THE expression is often used glibly that freedom is never given freely to the oppressed but must be wrested from the oppressor.
Zimbabweans have often appealed to the outside world to help us win back our human rights, our economic rights and our dignity. These appeals have not worked because we have as good as lost our political rights too.
In deciding to vote for change, no matter how defective, on March 29, Zimbabweans were trying to win back their political rights in the hope that all the others would follow, as Ghana’s Nkwame Nkrumah once said.
The result was inconclusive, part of it is still outstanding, but a statement was made loud and clear that town and country are united on the need for change, even if that means “leadership renewal” given that there were constituencies in which MPs won more votes than the sitting president.
The hoped-for “change” is elusive, the powers in control of the transition having chosen to undermine and subvert the will of the people by refusing full disclosure on the results. It is a travesty of justice and an insult on the people of Zimbabwe that Zanu PF is busy trying to persuade us to start thinking about a re-run or a run-off without the courtesy of the presidential result.
It is a diversionary tactic which shows in blatant form the deep contempt in which the party holds Zimbabweans.
That is before we can talk about the emotional, physical and economic costs of an election re-run so soon when the nation is still trying to catch its breath.
After what President Mugabe has done for this country, one would have expected him to want to pass on the baton to others, even if not necessarily a younger generation. There are many who were with him in the bush who must be getting impatient waiting for the “transition”. Time is not waiting and I believe even a founding president must at some point yield to nature.
All this is closely related to the question I have often asked about the kind of legacy Mugabe wants to leave this country. Is it one of peace or one of war? Is he saying to those who want to succeed him “once you get into power you should never let go?” Is he saying only death in office can ensure his personal security?
These are legitimate questions because Mugabe has a lot of reasons to be afraid. His post-Independence record has been bloody. We all can attest to his “degree in violence”.
What this teaches us is that a leader should never overstay in power. The more he stays the more errors and criminal acts he is prone to commit and the more he would want to stay on for his own personal security.
Putting aside the other forces at play in the security establishment, the fact that Mugabe has such grave anxieties about his personal safety to subvert the people’s will as expressed in a popular election must show us the level of political intolerance which years of Zanu PF tyranny have bred.
Leaders are afraid that they will not be forgiven their crimes despite all the good they have done for their nation.
But Mugabe’s behaviour has the potential of a tragedy. In defying the people’s will, Mugabe is stoking more anger against not only himself but other less culpable members of his party and government.
His behaviour is likely to precipitate violence which could lead to acts of vengeance and retribution against those seen to be standing by him as he thumps his nose at the electorate.
It is an act which is bound to infuriate even those who were prepared to forget and forgive, those who believe in letting old wounds dry, those who wanted to ignore his ugly past in the interest of national healing and progress.
It is my conviction that even at this very late hour in our decent into hell, our situation is still far less volatile than what South Africa was at the time of its first all-race elections in 1994.
It took a mature, “national” leadership to retrieve South Africa from the brink. The leadership vacuum in Zimbabwe has pushed an otherwise peaceful people on the brink, with no one able to see what is in the best interest of the country.
That is why I always have reservations about external interventions. I don’t believe that is how strong nations or families are built. That should be a function of the political leaders themselves, whether they really deserve that mantle or we are deceived by caricatures and charlatans.
Foreigners can only help where a commitment already exists towards the wellbeing of the nation over personal rivalry. Zimbabwe is overwhelmed by the latter spirit.
The national discourse is redolent with a sense of grievance, revenge, retribution, conquest and ultimately, humiliation of rivals. It is about triumph on both sides.
In fact it reminds of how Mugabe was so bitter about being dragged to the Lancaster House conference, which he said deprived the Patriotic Front of military victory over the Rhodesian forces.
He said he would have loved to match triumphantly into Salibury without negotiation. It didn’t matter to him how many more precious young lives were wasted to indulge this triumphalist exhibitionism. It doesn’t matter to him today how much blood must be shed in resisting the will of the people. It makes a charade of any election.
The call to duty at this critical hour is for pragmatic leadership from both Zanu PF and the MDC to make a vital decision on the way forward: will it be peace or peril?