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Zimbabwe Freedom Project Betrayed

THE farcical run-off took place in Zimbabwe, predictably in the face of world opinion dismissing the sham elections and the irrelevant result.


President Robert Mugabe’s legitimacy is one of a dictator whose power is dependent upon a military junta’s good will.

If not for the securocrats and their silent coup after the first round of elections, Zimbabwe would now be governed by political office bearers who would have the legitimacy of a majority of the voters. Even with the state- organised terror machinery intimidating the people and forcing them to vote for an unwanted aging despot, his “victory” is nothing but a fallacy and mockery. Shame on Sadc who were willing to witness such a defiance of the people’s will.

Intimidation, repression, physical harm, torture, rape and murder were all part of a so-called election campaign. At the end, the contestant — who unlike six years ago in 2002 — could no longer be denied the claim to legitimate political power, Morgan Tsvangirai, withdrew for admirably sound ethical and moral reasons.

After all, the regime had disclosed its intentions through the systematic use of brute force in a ruthless way. To have contested the second round would have been to add further misery, mutilation and death to the long register of human rights violations bordering on crimes against humanity. That would have been an irresponsible symbolic political act.

Anyone who under the given circumstances would blame Tsvangirai for his withdrawal would not only be carelessly naïve, but either Machiavellian or hypocritical to the extreme. When the rule of law is not more than the law of the rulers, reference to formal procedures can only be in support of a totalitarian system. It dictates the rules of the game, and the rulers follow only one goal: to stay in power, whatever it costs.

Since the turn of the century, headlines produced from the former “jewel in the crown of Africa” (so Nyerere said to Mugabe at Zimbabwe’s Independence when he asked him to handle it with care) have contributed to the Eurocentric perception that Africa is all about hunger, civil war, HIV/Aids and despots, who treat human rights with contempt.

That Mugabe’s pseudo-anti-imperialist populism made him for many a “true patriot” (mostly outside of his direct sphere of influence, since it is one thing to endorse his rhetoric and another to bear the consequences in your daily living from it) was part of an unfolding tragedy with ironical undertones.

His finger-wagging posture to Blair, Brown and Bush — who only applied the usual double standards when criticising Zimbabwe while keeping a blind eye on other blatant violations of human rights (including their own “war against terror”) — misleadingly inferred defiance of Western imperialism. But that was a mere smokescreen to cover up the fact that he was just one of them, if not of their worse kind. After all, he oppressed his own people who were themselves responsible for a successful chimurenga ending with sovereignty in 1980.

Mugabe was then the figurehead of an anti-colonial liberation project based on popular support and the sacrifices of the people. They had reasons to expect a better life after Independence and were bitterly disappointed by a new post-colonial elite which eventually appropriated their liberation project.

Mugabe and his cronies betrayed the people’s struggle. It is one thing if the British were to be blamed for not honouring their commitments under the Lancaster House agreement. One could argue that there were no reasons to expect anything different.

But it is another matter when the new rulers betray their own people. This is what finally resulted after 20 years of opposition that had its roots in the workers and urban marginalised. It was they who experienced the brunt of the misery — a misery created not by the external forces and their imperialist agents, but by the new clique of rulers, whose self-enrichment schemes and obsession for power, privilege and luxury led them to treat ordinary people with the utmost contempt.

The next chimurenga was not, as misleadingly claimed, one by the Zanu PF regime under siege, but one by the people against the abuse of power by that government. In contrast to the chimurenga preceding Independence, it was fought by mainly non-violent means against a heavily armed regime willing to use its weapons against those who brought them into power.

The former liberation movement, elected at Independence as government, soon abused its position using state terror against the people. The mass violence in Matabeleland showed that it does not take a lot to turn victims into perpetrators and to act in the same fashion as the colonial oppressors did. So much for liberation and the limits of liberation. But this is not particular to Africa. It is about the abuse of power and the reign of terror of cliques — a phenomenon of totalitarian mindsets and rulers all over the world. That these are also shaped in the struggle against foreign rule like in the case of Southern African liberation movements is a sobering lesson from history.

But it is also a lesson about the obligation of those who supported the anti-colonial liberation struggles, wherever they come from and live. Their support for the anti-colonial liberation struggle was an act of international solidarity. Activists from Western countries, from Africa and from elsewhere mobilised in support of anti-imperialism. Support also came from the majority of countries within the United Nations, from the Liberation Committee of the OAU and the Frontline States.

Those who now pretend that Zimbabwe is “just another African case” are wrong. Such pseudo-arguments are premised on the fact that these rulers (not leaders) seemingly want to remain in office for the rest of their lives unless driven out by sheer force of the people. This argument usually makes reference to countries like Gabon, Libya, Gambia, the People’s Republic of Congo, Togo and so on. But it overlooks the one fundamental difference: it was international solidarity and in particular African solidarity, as well as an internal popular support by a majority of people, which brought to power the liberation movements in Southern Africa.

It was a collective endeavour stretching far beyond the borders of the societies being liberated from settler colonialism. Independence in Zimbabwe in 1980 (just as in Namibia 1990 and in South Africa in 1994) was in part an international achievement.

This struggle was not only against unjust minority rule. It was also about the struggle for democracy, human rights, civil liberties and, most importantly, the necessary material redistribution of wealth to allow all these other values to become social and political reality for the broad majority. Once these goals were betrayed by a new post-colonial elite, solidarity by activists internationally needs to be re-positioned. We now have a responsibility to protect and support those who were cheated and denied the fruits of freedom. We have a responsibility to support those who now continue to seek emancipation from new forms of oppression and totalitarian rule.

If we turn a blind eye to this challenge, we become accomplices of those who abused the earlier solidarity for their own narrow and selfish gains. And we betray those values and norms that inspired us to mobilise in support of the anti-colonial struggles. We ultimately betray not only those who suffer the humiliation imposed upon them by the post-colonial dictators, but also ourselves.

That in the meantime many have realised this can be seen in the recent statements by Cosatu and other mass-based organisations in the region and elsewhere who have finally abandoned their fence-sitting passivity.

The solidarity among organised workers, for example, in Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and Angola who refused to unload arms destined for the Zimbabwean junta from the Chinese “ship of shame” was a powerful reinstatement of the notion of international solidarity with the oppressed in a neighboring country.

It is an embarrassment to witness that few, if any, governments have been prepared to take a similar stance, even though they claim to represent the very same people who acted in this spirit of people’s solidarity.

Zimbabwe shows once again that Frantz Fanon’s prophecy remains a sad truth almost half a century after his untimely death. In The Wretched Of The Earth he bemoaned “the pitfalls of national consciousness” through a party, which “controls the masses, not in order to make sure that they really participate in the business of governing the nation, but in order to remind them constantly that the government expects from them obedience and discipline”.

Fanon echoed the concerns articulated almost half a century earlier by Rosa Luxemburg. In her unfinished, posthumously published, manuscript on the Russian revolution, she conceded that “every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings, things which it doubtless shares with all other human institutions”.

But against Lenin and Trotsky she argued that “the elimination of democracy as such, is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure; for it stops up the very living source from which alone can come correction of all the innate shortcomings of social institutions. That source is the active, untrammelled, energetic political life of the broadest masses of the people.”

Luxemburg categorically stated: “Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party — however numerous they may be — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. — kubatana-net.

By Henning Melber is Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala, Sweden.

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