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Defiance vs Repression - Critical Reflections on "the Final Push" - 2-6 June 2003
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
June 18, 2003

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The violence witnessed within Zimbabwe the week of June 2-6 is chilling. The emerging patterns discussed in this report are cause for grave concern. Following a relatively peaceful stay away called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), many activists believed that the state had realised the long-term non-viability of a violent strategy, and had decided to allow peaceful demonstrations to occur. Clearly, this impression was naïve and premature.

Through its reaction to a week of non-violent protests called by the opposition party, the ruling party has demonstrated its unbending resolve to rule the country, even by force. The politicisation of the uniformed forces, and the use of para-military groups as agents of state repression against fellow Zimbabweans must be condemned. Further, the state must be censured for its continued use of repressive legislation such as POSA and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) by the state to stifle legitimate democratic dissent.

In the face of this state-sponsored repression, broad and inclusive dialogue is necessary to bring a resolution to Zimbabwe’s multi-layered crisis. However, pro-democracy activists, members of the opposition, and human rights advocates alike must recognise that the road to the negotiating table will not be smooth or easy. The fact remains that the continued polarisation of Zimbabwean society into camps of enemies rather than communities of fellow citizens is dangerous to the country’s social and economic development. As the gulf widens between pro-establishment and pro-democracy groups, Zimbabwe continues to burn. It is therefore incumbent upon civil society organisations, business leaders, faith based organisations, human rights activists, media practitioners, opposition parties and other concerned constituencies within Zimbabwe and the region to ensure an amiable resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis in order to reverse the spiralling humanitarian disaster and limit its contagion effect on the entire region.

Despite the retribution which has resulted from "the final push," Zimbabweans should celebrate the fact that they did achieve something entirely impressive.

Critically, the stay away provided an opportunity for people to demonstrate their discontent. Businesses sacrificed massive loss of profits, and workers risked being fired from their jobs to participate in the stay away. The fact that the opposition leader can call on employers and workers alike to close their businesses, and have this call to action heeded nation wide for five full days—despite intimidation and recrimination by the ruling party—is a powerful testimony to the considerable influence the MDC wields.

It is estimated that the ruling party spent over $2 billion on the largest internal military campaign Zimbabwe has experienced. In addition, some analysts speculate that the massive outpouring or resources by the state to "defend" itself against the mass action drew down its reserves to a critical level. This reaction of the armed regime against its unarmed citizens provides one indication of the potential of an organised, well-planned and thoroughly communicated mass action to threatened and confront the regime.

Thus, while the June 2-6 stay away was arguably the largest general strike witnessed in Southern Africa in recent times, the mass demonstrations aspect of "the final push" was largely a victim of state repression. However, even in the face of this repression, the MDC dangerously oversimplified the problem in its mass communications. Many people entered the week of June 2-6 naively hoping that one decisive week of action would cause an entrenched and determined regime to lay down its arms and concede to negotiations. While psychologically it was important to motivate Zimbabweans that their commitment to mass action could yield an immediate and tangible result, this strategy delivered unrealistic expectations of a swift and decisive victory for the pro-democracy movement. Herein lies the challenge for pro-democracy forces, namely how to maintain realistic expectations of an action while motivating constituents and providing hope to the nation.

The "final push" was not a failure. Nor does it represent a step backwards. Instead, its strengths and its shortcomings alike must be carefully and rationally analysed, and compared to its objectives. Pro-democracy activists across the spectrum must be clear about the desired results of their actions, and develop effective strategies consistent with these aims. If the objective is to bring Mugabe (and Zanu PF) to the negotiating table to discuss the terms of his resignation and the mandate of a transitional authority, mass action may or may not be the most effective strategy. Rather than pointing fingers, passing blame or decrying state repression, the after math of the "final push" should be viewed as an opportunity to debate both the objectives of the democratic struggle and the most effective strategies to achieve those goals.

The collective frustration of a people ready to defend their rights and insist on good governance is a powerful force. With greater coordination and careful strategising, this will easily become the most important tool in the struggle to achieve a democratic Zimbabwe.

Crisis in Zimbabwe is a grouping of civil society organisations and coalitions whose vision is a democratic Zimbabwe. The Coalition’s mandate is to address the twin questions of governance and legitimacy.

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