To any discerning or enlightened citizen, it is apparent that finally, the gravy on Zanu PF’s political train, and related contraband, have become contaminated. The resultant stench is so contagious as to have a pervasive “passive impact” on each and every conceivable aspect of our lives. Fortunately, Zimbabweans are not prepared to suffer in silence. In actual fact, we never have been. Those that believe that the current civil disobedience and “resistance” movement sweeping the nation are a new phenomenon in the politics of things (PoT) may need slight correction. The Movement for Democratic Change — in any form — is a result of popular resistance against Zanu PF political hegemony that dates back to 1999. In the intervening period, Zanu PF has successfully applied its military bully tactics and electoral chicanery to bludgeon Zimbabweans into submission, albeit claiming to still operate within the paradigm of a constitutional, multi-party democracy.
Sixteen years down the line, a divided opposition, often seemingly content with shadow boxing and playing smoke and mirrors, has of late exhibited strong signs of fatigue, thus allowing a discredited Zanu PF to gather a few atoms of superfluous credibility, especially in the eyes of a bemused and complicit African Union. However, as the crescendo of economic and social stress begins to choke Zimbabweans, worsened by an arrogant ruling party that has marinated itself in corruption, diamond dealing and looting, citizens have said enough is enough.
Peter Ackerman and Jack Duval, in their epic book A Force More Powerful – A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, warn that dictators are prepared to shoot to kill in order to protect their ill-gotten wealth. They then offer us hope that, like Mahatma Gandhi said, the only way to resist a violent oppressor is through peaceful and passive resistance. Thus, as I sit and ponder on the direction which my country is taking now, I just wonder if the ruling party Zanu PF has any idea what fate has in store for them. Their inability to comprehend the new normal around PoT will be their downfall and luckily, we do not have to wait for long. President Robert Mugabe and his cronies have access to formidable State resources in AK47s, rocket launchers, tanks, helicopters, water cannons, radio, television and other State institutions. Says blogger Marius Oosthuizen: “We learned through the Arab Spring that the removal of a dictator leaves a power vacuum quickly filled with the worst of what society has to offer. Under the veil of Mugabe’s rule lurks a frustrated and underpaid army, a militarised police force and a patronage network to rival Angola’s under dos Santos.” The question being asked by some in our body politic is: To what extent can the commendable efforts of #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka/Sesijikile in confronting Zanu PF have an end game which will see the demise of Zanu PF? What seems clear is that we appear to be entering unchartered waters in the history of our country. Only the bravest of the brave dare predict the outcomes.
My suggestion is that now is the time to not only think and plan hard but to learn from comparative history and also to seek the advice of peaceful civil disobedience experts. History is replete with cases of civilians taking up the vintage points in the frontline to force dictatorships out of power, and yet it is not easy. Those who expect quick results from the efforts of #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka/Sesijikile have to study the democratic history of India, Serbia and Phillipines — to name just a few countries. Juvenile enthusiasm and bravado on their own are not sufficient, especially in Zimbabwe’s case where almost 40 years of Zanu PF’s PoT has crystallised into patronage of things. Not even the Centre for Applied Non Violent Action and Strategies (Canvas) can prepare one enough for a deranged African government drunk with political entitlement. Says Gene Sharp in the treatise The Politics of Nonviolent Action: “Political power is the totality of means, influences, and pressures —including authority, rewards, and sanctions —available to achieve the objectives of the powerholder, especially those of government, the state, and those groups in opposition”.
According to Canvas, the process has to have a starting point, points of contacts, agreements with existing organisations, superior networks, clear issues and capable of being implemented. Perhaps one can argue that we politicians fail because we are blind to the pervasion of things and tend to over-rely on structures and even State institutions, some of which are tainted. To what extent is it possible for the opposition parties, even when united entirely in some coalition, to take out Zanu PF using electoral instruments that have been designed by a Zanu PF institution?
Ackerman and Duval observe that “Throughout the century, taking power without using violence was said to be impossible, until it happened — and then it was said to be inevitable.” The Serbian otpor! (resistance in Serbian)movement dealt a fatal blow on Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic without firing a single shot. Mahatma Gandhi’s salt campaign — an embodiment of his satyagraha (truth and holding firmly) philosophy liberated millions of Indians from British hegemony. We now know that “non-violent discipline is necessary to mobilise civilians, recruit activists, delegitimise the oppressor, and co-opt the oppressor’s defenders, such as the military and police.” But freedom, even that which is gained in the nonviolent realm, comes with a cost.
In 1989, Chinese students fed up with their government’s communist hypocrisy staged a peaceful demonstration in the Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Government responded with assault rifles and tanks, killing thousands of unarmed civilians attempting to intercept the troops. That attempt at democracy died to this day. For us in Zimbabwe, we now have nothing to lose, because we already have lost jobs, families, livelihoods and dignity. On my part as a leader of MDC, I can only be glad that #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka/Sesijikile have re-ignited the people’s passion for freedom and democracy. There is every indication that the politics of things are about to swing in the people’s direction. That makes me happy. I will be even happier when all of us in the opposition coalesce so that we can confront the dictatorship from the same corner come 2018.
l Welshman Ncube is the president of MDC