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