On the eve of the million man march, I found myself battling with a number of thoughts and issues that I can no longer keep quiet about.
Let me share them with you in the hope that in so doing, I will provoke some thoughts and further discussions on this.
The first thought I had was why the name of the march does not include women in it. I hate to speculate, but does it mean that in the party women are not regarded well enough to be included in a “march” name? Why didn’t they choose to call it “million people march”? I don’t have the answer to that and maybe I am being unfair to the Zanu PF youth league leadership, but it does raise questions around exclusion — something which we know the party does well in.
The other thing that bothers me is the abuse or misuse of State resources to fund what is essentially a party function. The permanent-secretary of Education has admitted that the department issued an instruction to compel schools to “donate” their busses for the day, in order to help with the transportation of protesters. What’s ironic is that a few weeks ago, a directive from the Education ministry indicated that churches would no longer be welcome to use the facilities of schools, but now we have the ruling party being allowed to do as it pleases, blurring the already blurred distinction between the State and the ruling party. At this point, it is imperative to note that the “million man march” is a march organised by the ruling party in support of President Robert Mugabe. It was, therefore, a party march and not a national or government march. To use school resources to support a party cause is unfortunately, the worst kind of abuse that exists with regards to resources and it is also unlawful. It is also very unfortunate that a ministry executive like the permanent-secretary cannot distinguish between a state function and a party function. It is not only unfortunate, but very disturbing because it shows a clear disregard for the autonomy of government from the ruling party, which though theoretic, must be seen to be respected as practically as possible.
What is more disturbing is the letters that have circulated asking for donations for the event. The apparent cost of the march was pegged at $600 000 — an amount which is the equivalent of paying 2 000 civil servants or providing food to at least 5 000 individuals.
Given the prevailing economic challenges, this can only be classified as unwarranted and wasteful expenditure. More so, it is a clear sign that the reality of the elite in the ruling party and its youth wing, differs from the reality of the majority of Zimbabweans who are not only struggling to make ends meet, but are going to bed hungry. There are real issues to be dealt with in our country and having a march to show solidarity is a misplaced priority. It cannot be that life goes on as if things are normal when things are way beyond even the threshold of abnormal. The youth league must instead be in the forefront of strategising on ways in which the youth can be empowered and get funding for projects to help build the economy. We are ultimately all entitled to our personal views on who to celebrate and of the youths feel they want to show solidarity and support they are welcome to do so, but without using state resources or coercion.
It is true that the freedom to protest, march and strike is not qualified in terms of the purpose one strikes for. Therefore, in terms of our law, one can strike for fun, for enjoyment, to make a statement, to be seen or for a cause they feel strongly about whether or not we agree with the validity of such a cause. We don’t have to agree with it, but what we do have to do is to acknowledge that right as legally protected and nothing in this piece should be construed otherwise. If Zanu PF youths feel strongly about their cause in marching then they are well within their rights to do so. What they were not supposed to do was intimidate people to contribute to their cause, coerce citizens to march with them and to use state resources for the success of their march. That is not acceptable by any standard.
While the youths have a right to strike and march, it still baffles me why any normal Zimbabwean without being coerced or being linked to the party would go and march in defence of the government when in fact Zimbabwean is at its lowest. That would be putting it mildly.
Zimbabwe is in crisis mode and has been for some time now, but now more than ever it has become clear that Zimbabweans are tired.
Zimbabweans are fed up with rampant corruption by government officials that locks us out of our own wealth. Zimbabweans are tired of getting degrees they never use, since they become vendors or cross- border traders. Zimbabweans are tired of poor service delivery.
Zimbabweans are tired of politicians (from across the political divide) who play politics to the detriment of the electorate.
Zimbabweans are tired of being skipped when important decisions concerning them are made. Zimbabweans are tired of a government that is intolerant to divergent views.
In my opinion, a more meaningful march would be for the youth to tell the President that he needs to get rid of a bulk of his ministers who have contravened the Constitution several times and looted the country of its assets. The march in my opinion, should have addressed:
l The return of the rule of law and restoring the credibility and independence of the judiciary.
l The cessation of abductions, state-sanctioned violence, unlawful surveillance and all forms of abuse of power by security agents of the State and overzealous and violent Zanu PF youth that are a law unto themselves.
l Ending corruption, multiple farm ownership, tender fraud, nepotism and state capture of private entities.
l Feeding millions of starving Zimbabweans affected by drought compounded by extreme poverty created by lack of state funding for the poor and the lack of jobs.
l Condemning the introduction of the of bond notes.
l Creating the promised 2 million jobs
l Finally, restoring the dignity of the Zimbabwean citizen by improving the livelihood of all Zimbabweans and giving effect to their rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
That is what is worth marching for. It is very saddening that people would rather pretend that there are no issues or in the alternative, blame such issues on the West. The amount of money being spent on this march could have prevented the deaths of many by being injected into the failing health system. The money could have been used to repatriate some of the stranded Zimbabwean nationals in Kuwait or buy chemicals for the toxic City of Harare water. Unfortunately, the youths have shown a lack of insight into the reality that we find ourselves in and this is probably because many of the top brass have benefitted immensely from the government and, therefore, cannot see their flaws. The organisers of the march are a huge disappointment for the hopes and aspirations of our citizens. If they as youth leaders cannot see the plight of the people suffering, then how can we expect those above them to know?
Zimbabwe is boiling with the frustration of its people and if the government does not start paying attention to the issues and chooses instead to focus on electioneering then, that will be to its own peril but when all is said and done, the march is not in the interests of the Zimbabwean people at such a crucial stage of our country’s history. With respect, it’s an exercise in time wasting and wasteful expenditure. It is really, much ado about nothing.
lPaul Kaseke (Snr) is a sessional law lecturer with the Wits Law School, a legal advisor and analyst. He writes in his personal capacity.