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Manipulating voters in the name of sovereignty
Phillip Pasirayi
December 07, 2007

A FEW days ago we saw hordes of poor peasants brought to Harare ostensibly to show solidarity with the aging President Robert Mugabe and to send a clear message to the so-called agents of regime change and their principals that the 83-year old leader is solidly in power and still supported by his people.

Although most people who took part in the "million man march" were manipulated and bussed from the rural areas, it suffices to argue that the majority of those who participated felt good to be sponsored to come to Harare for the march.

The majority of the people who thronged the Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield last week to show solidarity with Mugabe whose candidacy is seriously contested are perhaps the hardest hit in this sinking economy.

It is surprising that these people, who cannot afford health care, tuition fees for their children and an average standard of living still toyi-toyi in defence of Mugabe's life presidency agenda.

These people hero-worship political leadership, sometimes likening even the most cruel and incorrigible of leaders like Mugabe to God, Messiah or Son of God even when policies pursued by such leaders are as calamitous as ever.

These people lack sophistication and are prone to manipulation by the political elite who often give them marijuana and large volumes of opaque beer to behave in a crazy manner. These people - normally referred to as the "masses" - are averse to change, preferring the status quo than a future that they do not know. They are literally frenzied by charismatic leaders whose policies do not go beyond rallies and political sloganeering.

Even though these people live a life of poverty they still do not care much about their misery. Such people do not think of education, food, health and decent housing as entitlements.

It was not only the lumpen elements and peasants who attended the march. There was also a sizeable number of the middle class and the elite who attended, but suffice it to say that these are the people who have benefitted immensely from Mugabe's patronage through subsidised fuel, farms and the agricultural inputs scheme started by the governor of the central bank.

Some of them run businesses which are being sustained by taxpayers' money through loans from the governor. They are the greatest beneficiaries from corruption through the tenders they are awarded by various government departments.

By going back to the Zimbabwe Grounds, 27 years after Independence, Mugabe wanted to invoke the nostalgia of 1980 when he was still popular after having led the war against colonial rule. There is overwhelming evidence that after 27 years of independence Zimbabwe Grounds has become symbolic of state repression and dictatorship.

As much as we remember Zimbabwe Grounds as the venue where Mugabe delivered a great speech in 1980, we also remember that it was at the same venue on March 11 this year when the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was savagely attacked by Mugabe's henchman and barred from addressing his supporters.

Some of us, who were involved with the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, vividly remember how Zimbabwe Grounds and Highfield became a war zone on March 11, as agents of Mugabe's regime brutally brought down a peaceful gathering of Zimbabweans who were trying to find a solution to the problems we face as a country.

We also sadly remember Gift Tandare, one of the youths who wanted to go to Zimbabwe Grounds, just like the "million man march" but was gunned down by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. His only crime was being a district chairperson for the National Constitutional Assembly and a member of the MDC.

Close to three decades at the helm of Zimbabwe, President Mugabe has turned a country that was once the bread basket of Africa into a pariah state. The speech that Mugabe delivered at the Zimbabwe Grounds does not show a policy shift in Zanu PF and its readiness to work with other players for the common good of the country.

Despite the deepening national crisis, Mugabe still talks about the MDC as a creation of the British and makes claims to sovereignty as if the word "sovereignty" means nothing except Zanu PF. When Mugabe's hold on power is under threat, he quickly reminds us of the need to claim our sovereignty as if sovereignty means always having Mugabe at the helm of the country. I am afraid to say that sovereignty does not only mean political independence but that it means total freedom and the ability of Zimbabweans to have total control of their lives. The people of Zimbabwe do not have this freedom, their lives are held to ransom by Mugabe. The people do not have rights, it is Mugabe who defines what rights (if any) people should enjoy. In other words Mugabe is the rights giver and the rights taker or at least he sees himself as such.

The Sunday Mail's Munyaradzi Huni reported that: "The President later talked about the MDC as a British creation, designed to thwart the land reform programme. He spoke about how the three British political parties had agreed to contribute funds to the Westminister Foundation to sponsor the MDC".

Since we attained Independence in 1980, Zanu PF has been funded by foreigners but because of a poor human rights record, particularly the violence perpetrated against MDC activists since 2000, most of the Western philanthropists that used to fund Zanu PF severed their ties with a brutal and arrogant regime that they did not want to associate with. Mugabe's utterances at the Zimbabwe Grounds are meant to mislead the people so that they give him a fresh mandate to govern.

The MDC is a Zimbabwean political party, founded by Zimbabweans and pursuing a purely Zimbabwean agenda of liberating the minds of people who still think Mugabe should be life president.

We have, for a long time now, been told lies that the reason why the economy is sinking is because of the MDC and its Western allies.

Claims to sovereignty and non-interference in a country's domestic politics do not stand the test of time especially with a well accepted and growing global human rights movement.

Mugabe's project of life presidency is the biggest stumbling block to our country's search for a future that is based on respect for human rights and the rule of law. The usual tirade against the British does not get us out of the stinking poverty in which the country has been plunged.

Our expectation was that if Zanu PF was sincere about the on-going dialogue mediated by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, Mugabe should have risen above party politics and told the delegates why his party and the MDC are currently involved in dialogue.

Mugabe should have preached tolerance, as well as hinting at a paradigm shift within the ruling party and the thinking and way of doing politics. We expected the president to take the opportunity to extend an olive branch to the opposition and other Zimbabweans who want to see things improve in our country.

It was pointless for the president to be abrasive and fire unnecessary shots even at the British premier Gordon Brown.

Mugabe missed a golden opportunity during the "million man march" at the Zimbabwe Grounds to explain to the poor peasants why it is necessary for both parties to engage in political dialogue and for these talks to be as inclusive as possible.

From Mugabe's tone, the lesson we draw is that the ongoing dialogue is meaningless and will not take Zimbabwe into the future.

* Phillip Pasirayi is a human rights activist.

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