Church leaders miss the point

By Pedzisai Ruhanya



ATTEMPTS by some sections of the church led by Zanu PF religious sympathisers to legitimise the norm-violating regime of President Robert Mugabe by c

rafting what they view as the solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe through their so-called National Vision document should be interrogated, demystified and rejected on the basis of its failure to locate causes of the country’s national decay.


While some leaders of the church have a right to rehabilitate the decadent Zanu PF regime that has authored the national crisis, they should not mislead the country into believing that their sectional interests reflect the national mood.


Firstly, the misguided church leaders and Zanu PF praise-singers miss the point by failing to understand that the country has numerous people with vision bar the Zanu PF leadership. It is therefore clear that the country has visionary leaders and what is needed is a constitutional and institutional framework to implement the abundant vision Zimbabweans are blessed with.


There is therefore an urgent need for a constitutional overhaul in the country in order to create a Zimbabwe that everyone can be proud of. A constitutional framework is necessary to implement that vision because a regime whose powers are not restrained is a danger not only to the country but even to itself.


This is so because governmental power which is essential to the realisation of national values including the so-called vision that the Zanu PF-associated church leaders are calling for should be controlled in order that it should not be destructive to the national values that any civilised and democratic government is established to promote.


There is no governmental restraint in Zimbabwe and most critical institutions in the country are appendages of the executive. This is what Zimbabweans should concern themselves with in constitutional reforms.


The principle of constitutionalism rests on the idea of restraining government in its exercise of power. The abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe is a result of an unrestrained government.


After Independence, the Zanu PF government killed thousands of innocent Zimbabweans in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces because Mugabe’s regime was answerable to itself and not even to the Zanu PF controlled parliament. More recently, especially after 2000, many Zimbabweans have died through state-sponsored violence while some of the culprits such as the Central Intelligence Organisation operative Joseph Mwale still remain free because of executive protection.


Zimbabwe needs a total overhaul of its governance structure through constitutional reform, not the so-called National Vision document that the church leaders linked to Zanu PF are talking about. Contrary to what the church leaders that visited Mugabe are saying, it is critical that there be regime change in Zimbabwe because without a fundamental change in the institutional and governance structure of the country, the national crisis will continue.


The church leaders need to appreciate that when people talk of regime change, they are not necessarily saying the government or President Mugabe should be overthrown. This is a parochial definition of regime change that is associated with bootlickers of the regime. A regime is a set of rules, norms and values by which a society or government is organised.


When Zimbabweans say they need regime change, they are talking about governance changes which include constitutional reforms. The regime that we need to change in Zimbabwe is a regime that celebrates and values murder, violence, rape, militarisation of state institutions such as the Grain Marketing Board, electoral manipulation and other vices.


If the leader of the country and his government celebrate or entrench such vices, then they will be part of the regime change. Surely any Zimbabwean who argues that the country should not change a violent regime that encompasses murder in its governance structures needs urgent medical attention.


If the church leaders want to convince Zimbabweans that regime change is wrong, then there is a need to question their religious intentions in this matter. They need to appreciate that regime change goes beyond the mere removal of a leader and the government, it goes to the heart of governance. This means a leader of the government such as Mugabe can effect regime change although it is impossible in Zimbabwe.


Mugabe can do so by working with others in the country to overhaul the institutional and governance regime in the country through the establishment of a democratic state via constitutional reforms and sea changes in the political culture of Zimbabweans where people desist from creating political enemies among each other and where political diversity is celebrated in the country and not denouncing others on phantom allegations of selling-out the country as a cover up for political failure.


These church leaders’ aim is to make the people of Zimbabwe accept that the Zanu PF government is the legitimate authority in Zimbabwe. It could be lawful or legal but definitely not legitimate.


It has been argued in political science discourse that power can be said to be legitimate to the extent that it conforms to established rule, the rules can be justified by reference to beliefs shared by both the dominant and subordinate, and there is evidence of consent by the subordinate to the particular power relation. Those who argue that the Zanu PF government is a legitimate regime must satisfy these criteria. In my view the current political situation since 2000 indicates that the Harare regime is not legitimate.


The first and most basic level of legitimacy is that of rules. It is argued that power can be said to be legitimate in the first instance if it is acquired and exercised in accordance with established rules. These rules may be unwritten, as informal conventions, or they may be formalised in legal codes or judgements. In the case of Zimbabwe, during election times, rules are broken with impunity, judges are harassed, lawyers are beaten up while journalists are banned and newspapers bombed. A government that is born out of such a process cannot be called a legitimate regime. These are the issues that the church leaders need to make Mugabe appreciate in order to gain legitimacy both at home and abroad.


It is therefore plausible to argue that on its own, legal validity is insufficient to secure legitimacy, since the rules through which power is acquired and exercised stand in need of justification. Power is therefore legitimate to the extent that the rules of power can be justified in terms of beliefs shared by both dominant and subordinate, the governors and the governors. In Zimbabwe, there is dispute over how Zanu PF acquired its power and therefore the regime cannot be said to be legitimtate


For power to be fully legitimate, then, three conditions are required: its conformity to established rules; the justifiability of rules by reference to shared beliefs; the express consent of the subordinate or of the most significant among them, to the particular relations of power.


In the case of Zimbabwe, the leader derives power through violence, fear and other vices hence my contention that the Zanu PF government is illegitimate because it fails to meet the criterion of a legitimate government. A government that disenfranchises its citizens living abroad, that harasses judges, bans newspapers and forces its citizens to vote for it cannot be called a legitimate government.


The church leaders need to deal with this illegitimacy by encouraging Mugabe to return the country to democratic legitimacy before they talk about their national vision document.


* Pedzisai Ruhanya is a human rights researcher.

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