Talk, about talking, for talks

LESS than a month after the August 1, 2018 Kgalema Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry found that Zimbabwe’s “use of live ammunition directed at people, especially when they were fleeing, was clearly unjustified and disproportionate”, as many unarmed civilians died on January 14 this year from the unjustified and disproportionate use of force.

GUEST COLUMN PEARL MATIBE

We’re in January 2019, let’s assess the damage of no-dialogue.

Zimbabwe saw for the second time in six months that the security sector had used live ammunition on unarmed civilian protestors as a national stayaway is expected to last longer across the country.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police riot squad mobilised to face them.

At Chikwanha business centre in Chitungwiza, cars were burnt, at least one police station was attacked, while two people were reportedly fatally shot in Epworth and countless incidences of burnt tyres and tear gas thrown into civilian homes.

Worse, though, were men in civilian clothes brandishing AK-47 assault rifles, unashamedly, on Harare’s streets with no government explanation on who deployed them, yet appearing to be taking extreme measures.

After lessons learned from the August 1 killings — if they heeded the recommendations timely that is — the security sector ought to have been able to tackle the task without the use of excessive force.

Day one ended with the opposition MDC’s headquarters, the Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House, being burnt and an office of the ruling Zanu PF party also being burnt.

Yet calls for stayaways lasting into Thursday continued despite the violence growing in intensity.

As a law-abiding citizen, no Zimbabwean should be innovating outside the law.

There are certainties well settled at law.

The roadmap to political dialogue in Zimbabwe is seemingly more unclear; first rural teachers, then medical doctors and now labour unions are all in affiliation.

This is now a vicious cycle.

Yes, Zimbabweans should care.

Peace and stability are perspectives foreign direct investors are interested in.

Opposing sides
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has failed to reach out to the leader of the country’s largest opposition, MDC leader Nelson Chamisa.

Equally important is the lack of political will on the part of the ruling party, including a knowledge deficit on how to manage the complex political dynamics of political dialogue.

Either way, the general populace is insufficiently assessing the interests and positions of both political parties and additional stakeholders, including the diaspora.

All the current dissatisfaction, oppression and suffering due to fuel price hikes have led the country to the now controversial issue of political dialogue in order to move the country forward.

People are shocked and angered by the recent announcement of fuel increases, and even more appalled at a subversive force that’s fuelling violence, destroying property, and perpetrating brutality on civilians in their homes.

The police are supposed to be the defenders of Zimbabwe’s freedom.

No one feels free today.

Current agitations around the country are growing due to the lack of performance by the Mnangagwa-led government.

There are rural areas in Zimbabwe that have seen no development since independence in 1980.

One woman living in rural Binga shared her desperate sentiments with me: “I live 100km from the nearest fuel station. A drive there is no guarantee there will be fuel in stock. Home is 900km from Harare, that’s 1 601km return. So I would have to spend a minimum of four hours queuing for fuel.”

Stephen Makombe said: “Zimbabwe is marching towards the point of no return; it’s very serious and pathetic.”

And yet another citizen shared live footage wondering: “Why are police throwing teargas in houses? What about kids? This is wrong; current situation [in Nkulumane] Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe is not China.

In China, the government controls the majority of development.

In Zimbabwe, no matter how much Mnangagwa’s team and the Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services ministry put out the messaging on developing transportation, industry or science, a government by itself can never make it come to pass.

Also, you can’t run away from the fact that there’s a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised.

The reality is that there are only so many ways one could force a government to listen, with civil disobedience being one of them.

In the midst of Zimbabwe’s unrest, allow me to make a few observations about political dialogue in terms of framing what dialogue might look like.

Problem one: Prepare to engage
Mnangagwa and his handlers have to accept talks anchored in sincerity.

Actions by his team that show no political will would be perceived as defiance and standing in the path of progress.

A dialogue agenda must include a discussion on strengthening government institutions, the independence of institutions, inclusivity, governance, pillars of healthcare, education and industry.

Those interested in participating in any type of peace process, dialogue or “talks-about-the-talks”, must grasp the potential on both sides, the limitations and how to mitigate between the stakeholder “fighting forces”.

Problem two: Mnangagwa’s duty to dialogue
A President symbolises the unity within a country.

For Mnangagwa to only make calls for unity without action, is faulty.

The President is both the Head of State and government in Zimbabwe.

As the Head of State, he has the highest obligation to reach out to all stakeholders in order to dialogue, work towards leaving a country that’s more united than when he took office.

He has a duty to dialogue as he controls all instruments of the State, so all stakeholders should be invited.

For a country as polarised as Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa is clearly not in control.

The participants would need to be willing and able to evaluate the composition of who may likely go on the negotiating table as a formulation strategy.

Until then, the unfortunate reality is that prices would continue to plague people.

The debilitating health system plagues them still and the automated teller machines still don’t dispense United States dollars, unless maybe one is in Victoria Falls.

Neither side has the latitude to avoid dialogue.

The narrative that Zimbabwe should just focus on moving forward for development without dialogue is a fool’s errand.

Problem three: Decide on an approach
For steps to restoring normalcy, there has to be serious and genuine, political dialogue, because millions of Zimbabweans withheld their mandate on July 30, 2018. The onus falls on Mnangagwa to unite the country.

To reach out, negotiating techniques would be an asset, including how certain activities are timed, established and how varying power dynamics could be dealt with.

Dialogue is needed now more than ever in Zimbabwe.

It is worth pointing out that, fortunately, there are Zimbabweans willing to support dialogue and participate as interlocutors at home and in the diaspora.

The people of Zimbabwe could begin to request their leaders to agree on some representatives that reach out to talk about talking.

At present, that conversation is not in place.

The truth is, it doesn’t exist.

Where are we going?
When you try to shut down speech in all spaces you don’t agree with, you’re on shaky ground.

Zimbabwe’s 38-year-long Zanu PF party rule has taught the silly notion that there can’t possibly be two sides to an argument.

Zimbabwe needs to stop the World Wrestling Entertainment style wrestling match of hurtling “everything wrong” with the opposition and/or Zanu PF.

Without dialogue, chaos is likely to continue.

Dialogue must be initiated in a more formal way; an institutional mechanism or not, but they must be willing to talk.

I’m requesting for both political parties with seats in Parliament to support the notion of “talking-about-talks” as a goal to finding a possible path to a team of mediators or some persons to act as mediators.

Indeed, this is an extremely difficult situation to truly phantom for some.

I think sincere Zimbabweans need to make a significant, swift and immediate effort to begin attempts to rebuild bridges, open chances and bring the much-needed relief to the suffering people of Zimbabwe through political dialogue.

If you think Zimbabwe’s democracy is worthy of such an effort, then support efforts for talking; talking about talking to achieve political dialogue for the country’s image and to promote stability.

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