Letter from America: Free thinkers – a valuable vanguard

'This kind of democratic activism at the grassroots level is what will sustain and strengthen the MDC'
WASHINGTON - On May 13 a group of Zimbabweans in Columbus, Ohio, met to form a branch of the MDC. On the surface, this was an ordinary meeting of Zimbabweans - no big dea

About 20 Zimbabweans gathered – many from a long distance away. Elections were held. Nothing unusual about that. But what followed was perhaps a textbook lesson for us all: there was a no-holds-barred, sometimes heated, frank, free and open discussion on the situation at home, plus a microscopic examination of the leadership in the MDC.
“How can we be assured that the present leadership of the MDC will not become another Mugabe once they taste power?” asked one participant, who used to be a Rixi Taxi driver in Harare. “It has been six years since Morgan Tsvangirayi has been president of the MDC. Mugabe is still in power. Does this not reflect the failure of Tsvangirayi to wrestle power from Mugabe? And isn’t it time for a change of leadership?”
Another question was: Why is MDC aligning itself with former Rhodesians and other enemies of the Zimbabwean war of liberation?
Their message was that after the Mugabe debacle, Zimbabweans should never take their leadership for granted any more, but must engage the leadership critically when they are not satisfied with the ways things are going.
This kind of democratic activism at the grassroots level is what will sustain and strengthen the MDC. One of the reasons Mugabe and his party are politically decomposing in their own mess is that Mugabe has surrounded himself with hero worshippers and they tell him only what he wants, not needs, to hear.
And the message to the leadership was loud and clear! Don’t even think or dream about behaving like Mugabe after the people have put you in power. The people will be watching you very closely. Don’t take them for granted. When things go wrong the people will not hesitate to stage mass protests and even remove you from your positions.
The Ohio group had touched on a very critical aspect of the discourse on African politics. African political leaders seem to take their followers for granted. They use the people to get them to power, only to abandon them and renege on their promises for a better life for all.
The Zimbabweans in Ohio were very aware of the history of broken and empty promises in African politics. When Mugabe came to Zimbabwe in 1980 it is estimated that half a million people met him at the airport. He won a resounding victory at the 1980 elections. Zimbabweans gave Mugabe their full support and respect in anticipation that he would do something to improve their lives and restore their basic democratic rights.
There was a mistaken view that the mission to gain basic human and political rights for Zimbabweans had been accomplished. People let their guards down and left everything to Mugabe to do whatever he wanted to do. Zimbabweans failed to establish and sustain the tradition of holding the government accountable. His dictatorial acts created a crisis of credibility of Mugabe’s credentials as a liberation war hero. People ask: How can a hero who fought to liberate the country from Ian Smith and settler colonialism end up behaving like this?
What Zimbabweans are now seeing is a self- proclaimed liberation hero whose objectives were not to liberate Zimbabwe so Zimbabweans can enjoy their basic human rights, but to install a black dictatorship with token freedoms for the Zimbabweans. It is these terrorist objectives of denying people their basic human rights that have led to a redefinition of Mugabe in the context of once a terrorist always a terrorist.
Mugabe has abandoned the hope that Zimbabweans will someday like him again or vote for him. Yet the stakes are too high for him to lose control of political power. He knows that under a different government he will be hung high on the nearest tree and his supporters will be torn to shreds by the enraged Zimbabweans.
Mugabe and Zanu (PF) know that they have pushed Zimbabweans to the point where Zimbabweans are left with just one option – mass protests. And the signs for a popular revolt are now everywhere.
Mugabe is frantically trying to find a successor who will be able to sustain any promise of immunity for him. He knows that simply getting a written guarantee of immunity will not help. Such guarantees can be broken or ignored. He has first-hand knowledge of this because he is very good at breaking and reneging on promises and agreements.
What is significant about the Ohio meeting is that the participants demonstrated the politics of free thinkers in the opposition movement. Free thinkers can be a valuable vanguard in ensuring that the party leadership do not renege on their promises.

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Post published in: Opinions

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