No light on the horizon yet

AFTER last weekend’s relatively peaceful constitutional referendum, hopes and prospects that the next do-or-die general elections would be non-violent, free and fair grew as Zimbabweans, including President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, embraced optimistic signals of the advent of a supposedly new political dispensation.

Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya

Mugabe said the “people have spoken” and those who have lost must accept the result if they believed in democracy.

He also said it was great the referendum was peaceful, further indicating it was a good omen the event coincided with new Pope Francis I’s inauguration.

Mugabe, a devout Catholic, attended the ceremony at the Vatican.
Tsvangirai weighed in saying the new constitution was a “baby” of the democratic movement while suggesting the winds of change were about to blow across the Zimbabwean political landscape.

He held forth, observing the approval of the new draft constitution was an endorsement of a “new dispensation and a new value system that sets in motion a new and democratic paradigm for the country”.

“We have ushered in a new Zimbabwe that must necessarily come with a new culture of constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law.

This means inculcating a new value system among Zimbabweans, especially politicians and the security sector to respect and adhere to the constitution and stick to the cardinal dictate that no one is above the law,” he said.

The premier further noted the process was a “culmination of our struggle for a new dispensation for which a new, democratic constitution is a key milestone”.

“We celebrate this landmark achievement after many years of tears, sweat and blood, which has punctuated our experience since we started the democratic struggle through the constitutional movement which we began in 1997,” he said.

While there is good reason for some to celebrate the new constitution, which its architects claim is a solid step forward on the democratic march towards change, it must be said there is no light yet on the horizon. So far the past is still with us.

The forces of darkness have not been defeated or relented. They are still very much lingering and could use the next elections as an opportunity to regroup and regain control. The ongoing sinister events –– renewed repression, political violence and arrests – are ominous.

In other words, while Zimbabwe remains on course in its transition trajectory from dictatorship to democracy, there are still many hurdles that lie ahead. Although the next elections present the opportunity to complete the transition, dangerous pitfalls remain. Fifth columnists are still lurking.

Put differently, there is no guarantee that a new constitution would lead the country to credible, free and fair elections, and a democratic future. In fact, at this stage even if Mugabe and his diehards are defeated, there would still be need for the groundwork for durable democracy.

The dawning of a new constitution might be seen by some people and groups as merely the opportunity for them to step in as the new masters behind a façade of democracy. Their motives may vary but results may be the same or they may even be more brutal than their predecessors.

However, the adoption of the new constitution is of course a cause for major celebration. We must not forget people suffered for so long and struggled at great price and must celebrate but unfortunately this may not be the time to be off-guard.

Given that hardly 24 hours after the referendum Tsvangirai’s own staffers (some yesterday) were arrested against a background of resurgent repression, it shows the situation remains largely volatile.

This tells us something: a new constitution, especially without the disintegration of dictatorship, simply provides the beginning point. Moreover, those fighting for change, if not monitored, may be doing so only to impose a new refurbished model of the old dictatorship they seek to replace.

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