoned the two would-be assassins was a lesson in political expediency.

In 1995, Zanu PF brushed aside the feeble challenge of the Forum Party of Zimbabwe, led by the former Chief Justice, Enoch Dumbutshena. There were no reported assassination attempts in that election campaign.

But the 2000 election campaign marked a new level in the impunity with which Zanu PF intended kill democracy in the country. Forty people were reportedly killed before the polls, including Talent Mabika and Tichaona Chiminya.

Once again, the CIO was involved – one of the people allegedly involved in the torching of the two MDC activists’ vehicle belonged to the CIO. His name was mentioned publicly, but to this day – unless a secret trial has been held – neither he nor his alleged accomplice have been brought to book.

And so with the 2005 senatorial election, with Zanu PF still trying to kill democracy softly and with impunity, again, the CIO was mentioned. They are reported to have had shady dealings with the pro-senate faction in the MDC.

After the election, which recorded one of the lowest percentage polls ever and in which the MDC rebels won a measly seven out of then 26 seats they had contested, there was no defeat conceded by any group in the MDC.

But Morgan Tsvangirai had been vindicated. His boycott call had been largely heeded. A majority of the voters had stayed away from the polls.

They had indicated to Zanu PF that they were determined to stop the rot, to stop the murder of their democracy, which Zanu PF has been trying to do since Independence.

Perhaps it wasn’t even a victory for Tsvangirai as an individual, but awareness by the people that it was time to show Zanu PF that they would not be taken for granted any more.

If the rebel group in the MDC insists that someone ought to be punished for the success of the election boycott, then serious questions may be asked. It is difficult to believe that people like Gibson Sibanda, Welshman Ncube, Gift Chimanikire and Paul Themba Nyathi would risk the demise of the MDC, for which they fought the Zanu PF bullies alongside Tsvangirai, over the senate election.

It would suggest there was more to their fight than the election. In that case nobody would mourn the death of the party. It would thoroughly deserve to be killed softly, and with massive impunity by Zanu PF.

* Bill Saidi is editor of the banned Daily News on Sunday.

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