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Violence is the real enemy: Sokwanele comment on events surrounding Zimbabwe's senate elections
November 11, 2005

Sokwanele is an activist, pro-democracy, non-partisan movement, committed to confronting tyranny, exposing corruption and bad governance and promoting peaceful change in Zimbabwe by non-violent means.

It is important that we set out our credentials thus and say precisely where we are coming from before we comment on the contentious issue of the Senate elections - a subject which to date has generated more heat than light and has sadly proved hugely divisive among those who are otherwise united in their commitment to ending ZANU PF misrule. So that we are not misunderstood, we repeat that we are a non-partisan group. We hold no brief to speak for any person or group either within the MDC or civic society. Our core commitment however, from which we will not be moved, is to the principle of non-violence. In confronting the most violent regime which has ever ruled this land, and which knows no other means to defend its hold on power than by violence, we have consciously and deliberately opted for the weapon of non-violence. This is our strength, not our weakness, and we would persuade as many as possible of our partners who walk with us the long and difficult road to freedom, to affirm the same core principle. For in this rather than in any threat of a violent uprising is ZANU PF most vulnerable and most threatened. They are never short of an answer to violence, for here they are playing on their "home turf". On the other hand they have no answer to active, imaginative, persistent, non-violent resistance.

We have been amazed at the amount of confusion caused by the Senate elections issue. But more seriously we have been appalled by the extreme intolerance shown by one side of the debate for the other - and remember, we are referring here to those who have a common cause in ending ZANU PF tyranny. Indeed there has scarcely been what we might dignify with the name "debate" at all, for instead of a mature discussion between those lobbying for and against participation in the Senate elections, we have witnessed only hot blasts of vitriolic name-calling, demonizing of those holding a contrary view, and the exchanging of blatant threats of all manner of reprisals. Objectively speaking we have to say that most of the vitriol and threats have come from those who are passionately committed to non-participation and are directed to those are persuaded in favour of participation. Robert Mugabe and his cohorts are no doubt rubbing their hands in glee. Just when ZANU PF was under the most intense pressure internationally on the food issue and locally due to the collapsing economy, and when the cracks within their own divided house were most apparent, the opposition has generously provided an alternative spectacle of abrasive disunity and confrontation.

The result of all this has been that almost the only words heard above the uproar in the opposition camp, have been words of abuse such as "gravy train", "sell-out" and "traitor". Yet if only those who were hectoring and sloganeering would just pause for a moment and actually listen to what the others are saying, they would find that they share a great deal of common ground. From the arguments we have heard both for and against participation in the Senate elections it is our observation that the following fundamentals are agreed by most if not all on both sides of the argument

Within the dire social and economic conditions now prevailing in Zimbabwe the introduction of a Senate is a total irrelevance and a mischievous distraction. Realistically it cannot be expected to contribute one iota towards the solution of the massive and urgent problems confronting us in a collapsing economy, with inflation surging ahead out of control and with millions close to starvation - not to mention the need to investigate and bring to justice the criminals responsible for Operation Murambatsvina and other crimes against humanity. All are agreed that not one starving individual, not one hapless victim of Murambatsvina, will benefit because of the new Senate. On the contrary the profligate expenditure on this new arm of the legislature will only divert what little resources the country has left away from feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and providing health care for the millions of HIV-positive citizens.

Moreover there is an almost total consensus among the opposition (and we suspect also among the more intelligent and honest ZANU PF supporters) about Mugabe's motive in rushing ahead to introduce the Senate. As Daniel Molokele put it so aptly, it is to provide "additional carriages on the ZANU PF gravy train". The fact is that Mugabe has an urgent need to extend his depleted resources for patronage. Many failed ZANU PF senior politicians, rejected by the electorate several times over, have fallen off the gravy train and are clamouring to get back on again. By giving them a helping hand up, Mugabe persuades a few otherwise disgruntled old bull elephants (and a few cows ?) from leaving the herd and causing havoc elsewhere. We suspect that Robert Mugabe has not fooled anyone of intelligence as to his real motives in setting up the Senate.

Likewise the undignified haste with which he has moved to install his old cronies. The manner in which he rammed Constitutional Amendment No 17 through a Parliament which he had previously packed with his own compliant supporters, denying any opportunity for serious consultation or debate either inside Parliament or outside, has earned him and his collaborators only the utmost contempt among freedom-loving, law-abiding people, in Zimbabwe and the world over. MDC legislators resisted the dictator's machinations mightily, but in the end they were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of those appointed to Parliament by ZANU PF fraud in the March 31 election.

