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This article participates on the following special index pages:
NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
threat to NGOs
August 12, 2004
The following represents my personal views and does not reflect the official
position of CHRA
The debate about the NGO Bill and
the threat from the so-called 'government' raise a number of issues.
It appears that a number of players
in civil society seek to come to terms with the impending threat to ourselves
and our organizations. Such 'engagement' ignores or marginalizes the reality
of the political situation in our country. While civil society obviously
embraces a range of players from all political persuasions involved in
the whole gamut of social issues that occupy the public conversation of
the day, the sectoral issue-based concerns of the majority of organizations
mitigate against an holistic and strategic analysis of the Zimbabwean
Crisis in its manifest reality.
A collaborationist approach characterizes
a number of CSOs who rationalize their engagement with the regime by an
over-riding concern with the continuing implementation of their own sectoral
programmes. This stance is predicated on the assumption of a legitimate
engagement process with a lawful government. Such an assumption is in
wilful contradiction of the truth of Zimbabwe today. Our once vibrant
civil society has been systematically emasculated in the last five years.
Not only by the regime's oppression but also by institutionalisation and
bureaucratisation, by donor-driven programmes, by incessant workshopping,
by leashing of activists into management roles, by employees more concerned
with job benefits than social justice, by the proliferation of NGOs and
the consequent fragmentation of civil society.
All this has resulted in the creation
of a salaried super-class of well-fed, well-shod civil society chefs who
are very comfortable in their 4x4s, flitting from workshop to conference,
air-conditioned and increasingly divorced from the daily misery of ordinary
Zimbabweans. And when the heat gets too hot to handle, there's always
the option of overseas study or moving on up the food chain into a regional
post or, even better, to a Western capital. After all, civil society is
the only growth industry in Zimbabwe today, one that offers endless opportunities
to civsoc chefs who will play the game, keeping the donors sweet, and
not rock the boat too much. (A little noise is okay but no shouting, please).
Who in their right mind would want to end the crisis? Why then we might
have to get off the gravy train and find proper jobs! What horror!
It is becoming increasingly apparent
that the collaborationist elements in civil society involved in health,
environmental, gender or other supposedly non-political sectors will distance
themselves from the more overtly political NGOs involved in human rights
issues like media, governance, accountability and seek an accommodation
with the regime that allows them to continue feeding at the trough. Issues
of solidarity or conscience will be secondary to narrow self-interest.
As seen in our recent history, united we may possibly stand but divided
we will certainly fall. Already we have had attempts by NANGO to develop
a code of conduct that attempts to impose self-regulatory constraints
on NGOs, in effect, trying to do the regime's job for them!
Civil society's growth is in inverse
proportion to the success of government. It is the failure of the mugabe-occupied
state to deliver that has prompted Zimbabweans to seek mechanisms outside
the state through which they can achieve their diverse goals. For us to
then engage with the 'failed' state to regulate and enfeeble ourselves
At a time when we need solidarity,
we have division. When we need to focus on the big picture, we have blinkered
sectoral-based myopia. By year-end, the voices of Amani, NCA, Crisis,
Civnet, MMPZ, MISA and others will fall silent but mugabe will still have
the chastened voices of others to permit the claim that civil society
continues to exist. The shell will remain long after the substance has
gone. And as with parliament and the judiciary, the tyrant will be able
to point to the remnants and claim that everything is alright since civil
society still 'functions'.
It is time that civil society puts
its house in order. The Crisis Coalition must carry out an audit of its
members to determine just exactly who they are, what they are doing and
who is running them. Crisis has been useful in articulating the elements
of the crisis to the region and beyond but it is in danger of becoming
what we never intended - a super-NGO sucking up resources at the expense
of other organisations while intellectualising and objectifying the crisis.
Even when lip service is paid to the principles of the Crisis Coalition,
member CSOs appear to be more concerned with the perpetuation of their
organisations than any 'solution' to the crisis.
Even a cursory analysis of civil
society is depressing:
The trade unions which formed the
backbone of the democratic movement in the nineties appear to have retreated
into a corporatist passivity which allows the regime's fraudulent creations
like the ZFTU to appear to be championing the rights of workers. The ZCTU
must counter this development, not by engaging in pointless debate with
the regime but by enunciating a clear strategy that rejects the illegitimate
cabal and encourages workers to disengage from interaction with the regime
or its minions at every level from the workplace to social arenas. The
ZCTU should highlight issues like the theft of taxes (e.g. misuse for
party activities; funding of militias; promoting a chauvinistic, partisan
agenda, etc) and pension funds by the regime (primarily through economic
mismanagement), the fiascos of NSSA and the para-statals, ad nauseam.
Such issue-based actions must feed into the larger aim: the restoration
of legitimate government and the return of the State to the people.
Likewise, the NCA needs to accept
that its single issue approach must include broader cooperation with others.
Institutional members of the NCA are sidelined and rarely consulted. The
initially encouraging efforts of CSO leaders in November 2003 to forge
a practical and activist front seem to have resulted in increased fragmentation
and individual withdrawal.
