THERE is a sick joke made about Zimbabweans concerning their allergy to reading.
It is said if you want to hide something from a Zimbabwean, whether it be information or money, the safest place is putting it between the pages of a book. If it’s information, Zimbabweans would rather go by rumour than find out for themselves.
Zimbabwean journalists are the worst culprits, if not hypocrites. In 2000 I voted against the new constitution in the February referendum without reading through it. Today, through debates and informal inquiries, I have discovered it’s possible less than 50% of those who rejected the document never read it. We followed the rumour that it gave President Mugabe too much power, and therefore bad.
I still believe it was only the white commercial farmers and their colleagues who knew fully why they rejected that constitution: it would have allowed government to seize their farms without compensation “except for improvements” on the land. But on the whole, it set clear term limits for the president. In retrospect, people now believe overall it was a good document but out of ignorance we threw out the baby with the bath water. Even the famed American constitution has had 27 amendments but still retains the spirit and aspirations of the nation’s founding fathers.
Another document I have not read in full is the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act signed into law by President George Bush in 2002. It complements the so-called “targeted sanctions” imposed on Mugabe and his inner circle for human rights violations by Britain and the European Union. Together these sanctions put crippling limits on Zimbabwe’s ability to interact with the “international community”, especially multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF.
This has had a devastating effect on the economy and ordinary Zimbabweans. It’s nothing like a simple travel ban on selected government officials. But again we are victims of our fear of reading, and we have happily swallowed the line that we are immune to their harmful effects.
Unfortunately there is more coming. There are many Zimbabweans who are furious that China and Russia on July 11 vetoed the United Nations Security Council resolution sponsored by the US to “expand and toughen” existing sanctions by adding 13 more culprits to the over 131 already banned from travelling to the US and the European Union.
The campaign has a seductive selling line. Those being added to the list have abetted or are directly involved in acts of violence against opposition MDC activists. The UN sanctions were meant only to impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe, freeze the assets of those guilty of violence and ban them from travelling outside the country. What sane person would object to such measures?
But why then would Botswana, which has openly refused to recognise President Mugabe’s election on June 27, join South Africa, Vietnam and Libya in rejecting the sanctions?
Russia and China, apart from their own economic interests, were open about their other objections. They want to give the dialogue between the MDC and Zanu PF a chance. It would therefore be illogical to call for dialogue while imposing sanctions on a party to the negotiations.
More importantly, they argued it would set a “dangerous precedent” in which the United Nations becomes a partial arbiter in electoral disputes in member nations, rather than maintaining world peace, an area in which its image has been dented by its inability to stop the unilateral actions of the big powers.
The other nations seem to have seen what we are refusing to see. The UN resolution sought to formalise sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe in 2002, which Zanu PF has repeatedly termed “illegal”. A UN seal would have given the sanctions international acceptability and hurt ordinary Zimbabweans the most. Botswana said as much, with Pandu Sekelemani saying closing the border with Zimbabwe would not help resolve the political impasse but worsen the humanitarian crisis. Local political players and their NGO cousins don’t seem to care.
But the veto is no occasion for merry making by Mugabe. There is a huge bill for Mugabe and Zanu PF to pay for China and Russia’s veto vote. It means they have to negotiate in good faith with the MDC. As deputy Information minister Bright Matonga warned last week, friends should not be taken for granted. There is no guarantee that in future Russia and China will use their veto power to protect Mugabe’s government if there is no clear commitment and progress in the talks.
The reverse side is the way the West tried to turn its biggest diplomatic embarrassment in the June 27 elections debacle into victory by calling for UN sanctions, where it again failed. The June 27 presidential election run-off cannot be “a sham” merely because Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the race at the last minute. The law is clear that the ZEC could have declared Mugabe the automatic winner.
That would have been perfectly legal but a sham because Tsvangirai got more votes in the first round. Mugabe’s advisors appear to have seen through the ruse. It’s therefore disingenuous to harp on the March 29 result as if Tsvangirai had rejected the June 27 run-off outright. We expect outsiders who want to help to exert a positive influence towards a political settlement than to use Zimbabweans as pawns in their private wars. Whimsical references to the March 29 election result risk being exposed for the chink they are in the MDC’s armour, not strength.