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Renewal of Hope: A Christmas Message from Sokwanele, Zimbabwe
December 21, 2005

The year 2005 has certainly been one of the toughest yet in Zimbabwe. As we take stock at year's end we must be ruthlessly honest about our situation. For some the festive season provides an opportunity to escape from the harsh realities and even to indulge in a little fantasy. We take it rather as a time for reflection and clear-sighted realism about how far the nation has progressed on the path towards freedom and democracy, and how much farther we still have to go. On this basis we have to acknowledge the following:

  1. For the vast majority of Zimbabweans the struggle to survive has never been more problematic. Leaving aside the tiny ruling elite who continue to wallow in obscene wealth (stolen from the nation) for most of us each of the last five years of the deepening crisis has presented ever greater difficulties. 2005 was no exception. Spiralling inflation, increasing homelessness and unemployment and the near collapse of the health care and educational sectors have added to the miseries. Millions now live on the verge of starvation. Countless Zimbabweans have already succumbed to the deadly combination of the AIDS pandemic and severe food deprivation. What family, apart from those enjoying the dictator's patronage, is not now struggling to survive?

  2. The year 2005 also brought a number of setbacks for the progressive, pro-democracy forces in Zimbabwe. Nor are we referring to the outcome of either the parliamentary elections in March or the senate elections in November, for in both cases the further reduction in MDC representation was entirely predicable, given the fatally flawed electoral process and ZANU PF's expertise in gerrymandering. We refer rather to the outbreak of civil war within the ranks of the MDC, ostensibly over the contested decision whether to participate in the recent senate elections. Tragically the party which at one time mustered the most serious threat in 25 years to ZANU PF tyranny is no more. Two warring factions and a small number of isolated individuals who still stand for principle, remain of a party which once represented the hopes of so many. A party and a cause also for which countless brave men and women have sacrificed so much, including the hundreds who have laid down their lives and many more who suffered torture and abuse. This is a tragedy of immense proportions. Indeed in the light of the huge damage inflicted on the cause of freedom and democracy we find the cavalier attitude of Morgan Tsvangirai truly astounding. In comparison to the fracturing of the anti-ZANU PF opposition the retrogressive amendments to the constitution and further shrinking of the little remaining democratic space pale into insignificance.

  3. Directly linked to these negative factors we have seen hope dip to an all-time low. While the haemorrhage of many of the nation's most able and experienced citizens into the vast Zimbabwean diaspora continues, for those remaining it becomes increasingly difficult not to give way to despair. Feeling defeated and deflated, what cause do we have to celebrate this Christmas? Moreover even were we in the mood for celebrating, which we are not, we would have precious little to celebrate with.

Such is the reality of present-day life in Zimbabwe. It is as if the country was suffering a prolonged eclipse of the sun, leaving it in shadow for so long that many Zimbabweans have come to believe that the present suffering and misery is their inescapable lot - for ever. In fact of course the suffering is neither natural nor inevitable. It is rather the direct result of years of ZANU PF mis-rule. To continue the metaphor of the eclipse, it is as if, in an act of breath-taking arrogance, Robert Mugabe and his conniving, exploitative and manipulative cohorts have deliberately placed themselves between the sun and the earth - between the source of life, health and prosperity and the people for whom that rich abundance was intended.

At such a time as this it is very easy to give way to despair. Many will plan their escape from the hell hole which Mugabe has created, to what they imagine is the safe haven of life in South Africa, Europe or America. Others will try to bury their heads in the sand, and some few, incredibly, still try to strike a deal with the dictator - like the commercial farmers and the few business tycoons who foolishly thought that they could preserve their privileged way of life so long as they paid their "dues" to the ruling party. It's called riding on the back of the tiger and it never was recommended as a health sport - never mind the moral implications of compromising with a thoroughly corrupt (and corrupting) regime.

Yet every such act of despair, escapism or compromise only strengthens the hand of the dictator and prolongs the agony of those whom he holds hostage.

What this dark hour in the nation's history calls for rather is an heroic spirit of defiance. Rather than surrendering to Mugabe's brutal tyranny (or accepting the solar eclipse as a permanent fact) let Zimbabweans make a defiant stand for the truth, for freedom, justice and peace. Let each one of us make our personal act of protest and defiance - and let us take up our position, shoulder to shoulder, in the struggle.

Nelson Mandela reminds us that "there is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires."

That is a salutary warning, but also a challenge to those who have glimpsed the mountaintop and are simply not prepared to curl up and die in the "valley of the shadow of death".

Given there is no quick fix and therefore it will be a long haul to freedom, and given also that the once-powerful MDC is in disarray, we have to look to civic society to unite as never before and to show us the way forwards. Up to this point, despite the heroic acts of some, civic society has not demonstrated its true potential in mobilizing the nation for change. This is because we have allowed ourselves to be fragmented. The hand of the CIO can be seen everywhere, distracting and diverting so many otherwise promising movements, and the ambitions and private agendas of otherwise talented and able leaders have aided the process. But if any group is to raise the standard of integrity and principle and hold the politicians to account it must surely be civic society - the churches, human rights campaigners, trade unions, women's groups, students and others, co-ordinated and organised so as to present a united front for freedom and democracy. A united front, we would say, clearly and unambiguously committed to achieving radical change by non-violent means.

This is our vision and within these broad parameters we, Sokwanele, see our own role as follows:

  1. In continuing to expose abuses of power and privilege, injustice and oppression, wherever we find them. Along with those brave journalists and human rights activists who report fairly and objectively (and at great risk to themselves), we see it as our primary role to hold up a mirror to the nation of Zimbabwe so that we, and the world, may see what we have allowed ourselves to become under the corrupting and destructive hand of ZANU PF.
  2. In positively and pro-actively promoting an open and public discourse about the range of non-violent means to be employed to rid ourselves of the present suffocating dictatorship and to manage the transition to a democratic state under fully accountable leadership.
  3. In facilitating the change through the use of bold and imaginative symbolic acts which demonstrate the spirit of defiance to unjust rule and encourage others to put aside their fears and commit to the struggle.
  4. In supporting and encouraging those individuals and groups who will make common cause with us in the (non-violent) struggle to win our freedom.

Others who share the vision of a free and democratic Zimbabwe and share also our passion to hasten the dawn of that new day, will no doubt have different roles to play towards that end. We welcome the part each has to play in the struggle. We affirm each individual and group walking alongside us on "the long walk to freedom". We celebrate the diversity of gifts to be found among our brothers and sisters equally engaged in the struggle.

Sokwanele is not a religious group. Within our ranks there are men and women of different faiths and some who claim no particular faith allegiance. Yet we are mindful that something in excess of 70 per cent of the population of our country claim to be Christian and regular church attendance is very high. Furthermore we are about to mark one of the great Christian festivals. Accordingly we consider it appropriate at this time to quote the words of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she exalted in the news of God's saving act about to be enacted on the stage of humanity. Her song, often called the Magnificat, reads in part:

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty .."

There is a sharp warning to tyrants! Let Mugabe and his accomplices take note. And let the humble poor of Zimbabwe, including the hundreds of thousands of victims of Operation Murambatsvina, rejoice.

Let all those who, in Jesus words, "hunger and thirst to see right prevail" take heart! The eclipse will not last for ever. Already the Light is breaking through!

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