If ZANU PF more repressive than Smith, so why are we behaving as if dealing with civilized democratic regime?

The prolonged incarceration of opposition CCC deputy chairperson, and MP (member of parliament) for Zengeza West, Job Sikhala - who has been holed up in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison since his arrest, together with 15 other supporters, in June 2022, and repeatedly denied their constitutional right to bail - has reignited debate on how best to deal with the brutal oppressive ZANU PF regime.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana

 

There have been those, as constitutional law expert and leader of small opposition outfit NCA (National Constitutional Assembly), Lovemore Madhuku – who have signaled that the arrest was politically-motivated, as a way of arm-twisting the main opposition into dialogue with the ruling party – and as such, Sikhala and his colleagues will most likely only taste freedom once CCC leader Nelson Chamisa sits down with President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa.

This suggestion, unsurprisingly, has been shot down, with the contempt that it rightly deserves – on the grounds that, the release of these opposition activists and their constitutional right to bail, should purely be a legal matter, that requires only the judiciary to deal with – as requesting the involvement of the state president is a brazen violation of the principle of ‘the separation of power’, essential in any democracy.

Then, there are those who opted for the petition route, generated by the Platform for Concerned Citizens (PCC) – led by, among others, renowned academic Ibbo Mandaza, business moguls Strive Masiyiwa, Mutumwa Mawere, Trevor Ncube, as well as award-winning author Tsitsi Dangarembga, and former finance minister Simba Makoni – with over 50,000 people having reportedly signed a request for Mnangagwa’s intervention in the release of Sikhala.

Of course, there have also been loud calls for Sikhala’s political party to be at the forefront, playing a more visible and assertive role in pressuring the courts – whom they accuse of being captured by the ruling establishment, with suspicious dismissals of judges who previously awarded favorable verdicts to Sikhala and other activists, after commissions were established by Mnangagwa to investigate them for alleged acts of misconduct.

Nevertheless, the CCC appears reluctant to take a more forceful or even confrontational stance – with some within the party firmly believing that doing so would only be walking (or, toyi-toyiing) right into the ZANU PF trap, whose endgame is the arrest of Chamisa – and, possibly declaring a state of emergency, thereby canceling next year’s crucial presidential elections (in which the main opposition is expected to receive overwhelming endorsement from the electorate).

Therefore – with such divergent and clearly parallel views – which way is best for the opposition (and, by extension, the people of Zimbabwe), in dealing with a regime that undoubtedly has no interest whatsoever in democracy and democratic reform?

The tragedy of Zimbabwe, it would appear to me, is that – whilst the regime is undeniably getting more repressive and brutal, the opposition seemingly is becoming more docile and subservient.

Is it not extremely strange how the opposition, especially the CCC, loves saying the current ZANU PF administration is more oppressive and barbaric than Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith?

Why, then, does it appear the same opposition prefers employing strategies that are better suited for a more democratic society as South Africa, or Botswana, or Namibia – where the ruling establishment actually listens to the people’s voices and respect their rights?

As much as I concur with those who posit that all major disagreements have eventually ended up on the negotiating table – there is one aspect that they seem to omit, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

All notable negotiations, that yielded settlements acceptable to all those concerned, where engaged from a position of power by the involved parties.

Any dialogue – whereby, one side is standing on weaker ground than the other (usually, the aggressor or perpetrator of injustices that led to the conflict or disagreement) – can never, and has never, worked out well for the former.

Zimbabwe is the best case scenario.

Ever since the colonial era, to post-independence Zimbabwe – negotiations have been a critical component of our conflicts and divisions.

We had the early nationalist movement, which preferred sitting round the table with the settler regime, in the 1950s and first part of the 1960s.

During the armed liberation struggle, there were several talks meant to end the war, amongst others, in Geneva (Switzerland).

In 1979, we then had the Lancaster House Conference, in Britain – finally birthing the new Republic of Zimbabwe.

Nonetheless, what factors played a pivotal role in determining the failure or success of these negotiations?

It cannot be denied that, before the decision to launch the liberation struggle – those nationalists who opted for talks, emerged holding nothing of substance, or nothing at all.

