Answerable to the conquering class


Before independence, during the colonial period, this country and its people were owned by a foreign power.

When the British flag was hauled down during that memorable night from April 17 to 18 1980, it signified the end of foreign ownership, when the land between the Limpopo and the Zambezi, between the Nyanga mountains and the Kalahari was in possession of a conqueror.

By that I mean the colonial state, not individual citizens of foreign descent some of whom earned their citizenship by the valuable contribution they made.

At that moment the ownership of the land should have been restored to the people of Zimbabwe as a whole; they should have been declared sovereign and in rightful possession of the land.

But in fact this did not happen. A new conquering class took over and claimed absolute sovereignty and indisputable ownership for itself, though that became clear only over a number of years.

They went through the motions of elections, but they did not base their right to rule on the will of the people and the popular vote, but on military victory in the “war of liberation”.

Professional politicians elsewhere in the world may also regard themselves as “owners” to be in control as a class, never seriously doubting their legitimacy. Elections are then merely an irritating interruption of the real business of politics. Going back to voters becomes a mere pretence, at best a public relations exercise.

A democracy like that would be hollow, without a moral base.

Mere managers of politics do not feel duty-bound to give an account of themselves and their actions. They do not feel they need a mandate from the real “owners”. As “professionals” they do not take political amateurs seriously. The “masses” just have to be “managed” so they mark their ballot papers in the “correct” spot. People are too “immature” or “volatile” to let them choose for themselves. They need “guidance”.

The essence of a free country is that the people own it and rule themselves. That makes them sovereign. Rule by the people started in earnest when politics became a “public affair”. The word “politics” is derived from the Greek polis, a city state ruled by its citizens (which excluded the large slave population).

The word used for a modern state “republic” is derived from the Latin expression res publica which means “a public matter”. The rulers no longer form a class or clique deciding on matters of state by themselves in a smoky backroom, but face the assembled citizens.

We agree that an elected leader accepts great responsibility. But this does not mean that from now on he makes his own lonely decisions which he at best reveals to trusted friends, rarely even to the “masses”.

Being responsible means responding to rightful authority, being answerable to the nation. Why? Because the citizens are the true owners, they are in possession and are the source and origin of all authority which the “responsible” leaders merely have on loan for a time.

At least that is the vision that inspires self-respecting citizens aware of their dignity and freedom. The conviction that they were born for self-determination, not for slavery, does not allow them to be mere pawns to be pushed around on a chessboard of power politics.

They believe that they gave their leaders a mandate therefore they have a right to ask them questions and get answers. Leaders are not judges in their own case, but need to submit to the judgment of the real owners.

An electoral system where every parliamentary candidate is directly dependent for his votes on a definite constituency, rather than on the voting public as a whole, forces Members of Parliament to go back to their voters, report back and answer their queries. It makes them truly answerable to the people who gave them their mandate.

The media may ask elected members questions on behalf of the people and journalists can make sure that the people are not fobbed off with mere rhetoric, but get answers that bring the hidden truth to light.

Just recently a spokesperson announced that the government had spoken the last word on Gukurahundi (“a moment of madness”). How can that be? Can defendants be their own judges? In a free country no one can have all the powers at once. No authority is absolute, no power unlimited.

That is at the centre of our dispute about the new constitution. Wisdom restricts time, balances power against power and makes institutions control and check on each other.

Cynically we may write off all attempts at ever checking power and restricting its abuse, “leaving politics to politicians”. Some of us despair of justice as an idealistic pipedream.

The biblical prophets did not despair and did not leave the field to tyrants. Though harassed and persecuted, they never lost hope that justice will finally win the day. There will be a judgment. The victims of Gukurahundi and all barbarities the world over, will see their killers answer for their unspeakable cruelty and inhumanity.

In the name of justice citizens,with the media as their mouthpiece, will forever demand that the ones responsible actually respond and give an account of what they did.

Truth, so often compromised by power, will have the last word.