The Women's Coalition has been actively
involved in the legitimisation of the regime; in particular its 11 February
march against rape which gave a platform to the regime's puppet Makwavarara
and laid the ground for the fascist actions of the regime against homeless
people that ensued shortly after. Other organisations could be named to
support this view of CSOs which refuse to tackle the fundamental questions
raised by the crisis in our country, preferring to keep their eyes and
heads down while others fight for the freedoms which would actually improve
their chances of success.
The MDC which was formed by civil
society to contest directly for political power has taken on a life of
its own as a conventional political party locked into parliamentary procedures,
despite the fact that parliament itself has no legitimacy. The MDC can
only speak as a partisan body whilst it remains focussed on parliamentary
power. The truth is that most Zimbabweans are tired of politics and just
want an end to the crisis. The danger is that such disillusion will equate
with apathy and a low turnout at the polls.
While many elements of the MDC retain
credibility as civil society leaders, many office bearers appear to be
part of problem, with an unhealthy concern for personal position and power.
While recognizing the efforts of those individuals who have taken the
struggle into Parliament, their very presence in that building lends legitimacy
to the regime who can claim that parliamentary democracy is alive and
well. Since the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2000 and 2002
were fraudulent, then what are the MDC doing engaging in a process that
is the result of those massive deceits?
Enough with the critique; what is
the way forward?
Firstly a clear understanding of
the political reality in Zimbabwe. We do NOT have a government, a president,
a judiciary, a parliament, a police service, a city council or any of
the institutions of representative democracy established under our constitution.
Rather we have the shadows of these things, feeble ghosts whose substance
has been eviscerated by a small clique of Zimbabweans who have taken over
the State through a combination of electoral fraud and criminal activity,
underlined by the monopolisation of some supposed ideological legitimacy
bestowed by liberationist credentials.
This conception of the theft of
the State must enlighten our collective consciousness and be the bedrock
upon which we build our strategies to restore legitimate government in
Secondly we must recognize the diversity
of Zimbabweans and embrace the plurality of our people. We should avoid
ideological debate: this is not about social or liberal democracy, about
access to resources or any of the 'normal' concerns of political discourse.
It is about the very right to engage in such discourse, free from threats
to our physical existence. As such, we must suspend our ideological concerns
whilst searching for an over-arching confederacy that will allow united
action to wrest the state back from the criminals who have occupied its
institutions. We desperately need a broad activist coalition of all those
opposed to the regime: from anarchists to capitalists, Christians to pagans,
the young to the elderly, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The current
fragmentation can only serve our opponents well.
The emergence of the Broad Alliance
will only be meaningful if it is embraced by all Zimbabweans opposed to
the tyrant, but not if it is merely another intellectual construct, rearranging
existing elements in yet another a self-delusional construct, substituting
idealism for activism. The Broad Alliance must be a united democratic
front that will confront the dictator and his underlings from the streets
of DZ to the wood-panelled bars of Meikles.
Thirdly we need resolute action
that challenges the regime at every turn. Just as Zimbabweans died for
liberation from colonialism, we must be prepared to sacrifice our own
lives for liberation from indigenous oppression. We are indeed involved
in a third chimurenga, not for some fake hondo yeminda (that is primarily
furthering the interests of the new elite and setting up a new landed
gentry with unquestioned allegiance to its political overlords, unlike
its white predecessor) but for a mature political dispensation that allows
Zimbabweans to live in a plurality of modes. Just as Smith and his racist
cohorts regarded blacks as inferiors, Mugabe regards blacks as unable
to think for themselves and considers himself as mukuru yechikoro who
will, in his unquestionable omniscience, choose for us all.
Fourthly we must identify and individualise
those who are agents of the regime. We must expose these nation killers,
from politicians to businessmen, militias to police and army - let us
name and shame the individual people themselves: they must not be allowed
to hide behind an institutional veneer any longer. We must stress that
accountability will be an integral aspect of any genuine return to legitimacy.
Accountability must not be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.
Fifthly, as far as street action
is concerned, undoubtedly the final act will take place on the streets
when the mass of ordinary Zimbabweans are convinced that they have nothing
left to lose and that change is a possibility rather than an ideal. Until
then, there is little chance of our modest actions coagulating into a
broad uprising. Those activists who are committed to direct confrontation
with the regime must realize that they will be at best arrested and at
worst, disabled either by the regime's corrupted legal system or through
more dire measures. As zanupf learnt in its formative days, one cannot
challenge an overwhelmingly powerful enemy head on without being destroyed
at the start. Instead any potentially successful strategy requires sophisticated
planning that stretches the resources of the enemy while never providing
a clear target. We need non-violent guerrilla tactics to deal with this
regime, hit and run actions that provide hope and inspiration to bystanders
while avoiding endless arrests and court appearances which drain financial
resources and corrode the morale of activists. The example of those social
activists operating under the broad banner of Zvakwana should be followed
by us all. From landscape artists spreading the message of resistance
on walls around the country with paint and charcoal to those who undermine
the functioning of the regime's bureaucracy through various means, Zimbabweans
are learning to reclaim their power from the thieves of zanupf. As the
regime crumbles into internal power struggles, the time is ripe to strike
Genuine progressive democrats will
not engage in fraudulent 'negotiations' with the criminals masquerading
as our government. The only negotiations we should enter into should be
those concerned with the nature of the legal charges to be levelled against
these Mafioso when their time is up.
*Michael Davies is the Chairperson
for the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA).
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