It is also common cause that the whole electoral process is hopelessly flawed and deliberately skewed towards a ZANU PF victory. Consequently whether MDC contests or not, there can be no other result than a ZANU PF landslide victory. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network chairman, Reginald Matchaba-Hove, has said as much and no independent commentator doubts it for a moment. Mugabe's team are past masters of the art of rigging elections, and there is no reason to think they will fail in the present instance. On the above points there is very little disagreement among those whom we may broadly call the opposition, including the MDC and all pro-democracy civic groups. The differences of opinion only emerge when those intent on challenging the Mugabe hegemony move on from these "given" factors towards developing a strategy of response.

At this point those against participation argue that we have reached the end of the road on the electoral route to change. They say that the time has come - indeed it is long overdue - to develop alternative strategies, such as civil disobedience and mass action programmes, to deliver change which will not come otherwise. They argue that it would be inconsistent to fight against the 17th amendment to the constitution in Parliament, as the MDC did, and then participate in the process that they have (rightly) called a farce. And they claim that any contesting of seats in the Senate would have the effect of legitimizing the process - and, with it, the other ground acquired and now held by ZANU PF fraud.

In our view these are valid and powerful arguments against participation, and of course there are others. We do not claim this to be a comprehensive list.

Yet the fact is that those who are in favour of participation can also advance strong and persuasive arguments for their stance. Again we do not seek to canvas all the points they raise, but would just mention the following.

They claim that, despite all the odds stacked against the MDC, there may still be some mileage in the electoral route. They refer to the acute embarrassment caused to ZANU PF by some of the revelations made by MDC legislators in Parliament, for example on food security issues and on the favouritism shown to Mugabe protégées in the matter of land distribution, and point out that these revelations could not have been made outside Parliament without exposing individuals to very great risk. Moreover they are clear that they are not advocating the flawed electoral process as the only route to change. Rather do they put it forward as one of several different, non-violent means to be pursued along with others. To the civil disobedience, mass action proposals they say, yes, these too must be assessed and deployed, and as a matter of urgency. They assert that there is nothing inconsistent in voting against an Act in Parliament and then, when it is implemented against their wishes, using it as a weapon to strike at Mugabe's monopolistic powers. They say that not one inch of MDC-held political space should be surrendered to the dictator without a fight. And finally they strongly dispute the notion that to contest the Senate elections is to legitimize the whole process.

This and more, those in favour of participation say. Now we are not rehearsing their arguments, or the counter arguments, with a few to persuading anyone to change her or his mind. We merely make the point that there are good and sound reasons which can be advanced both in favour of, and against, participation. Indeed in making a difficult decision in an almost no-win situation the arguments for and against must be set one against another to decide where the balance of advantage lies. Having done that people of both insight and integrity will still come to different conclusions on this issue, and hence it ill becomes anyone to rubbish the arguments of those who hold a contrary view.

This is where we have to take issue seriously with those, particularly within the MDC, who are displaying just such an intolerance. We are dismayed for example at the public stance of Morgan Tsvangirai. Granted that he holds passionately to the opinion that his party should not participate in the elections, and granted that he has excellent reason for so thinking, by what right, we ask, is he entitled to impose his view on the party. The MDC is to be congratulated on consulting as widely as possible within the extremely limited time available on the views of its grass-root supporters. The process was hardly adequate but it was the best they could do in the given time. We are not aware that any other party or civic group consulted as widely on this issue, or at all. Moreover we understand that the debate in the National Council meeting on October 12 was conducted in a mature and open way, and then Council members voted - narrowly in favour of participation. What happened next, with the MDC President refusing to accept the vote, rushing out and lying to the international media, both about the nature of the debate and the outcome of the vote, was quite astonishing. If he could not persuade his party, represented by its highest policy-making body, to accept his counsel as leader, and if Morgan Tsvangirai could not bring himself to accept the democratic decision of the party, then he should have done the only honourable thing and resigned his leadership. We find Tsvangirai's conduct then and subsequently, totally unacceptable - and would expect that others committed to democracy and the rule of law would take a similar view.

What now transpires is that some of those committed to ensuring the MDC does not participate in the Senate elections have resorted to the kind of tactics normally associated with ZANU PF. Reports are surfacing of the use of threats of violent reprisals, both before and after the October 12 National Council meeting. Indeed our information is that some of those making the threats, and in some instances using actual violence against those perceived to be opposed to Tsvangirai, have purported to be acting with his authority. Nor has Mr Tsvangirai sufficiently dissociated himself from these bellicose youths. Which brings us back to the dark and so far unresolved issue of violence in the MDC.

One of the core values of the MDC since its inception six years ago has been the party's commitment to non-violence. It is this commitment which more than anything else distinguishes the party from ZANU PF, the party of violence. Indeed we would suggest that it has been the MDC's hitherto unswerving commitment to non-violence which has brought it the huge support it enjoys with the people of Zimbabwe. Recent events within the party however have cast doubt on its continued adherence to this core value - perhaps we should say, the adherence of some of its leaders to non-violence. Granted that within every political party of significant size there will always be some who will be tempted to try violence as a short-cut to success, the key question becomes, does the party leadership show any tolerance of this method? If the party leadership is united in affording zero tolerance to such delinquent elements within its ranks there is a good chance the party as a whole will remain resolutely against violence. Sadly that has not been the case with the MDC.

