HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsZimbabwe needs both brains and protests

Zimbabwe needs both brains and protests


The political opposition in Zimbabwe has a mountain to climb following its electoral defeat last year – a result of both being robbed and outwitted by Zanu PF – and the damaging split in the wake of that loss.


Now, it looks like it’s going to be revitalised by – of all people – it’s nemesis: Zanu PF. You see, Zanu PF appeared to have stolen the thunder from the opposition by releasing detailed and copious evidence of grand corruption from within its own ranks early this year.

But now, it’s clear all this was an exercise in monumental deception; they pulled the wool over people’s eyes. Those fingered in shocking corruption are still secure in their posts or walking scot-free as if they did not commit serious crimes punishable by a bullet in the head in China.

The sick joke was on the nation. People were fooled into believing that the moves were something that they were not. This stopped them from seeing what was really going on: Sound and fury signifying nothing. This has been one of the greatest betrayals of the nation.

Remember last year’s “love letter” to South African President Jacob Zuma’s International Relations adviser Lindiwe Zulu? They say nasty things and make it look bad, as they want things to be bad so they can make up lies to get voted in.

This mendacious government has let off the hook politically connected economic saboteurs who have plundered and are plundering national resources such as diamonds, State revenue from tollgates, and been paying themselves lottery prize salaries in local councils and State-owned companies. Nothing – absolutely nothing – has changed.

This has given the opposition the way back in to relevance and action, with the MDC-T having announced plans to stage mass demonstrations.

In the wake of this, it’s rather strange to hear MDC-T Renewal Team spokesperson Jacob Mafume pontificate: “Demos are organic; they should come from the people. They are not a self-sacrifice by politicians. All demos the world over have been started by the people, not the politicians.”

To say that it’s a hard and fast rule that such demonstrations are never led by political parties is wrong and naïve. The mass demonstrations which led to the Sharpville Massacre of 1960 in South Africa that internationalised the apartheid horrors were led from the front by Pan-Africanist Congress leader the late Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.

The sustained mass demonstrations and boycotts which led to the end of apartheid in 1990 were mobilised and led by the United Democratic Front, a front for the then banned African National Congress.

In colonial Rhodesia, the mass demonstrations against the Pearce Commission from late 1971 to early 1972 were led by the purposefully-formed African National Council, a joint front for the then banned Zapu and Zanu, to reject the settlement proposals hammered out between Britain and the Smith regime under which majority rule would not come for at least 64 years, according to Dr Claire Palley, a professor of public law.

Imagine, Zimbabwe would have become independent in 2036!

In such situations, there is need for direct and immediate response. If a political party does not give expression to the views and grievances of people who elected them, then that party might as well not be there at all because, after all, politics is an activist profession, so why leave that to others?

In a repressive political milieu like Zimbabwe, it’s natural for ordinary people to hide behind their leaders from the anger and backlash of the regime.

A true leader leads from the front, rather than remaining in the safety of the rear. Moreover, if a protest is leaderless, who do you negotiate with? When there is no clear leader of the group, it can get out of control.

So, Mafume’s pontification sounds like a complete cop-out.

Yes, the worst-case scenario is that this could be an excuse or cover-up to avoid commitment and responsibility by leaving others to do the “dirty work” for you while you watch from the sidelines which way the wind blows, to see how a situation is developing before you make a decision about it.

If you are too neat and clean to get into the trenches, then you have no business in politics, absolutely none.

An entrenched system needs more than words to make it budge. It needs action on the ground, not mere debate at five-star venues detached from the real world.

And those saying mass demonstrations don’t work and are senseless per se are not being honest or are plainly ignorant.

There is a time for everything, so the pontification by Nick Mangwana of Zanu PF UK that “Zimbabwe needs brains, not protests” is rather empty, propagandistic sloganeering.

In 1996, liberation war veterans, who had been abandoned unemployed without pensions or land since independence in 1980, joined mass demonstrations shaking society and began making their own demands.

They denounced President Robert Mugabe publicly, including at the Heroes’ Day commemoration at the National Heroes’ Acre. Frightened by the threat posed by the war vets, Mugabe imposed on taxpayers the War Veterans Levy to be used to fund the vets’ pensions.

As a result, a two-day stayaway was called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. Thousands of protesters converged in Harare, and by the end of the strike, government had caved in to the legitimate pressure and removed the proposed levy.

Now the equally unjustified and punitive Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Debt Assumption Bill burdening the few remaining taxpayers with a US$1,3 billion bill incurred by former Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono as loans on behalf of his rich and powerful “principals” could be passed into law because the supine majority Zanu PF MPs will be whipped into line. Should people take this lying down?

Zimbabwe – very much like Rhodesia — needs both brains and protests. One will reinforce the other.

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