In the last discussion we reflected on Itai Dzamara and the Occupy Africa Unity Square Movement.
Justice Matters with Dzikamai Bere
We looked at some of the successful peaceful actions of ordinary people in confronting a violent state. We then concluded with a question on whether we can wage peace on a violent state. In other words, does nonviolence work against violent repression? The relevance of these questions comes from the recognition that Zimbabwe has a legacy of violence.
Our structures need not just a change of leaders, but a transformation so that they serve the interests of human security and not advance the protection of an elite minority. This is what it was during colonial rule and this is what it is today.
For the past three decades, many organisations have come up to confront our violent system.
They have used many strategies. There were mass demonstrations, some of them peaceful and some not so peaceful. The people calling for change have often been confronted with violence. Civil society organisations challenging impunity have faced constant harassment with their leaders facing malicious prosecution and at times unlawful detention.
Some victims of human rights violations have taken the state to court and a good number have been awarded damages but the state never honours the orders of the courts.
Because of this history and the evidence that violence and impunity continues, many have lost faith in peaceful means. Some claim to choose violence but a glimpse into their thoughts reveals that many believe that a violent system must be confronted with violence.
There is a raging debate on why people must accord a violent state the luxury of peaceful resistance. Since the launch of the Occupy Africa Unity Square Movement, Dzamara has created many friends but also a whole lot of enemies, even from people who share his belief that the current state of affairs must change. Dzamara has however, insisted that only civil, peaceful and resolute means can transform our current situation. By that, Dzamara and his colleagues have put their finger right where the problem is: violence, which includes structural, direct and cultural violence. They have identified themselves with the global movement for nonviolence. The luminaries of this movement include people like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jnr. Judging by the choice of the name “Occupy”, I believe that the identity of Dzamara’s movement with a global nonviolence movement is not coincidence but rather conviction that this is the strategy he is advocating in dealing with the Zimbabwean crisis.
It may be worthwhile to learn a bit more about nonviolence before people start attacking those who wish to use this tool to change the current state. So we shall explore a bit more around the thinking behind this strategy.
One of the leading modern theorists on nonviolent action is Gene Sharp. He defines nonviolence as a technique by which people who reject passivity and submission, and who see struggle as essential, can wage their conflict without violence. Nonviolent action is not an attempt to avoid or ignore conflict. It is one response to the problem of how to act effectively in politics, especially how to wield powers effectively.
One of the most achieved proponents of nonviolence, Gandhi whose nonviolent action brought down the British empire in India, used to say, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
A leading Norwergian peace researcher and activist Jørgen Johansen notes that the history of nonviolence has two traditions with some connecting points: the pacifistic and the pragmatic traditions. The pacifist tradition includes nonviolent ideas, aspects, views and visions from religions, philosophies, ethics and lifestyles. For pacifists, no goal justifies killing other human beings. Johansen goes on to say that many pacifists are against all forms of harming humans and other living beings. The pragmatic school, he notes, regards nonviolent actions as being important and effective as political tools, a collection of techniques, and as means for communication, for revolutions, for a social movement, and as a system of defence. Many within the pacifist school actively use the methods within the pragmatic tradition, but the majority of those using the nonviolent skills do not share the pacifist views. (Johansen, 2007) I believe Ghandhi belonged to the pacifist tradition while Mandela belonged to the pragmatic tradition. I am still to establish which school Dzamara belongs to.
Which takes us to the reason why we are having this discussion. The philosophy and practice of nonviolence believes that the damages of violence are usually irreversible hence if we are wrong, we need an opportunity to reverse our actions. This is usually the main argument against the death sentence. Human reason can be wrong. If we get it wrong without violence, we can reverse it.
Secondly, we need to look at conflict differently. If we see our problems as human beings, we most likely going to be led by our hatred and bitterness, and we will identify our targets as human beings in certain roles. But if we see our problem as a system and a culture, then we can challenge the systematic and cultural issues without doing harm to individuals. I see that this was the problem with the ideological orientation of the liberation struggle that saw a white man as the target, hence what we did at independence is simply replacing white with black while the system and culture that promotes violence and injustice has remained untouched.
This is where the Bible says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against… the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12.
The struggle is against ideologies, policies and not against persons. It is against a culture of violence. When Ghandhi said, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way,” we can agree that he meant that our means influence the end. So the peace that humanity searches for cannot be seen to be a distant destination, but rather as a part of the journey.
A perusal of Dzamara’s 10 golden points seem to identify with some of this thinking. Now the question is, does this work in Zimbabwe? If not, what are the alternatives?
l Dzikamai Bere contributes to this column in his personal capacity. The views contained here are not the views of the organisations he is associated with. For feedback write to email@example.com