In October 2004 for instance the MDC's Director of Security, Peter Guhu, was viciously assaulted by a gang of youths within the precincts of Harvest House, the party's headquarters in Harare. Guhu was severely beaten and his assailants then tried to kill him by throwing him down the stairwell from the 6th floor of the building. Surprisingly this assault and attempted murder were not reported to the police. There were at the time strong suspicions that the perpetrators of this crime enjoyed the patronage and support of some senior, non-elected officials who were known to be close to Morgan Tsvangirai. The matter was investigated by an internal independent enquiry, but their findings were not revealed to the party and, until the delinquent youths had committed a further blatant crime of violence, they were not subjected to any form of discipline.

On May 12, 2005 and the days following some of the same youths who had assaulted the Director of Security went on the rampage again in Harvest House and elsewhere, attacking members of staff. The attacks caused mayhem and threw the party into disarray. The timing of the attacks, coming just a few days before the start of the infamous Operation Murambatsvina, was almost certainly not coincidental. Here was the main opposition party, reeling under the impact of this "internal" strife at just the moment it should have been ready to respond with energy and passion to this gross human rights outrage. In the event we now know that the response of the MDC leadership to this major challenge (and political opportunity) was patchy and hardly inspiring. It had lost focus at just the time it most needed to remain focussed in order to confront the fascist state with the terrible reality of their crime against humanity. In the months following, as the suffering of the victims intensified, the voice of the President of the MDC was hardly to be heard. And when speaking of this major dislocation of the party we put the word "internal" in inverted commas advisedly because the evidence suggests strongly that the strife was introduced to the heart of the party by outside forces. Who but ZANU PF benefited from this violence? And who had a better motive therefore to instigate the violence than the CIO, now recognised as the enforcement arm of ZANU PF? For which reason many in the MDC are convinced that the party has been infiltrated to the highest levels by the CIO.

So we have a party that is suffering an increasing number of violent attacks upon its own staff and members. That violence has the effect of weakening and dividing the party just when the party should be united and strong. There are strong indications that the violence is neither spontaneous nor originating from sources within the party, but is rather planned and orchestrated from outside. And, perhaps most significant of all, the party leadership is slow to respond to the threat. The culprits are not immediately expelled from the party (though 14 of the youths were expelled by the National Executive after the May 12 attacks). In short we have a situation developing in which a party once unequivocally committed to non-violence is starting to give violence a toe hold. It would call for strong leadership from the very top echelons of the party to snuff out this dangerous trend, but that leadership is not being given today. On the contrary the threats made to those who refuse to rally behind the President of the party on the Senate issue, are increasing daily.

Which brings us back squarely to the question of violence and suggests to us that the real issue facing the country today is not whether the opposition should participate in the Senatorial elections but rather whether we, collectively, will resort to the ZANU PF tactics of intimidation and violence in order to ensure that our view prevails. As we have already made the point, the Senate is of no consequence. It is a non-issue. What matters is whether the opposition can remain united around a non-violent policy and programme.

For consider how the history of this land has been bedevilled by violence from earliest times. By violence (and trickery) Cecil Rhodes took the land from Lobengula. By violence (and the threat of violence) Ian Smith perpetuated racist, minority rule. By the unbelievable violence of Gukurahundi, Robert Mugabe crushed ZAPU and forced Joshua Nkomo into an alliance that saw the effective disappearance of that party. And, after three recent fraudulent elections, by violence and intimidation Robert Mugabe continues his disastrous misrule. So if we ask, what has violence ever achieved for Zimbabwe, the answer has to be, nothing. Precisely nothing. On the contrary violence has only prolonged the suffering of the people, replacing one brutal dictatorship with another.

Which is why it is now so critical that the MDC should close ranks and once again affirm the principle of non-violence, both as a means of conducting its own business and as a means of challenging and confronting the violent regime of Robert Mugabe. For, make no mistake, the MDC as a party of violence would offer no threat to ZANU PF at all. Indeed it would offer ZANU PF just the pretext it wants to destroy the party once and for all. Only as a party resolved to follow the path of open dialogue, of consensual decision making, of tolerance, and above all of non-violence, does the MDC offer a radical alternative and therefore a real threat to the party of intolerance that is ruled by fear, violence and personal greed.

Violence is the real enemy, not those who take a different view to our own about the strategic value of participating in the Senate elections. And we would be pleased to see the MDC leadership, from Morgan Tsvangirai down, acknowledge this and begin to focus on the real enemy.

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