There is often a danger in most struggles for democracy throughout history the world over. The danger is creating a leadership-cult out of those that we grant the chance to lead us in our desire to dethrone autocracy instead of creating the institutions that will sustain democracy.
I have read about the steps that led to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence during the era of Ian Smith and how those that supported him were quick to sing praise of him as a man of their season while pouring scorn on the Todds of that day.The reason was that Smith and the like-minded only wanted freedom for themselves alone and not for the black majority. Smith became an instant hero to those that benefitted from his system and anyone who differed with him was regarded as a traitor.
The very same excitement that gripped the white minority during the Unilateral Declaration of Independence is the same pomp and fanfare that gripped the nation in 1980 as the nation got independence. Then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe was given the status of an angel by the masses of Zimbabwe. Anyone who had an opinion that differed with his after Independence, including the fellow comrades that had fought alongside him, were regarded as traitors.
The point is that the people in liberated Zimbabwe, just like during the Ian Smith regime, refused to look at what led to the struggle against the Rhodesian repressive system. While it was good to celebrate independence, the masses failed to learn from the fact that no politician must be given angelic status. What the people of Zimbabwe together with civil society were supposed to do was to agitate for the creation of democratic institutions to safeguard the democracy they had fought so hard to attain.
It is still embarrassing even up to this day to reflect on our past and realise that people had the temerity to praise Robert Mugabe when the nation lost over 20 000 people due to the political madness of a power-hungry clique. The nation became blind to the fact we had fought the Rhodesian regime so that we could afford to be different and not be regarded as enemies. It gave blind support to those that massacred the people they purported to liberate. The media was also part of this crusade of sanctifying the madness.
Having said that, I was drawn to the post-Independence struggle to reclaim our freedoms from those that were liberators turned oppressors. This era saw the emergence of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai. MDC was a product of the trade unions and civil society groups. These groupings fought for the total democritisation of the country and promised to walk the talk. Coupled with the Chinja Maitiro/Guqula Izenzo anti-Mugabe mantra, the party promised change from dictatorship and to deliver the true democracy which the people of Zimbabwe have been yearning for years.
A very interesting development took place in October 12 2005 that led to the split of the party. It was at that juncture that the commitment of Tsvangirai to sacrifice his personal interest in defence of the majority was put to the test. He failed as his love for power was exposed.
I thought the events that followed were to prove to many people that not all in this struggle are worthy to be trusted with power, no matter how much they cry aloud at rallies that they are on the side of the oppressed.
To me, it showed how leaders we elect to fight the oppressors are with us not because they want to liberate the masses but because they want that power for themselves. I have come to believe that in this struggle, there are people who have come to envy our present day oppressors and that given all these powers, they would still want to be like another Mugabe.
After October 12, I was disturbed to see that people from the unions and the civil society supporting what I believe their constituencies stood against.
My submission is that in all these years and struggles in our attempt to free ourselves from the evils of autocracy, from the pre -independence to the post independence era, we are found to be repeating the same mistake. That mistake is of supporting individuals not institutions that support our goal, of total democritisation of our nation. We seem to take those that lead us as gods and turn a blind eye to the fact that history has proved that any man given unlimited power is bound to become an oppressor.
My argument is that in the writing of the people-driven constitution currently underway, people should support institutions that will sustain democracy. President Mugabe has proved to the nation how power corrupts. The example of Tsvangirai’s behaviour and the recent treatment he gave to the people of Matabeleland in his cabinet proves once again how the love for power turns our “angels” into the devils we fight.
People may fail us but the institutions that we create will never disappoint. I have painfully observed the emergence of think-tanks and election specialists who are on a praise-singing crusade for those that violate the promises that they have made to the people. I am also shocked by these academics who are supposed to be enlightening the society and working as the guardians of the people’s dream. They are in fact being used to buttress the manipulation of the people. They sing the anti-Zanu PF mantra yet in fact they admire and support those who copy Mugabe’s style. How could someone say they hate dogs yet play with puppies?
I have also seen the media giving undeserved victories to their favourite political leaders. I become very troubled when I see the independent press in a crusade to anoint a certain politician, to the extent of creating headlines awarding victories that never were. Why can’t we learn that blind support or political idolatry breeds dictatorship in those that we worship?
I believe that the media can play a lead role in agenda-setting as the writing of the new constitution continues. I believe their duty would be to inform the society on the importance of creating institutions that will sustain our democracy, lest we create another cult leader. The danger of creating a leader who has achieved nothing but has victories manufactured newsrooms is that when they get into power and become unpopular, they will turn to repression to maintain their grip on power.
Issues like devolution of power and proportional representation must take centre stage. Devolution of power is the system of governance that ensures that the elected officials are more accountable to the masses, thus making sure they participate in the development of their respective areas. Proportional representation is an election system which guarantees representation of the entire citizenry in power, thus giving them a voice in their governance. We should as a nation make no such mistake again of placing all our trust in individuals.
lGifford Mehluli Sibanda can be contacted on 0913 267 456 OR firstname.lastname@example.org