THE past couple of weeks have reminded me of two truisms – the more things change, the more they remain the same and history repeats itself. On the eve of Independence in 1980, Elijah Madzikatire led his band in singing the song Viva Makamarada which went: “Tinotenda vaSamora vakasunungura Zimbabwe. Tinotenda vaNyerere vakasunungura Zimbabwe. Tinotenda vaMugabe vakasunungura Zimbabwe. Tozotendawo vaNkomo sahwira wedu muhondo.”
(“We thank Samora for liberating Zimbabwe. We thank Nyerere for liberating Zimbabwe. We thank Mugabe for liberating Zimbabwe. We also thank Nkomo for collaborating during the struggle.”)
From the first day of our Independence, Robert Mugabe was cast as the liberator of Zimbabwe, more equal than all the others who had, before him and with him, struggled for the country’s Independence and Joshua Nkomo who hitherto had been cast as Father Zimbabwe was reduced to a war collaborator, a mujibha!
Zapu and Zipra also became peripheral to the struggle. History was rewritten and in the euphoria of Independence the majority was not concerned and hence did nothing.
History records that a few months after celebration of our Independence, Nkomo, Zapu and Zipra were reduced to enemies of the state and snakes whose heads should be crushed. Thus their role during the struggle was blotted from the official history of the country’s struggle for Independence and so began the privatisation and patenting of Zimbabwe’s history and liberation.
Parallels have been drawn between George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm and Zimbabwe after 1980. Mugabe’s “my party” (Zanu PF), “my Zimbabwe” and “my people” speeches attest to the privatisation of the public. It is significant to note that Mugabe’s “my people” speeches echo Ian Douglas Smith’s “my Africans” speeches!
In recent times we have witnessed shocking trends towards the privatisation and patenting of the post-Independence struggle for democracy. Listening to speeches by leaders of opposition political parties and civil society organisations, one shudders at the realisation that we have moved full circle.
A respectable leader of the Morgan Tsvangirai formation of the MDC was reported to have said his boss was the face of the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe. One could hear Madzikatire’s voice substituting Tsvangirai for Mugabe.
While Tsvangirai’s role in the fight for democracy in independent Zimbabwe is not contested, it is regrettable that respectable people should emulate the much-criticised Zanu PF politburo in assigning to themselves the role of declaring some people more heroes than others and play gatekeeper to the struggle. We thought this was one practice that would not find space in “a new beginning”!
The struggle for democracy in post-colonial Zimbabwe did not start with the formation of the MDC or the National Constitutional Association before it. Neither will it end with them.
Many people died for freedom in this country and have no one to sing their praises. This does not make them less heroes.
Many were and are still being battered for democracy but are neither lucky to grace front pages of influential newspapers nor be treated at prestigious hospitals. This in no way makes their contributions insignificant.
I am mentioning this, unsavoury as it may sound, not to cheapen the suffering of the prominent members of the opposition but to demonstrate that the people’s struggle for freedom should not be privatised or patented.
Zimbabweans are paying for allowing Mugabe to be cast as the face of the country’s liberation and Zanu PF to patent the struggle. It will be a negation of our duty to allow the privatisation of the struggle for democracy.
As the late Eddison Zvobgo once remarked, any individual or group of individuals that thinks they contributed more than others to the struggle is dangerous.
When the MDC split ostensibly over the senate, there was haggling over the use of the name. For some time the two formations operated as anti-senate and pro-senate. Now that the anti-senate has embraced the senate, they felt compelled to find a suitable distinction from their nemesis without really changing their name. They came up with MDC Tsvangirai!
Isn’t this threatening a slide to Mugabe’s “my party”? To name a “people’s” party after a person, no matter how popular the person, is worse than being the face of the party.
I know it is easy to dismiss these concerns as trivial and suggest that the name change is temporary and only meant to assist the voter on March 29. But those who thrust Mugabe to power in 1976 thought it was temporary as well. Today we see all Zanu PF supporters donning his portrait – the true face of the party!
There is a possibility that March 29 may result in Tsvangirai emerging as president of the Republic of Zimbabwe and the MDC (Tsvangirai) becoming the ruling party. I am not convinced this is what the pro-democracy movement fought for.
To prevent the Mugabe hegemony metamorphosing into a Tsvangirai hegemony, both Tsvangirai and the MDC (Tsvangirai) need to take corrective measures to allay fears or address the issues raised herein.
For starters, the MDC should remove Tsvangirai’s name from their party. Surely all those learned people in the party can come up with a better name. Tsvangirai himself should resist cheap flattery and accept that he is a man of like nature with all of us and has made his contribution just like everybody else.
At the same time civil society and other political formations should not acquiesce in the monopolisation, privatisation and patenting of the people’s struggle. To keep quiet for fear of reprisals once the opposition is in power is a betrayal of the struggle. After all, political parties and politicians are mostly interested in conquest of power and retention of power.
To chastise the opposition for exhibiting traits that we reject and have been fighting for the past 28 years is not to betray the struggle. The democratic movement is more than just political parties, certainly not just the MDC, and ought to be guided by values and not by personalities or relationships.
To allow the struggle to be privatised and patented is to betray the struggle and the thousands who paid the ultimate price. Whether or not the impending election is going to usher in a new government, the pro-democracy movement needs to remain vigilant and ensure that Zimbabwe’s democracy is the ultimate victor.
l Wellington Mbofana is a Harare-based civic activist.