With an election looming in just seven days time, it would be a good time to tell the two contestants what we expect of them.
Across the world newspapers hold rulers and others in the public domain accountable for their actions. A newspaper worth its salt is one that holds up a mirror to those who claim to have the answers to the nation’s problems yet, having promised the Earth during elections, do nothing to improve the lot of the governed once the polls are over.
During its 28 years of stewardship Zanu PF has had every opportunity to improve the nation’s fortunes. Despite the impressive expansion of education and healthcare in the first 10 years of Independence, the ruling party lost its way in the 1990s. It preferred to do battle with civil society and the opposition who it saw as encroaching on its jurisdiction than to listen to critics and forge a consensus on the way ahead.
Whilst setting up bodies such as the National Economic Consultative Forum, the government refused to listen to the contributions of business and commerce and instead ploughed ahead with policies that were not only lacking in consensus but actually damaging to the fabric of the country.
Agricultural production has declined some 60% since 2000. Per capita GDP had dropped to pre-Independence levels. The lack of listening skills has impacted severely upon outcomes.
Then there is the collective beatings meted out to communities that were pronounced guilty of supporting the opposition. The last three months have left a deep stain upon the country’s reputation and its people have been traumatised.
It is difficult to believe the savagery of the collective punishment the country has been made to endure. Families have seen their loved ones abducted, never to return alive. Homes have been burnt and reportedly thousands displaced.
In the last week, militias have invaded townships demanding oaths of loyalty. Youths have been dragged off commuter buses and made to attend meetings. As we report in today’s paper, evidence of lawlessness is everywhere.
Voters must ask themselves, is this a regime they can live with?
And what of the consequences of economic mismanagement? Are we to endure inflation of 2 000 000%?
On the opposition side there have been precious few examples of statesmanship. At least Arthur Mutambara has understood the need for a united front on Friday next. And Simba Makoni, hitherto reluctant to be associated with what his former party sees as an imperialist stalking horse, has finally brought himself to endorse Tsvangirai – albeit via a statement from one of his movement’s workshops.
If Tsvangirai is successful next weekend, or if there is a government of national unity, we will require an early repeal of oppressive legislation that impinges upon our ability to function as a media watchdog.
Aippa will need to be revoked in all its sinister facets. So will the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which is currently the regime’s weapon of choice in its bid to suffocate the press.
At present it is considered unlawful for the leader of an opposition party to criticise court judgements or the head of state. The incumbent is thus able to abuse his opponents in unrestrained terms and then hide behind a wall of insult laws that give him an unfair advantage. Opposition leaders are also unable to hold rallies or explain their policies to a wider public. Voters are thus unable to make an informed choice at the polls.
Civil society is naturally inclined to support the party that shares our views on democratic governance and the rule of law. But should the opposition be in a position to form a government we will subject that government to the spotlight of media scrutiny just as we do the current regime. All governments are inclined to abuse power. It is our job to make sure they don’t.
Meanwhile, Zimbabweans who favour change – the majority according to the March vote – should avoid the complacency of the last round.
Your votes are needed. It is important to demonstrate that intimidation doesn’t pay.