Back to Index
Just like Burma?
September 28, 2007
television footage of clean-shaven monks in Burma marching up and
down the streets of Rangoon in the last two weeks, many in Zimbabwe
cannot help but muse at the prospects of the country's impoverished
citizens following suit to pressure President Mugabe's government
Constitutional Assembly chair Lovemore Madhuku should at least
be wondering why Zimbabweans stay at home when he calls for "jambanja".
monks numbering more than 10 000, some shouting "Democracy,
democracy," have since August 19 been demonstrating against
the Burmese junta.
This week junta
supporters and police started attacking demonstrators and imposed
a curfew in major urban areas. Militias were also driving around
Rangoon warning lay-people wanting to join the demonstrators that
"action" would be taken against anybody who continued
to support the demonstrations, news agency reports said. They announced
a 9 pm-to-5 am curfew in Rangoon and Mandalay, Burma's two largest
cities, and said gatherings of five or more people were banned,
setting the stage for confrontation if the monks continue to protest,
the reports said.
veterans here threatening to take the law into their own hands whenever
the opposition and other pro-democracy groupings try to take to
the streets to demonstrate against the Zanu PF government. This
is just one of the similarities. There are more. Burma and Zimbabwe
both have governments which do not hesitate to unleash the military
on unarmed civilians to protect the tenure of the incumbent. The
two governments have kept a tight rein on the press and stand accused
of promoting bone-head policies which have resulted in their respective
economies plummeting and all human development indices heading south.
Burma and Zimbabwe
have gained a notoriety for being pariah states. The similarities
however do not make the means of achieving democratic change in
the two countries uniform. Burmese monks for over a month managed
to express their disgust at the junta until the army and the police
beat them to the ground this week. It can be said that the demonstration
showed a measure of organisational aptitude on the part of the monks
but it is also clear that the government there exercised a measure
These two aspects
do not exist in Zimbabwe. Civic groups including students, the National
Constitutional Assembly and the Zimbabwe
Congress of Trade Unions, whose leaders have sometimes shown
a willingness to take on Zanu PF on the streets, have not exhibited
the ability to rally people around a cause. Greater organisational
ability is required in Zimbabwe where the government has given law
enforcers a free rein to strike fear into the hearts of unarmed
citizens. This is amply shown in the way small demonstrations by
the NCA have been brutally suppressed by state brutes who have recruited
in their ranks Zanu PF militias and war veterans.
We have always
said there is need for a change in strategy to engage the regime.
But Madhuku was this week clinging to the same old script. On Tuesday
at a public meeting in Harare, he was haranguing the nation to go
onto the streets because he believes the dialogue between government
and the opposition is not the way to go. And not many will heed
the call and take to the streets like the monks in Burma. By marching
on the streets of Rangoon and other urban centres in Burma in large
numbers, they not only demonstrated a national resolve but also
the strategy to achieve their ends.
This is a critical
point for Madhuku to ponder. Fruits of militancy must be visible
for this stratagem to work. Almost 20 years ago a huge demonstration
in Burma left thousands dead. There was loud international condemnation
of the junta which has however held on. Compare this with the small
NCA demonstrations which have resulted in broken bones and serious
injuries to members and sympathisers.
There is no
hope in Madhuku's plan as long as the demonstrations fail to move
the struggle for a new constitution forward. The challenge before
Madhuku and the NCA is how to popularise their cause which has no
instruments to fight its adversaries. At the moment Madhuku's strategy
has become as predictable as the riot police's reaction to his placard-waving
supporters. No march of the monks here yet.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.