Elections are not the issue

On the Zimbabwean’s Facebook page this week, someone challenged my article of last week, and he had a point.

Why was I still talking about elections, he said, when we know Zanu (PF) will always rig them?

Actually, I used a few examples from the last election to show that we could all be more alert and active to defend our rights. Last June I was insisting that we could not hold elections till the basic ground rules were observed. That won’t happen till a lot of us (I nearly said “all of us” but that would be asking the impossible) are alert enough to ensure that no trick goes unnoticed, and, when we’ve noticed it, we shout about it in the right places.

If we had taken that attitude in June and July last year, we would not have had the fiasco of 31 July. Even SADC could not pretend an election was peaceful and acceptable if we were bombarding them with the evidence that it wasn’t acceptable to us and Zanu had torn up the agreement SADC worked so hard to achieve.

The problem lies with us. We let too many people, be they politicians, police, nurses, petty civil servants or your friendly local version of Chipangano, trample on us, ignore us, insult us and generally abuse us.

Our elections were peaceful, albeit with the threat of violence never far in the background. That ensured they were not free or fair, which was all that Zanu wanted. There are sadists among their drunken thugs, but the intelligent people higher up don’t want to shed any more blood than is necessary to achieve their aims. Getting themselves a bad image would arouse too much opposition worldwide, and they do worry about that.

But why did we let that threat cow us into submission?

Some will say we were waiting for Tsvangirai to call us to protest. He might well say he was waiting to see whether we were ready for such a call. One of his characteristics, which some people regard as a weakness, is that he is not dictatorial. More specifically, he does not want to push people to take risks they aren’t ready for. He has been risking his own life for years and gets little enough thanks for that. He is less ready to risk our lives until he knows we are ready for that.

Personally, given the choice between a leader whose troops boast of their readiness to kill for him and one who doesn’t like asking people to die for him, I would prefer the second any day. He makes more demands of us. In the long run, that means that the successes he achieves, probably more slowly than the man who cares less for his followers, last longer because they are built on a more solid foundation – the wholehearted support and cooperation of the people.

If he doesn’t want to push us into danger (helping us do anything we choose, however risky, is another matter), why should he risk his own life if nobody is prepared to step up and share the risk? Singly, all of us, even the greatest leaders, are easily chopped down. If we stand together, we are invincible.

That doesn’t mean none of us will get our skulls cracked or worse, but if you’re not prepared for that risk, don’t demand anyone else to take it for you. You won’t deserve that.

As for elections, I do believe we can only get a better government by free and fair elections. If we had succeeded in resisting Zanu’s pressure and tricks until the deadline for holding elections passed, then everyone would have been moved to help us do the job properly. If that meant supervision by SADC, AU, UN, funding by EU or the Commonwealth, so be it. Just keep the US marines and that nasty little man Tony Blair out of it or we’d become another Libya.

Remember: the price of freedom is constant vigilance.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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