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Eschewing politics of violence


Politics is compromise.

Let’s start by restating that all the three parties in the inclusive government — Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC — agreed on the cut-off date for Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission investigations into human rights violations — including atrocities as horrendous as Gukurahundi — as February 13, 2009 as revealed by Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, the Zanu PF chief negotiator, when steering the Human Rights Commission Bill in the House of Assembly last week.

This has to be reiterated because there has been a tendency from some quarters to distract the fire from themselves and deflect “blame” or “complicity” on their political rivals whereas in this case they — Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC — are in it together. That’s the nature of compromise — it brings together strange bedfellows. Thus it can be highly embarrassing when one doesn’t live up to one’s professed political purism not to compromise. Said German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “That is why everyone in politics . . . must make sure that they do not depend on one single interest group.”

Could it be that some in the MDCs just could not bring themselves to tell their followers — including people as high up in the respective parties as MPs — the implications and ramifications of the compromise? Could it be that their sense of guilty about conceding so much after posturing as uncompromising on the issue forbids an honest answer and the easy way out is to blame someone else?

In 1974, Bishop Abel Muzorewa — then leading the African National Council, formed in 1971 as a front for the then banned Zapu and Zapu which then ran with the baton turning itself into a political party in its own right after cutting loose from the nationalistic stance of its two originators — was caught out in a lie by Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith, when he tried to wriggle out of an agreement he signed with Smith for a paltry extra seats for blacks in Parliament. Smith simply produced the document with Muzorewa’s signature to silence the bishop. That was the beginning of the end of his brief political career.

In last week’s piece titled MDC Negotiators Less Than Candid” — a nice or polite way to say someone is at the very least partially lying — while pointing out such mendacious tendencies among politicians, I did not outrightly condemn the compromise. I had to be realistic enough to stress the point that the MDCs were disadvantaged right from the start of the negotiations as Zanu PF held almost all the aces particularly in the form of coercive State instruments which they had subverted over the years to be partisan to them.

Interviewed on SABC this week, Zanu PF negotiator Chinamasa said people must not dwell on “past quarrels”. Can the maiming of people and shedding of blood be referred to with such levity, such lightness, especially from a trained lawyer? MDC-T official Elias Mudzuri, also interviewed on the channel, at least admitted somehow contritely that people had been rightly disappointed, saying history would judge if the MDCs had made a wrong decision.

This was unlike some who commented in a detached, academic manner patronisingly insinuating that the rationale behind the concessions was beyond the understanding of the common man and woman, the typical victims of human rights violations.

The 1987 Unity Accord between Zanu PF and PF Zapu was another painful compromise, as a battered PF Zapu went to the negotiating table. The irony of it is that some of those politicians still condemning the Unity Accord up to today were at the centre of this latest compromise over Gukurahundi. These things cut both ways.

Never say never. Yes, there is no formula to compromise, neither should it be a knee-jerk reaction, as it’s almost always guided by the demands of the situation, which in many cases is a fluid one. The nature of compromise is that you don’t get everything you want.

But life is always work in progress. There is never a time when conditions are ideal to act so there is need to respond to situations as and when required.

In 1988, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s spiritual leader who was also the de facto secular leader, said that accepting a United Nations resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq War was “worse than drinking poison”, but that Iran’s political leaders had recommended that it be done. He asked Iranians to accept his decision and said people should be thankful that so many Iranians were, in his view, martyred fighting for Islam.

One million people were killed, among them thousands of troops gassed to death by the retreating Iraqis (the pursuer became the pursued), in the eight-year war, started by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s thuggish and expansionist regime. Iranians faced up to their situation, to what they had let themselves in for.

The Ayatollah didn’t mince his words to give himself and the nation false comfort. Khomeini, who had previously rejected all calls to end the war, saying Iran would continue fighting until Saddam was overthrown, said accepting the ceasefire “did not mean that the problem of the war has been solved”.

Indeed Zimbabwe’s political troubles are far from over as MDC-T rallies at Darwendale and Mutoko were reportedly disrupted by soldiers at the weekend hardly had the ink dried on the compromise. But Zimbabwe’s current situation is aptly captured in British historian and Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash’s observation: “. . . transitions from the politics of violence to democratic compromise are always messy.” As the shock wears off, people might begin to understand and accept the extent of this painful, democratic compromise.

Observed John Hickenloope, an American politician: “Oftentimes, when constituencies or sectors of opinion are distinct, when they are confronted with a situation where they are going to have to make a serious compromise, they react very negatively publicly, but they also recognise when they step back that this is right.”
Indeed, compromise is part of democracy.


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