By Charles Mangongera
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, in his speech to mark 25 years of Independence, said the bullet brought the ballot, meaning that Zimbabweans are able to exercise their democratic right to vote
because a war of liberation was fought.
His words should be read in the context of the same age-old mantra that the president and his Zanu PF party have always been espousing. That because they went to war and brought Independence, nobody should question their leadership style, or anything that they do, even if it means ordering the mass slaughter of all urbanites in Zimbabwe.
This know-it-all attitude has particularly been visible when the ruling party makes reference to its relationship with the West. Britain, the former coloniser, has especially taken the flak, being accused of meddling in the internal politics of Zimbabwe.
To Mugabe and his henchmen, democracy and freedom seem to mean being free from the colonial bondage of the British. Nothing more. It means a black government is in power and it should not be anybody’s business how that government behaves.
Any other cries for freedom are nothing but the whining of a “privileged” class that is indoctrinated with foreign ideals of democracy and governance. And this class does not understand “our history”.
Hence such rants as “bullets brought the ballot”, “we brought democracy”, “we brought freedom”, “the West cannot teach us democracy because we brought democracy”.
The import of the argument being that it was wrong for Ian Smith to set hungry dogs on demonstrating Africans but it is okay for Mugabe to send his security forces to make mince-meat of demonstrating Zimbabweans. That there was everything wrong with the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act but there is everything right with the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
All because Smith is white and Mugabe is black. So the significance of the lowering of the Union Jack is not an end to tyranny and the ushering in of democracy. It is the replacement of a white government with a black one. Never mind the similarities in behaviour.
I argue that it is wrong to assume that because we are free from colonial rule, then we are a free people. Just because we hold periodic elections does not mean that we are free.
For, what is the ballot when it is reduced to a fierce political contest that makes life “nasty, brutish and short”, to borrow from Thomas Hobbes? A mere game in which the sanctity of human life is not respected? Who needs the ballot when it is bringing back the bullet? My point is yes the bullet brought the ballot, but where is the freedom?
The war of liberation was not about the ballot only. Freedom is what those gallant sons of the soil were fighting for. Political and economic freedom, including the ownership of land by all Zimbabweans, not just a chosen few.
And freedom means the ballot, and more. It means respect for humanity. It means the ability to exercise one’s democratic rights without the vicious tentacles of a coercive state apparatus on one’s neck. It means being able to hold political opinions that differ with others without anyone calling you a “traitor”, “unpatriotic” or “a puppet of the British”.
That is freedom. And not the ostentatious display of the so-called liberation movement solidarity with a cabal of African autocrats.
When we cry for freedom, we cry as Zimbabweans. We are not anyone’s
puppets. And anyone that hears our cries and sympathises is a friend to us — whether they are British or Namibian.
Nobody owns the liberation struggle but it is a legacy for all Zimbabweans. So when the president talks of “we fought to liberate ourselves” he should be talking about all Zimbabweans. Not just those in his government. For the “we” is not a royal plural, but a reference to all those who sacrificed life and limb to bring freedom.
We have got the ballot, tainted as it is, but we also want our freedom.
*Charles Mangongera is a political researcher and writer.