Candid Comment: Democracy Must Be Built On Truth

ZANU PF and the two MDC formations have signed the MoU to mark the transition from “talks about talks” to substantive dialogue.

 

I note that the MoU, signed in Harare on Monday, is silent on the two controversial election dates — March 29 and June 27. I assume it is a matter temporarily shelved or “politically-settled”. I hope it was done in good faith in the interest of the people of Zimbabwe.

Yet that has not stopped the European Union from asserting its “right” once again to pile sanctions on Zimbabwe. This is not a small matter of 37 individuals. It goes to the heart of the inter-party talks to the extent that sanctions and foreign interference are major items for the negotiators. I can’t see this act in any other light except as an attempt to scuttle the talks. It reeks of a bitter aftermath of the failed UN Security Council sanctions resolution of two weeks ago.

Unfortunately the sanctions put the MDC in an invidious position in which the same sanctions which are supposed to further its cause are beyond its power to determine when and how they are used, much less, when they must be lifted. It’s even more invidious when you consider that the people of Zimbabwe, whose “sovereign will” these sanctions are suppose to enforce post-March 29, have no say on their effect and impact.

This week I noted a dangerous twist in this fight to bring about democracy in Zimbabwe. One respected writer went so far as to portray Russia and China as the enemies of Zimbabwe for exercising their veto power to block sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Greg Mills, who heads the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation, accusing China and Russia of acting “in their own narrow national interests”, observed, evidently without any hint of irony: “Given their own limitations when it comes to domestic political freedoms, the leaders in Beijing and Moscow may not appreciate that the battle to achieve democracy in Africa has been a hard-fought liberation struggle, not something graciously handed to electorates by charitable rulers. Foreigners who fail to bolster democratic freedoms may be accepted by some African elites, but ultimately, they could be made to pay a price by African electorates.”

Space doesn’t allow me to indulge in the self-serving debate about who is better between a black and a white oppressor because fire is fire regardless of who ignites it. What I however found startling in Mills’ comments is the attempt to tell the world that the current fight in Zimbabwe over so-called human rights is more important than the colonial liberation struggle. We did not have independence “graciously handed” to us by a benevolent colonial power. It was “a hard-fought liberation struggle” supported in concrete material resources by China and Russia.

The reason why the current struggle is little understood out there is because it has been reduced to the rhetoric of human rights completely disentangled from fundamental property rights, in this case, land ownership rights occasioned by colonial occupation dating from 1890. China and Russia are clear on this, having played a decisive role in our struggle against colonial occupation. That should explain why the MDC has also accepted that the land reforms begun in 2000 are irreversible.

The West would help further our search for a peaceful political settlement if it were prepared to countenance the fundamental causes of the Zimbabwean crisis — land ownership. Even white commercial farmers in 2000 understood the nature of the war although this was in simplistic property rights terminology which did not fully explain how some 4 500 whites ended up with more than 60% of the most productive land if they did not unfairly benefit from an iniquitous colonial racial political set up. That is why the fight to try and preserve the status quo needed a political vehicle in the form of a political party, and not straight resolution through the courts.

Another favourite myth, conveniently tied to human rights to show how the land reforms were a criminal act, is the fact of Zimbabwe’s fabulous prosperity before the land reforms. I don’t know how much ordinary Zimbabweans enjoyed from the flourishing tourism industry. What I know is that the mid-90s were a period of agony for a majority of black workers who were being retrenched in the name of Esap while businesses complained that local labour laws were too stringent and that they were not making enough profit due to price controls.

An extension of that myth is that food shortages began with the takeover of white commercial farms from 2000. The ugly truth is conveniently forgotten that Zimbabwe’s first major food riots since independence occurred in January 1998. That was well before the disastrous adventure in the DRC later in October. By that time production figures showed that at least 75% of the staple maize came from semi-arid communal lands, leading to a premature conclusion that peasants could automatically do better on commercial farms subdivided into plots.

White commercial farmers at this time had gradually shifted their focus from maize to more lucrative export crops such as cotton and tobacco, and horticulture where prices were not controlled. It’s true, foreign currency receipts were fat, but food self-sufficiency was getting precarious. Yet whites still had all the land, the title deeds and access to bank loans.

My point is very simple. We cannot build an ending democracy on a foundation of lies. To my friends and foes in Zanu PF and the MDC I have said I shall not apologise for being different in how I perceive the truth. I can only apologise for being factually wrong.

For all the goodwill, the MDC continues to disappoint me. Like in the current “negotiations”, I see the leadership has unilaterally opted for a GNU. Read section 9 of the MoU on decisions of the parties. “Such decisions or measures include, but are not limited to, the convening of parliament or the formation of a new government,” it says. The temptation was too seductive to resist! Whose “sovereign will” is it anyway?

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