Democracy in Zim: A test on mass democrats


THE events of January 6, on Capitol Hill represent perhaps the beginning of the end of American democracy. If not the end then perhaps just its ill health. That sorry episode demonstrated one truth to all and sundry. Namely that democracy is not indelibly printed on the hearts and minds of Americans as a birth right or some splendid and serendipitous deformity.

Democracy was on that sobering day shown to be a set of idealistic principles and values on governance. Individuals, any individuals choose whether to abide by them or not. The battle for democracy is fought in the hearts and minds of a country’s citizen especially so those in positions of power and responsibility.

Individuals coalesce around ideas giving rise to a movement be they pro or anti-democracy to give expression to those ideas in the real material world. The fate of a country depends as Americas did on which side reaches the critical mass needed to embody those ideas as the national political ethos. Trump and his team went to great length to try and achieve this critical mass and even to this day those efforts still continue.

In order to overturn the November 2020 election results Trump needed to get enough like minded people in the key positions at the state and federal level, thankfully for the Americans he never achieved this critical mass.

Enough people stood up for democracy at the several key levels at both the state and national level. In other words the pro-democratic forces achieved this critical mass. Pence upheld Biden’s win, courts also did the same as did officials civilian  and military. In other words America was saved by having enough democrats in the key positions of government to ensure that the democratic process was not subverted. The American political system has done enough over the centuries to inculcate the values and principles of democracy in a sufficient number of its people to ensure that democracy lives to fight another day, though badly shaken   bedraggled and barely recognisable.

This analysis sheds an important light on the Zimbabwean political situation. Zimbabwean democracy was still birthed in 1980. This is because democracy never reached a critical mass. At independence, the government of the nascent republic was dominated by people with Marxist-Leninist inspired autocratic tendencies.

The whites who made up an insignificant and ineffectual percentile were no democrats themselves and were quite ready to subvert any democratic notions for political expedience or necessity. As a result, nobody ever stood up for democracy in Zimbabwe. The authoritarian forces therefore never needed to achieve critical mass it was fait accompli from day one of independence.

In 2008, the government, being Zanu PF and Zanu PF being the government, declared war on the opposition MDC. Zanu PF and its candidate had lost the election but tragically for the people of Zimbabwe no one at any level of government be it civilian or military stood up for this truth. 

Not enough people did the right thing. Zec did not announce the results as they were. No one in Zanu PF showed themselves to be anything more than power hungry primitives without a single redeeming moral value or consideration. The military and the police abrogated their responsibility to uphold the constitution and not the ruling party. Even Sadc itself cared little for the democratic process.

In short, the democratic movement never achieved anywhere near critical mass at the decisive points of the body politic even at the regional level. The result is this slowly unfolding tragedy to be that is Zimbabwe today. It is perhaps not unfounded and melodramatic to cast Thabo Mbeki and the GNU as a “Chamberlainesque” moment

Today as the country heads into yet another election democracy still has not achieved critical mass, therefore the result is a foregone conclusion. It is an implicit fact borne out by our long painful political experiences that no one at any level of governance is holding out for the right thing.

This fine moral consideration has been cast aside as an imperative of personal socio-economic advancement or self-preservation.

Zimbabwe therefore can never realise the full democratic process without having a critical mass of democrats, fearless ones too, at critical junctures of state. But yet again the democratic values that should give rise to such government functionaries have never been espoused as national values.

The outlook or perhaps prognosis for Zimbabwean democracy is overwhelmingly pessimistic. That the tragedy of 2008 could play out without  a single resignation in the military, judiciary, police or civil service is stark condemnation of the quality of men and women upon whom the onerous burden of this nation is placed. They are not national leaders by any stretch of the imagination, but are in reality and at best glorified tribal elders.  Their aspirations are personal and provincial, their morality is fit for the village council but not the national level.

This then brings us to the final frightening point. Is there hope for a peaceful democratic process for Zimbabwe. When the late Robert Mugabe declared that the opposition would never rule Zimbabwe it was not statement of fact but intent. The message was that Zanu PF would do whatever it takes to hold onto power. This included not only running the state according to this dictate but every imaginable Machiavellian subterfuge possible and if all else failed outright war on the opposition and its supporters.

As they have said if half of the people of Zimbabwe support the opposition then it would best if the country lost that half of the population. This is not an empty threat.

Zanu PF will do whatever it takes to hold onto power. The state is Zanu PF so the opposition in whatever guise cannot expect equitable treatment much less help from the state. In short the opposition has no hope of assuming the reigns of power in Zimbabwe.

No election official will dare announce results that hand them that victory. No judge dare rule in their favour. No policeman dare protect them or their members. No member of the armed forces dare uphold the constitution against Zanu PF.

The only hope for democracy in Zimbabwe is the removal of Zanu PF so that democratic values can filter into all levels of the state and society in general and thus achieve the sorely needed critical mass. The ruling party cannot be removed from power through the ballot only the ruling party can remove itself from power.

The hope is that Zanu PF united as it is around a set of ill-defined negative values of corruption and abuse of power will at some point implode or disintegrate thus allowing the country the democratic space it so desperately needs to nurture and disseminate the democratic values that will in turn safeguard the government.

The people of Zimbabwe can only hope that this process is not violent. Violence in Africa has a terrifying tendency to spiral into unimaginable levels  of inhumanity and extent. But this fact is inescapable, so long as Zanu PF exists ‘united’ and in power there can never be democracy in Zimbabwe and perhaps too a peaceful resolution to our present travails and depredations.

Our present leaders just cannot bring themselves to pay the price of doing right. So they never will, something earth-shaking will have to wring that choice out of them.  My bet is Zanu PF internal politics will do the trick someday. Thabo Mbeki in 2008 had the chance to get them to do the right thing  and bring about a democratic dispensation in Zimbabwe, he did not. I do not know if it will end well.

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