Since 1980, we have seen a plethora of opposition political parties, civil society groups and human rights organisations as well as dissenting voices being criminalised, delegitimised and brutalised.
Report by Thabani Nyoni
This culture of violence, intolerance and impunity has thrived on manufactured public anger and aloofness. Stage managed investigations, fabricated criminal charges and incessant hate language; terms like “dissidents”, “sell-outs”, “puppets of the West”, “racists” and of late “Western-sponsored agents of regime change”, “threats to national security and sovereignty” have given moral legitimacy to justify political persecution. In fact, the hate speech has worked wonders for the dictatorship creating a siege mentality to justify and perpetuate a political war against citizens and groups who hold different views and opinions.
This way the dictatorship has avoided public scrutiny (or consent) and destroyed the nascent signs of a vibrant pluralist society with a healthy political competition and co-operation. The first target was PF Zapu and its supporters in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces where a state-sponsored crackdown claimed over 20 000 lives, not counting the lost limbs, raped women, destroyed infrastructure and a whole development decade lost.
The 1987 Unity Accord between Zanu PF and PF Zapu was an elite pact that gave an impression that there had been a war and a peace settlement had been reached and “dissidents” (and their communities in Matabeleland and Midlands) had been given amnesty! They must now move on; the chapter is closed, end of story. With benefit of hindsight and having seen what happened to the Zimbabwe Unity Movement and Patrick Kombayi, to the MDC, and now to the civic groups and human rights defenders (including lawyers and judges), we now know that we are governed by a dictatorship that understands one party, one leader, one ideology, one narrative prominence and dominance in politics.
After 33 years of Independence plus a third wave of democracy in Africa, Zanu PF has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. In fact, a 10-year-old anti-democratic narrative has been sustained with carefully crafted rhetoric of what is termed “illegal regime change agenda”. And yet we know that the criminalisation of a democratic outcome called regime change is meant for Zanu PF regime retention, even against the will and consent of its citizens.
In fact, it does seem, judging by Zanu PF’s language to the citizens, that electoral legitimacy is not important, what is important are the liberation war credentials. After all, the “war” is still being prosecuted and we are now somewhere around its third phase — The Third Chimurenga.
There is obviously an element of denial as well. Deny that opposition political parties exist, deny that there are human rights violations, deny that citizens need to freely make their choices in elections, deny that regime change is legitimate and even deny the fact that Zimbabwe is bigger than Zanu PF and that the struggles millions are fighting today are different and require new non-violent methods.
Five years ago, with guarded optimism, Zimbabweans voted for regime change and the result was a new historic reality — the inclusive government of the triumvirate.
As we approach the twilight of the coalition government, we realise that Zanu PF has not changed, what has been changing is the language and behaviour of its former victims and partners — the two MDCs. Four years of constitution haggling shows that the legitimacy and independence of civic groups is not part of their agenda.
In fact, we have seen desperation for politics of consensus giving the triumvirate political parties the centre-stage to join together in destroying vibrant political positions by categorising and paddocking civic groups into three political party affiliate groups.
It started with the manner in which civic groups were invited to the outreach, the first and second all-stakeholders’ conferences. The civic groups that chose not to take part but to take charge were treated as retrogressive elements and with very limited levels of tolerance and respect. If this is not convincing, consider how Copac cajoled and coerced civic groups onto the “Yes” campaign as a condition to access and distribute the draft constitution. There was no room for a “No” vote. Was this not a classic case of a manufactured consent?
Ironically, the two MDC parties had earlier on joined civic groups in complaining about how Zanu PF had “manufactured, coached and bussed” people in order to control constitutional debates and its content.
As we approach watershed elections, there is a disturbing anti-democratic crystallisation of collective passions between and within political parties. You read stories about how the various political party hierarchies are plotting to “block” new candidates, how factional candidates are being imposed and how rules of political competition change while the game has already begun and the balance of scales has tilted one way.
Consider how certain political party leaders now fervently defend certain institutions that have been symbols and bastions of electoral manipulation, intimidation and violence to whip citizens into consenting. These are indeed alarming levels of complicity and complacency (and a naïve and self-destructive arrogance) that have emboldened the dictatorship to a point of even wanting early elections with measured and restrained violence and intimidation.
My disappointment with the inclusive government and with the two MDC parties is a function of expectations. I travel a lot around the country and hear a lot of people like me talk. They look at how the two MDC groups have been complicit in systematically suppressing political pluralism. They see how the fixation with “take part” positions (as opposed to other alternatives) has weakened the “vibrant clash of political positions not as a means to an end, but as continuity towards democratic solutions”.
They observe the public silence you get when the inclusive government launches a crackdown against Zimbabwe Peace Project, Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, human rights lawyers, judges, South African President Jacob Zuma-led mediation team and the international community. They begin to wonder if the violent resistance to an open, vibrant and democratic public and political space is still a monopoly of one party.
As a parting shot, I think we need to understand the meaning of concerted attacks and crackdown on civic groups, human rights lawyers, impartial judges and opposition politics. These institutions are part of a broad range of institutions that demand the government and politicians must be restrained and be accountable in terms of how far and how much they exercise state power. To achieve this, they have worked to expand, democratise and maintain a vibrant and legitimate public sphere. This is a legitimate democratic regime agenda in service of the long-suffering ordinary citizens.
We share their pain to a point that no amount of or form of persecution, be it bloody, brutal, political or legal will make us apologise or give up this struggle. Those violently opposed to this are bent on undermining democratic processes.
Nyoni is the executive director of Bulawayo Agenda and spokesperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. He writes in his personal capacity.