Don’t be a wimp

I found myself once again in a discussion with someone who thought Martin Luther King gave up on non-violence when he said he had to force his opponents to listen to the complaints of black Americans.

MDC-T president, Morgan Tsvangirai

MDC-T president, Morgan Tsvangirai

King made himself clear when he said: “I don’t believe in non-violence. I take non-violent action.”

If you mean by nonviolence being nice to everybody until they see how nice you are and come to agree with you, you are a wimp. Worse than that, you are a fool. Worse than that, you are wasting your time.

King recognised, as did all the great practitioners of nonviolent action, like Mahatma Gandhi and Danilo Dolci, that nonviolent action, like Dolci’s or Gandhi’s fasting, or can lead you to getting hurt. Some nonviolent actionscan lead you to being jailed or killed, as both Gandhi and King were. Morgan Tsvangirai barely escaped being thrown out of a 10th floor window and barely escaped from those who did kill his wife; then he knew what nonviolence could cost and he was not deterred. He lost the plot when he believed that talking nicely to Mugabe would get him any concessions. I hope he learned from that, because I don’t see that any of his competitors are braver than he can be at his best.

A strike in most countries is a non-violent action. If you get your head cracked by a police baton stick, or are put in jail or chased with dogs and tear gas, the choice of violence is your opponent’s not yours. If you still refuse to go back to work, you are showing him that violence won’t change your mind. You need to be strong for nonviolent action.

Continuing to oppose a violent oppressor shows who has the greater moral strength and authority. Anyone who uses violence shows they know they have no moral ground to stand on and no authority. A typical nonviolent action needs to continue until the oppressor admits he has no moral authority. That is what Martin Luther King meant by “forcing him to listen”. You don’t shoot him. You don’t throw bombs or even rotten eggs at him. You just persist in your demands till he has to give in. Maybe a Mugabe or a Mnangagwa doesn’t understand this language, but the guys he orders to keep hammering you will tire or give in to shame before he does, and without them he’s helpless.

I see our own local heroines of nonviolence, the WOZA women, were out there getting beaten up on St.Valentine’s Day. I honour them and I hope they remain at the ready. We’ll be needing them before we got out of this mess we are in.

We’ll need their indomitable spirit and their humour and adaptability. We all need to learn from their tactics, their courage and their humour.

But above all remember it is only power, not authority, that grows out of the barrel of a gun. What happened in 1890 was that a bunch of gangsters with Maxim guns (early machineguns) fooled Lobengula into “giving” them territory he hadn’t even claimed, and then used that as a base to take his kingdom from him. No question of authority; they had tha Maxim gun, and he did not. What we saw in 1980 was the handover of power from an illegitimate regime with FNs to guys with AKs. Some people are still waiting for evidence that those have authority; others reckon they lost it somewhere along the line.

The truth is great and it will prevail.

We still have to figure out how to transfer power from the guys with the AKs to those of us who only have votes.

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