In the past month Zimbabweans have hit the streets, and the government has met them head on. People have taken on the fear of a collapsing and fractured government with courage, especially when this is the government that, over the years, has met every threat with excessive violence – from Gukurahundi through the Food Riots, the elections in 2002 and 2008, and every little demonstration by the NCA and WOZA to the recent expressions of discontent.
For every clenched fist there has been the retort of the open hand: for expressions of hate speech, there has been the response of peace, openness, the conversation for a new direction, the request for repentance and forgiveness, and the memory of a people whose basic principle is to return to the values of what it was that made us a people.
But this is not an appeal to those who do not hear, but rather to the people who call so loudly to be heard.
It is to ask the question: what do we want? Not the question that seems so loud, expressed in so many different ways. “We don’t want Robert Mugabe”. “We don’t want bond notes”. “We don’t want SI 64.” We all have a “don’t want”, but what do we want?
This is not to say that all the dissatisfactions are not important: Zimbabweans have been saying these consistently since 1999. Just look at the six surveys that have been carried out by the Afrobarometer: Zimbabweans have been calling out continuously for government to take them out of the misery that they live with, and it hasn’t gotten any better, in fact it is getting desperate for most: so it is hardly surprising that ordinary people will take such great risks and challenge the might of the state. This is remarkable, even in the knowledge of Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina, and all elections since 2000.
So how do we move forward?
One way is the election route, and this seems to be the message given last week by the parties that comprise the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA). They want an election that cannot be contested on the grounds that there are any irregularities. And this seems so obvious, but equally so unattainable.
I listened to the arguments put forward at the MPOI policy dialogue last week by the representatives of MDC-T and Zimbabwe People First, and was wholly unconvinced. They laid out all the areas in which reform must take place before we can hope to have an election that meets the minimal standards of a truly democratic election, but, apart from raising the need for reform, and the need to demand these, they had no arguments about how we do this. I had the distinct impression that they thought that the pressure provided by citizens could do this by protest alone.
However, the list of reforms was enormous. In fact, it was apparent that, in order to hold a decent election, the entire state needs reform, because, as they clearly outlined, every institution connected to an election is partisan. As has been pointed out endlessly, virtually every state institution has explicit loyalty to ZANU PF, even though the constitution makes it plain that state institutions are there to serve the state and the nation, and are not allowed to be partisan. The NERA parties need to explain just how this situation is going to be reversed, and how this reform process will operate ahead of the 2018 elections.
Who will be in charge of the reform process? There was pitifully little reform during the life of the GPA, and it seems that there will similarly be little appetite for reform by ZANU PF once again. To ask back the question that keeps being thrown at the Platform for Concerned Citizens in its quest for a National Transitional Authority (NTA), why would ZANU PF reform itself out of power? And the answer is very simple: not while ZANU PF remains at the helm of government, and this was firmly stated by Minister Kasukuwere on 31st August 2016.
In fact, the only possible route to a genuine election will be through an NTA, and an NTA that is manifestly non-partisan and not composed of political parties. The limited reforms that an NTA would carry out would ensure that state institutions are not partisan, and the election would produce a clear winner (and losers). Since no political party would be able to use the resources of the state to enhance its chances of success at the polls, it is obvious that the winner would reflect the wishes of the citizenry. Surely that is what we all want, and what the goal of protesting should be about; a fair game, with an impartial referee and the rules clearly understood by all the players. Only an NTA can produce this result in 2018!
Tony Reeler 31.08.16