Monday, September 28, 2020

How do you confront a dictator using democratic means?

The squabbling principals of Zimbabwe’s unity government are at it again. The relationship between Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, on one hand, and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change, on the other, has taken a deadly turn over the last couple of months.

Zimbabwe has seen a steady increase in violence in recent weeks.

Apart from the continuous violent intimidation of people as ZANU-PF tries to cow them into accepting a faulty and oppressive draft constitution, violence against MDC activists has been on the increase.

Just this Friday, in the Mudzi District of Mashonaland East Province, ZANU-PF thugs raided the homes of MDC supporters, “taking their livestock – goats, cattle and chickens and threatening to come back and ‘fight you, because you want to support the new Constitution’”.

Since the violent farm seizures ten years ago, whenever MDC victims of violence went to report to the police, they themselves were arrested instead and, again on Friday, the ZANU-PF hooligans defiantly said that if the MDC people “attempt to protect themselves or their property by fighting back, then conveniently the Forces will be sent in to arrest the “perpetrators”, who will, without doubt, be MDC activists or perceived MDC supporters.

While Zimbabweans want a new constitution, Mugabe and Tsvangirai have both been talking about elections next year yet the political playing field has not been leveled but has actually become worse than it was in 2008, when hundreds perished in an election that was later aborted to save people’s lives.

It strikes me as odd, especially on Tsvangirai’s part whose supporters bore the brunt of the violence, that both men are campaigning for a repeat of the deadly rampages witnessed in 2008.
What would make Mugabe respect the results of these elections this time around, with or without a new constitution?

Has the MDC even bothered to map out safety measures for the voters to avoid a repeat of the murders during the last elections?

The country still does not have a proper constitution, the media is still under the control of ZANU-PF and constantly disparages the MDC; the twin evils in the form of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act are still in place and hinder journalists and opposition political activity; the judiciary, the army and the police are at the command of ZANU-PF not the nation; there is no rule of law as companies and farms continue to be seized outside legal parameters.

A few weeks ago, the MDC suddenly quit their endless negotiations with ZANU-PF, claiming that they could not proceed any further because of ZANU-PF’s intransigency.

A vast majority of the agreements contained in the so-called Global Political Agreement have not been implemented, with Mugabe simply refusing to do anything as agreed.
The MDC was frustrated enough to abandon the talks and appealed to South African president Zuma to intervene.

“We are going nowhere on the dialogue and therefore it is very important for President Zuma and South Africa to step in and step in quickly,” Tendai Biti, Chief negotiator for the MDC, told reporters. “We as negotiators have reached our ceiling. It should be taken out of our hands. Continuing to let us negotiate is wasting time because we have tried. We have been negotiating since the 14th of May 2007. I think we have reached where our human capabilities can take us as negotiators.”

Biti then added: “Therefore we need a bigger brain ÔÇô that of President Zuma and more wisdom, that of SADC.”
And the “bigger brain” himself will be in Zimbabwe on Tuesday this week. Zuma wants to “try to push these coalition partners to restart the stalled negotiation process around issues to do with the Global Political Agreement”.

“It’s now more than a year, yet there are still outstanding issues which have to be addressed,” said a source at the South African Embassy in Harare. “The issue which might be on the agenda is the issue of elections given that the GPA is now more than a year old.”

Both priorities are wrong.
Those silly negotiations are of no use; it is too late for them to make any difference and we know that by conceding to them, Mugabe would be betraying himself.

And elections cannot be held under the current constitution; it would be a worthless exercise whose only achievement would be having more people killed than in 2008.

Having failed to tame Mugabe, Zuma has retreated into calling for early elections as a way to solve the stalemate in Zimbabwe. But that election heavily depends on a new, not the old, constitution.

Constitutional reforms are lagging, behind threatening the elections.
Last Thursday, Mugabe, who has neither regard nor respect for the Constitution, said “if the constitution-making process succeeds, there will be an election and if it fails that too would lead to an election”.

In 2008, using this same constitution, Mugabe refused to accept defeat, forcing South Africa and SADC to come up with a disastrous agreement that left Mugabe in power on condition that several issues are dealt with.
Mugabe has steadfastly refused to honour that agreement and refused to implement most of the issues agreed upon.

And now they want to hold new elections under the very same conditions as last time.

The only thing that has changed is that Zuma replaced Thabo Mbeki, the architect of this arrangement.
If Zuma wants a solution in Zimbabwe, he must first distinguish himself as a tough broker who is capable of charting his own way instead of walking in the same paths that Mbeki walked.

He must hand down ultimatums, brook no nonsense, especially from Robert Mugabe, and involve other regional leaders whom he should carefully brief to make sure the region is behind him.
Zuma should have started at the beginning. He cannot push for elections with a heavily panel-beaten constitution, which was amended a zillion times to protect Mugabe, not the nation.

Zuma must, of necessity, insist, as he should have done long ago, on the leveling of the political playfield; must push for the repeal of oppressive laws, the restoration of the rule of law and push for all things that contribute to the running of so-called free and fair elections.

But he is not.

So we see him start on the same travel junkets that Mbeki enjoyed without bringing any solutions to a troubled country.

Talk. Talk. Talk.
Zimbabwe has done more talking than the United Nations General Assembly has done in a decade but still with no solution produced.

Zuma must set a new course; his own course and distinguish himself apart from the trash that is running the region. This is a chance for him to carve his own niche and be counted as a visionary but only if he stamped his own authority.

Mugabe is not a man to negotiate with. Mugabe must be forced to do or to accept certain things.
He has caused the collapse of those endless talks between his party and the MDC.

In frustration, the MDC quit the talks and on Friday Tsvangirai publicly asked, “How do you confront a regime that does not see any benefits of negotiation? How do you confront a dictator using democratic means?”
Although Tsvangirai was rhetorically asking himself and his party those questions, if Zuma cannot answer those questions, he should not bother going to Zimbabwe.

The success of his mission lies in the answers to those two questions which the MDC is also trying to answer.

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Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.