Only last week (recently), Roman Catholic head Pope Francis walked underneath the “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets You Free) sign at Adolph Hitler’s trademark killing field, Auschwitz, and wrote in the guest book: “Lord, have pity on your people. Lord, forgive so much cruelty.”
While researching for this week’s treatise, I then encountered chilling facts on how human beings can be so obsessed with political power to the extent of losing all conscience.
Between themselves — Mao Zedong of China, Adolf Hitler of Germany, Joseph Stalin of Russia, King Leopold II of Belgium and Hideki Tojo Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan during the Second World War — by acts of commission and omission — annihilated close to 150 million people.
We know that Hitler blamed his inadequacies on Jews then used German military mighty to punish enemies in concentration and extermination camps, ghettos, and through mass executions. It was almost impossible to disagree with Hitler and live to tell the tale.
He did not just displace people in an attempt to “resettle” his so-called super Aryan race. He murdered them in cold blood through well-orchestrated and highly planned “death factories”. A mere accusation of a “transgression” against Hitler attracted instant execution even without facts and proof of guilt.
Therefore, in this my third season of weekend commentary, I submit that there comes a time when men in positions of authority, so petrified by and fearful of citizens; totally devoid of legitimacy, cling to power only through meting own versions of “Führer justice”.
Protagonists of “political medical sciences” will know that as the space of legitimacy contracts around deranged political leaders, they incrementally develop cases of paranoid personality disorder (PPD).
Experts in this subject observe that victims of PPD exhibit symptoms of mistrust of friends, become less forgiving and more grudge-bearing, feel victimised, rarely express gratitude and relentlessly blame everyone else except themselves. Hence historian and moralist Sir Ferdinand Dalberg-Acton’s famous phrase: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
In all but a short space of time, the landscape of civic and political activism in Zimbabwe has dramatically transformed. Us Zimbabweans, whose familiar trademark has for long been “passive resilience”, have assumed a more aggressive character of “passive resistance”.
The ruling party, Zanu PF, has predictably responded with shameless vindictiveness. President Robert Mugabe and his band of faithfuls are applying the only panacea they know best — confinement by leg irons! We knew they would do that all along, yet there is a new angle to their repertoire of repression — roasting own sons of the revolution!
The MDC and its kin — who traditionally have been so much used to being at the receiving end of Zanu PF’s fiery sword — are watching with bemused anxiety as the ghost of Wilfred Mhanda spreads the incense of dissent among his former comrades, particularly those that publicly disowned him. However, just like you, I am caught between two contradictory forces: celebration or sympathy.
The political democrat in me says after almost 16 years of systematic victimisation, abuse and insults from the group that Douglas Mahiya, Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) spokesperson, and Victor Matemadanda, ZNLWVA secretary-general, represent — I should restrain my sympathy and empathy.
After all, is the misery experienced by Patrick Nabanyama, Paul Chizuze, Jestina Mukoko and of late Evan Mawarire not still fresh in our minds? Was the same ZNLWVA not conspicuous by its resounding silence? And that is not all.
Since 1999, war veterans have been complicit in decimating property rights, relentless electoral intimidation, murdering, maiming and abduction of MDC activists — thus providing the chilling soundtrack to shameful oppression and repression by a ruthless system.
Millions of Zimbabweans have been forced into exile; millions internally displaced and millions more hungry, unemployed and hopeless — thanks to the system that Mahiya and Matemadanda have mortgaged their lives with. Mhanda spoke against them but they despised, scoffed at and disowned him.
The lawyer and human rights defender in me is screaming for the upholding of justice and rule of law. But my problem is that perhaps we, lawyers and civil society, ought to be asking ourselves whether or not the sudden transformation of ZNLWVA is democratic enough to warrant celebration, empathy and sympathy.
Mugabe and his erstwhile colleague Samora Machel, former Mozambican president, were admonished by the Frontline States leaders for their dungeon retribution in dealing with internal dissent. As once prisoners of conscience, Mhanda and his friends tried over many years to educate their ZNLWVA colleagues that even if Mugabe fell, the default position of the country would never be democracy.
I still see the political vortex of Zanu PF remaining a magnet of vicious dictatorship. Thus, what seems to be a new awakening in the Mahiya-Matemadanda scheme of things is in fact not a democratic transformation, but instinctive tendencies to replace one form of dictatorship with another. This brand of war veterans is genetically configured around autocratic dictatorship.
Nonetheless, as democrats, both the MDC family and civil society ought to be aggrieved that Mahiya and Matemadanda are being subjected to unfair and illegal treatment. Yet, these two have yet to evoke, in their so-called “new enlightenment”, the virtues and tenets of true democracy.
They have not been calling for reform of electoral institutions, free and fair elections or an emergency Zanu PF congress to democratically elect a successor. Their clarion call is for Mugabe to step down and be replaced with Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
This is not what we have been fighting for since year 2000. If they truly believe in our values, they should come clean and be part of us not by mere coincidence of mission, but belief. But as long as they remain confined to the “ideological safe side” of Zimbabwe’s political Auschwitz, we can only cry (for them) with one eye and say “arbeit macht rei!” — democratic truth sets you free!
What is my point? It is that the fallout between Mugabe and the war veterans leadership is not over a clash of values. It is a pure factional fight over who has a right to dictate who leads Zanu PF and the country. Mugabe and his G40 want Mugabe to continue as Zimbabwe’s dictator while pretending to be awaiting a “democratic” decision (by members of Zanu PF) to select a successor at some indeterminate point in the future.
On the other hand, the war veterans initially only wanted Mugabe to endorse Mnangagwa as his successor and crush the ambitions of the young Turks in G40. Only when Mugabe would not accede to their undemocratic demands to anoint their favoured successor did they attack Mugabe himself, calling for him to stand down and opportunistically accusing him of masterminding historical crimes in which they were, in fact, his storm-troopers.
Their fight has so far not been framed as a fight for Mugabe to stand down and allow Zanu PF members to freely and democratically elect a successor but has been framed as a call for Mugabe to stand down and give way to Mnangagwa as anointed by them as opposed to the general membership of Zanu PF.
They have not framed their struggle against Mugabe as a democratic struggle in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe to be allowed to freely choose their leaders. It is for this reason that democrats must be wary of finding common cause with the war veterans who have so far failed to frame their struggle against Mugabe within the context of the values and principles of democracy.
Thus it is easily conceivable that should they succeed against Mugabe they should simply revert to their storm-troopers default mode of being anti-democratic agents in the name of the old anti-people and anti-democratic Zanu PF, but now under Mnangagwa. The resettlement areas would remain open prisons under the guard of the same war veterans for and on behalf of Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF.
As Zimbabweans we need not just be wary, but need to popularise the habit of thinking. Thoughtless politics is what has brought us here. We cannot continue with it if we are to save our country. Allowing emotions and the politics of thoughtlessness and convenience to blind us from the dangers of our situation is something we need to avoid as we would a plague.
Professor Ncube is opposition MDC leader and a professor of law.