In fact, one of the main contentious issues that divided the movement in the early 1960s, was the agreement by Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo (President of the National Democratic Party [NDP]), at the February 1961 National Constitutional Conference of Southern Rhodesia, to a measly 15 seats for blacks in the 50-seat colonial parliament.

This, obviously did not go down well with another section of nationalist – a key reason for the eventual split in August 1963, leading to the formation of ZANU – after the NDP’s banning, and its immediate re-emergence as ZAPU.

Why did Nkomo agree to this less-than-favorable shoddy deal?

Well, because the nationalist movement at that time was coming into the talks from a weaker position.

However, after the subsequent protracted war of independence – with both ZANU and ZAPU making significant gains, and giving the settler regime sleepless nights, coupled by unrelenting immense global pressure – the 1979 Lancaster House Conference brought about a more desirable result of universal suffrage for all adults in Zimbabwe, and our independence.

This time around, the nationalists entered the negotiations from a position of power – thereby, placing the Rhodesia administration in a tight corner, from which they were desperate to escape, forcing them into capitulating to the major demands of those waging the liberation struggle.

It becomes really troubling, when today – clearly where our opposition has never bothered to tense its muscles, by showing how powerful it is – there are suggestions for dialogue.

I am not implying that there is need for Zimbabweans to go to war first, before any talks can be engaged in – no, not at all – but, simply that, the opposition needs to mobilize its supporters (and, Zimbabweans at large, who are fed up with the unending political and economic attacks by the ZANU PF regime) to, at least, actively exercise their constitutional right to peaceful mass action.

Why has the opposition not even tried non-confrontational measures – such as, national stay aways or shutdowns or strikes – whereby, no one needs to place their lives in peril, by exposing themselves to the ruthless savage vagaries of the ruling establishment?

We do not even know how effective such methods might be – in pushing for positive change in the country – as we have never tried them on such a magnitude in the recent past.

Deep down, I honestly believe that there are Zimbabweans willing to bravely stand up for themselves against the injustices in this country – as much as we also have a huge section of cowards.

However, what is glaringly missing is the leadership, who are prepared to mobilize the population.

Tragically, it appears as if the opposition has surrendered its role to interest groups.

Nonetheless, such an approach will hardly work – since interest groups, by their nature, are limited in scope (as teachers’ and trade unions), and can never hope to mobilize the entire nation for a cause.

Yet, if the opposition – whose influence is broader – was to mobilize for a national shutdown, for instance, the whole country would grind to a standstill tomorrow.

That would give it (opposition) the leverage it desperately requires to go into negotiations from a position of power.

Surely, why would a cold-hearted power-greedy brutal regime – which never hesitates in resorting to any means, no matter how despicable, to retain its grip on the country – voluntarily relent to any demands, if these pose a threat to these objectives?

In fact, what do those, as Madhuku – who are part of the POLAD (Political Actors’ Dialogue) – have to show for their four years of sitting round the table with the ZANU PF administration?

Have they not been reduced to pathetic cheerleaders, who merely rubber-stamp virtually everything done by the Mnangagwa government – yet, getting absolutely nothing in return, except free expensive lunches, brand new vehicles, and state-controlled media spotlight?

Unless of course, our main opposition leaders are frightened of being arrested, as happened to Sikhala?

Well, if that had been the attitude of our nationalists during the colonial era, there would never have been a liberation struggle, and the subsequent independence.

We would have never had leaders as Nelson Mandela in apartheid South Africa, or Maurice Nyagumbo in Zimbabwe (who languished in prison for 27 and 11 years, respectively), and numerous others – who were prepared to spend the rest of lives behind bars, or even dying – for the greater cause of freedom.

If the CCC genuinely believes that ZANU PF is just as brutal and repressive, or even worse than Smith – why not prepared to implement strategies that would have worked on someone like Smith – which in most cases, may result in leaders being incarcerated for 10, 20, 30 years or even losing their lives?

Yet, no one is suggesting going the route of anything so drastic – but, simply engaging in constitutionally-enshrined peaceful mass action, that place considerable pressure on the regime.

As long as we do not have such a leadership, let us forget about pushing ZANU PF for change.

  • Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, researcher, and social commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936, or email: [email protected]

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