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Zim's choice is either violent or peaceful change
Trevor Ncube
March 23, 2007

THE escalation of violence in Zimbabwe over the past week is a sure sign of a panicking regime desperately lashing out at its political opponents. The situation threatens to deteriorate unless regional and international diplomatic initiatives are hastened to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Perhaps to say this is about a desperate regime is not accurate. The current situation is fuelled by President Robert Mugabe whose bid to extend his term of office to 2010 has been rejected by his own party. He therefore believes violence might secure him extended political tenure.

One thing is clear though. Mugabe has no intention of stepping down on his own any time soon for a number of reasons.

His own explanation is that Zanu PF is currently divided over the succession issue and needs him to face the opposition. This is a crisis of his own making for he has not put in place a succession plan or created an environment in his own party that would allow for the emergence of a new leader.

However, the real reason for his refusal to step down appears to be his fear of prosecution for human rights abuses perpetrated against innocent Zimbabweans since Independence in 1980. These include the Matabeleland massacres, the violent land invasions that saw hundreds of white commercial farmers and black opposition activists killed, and the Murambatsvina atrocities which the United Nations report recommended should be referred to The Hague. And he continues to add onto these crimes through the current round of violent attacks on opposition activists.

Playing on Mugabe’s mind must be the recent Charles Taylor incident, the death of Nicolae Ceausescu and the recent events in Iraq. Thus, the main reason for staying in office is not because he has a vision of a better Zimbabwe under his leadership but that the office offers him protection from prosecution for human rights abuses. For the sake of progress, Zimbabweans might have to consider guaranteeing him immunity under certain conditions.

Zimbabweans have already suffered long enough and there is no price too high to pay for peace. They will have to choose between continued violence and pardoning Mugabe if he leaves office now. This demands political maturity and the international community will have to take a cue from Zimbabweans.

Should this immunity be extended to all his close associates? This could be worth considering in exchange for full disclosures of all documented human rights abuses.

It is important to realise that unless this is done, Mugabe is prepared to use violence against all Zimbabweans calling for change towards a more democratic dispensation. Zimbabweans must pay the ransom so that they are freed from Mugabe’s violent clutches.

People need another chance to live and dream again and only Mugabe and those whose fortunes are wedded to his stand in the way. Mugabe has nothing to lose and is prepared to take down the country with him but he must not be allowed this evil scheme.

With Mugabe gone, we can then contemplate the future and its challenges. As part of the transition to a new Zimbabwe, we will have to draw a line in the sand and ensure that we don’t allow another Mugabe to emerge from our midst. An all-party negotiated constitution along the South African model which is rights-based would be a necessary building block for a new Zimbabwe.

It is instructive that so far violence, as a political tool has worked perfectly for Mugabe. The current round of violence is partly intended to divert attention away from calls within Zanu PF for him to step down.

Mugabe has orchestrated the violence against the weak and divided Movement for Democratic Change as a way of focusing his divided party on a perceived outside enemy. Mugabe hopes that the factions in his party will buy into this gimmick and rally to his call to eliminate an ineffectual opposition and help him purchase a few more years in office.

The violence is also intended to send a clear message to those within his party who are opposed to him that they could face similar treatment from his band of hired thugs.

It appears that for the moment the two factions opposed to Mugabe are not taken in by his diversionary tactics. They have woken up to the fact that he is using them to achieve his personal goals. They are realising that there is no national purpose to be served by Mugabe’s selfish political survival project.

Indeed, Mugabe’s indication last week that he wants to run in 2008 is another tactic meant to force his enemies within Zanu PF to fall into line and campaign for him under the threat that if he loses so will the party.

In that regard, calls by British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week for more action against Zimbabwe plays into Mugabe’s hands and forces his protagonists into an uncomfortable corner with him.

It is now common cause that two powerful factions have emerged within Zanu PF which want to see him leave office. These factions take the kudos for defeating Mugabe’s 2010 project. There is also a faction which supports Mugabe.

The more powerful of these is led by retired general Solomon Mujuru whose wife is one of Mugabe’s vice-presidents. A year ago this faction was on the ascendance but has clearly fallen out of favour as evidenced by Mugabe’s attack on Mujuru’s ambitions during events around his birthday celebrations.

