guest column Tapiwa Gomo
On August 17, Harare was rocked by demonstrations organised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance.
More of these protests against deepening economic hardships are planned in other towns this week, according to the opposition.
The response by the authorities to the protests in Harare was from the same old script. First, the High Court rejected the opposition party’s application to overturn the ban on demonstration in Harare. Second, the court decision armed riot police to descend and pounce on the protesters.
This is how authorities have dealt with protests for the past 20 years or since Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the opposition, was only 21 years. The authorities do not need to change their tactics and the system, because the current one works for them.
It is a system that has kept them in power for four decades. Even when they are responsible for the plunder of national resources, the economic plunge, political violence, a coup and most of the bad situations that befall the country, their system keeps them safe from political harm.
It is an effective system.
As the drama unfolded in Harare on August 16, several people were injured and thousands more were disappointed for being denied their right to demonstrate.
Above all, the authorities were not moved and did not feel its impact. The protesters headed home empty-handed and their situation is unchanged.
Life without electricity, clean water, employment, cash and other basics remains their lot. But again, the same model of challenging or seeking audience with
authorities has been used for the past 20 years and it has not produced positive results. Political protest has not been an effective approach to the change
agenda, but the opposition still sees it fit to use it anyway.
These two scenarios raise several critical questions largely around whether we are in a political stalemate or we just lack new ideas to change the fortunes of
A political stalemate refers to a situation when there is difficulty in resolving a political problem in order to meet the needs of the people. Perhaps, the
most pertinent question arising from the recent protests in Harare is: Why do those learned lawyers and intellectually-sounding MDC Alliance leaders pursue the
same old and futile method of political change?
Over the past weeks, the MDC Alliance leadership was under pressure to respond to the intensifying economic hardships in the country. The people were asking
them to raise their voice and challenge the authorities, but with alternative ideas. Sadly, the protest was the only idea they could come up with and it really
was nothing, but ticking the box without regard to its implications on human life.
There is a lot to learn from South African opposition politics than protests that continue to endanger people’s lives.
Every time the lack of new ideas in the MDC is raised, its sympathisers are very quick to counter by asking what else they can do apart from pushing Zanu PF
out of power. The fact of the matter is that the MDC has never had and still does not have adequate resources to remove Zanu PF from power.
The illusion that we are in a democracy needs to be erased from the MDC leadership’s heads and come to terms with the fact that they are dealing with a
military and highly autocratic party masked under a civilian face.
It is a brutal party whose terms of reference is to, without remorse, retain power at whatever cost, maim, crush and kill anything that blocks its way from
plundering national resources.
But then when the video footage and photos of violence during the protests in Harare started filtering through various social media platforms, I was reminded
of June 22, 2008 when one Morgan Tsvangirai, the late leader of the MDC, demonstrated political maturity. He withdrew from a presidential run-off arguing that
an escalation of violence by Zanu PF was endangering people’s lives and making free and fair elections impossible.
He put people’s lives first over political power, a decision which paved way for dialogue and power-sharing negotiations that birthed the 2009-2013Government
of National Unity (GNU).
The GNU was not a clean and smooth project, but it gave the country the reprieve it needed from the brutal politics. The presence of the opposition in
government improved accountability and the opposition were able to fight their battles from within the structures of government. While the economy did not
recover to expected levels, but the GNU brought a strong sense of economic stability. Hope was beginning to be restored.
This could be the level of influence and relevance that Chamisa is denying himself by not engaging with President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
That Political Actors Dialogue is irrelevant and a waste of time and resources. This could be the second opportunity of political stability that Chamisa’s
arrogance is blocking. Perhaps, this could be the moment that will make him a self-less hero who sacrificed his pride to give the country a new lease of life.
Hanging on to the idea that elections were stolen from him and that he should be acknowledged the winner first before dialogue can begin is a pie in the sky.