NEWS headlines this week proclaimed how close Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai were to agreeing to a power-sharing deal.
Since the talks started more than a fortnight ago civil society and the media have been engrossed in power permutations in the so-called Government of National Unity or a transitional authority.
But beyond the deals, there are key benchmarks that the new dispensation must also bring on board. In fact citizens and civil society should start preparing a checklist of what the negotiating parties promised to achieve under the MoU signed on July 21. On Wednesday, Zanu PF and the MDC issued a joint statement denouncing violence, a welcome development which should however be continuously tested against developments on the ground. We carry in this edition evidence of the appalling treatment meted out to photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, arguably the countryâ€™s leading photographer.
There are other issues at stake, such as the plight of political prisoners,outstanding charges against newspapers and trade unionists, restrictions on humanitarian aid, and steps needed to lift sanctions.
The checklist is important because it fathoms the negotiatorsâ€™ commitment to fundamental issues. This should be part of the process of keeping politicians under check. It is easy for civil society and the media to negate this watchdog role and train attention on the diplomacy surrounding the talks.
The danger has always been for us to celebrate an event and not interrogate its significance. In 1980 the country celebrated the coming of Independence and political freedoms. But in the frenzy of celebrations there was no real attempt to ensure that certain benchmarks guaranteeing sacrosanct rights were established to ensure that the new government did not stray from the ideals of the struggle. And indeed our rulers have gone off the rails on numerous occasions under our collective watch as a nation.
This malfunction has manifested itself in the enactment of repressive laws, lack of political tolerance, bureaucratic truancy in the civil service and local government, and corruption in the private sector and the arms of the state.
Also over the past 28 years of Independence, political leadership has presided over policies that have seen the country sliding down the economic slope to the morass we find ourselves in today. We have entered phases of depravity wrought by lack of political tolerance. Dark spots on the fabric of our history, including Gukurahundi, post-electoral violence in 1985, political violence in 2002, Operation Murambatsvina, price controls, the continued crackdown on civic society and oppositional forces and the madness that followed the first round of polling in March all have their roots in the quest by the government to create a conformist society under a monolithic political leadership.
The resolution of the political impasse through the current dialogue should be an opportunity for the country to reflect on the nature of society the new political order should create. The biggest deliverable from the dialogue should not therefore be a new power balance but the removal of institutions that have over the years been used to promote hate and violence and those which have served as outlets of patronage.
Civic society groups meeting in February drew up a peopleâ€™s charter that is still relevant today as it was before the election. The groups which have been demanding inclusion in the talks can get a foot in the door by creating a nexus between their demands and the dialogue.
The civic groups said there was a lack of fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression and information, association and assembly. They said the climate was characterised by the militarisation of arms of the state and government.
Zimbabweans should have a political environment in which all people are guaranteed without discrimination the rights to freedom of expression and information, association and assembly, and all other fundamental rights and freedoms as provided under international law, they said.
The groups said all people in Zimbabwe should live in a society characterised by tolerance of divergent views, cultures or religions, honesty, integrity and common concern for the welfare of all. They demanded guarantees for safety and security, and a lawful environment free from human rights violations and impunity. The groups said all national institutions including the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, state security agencies, and electoral, media and human rights commissions, should be independent and impartial.
This is the time for the nation to collectively declare that never again shall we let lives be lost, maimed, tortured or traumatised by the dehumanising experiences of political intolerance and violence. Nationalistic and sovereignty dogma should never again be used as excuses for tyranny.