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Zimbabwe's future lies in voting, popular participation
Mududuzi Mathuthu , editor
February 27, 2004

In the mire that is opposition activism in Zimbabwe, the concepts of protest and mobilisation have been interpreted to mean the same thing. This is the root of the apathy and the general numbness of our society in the face of tyranny.

Whereas mobilisation refers to preparing the people for struggle, protest is just a noisy statement of disapproval or disagreement. It is easy to be an activist and to protest. In fact any fool can protest and wear the jacket of an activist - more so if there is financial reward. But to mislead an entire nation that protest is mobilisation is a treasonous transgression.

In the past week, we had the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions once again demonstrating its total lack of foresight when it embarked on yet another of those futile calls for a nationwide work boycott. In the past 12 months, several other similar calls have either been ignored, or have not produced the intended results.

This particular stay-away call was made on the internet and the international media. In the absence of any evidence to argue otherwise, one draws the conclusion that this was stage-managed for the international media.

The trade union leaders led by Lovemore Matombo and Wellington Chibhebhe told workers that the nationwide stay-away was intended to force the government to look into mismanagement at the National Social Security Association (Nssa)!

Workers went to work as usual. Why, many asked, had this little local difficulty of mismanagement at a small office in Harare been elevated to a national crisis?

This is where the struggle to unfetter the people of Zimbabwe has gone wrong. Many fools and feckless protesters have taken over the space reserved for genuine revolutionaries to claim leadership. They approach the struggle with errant irresponsibility at a great cost to the genuine movement for change in Zimbabwe.

Trotsky described revolution and mobilisation thus: "The revolution pursues its course together with its class. If the proletariat is weak, if it is backward, mobilisation confines itself to the modest, patient and persevering work of the creation of propaganda circles, of the preparation of cadres, supporting itself upon the first cadres, it passes over to mass agitation, legal or illegal, according to the circumstances. It always distinguishes its class from the enemy class, and conducts only such a policy as corresponds to the strength of its class and consolidates this strength."

Instead of pursuing a policy that corresponds to the strength of its class, as Trotsky put it, the Zctu leaders took an unpopular move far detached from the aspirations of the nation. Such actions only serve to weaken the backbone of the struggle to rescue Zimbabwe from Robert Mugabe's tyrannical regime.

The Zctu leaders and their fellow protesters need to wisen up. In any revolution, the same tactic will not work all the time. Surprise is what moves revolutions forward, not outdated, revisionist protest that is as predictable as Robert Mugabe leading his Zanu PF party into the next election.

The stay-aways served their purpose in catapulting MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to national political leadership. Fine. But to continue shoving the same tactics now and again up the nation's workers won't stick.

The MDC lost the 2002 presidential elections largely because some eligible people did not vote, or simply didn't find time to register. Following the announcement that parliamentary elections will be held next March, the crisis facing the nation is how to get the people to vote. There were at least 5,6 million registered voters countrywide in 2002. Of that figure, 3,4 million are in rural Zimbabwe and 2,2 million are in urban areas. When the votes were finally counted, a total of 2,998,758 people had voted. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was beaten to the count by just over 400 000 votes by President Robert Mugabe. From the March 2002 count, over 2,6 million registered voters stayed away. In a country of at least 13 million people, it is a fair assumption that there are over 1,5 million more people who are not registered even though they are eligible to vote.

Would the outcome have been different had all these people voted? The lack of a definite answer to that question defines the crisis that faces Zimbabwean society today - apathy and lack of popular participation.

Essayist, editor and critic George Jean Nathan once said that "bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote". He was right. If the opposition does not mobilise the masses and infuse the message that everyone should vote, they will be surrendering the next election to Mugabe's party.

The "mass agitation" Trotsky referred to is still lacking, partly fuelled by the actions of men like the Zctu leaders. Progressive revolutionaries, not reactionary populists and protesters, should have by now noticed that the biggest enemy facing Zimbabwe is lack of popular participation.

There is no realistic chance that Robert Mugabe and his government will be pushed out this year. The next elections are only a year away, and instead of spending millions of dollars in brainless street demonstrations and legal fees after they get arrested, the Zctu leaders have a very lawful avenue through which they could mobilise Zimbabwe's workers by emphasising that voting works, because it does.

A campaign for the hearts and minds is needed. Convincing Zimbabweans that nothing but voting will get them out of their misery is the answer. A carefully planned and managed campaign of ensuring people register is needed.

There is the issue of Zimbabwe's rural areas which have for long been the stronghold of Zanu PF. Trotsky has an answer to this: "If the proletariat is weak, if it is backward, mobilisation confines itself to the modest, patient and persevering work of the creation of propaganda circles, of the preparation of cadres, supporting itself upon the first cadres, it passes over to mass agitation, legal or illegal, according to the circumstances."

Zimbabweans need to be mobilised into "mass agitation". There is hope, only if people register and vote. That should be the message, that should be the catchword.

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