Thursday, 6 December 2012

Toward a New Democratic Unity Accord for Zimbabwe

By Takura Zhangazha*

This December we commemorate 25 years of the 1987 Unity Accord that united two former liberation movements, ZANU Pf and PF ZAPU.  A number of leaders from the two parties were later to  have their views and roles in the Unity Accord's mediation process  published (via excerpts)  in a book edited by Zimbabwe’s first   President C.S. Banana entitled Turmoil and Tenacity, Zimbabwe 1890-1990.  In reading the book and the accounts, for example, over the disagreements as to what to call the new united party, it appears as though the Unity Accord was by and large an agreement between two parties and should essentially be left at that. The truth of the matter,with the benefit of political hindsight, is that in its occurrence, the Unity Accord was as historical as it was to be beset by numerous problems in its aftermath.

This, particularly so when we take into account the reported and documented killings of thousands of civilian victims of the dark period that has infamously come to be called ‘Gukurahundi’.  It is also a serious indictment on the signatory parties to the Accord that the book does not record any leader as apologizing  for these lives that were unnecessarily and tragically lost during and in between the seven years that it took to sign the agreement.   

Neither has there ever been an subsequent apology over the same matter a quarter of a century later from any of the leaders who now constitute the united ‘Zanu Pf’.  The closest that we have come to receiving an official acknowledgement of the fact that many lives were tragically lost  from government was when President Mugabe in 1999 referred to the same period as a  moment of madness that should never be repeated’. And for many a Zimbabwean this remains inadequate. 

Almost an entire  generation later, we have to deal with the reality of our immediate post Independence past through the act of a public holiday to recognize the coming to agreement of two former liberation movements. And with each successive commemoration, the Unity Accord may slowly be becoming a document and moment for historical record as opposed to one that, with the benefit of hindsight, should have signified a new departure toward, as its very name suggests, a united Zimbabwe. And this, not only in the written form or by way of identity documents, but by way of building an intrinsic and holistic sense of belonging to the territory between the Zambezi and the Limpopo rivers by all of its citizens. 

It is this particular point that must essentially be placed on the table for debate in 2012 and beyond because as the generation that was old enough to witness or even sign the Unity Accord passes on, so do newer and much more relevant reasons for keeping the country united emerge.  These more contemporary and organic reasons emerge within the context of how 25 years later, while we go on the commemorative holiday, we still have not addressed the issues of differentiated development across the many regions of the country and are still faced with the urgent need to atone for the atrocities against innocent civilians during the Gukurahundi period. 

But perhaps even more importantly, and due to the political contestations that emerged in the late 1990s we are now dealing with issues that are not only historical but have come to affect our contemporary politics. Whether one looks at the ethnocentric splits of our current major political parties or alternatively the politicized debates around devolution and emergent separatist movements, there is adequate evidence to point to the need for a new democratic and unifying narrative beyond the power acquisition oriented statements of our current political leaders.  

It is a task that will require that, unlike our former liberation movements,  we take the entirety of the national question into account. And this means that a new national unity must not seek only political compromises for seats at the table of power and resource distribution as sadly turned out to be the case after 1987.  While we must take into account the historical importance of 1987, together with its bringing to an end a direct but largely one sided conflict, we cannot afford to make the same mistakes as were made thereafter.   

A new unity would entail a redress of the past not only for its own sake or to spite the other, but in order to prevent any such negative pasts from recurring in the future.   In order for this to happen, the younger generations of Zimbabweans must take up the mantle and refuse to use the templates of the older generations to address the challenges that we face as a country. 

We must take up the progressive values that established our national independence (none of which ever fought for a bifurcated Zimbabwe) and discard the regressive ideas and replace those with ones that have a truly democratic and unifying ethos to them. This means avoiding simplistic ethnocentric understandings of our national political problems and embracing democratically tolerant and nationally beneficial ones which are based on people-centered holistic development needs.  We must also learn to accept that our diversity is not our weakness, but our strength and that the debating of ideas is the beginning of finding common ground to solving our national problems, together. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (