In praise and Defence of the 179 489 ‘No’ voters.
By Takura Zhangazha*
The announcement by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) that 179 489 Zimbabweans voted ‘no’ to the draft constitution as opposed to the slightly over 3 million that endorsed it will give slight relief to the political parties in the inclusive government and the civil society organisations that were complicit in what can only be defined as one of the greatest political deceptions of Zimbabwean history. In accepting this result there are those who will mistakenly equate the vote count as the equivalent of a dress rehearsal for the harmonized elections scheduled for later on in the year. And this has already been hinted at in some press reports where the rural turnout is being equated with what has been referred to as a potential ‘landslide’ Zanu Pf victory. Others, particularly the MDC parties in the inclusive government will try and claim the vote as their own, together with their malleable civil society partners. They will laud the ‘yes’ victory as vindication when in fact the majority of their voters did not even know what they were voting for. In short it is a Pyrrhic victory for them no matter how they try and spin it.
The real issue at hand is the necessity of praising the 179 489 voters that chose to vote 'no' to this draft constitution. This they did against the run of the mill politicization of the process and the messianic tendencies of some of the political leaders who chose to think on behalf of all Zimbabweans without adequate consultation and yet still ridiculously claim to have done the right thing. It is the 179 489 that stood firm against the elitist promises of power and resisted being herded like cattle into unprincipled terrains where the grass will not be greener for future generations of Zimbabweans. The 'no voters' have stood by basic democratic value and principle and for this, history will absolve them.
This is not only because they faced the behemoth of three political parties seeking to cajole them into supporting something they neither democratically participated in nor knew. They also faced massive propaganda on the part of a parliamentary committee (COPAC) which produced t-shirts, billboards, radio programmes, newspaper adverts all in aide of getting an inorganic yes vote to its draft. Furthermore, those that they may have trusted in the form of civil society organizations departed from democratic principle and premise and sought instead either direct attachment to the political parties or demonstrated an ambivalence inimical to democratic value and principle. The ‘no’ voters decided to depart from such narrow and politicized narratives to lay a claim to the country’s future, not just for themselves, but for generations to come. And for this they must be praised and defended.
Where those aligned to the political parties sought to denigrate the naysayers, they used the flimsy question of what next as though our country’s history functions at their benevolence. It is apparent that for most of the dissenters to this draft constitution what is next is the continuation of the campaign for a democratic, holistic and genuinely people driven constitution making politics. This, without the power seeking politics of the inclusive government. Because some of the campaigners for the yes vote mistakenly thought it was a vote for their parties, it is imperative that the following point be made clear; the constitution transcends political parties and is intended primarily to recognise a country’s holistic history, its contemporary realities but above all, to pave the democratic path for majority generations to come and not for the few.
The way forward for the 179 489 therefore begins with bringing any sitting government of the day to account on the basis of democratic value and principle, and never losing sight of the still outstanding issue of establishing a democratic and people driven constitution. It also includes an understanding that our country does not belong to the 3 million that were in the majority in this vote, but that it also belongs not only to the 179489 but also the remaining eligible voting population of a further 3 million and the pending voters of at least 5 million other and younger Zimbabweans.
In understanding the way forward, it is of fundamental importance that the 179489 do not lose hope and adherence to democratic principle and values no matter the endgame politics of the inclusive government. There will be talk in political party circles about what to do with the official 5% garnered 'no' vote. There will be temptations at coalitions between those who voted yes with other political parties only to be fighting each other at the next harmonised elections. Such temptations must be kept at abeyance because the 'no' vote count was not about trying to get a foot into the door. It was about democratic value and principle. And this, with the fact that there are people countrywide who recognize this, is indicative of the need for a much more organic and democratic approach to our politics and activism. This without the overbearing tendencies of those that may seek to demonstrate solidarity from beyond Africa’s shores nor without getting mired in the politics of the party that broader civil society founded, the MDC(s).
Finally, in praising the 179 489, it is key that we understand that the no vote carries with it enormous historical leadership responsibilities. It is a pledge to the country that in voting 'no' we accepted the responsibility of our action and we will continue on the democratic path to ensuring a democratic Zimbabwe where all are equal before the law, have equal opportunities to better their lives regardless of race, gender, colour or creed. And that in the course of the next three months, the 179 489 no voters must increasingly prepare to demonstrate this same said responsibility to lead.
* Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)