Where did we go wrong?

It is very easy to criticise others. Some people even get a lot of pleasure out of distributing blame. It’s much easier to see the speck in your neighbour’s eye than the beam in your own – especially if you don’t like that neighbour. But how often is our vocal criticism an excuse for inaction?

Let’s just look at our own record, as voters and as supposedly concerned citizens, over the past decade or so.

After the referendum in 2000, we saw an outbreak of violence that should have warned us what to expect from the election of that year. We remember the violence surrounding that election and the rigging. In spite of that, MDC won almost half the seats in Parliament, and they appealed in the courts against the results in over 30 constituencies. By 1985, only 12 of those cases had been heard and although six cases were decided in favour of the MDC, giving them a majority, nothing changed. Meanwhile, MDC MPs were being harassed with frivolous court cases and some were killed. Clearly using the courts would do little unless we all kept up the pressure for quick action.

We saw more violence in 2002, yet still approached the 2005 parliamentary elections with the hope that revived this year. Our naivety then might be excusable; our similar naivety this year is not.

2008 saw some concessions by Zanu (PF); for example, votes were to be counted at polling stations so that we could all see the counting was fair. Zealous cops still tried to prevent people telling each other what they had seen at the count, and when the presidential rerun looked uncertain, ZANU reverted to their usual methods. But note: they used no more violence than they thought necessary. It didn’t reach Kenyan or even Egyptian levels.

That led to the GNU, a pantomime horse with its front legs and back legs trying to walk in different directions. MDC should have protested more forcefully at every breach of the agreement. If they had been puppets of outside powers, they would have done that. I believe that one reason why political analysts in their comfortable academic armchairs don’t like Tsvangirai is because he is less ready than they are to demand that people risk their lives for his policies and party. They can urge mass demonstrations from their armchairs in London and Jo’burg. If he did call a march, he would need to lead it.

If we showed we are unhappy enough to protest publicly, we might see change.

There is a middle way between violent protest and passive acceptance of all the rubbish they throw at us. It is true that we hold “stay-aways” rather than strikes, because strikes, since the emergence of nationalist party politics about 1960, have an unfortunate habit of turning violent, but non-violent resistance doesn’t have to be passive. Two of its greatest proponents, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, built campaigns on getting people together to do something that was unjustly forbidden (like black people travelling in “white” buses in the USA or peasants going to the seashore to extract salt for themselves from sea water in India) or to refuse to obey an unjust law.

Standing firm in peaceful protest needs courage and strength – imagination and a sense of humour help, too. One St. Valentine’s day in Harare, WOZA were forbidden to march to the Town House, so they climbed into a bus and several pickups and spread their message around a lot of suburban shopping centres instead. Those ladies know a lot about spending weekends in prison, but they can’t be stopped.

Gandhi and King were both shot eventually, but they were prominent leaders. If you are not ready to risk some inconvenience or a small chance of injury for a better world, then please don’t complain about the world we have, because you only have yourself to blame.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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