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Candid Comment

Comfortable with the crisis

By Dumisani Muleya

LAST week’s shock street protests in Burma (also known as Myanmar)’s largest city, Rangoon, led by Buddhist monks, drew up to 100 000 people and sig

nalled mounting resistance to the paranoid dictator, General Than Shwe’s military rule. The demonstrations were reminiscent of last year’s mass action against Nepalese King Gyanendra’s absolute rule.

However, the protests, triggered by fuel price increases in Burma, were ruthlessly crushed by security forces who raided monasteries, imposed curfews and killed at least 10 people.

The Naypyidaw military junta created a pervasive climate of terror in the country to quell the protests. Its marauding shock-troops stormed houses and apartments in the dead of night to intimidate, arrest, beat up and detain protesters as Shwe — “the Bulldog” — viciously hung tough.

This forced the United Nations to dispatch its envoy Ibrahim Gambari to meet Shwe and the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in Naypyidaw, Burma’s new jungle capital, in a bid to halt the bloody military crackdown.

Burma and Nepal are extremely repressive societies, but their people are still able to stand up and confront their regimes head-on in an attempt to end their military and monarchical tyrannies to bring democracy.

However, as Zimbabweans, wallowing in horrific political and economic conditions, and mostly living in the dark because of acute power outages, without water, basic essential goods, and being brutalised for dissent, we are not able to mount even a token challenge in the streets to demonstrate our disgruntlement with President Robert Mugabe’s regime.

The best we can do is shout from a distance and condemn the government from the comfort (or is it discomfort?) of our homes, offices and bars.

Most people, except a few bold pressure groups largely led by women and student activists, are only vocal in the bars and in the media. Their daily moans and groans over beer and such other social hobbies are awfully loud, but on the ground they always choose to do nothing about their misery.

Opposition leaders are also very vocal when addressing rallies and conferences, but shirk responsibility when it comes to active resistance.

In terms of narrating and describing their crisis, Zimbabweans are very articulate, but in proffering viable solutions, they are usually incoherent or simply unconvincing.

Our pooled energies are often consumed in pointless arguments — not about political parties’ policies and programmes as it should be — but personalities and other idle pursuits. Public debates that used to be quite enlightening are now mostly abusive and about digging in to entrenched positions or pursuing partisan agendas. They are no longer informative at all. Even the media and intellectuals have fallen into this trap. The whole thing has almost become a way of life for us to a point of being somewhat exasperating or comical, depending on one’s reaction.

Our approach to politics and political debate as a nation is wrong; wrong and misguided. It’s generally anachronistic. That’s why some people, including professors and political scientists, in this day and age, still argue with straight faces in public that certain politicians cannot become presidents simply because of their ethnicity or lower education status. This, if truth be told, is a primitive instinct.

The biggest question confronting us now is: what is to be done to rescue ourselves from this misery? Unless we are able to practically demonstrate our discontent with this regime, outsiders could be justified in thinking that we are generally content with Mugabe’s rule. After all, they say, people get the government they deserve.

Why are Zimbabweans unwilling or unable to face up to this despotic regime which they created? They either run away to other countries, duck and dive or suffer in silence. Is it because we are docile, cowardly, peaceful, or none of the above?

Is it because of our acquiescent political culture, lack of political and civic mobilisation or is it a legacy of de facto one party state politics?

Outsiders are currently watching with dismay as we whine and grumble, but do nothing in the end. Crucial elections are coming next year, just see what happens. Mugabe is likely to win again until he is tired of ruling. With the MDC at sixes and sevens and inadvertently helping Zanu PF in its self-preservation project, what can we honestly expect?

We have repeatedly heard, especially from the MDC and its supporters, the now rather stale arguments about repression, patronage and electoral rigging. Is this the main reason why Mugabe is still in power? Are we not collectively responsible for that by acts of commission, omission or both?

At least the monks in Burma are trying under more difficult conditions, but what are we doing?

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