The flavour of the moment is the Emmerson Mnangagwa-led faction which suffered a major reversal of fortunes following the Tsholotsho incident in 2004. Now Mugabe is making this faction believe they are his preferred heirs as a way of dealing with the Mujuru camp.

It would be political folly for the Mnangagwa camp to get false comfort from Mugabe’s political embrace. He will dump them as soon as they become a real threat and once he is secure again. Politics in Zimbabwe is about Mugabe and nothing else.

And Mugabe has his own faction fighting for his survival in the top echelons of the army, the police and the intelligence services. It must be noted however that there exist deep divisions within the middle and lower ranks of the uniformed forces which mirror the three factions in the party.

Two things are instructive as Zimbabweans ponder the way forward.

The first of these is that the defeat of Mugabe’s 2010 project was delivered by forces for self-serving change within Zanu PF and had little to do with pressure from the opposition or the international community.

Also, the weakness of the opposition MDC, unfortunate as it is, removed an outside threat to Zanu PF, focusing the party on internal dynamics. The factions have since realised that Mugabe is the problem.

This points to the fact that Zanu PF’s internal dynamics might be key in finding a way out of Zimbabwe’s crisis and that the MDC might not be the place to look for relief. While this is an unpopular view, it is a pragmatic one informed by the current weakness of the MDC and the potential offered by progressive forces in the ruling party.

Equally important is the realisation that Zimbabwe’s problems are far bigger than Zanu PF and the MDC put together. We need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that talks between the MDC and Zanu PF will solve Zimbabwe’s problems.

A durable solution requires getting a broad section of Zimbabweans talking to each other about their problems and structuring the future together. This is clearly not a winner-takes-all strategy but a process of negotiating how Zimbabwe’s future is going to be ordered. For this project to have wider purchase, trade unions, the churches, business and all other civic society players will have to be involved.

What Zimbabwe needs from the region and the international community is an honest broker who commands respect from all players. Zimbabweans have become so polarised that it would be difficult to find anybody internally to play this role.

First, there needs to be a realisation that we need to talk to each other, followed by agreement on the things to talk about. The latter appears daunting but should really be the easiest because Zimbabwe is sick and needs fixing urgently.

We need to tear up the Lancaster House constitution and start afresh in fashioning a progressive rights-based founding law.

We would then need to agree on an electoral law and the rules of engagement and invite the international community to help in running a democratic election whose outcome would form an important bedrock for the future.

We would need to put in place a process to rebuild key national institutions such as parliament, the army, the police force and intelligence.

The people would need to be given reasons to believe in their power to elect and unelect governments.

Our recent past tells us that we have lost our humanity and respect for each other and we need to define who we are. Our national psyche has been poisoned by Zanu PF discourse and we need to cleanse it and rebase our norms and values.

We need to confront the ghosts of our recent past and decide how we deal with them in a fair and just manner so that they don’t revisit us in the future. We are where we are largely because we failed to deal with troubling issues around our war of liberation which have all come back to haunt us.

Talking of peace, justice and reconciliation will find few takers among the hardliners in the opposition and the ruling party. But we should refuse to have extremists on both sides dictate a winner-takes-all and narrow political agenda to the nation. Zimbabweans have been brutalised, dehumanalised and need political maturity and not grandstanding from their leaders. Indeed, Zimbabweans desperately need a visionary leadership.

This all-inclusive political approach realises that while the MDC has played a significant role in confronting Mugabe’s dictatorial regime, it is far from ready to govern.

On the other hand, while cognisant of the fact that Zanu PF is largely responsible for our current predicament, there are good people in the ruling party who are prepared to play a role in fashioning a new Zimbabwe if they re-organise their leadership and party structures. They need clear policies and a programme of action.

Apart from simply wanting to dislodge Mugabe and grab power, none of the Zanu PF factions has shown they can be trusted to govern on their own. Thus a new Zimbabwe will have to be the outcome of a collective and consultative national effort.

My favourite quote from Brutus in Julius Caesar is very pertinent in our current circumstances: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures."

Indeed, we face a choice between violent or peaceful change and we need to make the right choice for the future of our country.

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