The walk to democracy just hasn’t begun

“IF elections fail, we will use any other means necessary.”

THESE are not words from some insurgent group or anti-government assemblage. The words which represent a robust blow on Constitutionalism and democracy in its entirety were said by none other than the governing party, Zanu PF’s commissar, Victor Matemadanda when he presented the state of the party‘s subcommittee resolutions during the closing session of the 18th annual people conference in Goromonzi.

At one time, even during the late former President Robert Mugabe’s reign, Zimbabwe could, in a way, be described in the language of a nascent democracy. It is an ubiquitously embraced political principle that democracy does not simply emerge in a fully-fledged form. Virtually, all the emulated countries viewed as democracies today had to go through a gruelling process of refinement. A plethora of amendments, battles by civic societies and countless court battles have been fought ultimately for the final achievement of respectable democracies. The same rang true for Zimbabwe at one time. Even though Mugabe’s intolerance of divergent views is not a secret, there was a semblance of democracy in his modus operandi. It is for the same reason that the man would confuse international audiences each time he took to the podium.

His eloquent speeches would harp on such pillars of democracy as sovereignty of nations which presumably should not be disturbed. He spoke incessantly of territorial integrity and the right to self-determination with moving eloquence that foes and friends alike were spellbound. However, back home, Mugabe would come back to a rapturous welcome at the airport now named after him. Ironically he would come home to a starving nation after making pulsating presentations that there were some external forces bent on insidiously destroying Zimbabwe. He would win the hearts of the people at these gatherings yet come to a resentful people back home who knew the inner nature of his rule. Under Mugabe, plenty of people were abducted and thousands maimed. The emergence of MDC in 2000 saw over 150 activists killed within the same year. At the height of his brutality Mugabe did not spare opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirayi, throwing him in prison and bludgeoning National Constitution Assembly leader, Lovemore Madhuku.

The current MDC president Nelson Chamisa was himself fatally assaulted in a well-known incident at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.

Many evil and undemocratic things transpired under Mugabe’s watch yet the man could still present his country as a democracy. Demonstrations against his rule would occur from time to time. The opposition MDC could afford to hold a rally weekend in and weekend out without fear of teargas smoke. Even in the twilight of his rule, several sanctioned marches took place in the fight for abducted activist Itai Dzamara.

Although police brutality occurred, the manner in which it occurred retained some civility. Mugabe on a number of occasions even praised his opponent in the form of Tsvangirayi. He would concede his party’s lack of preparedness when trounced in elections, even castigating his own top brass. Even the referendum was held in the true spirit of wide consultations.

All this made Mugabe a difficult person to deal with. At one time, there were serious reports around 2000 of the possibility of America under President George Bush and Britain under Tony Blair invading Zimbabwe. In his memoirs, Tony Blair confirms seriously contemplating the move. But one clear thing was that Zimbabwe carried traces of democratic rule; even though suspicions abound of rigging in presidential elections, the process would have been done with due process.

However, this stands in stark contrast to the utterances and conduct of the leadership holding the reins of power today. The semblance of democracy carried previously just has vanished into thin air. Matemadanda’s words can be paraphrased to say that Zanu PF will not be removed from power and will deploy any force necessary to shut out other political parties. That a commissar of a ruling party can make utterances so manifestly in contrast with the Constitution presents evidence, if anyone needed it, that Zimbabwe has a long walk to democracy.

It’s not going to be easy. Unless the time comes that leaders in power do not have a sense of entitlement and a messianic complex that they are in power to defend the people from some mythical forces then surely the path to democracy lies miles ahead.

Until it is firmly fixed in the heads of politicians that power is derived from the masses then Zimbabwe is surely far from democracy. The wanton beatings of the elderly and passersby during opposition protests all but confirm the long road to democracy.

The intolerance that existed in a thinly veiled form during Mugabe’s reign has just but unmasked itself. Dissent is crushed overtly and undemocratic utterances freely declared. The opposition can’t conduct a gathering without a scary incident. The walk to freedom in Zimbabwe will begin once the Constitution is given the reverence it deserves. As things stand, the walk towards democracy just hasn’t begun.

 Learnmore Zuze is a legal officer and writes here in his own capacity.

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