Wednesday, 15 May 2013

“Good friends we had. Good Friends we lost…Along the way” The Zimbabwean Struggle for Democracy continues.

By Takura Zhangazha*

When analyzing the post 90s struggles for democratization in Zimbabwe and where the country finds itself now, Bob Marley’s song ‘No Woman No Cry’ has lyrics that may aptly relate to our contemporary circumstances. There are three particular lines in the song that capture the status of this same said struggle today. These are where Marley sings, ‘good friends we had, good friends we lost… along the way.’  This especially as we approach our second harmonized elections in 2013.

In relation to the aforementioned struggle, it would be true that those that were once on the same side, shaking hands and getting arrested together no longer talk informally and can only meet under the aegis of some state power or function. While those that were allies no longer sit at the same table to discuss the noble and strategic objectives of continuing with the struggle. 

The newer participants to the struggle have also taken sides by aligning themselves to those that have proximity to struggle resources (both in political power and monetary terms). And this is how good friends have been lost. It is also how the duration of the struggle has eventually led to simplistic but devastating opportunism that has left it being inorganic and elitist under the shroud of haphazard populism.

The departure points for this state of affairs have been many over the last 15 years. Some of these departure points include the refusal of initial independent candidates to be part of the National Working Peoples Convention in 1999 and the split of MDC and civil society in 2006. More recently there was the departure point of the 2007 Save Zimbabwe Campaign which on March 11 2007 organized a prayer rally in Highfields that was brutally suppressed when leaders were severely tortured at Highfields police station and elsewhere.

It is the SADC intervention in the aftermath of March 11 2007 that set the loss of friends on a firm path to reality. The secrecy that surrounded it regardless of the protestations of former allies was to culminate in varied ‘papering over the cracks’ legislative amendments including the 18th one to the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Before long, there were the harmonized elections of March 2008, and again the friends that had been lost came back to seek solidarity. Quick alliances were revisited and dusted for use in the elections which saw the first ever ‘hung’ parliament through a slim victory for the opposition. The presidential vote count was to be disputed (and many lives were lost) and once again bring in SADC and its facilitator, former South African President Thabo Mbeki. Again friends went through the populist motions of the struggle but as with 2007, other friends got lost in the secrecy of the negotiations.

By the time the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was signed, alliances and friendships were not only strained but in some cases had broken down. The swearing in of the inclusive government in February 2009 brought in the new era of contestations between former allies and those that now sat in cabinet. The debates and arguments over roles and responsibilities vis a vis the struggle no longer related to values and principles. They were couched in the language of ‘incrementalism’ (which very few of those in government understood).

Again, there was a reconfiguration of civil society to suit the whims of those who were now part of the inclusive government but had been in the various campaigns with founding organizations of their political movements. It became a proximity to resources and personality cults that was to define the new alliances of the struggle. Limited little of the support given to the COPAC constitutional reform process by civil society had to do with principle and continued commitment to the struggle. And this remains the case as we come to the close of the inclusive government as established by Constitutional Amendment number 19.

As the 2013 harmonised elections approach, after an undemocratic constitutional reform process, there will be rallying cries for alliances to be forged. These calls will, as of old, be geared to return to the alliances of the past, if only for the elections. They will be ahistorical in nature and seek to give the impression of an its ‘better the devil you know’scenario.  Even if such a devil has been unprincipled, undemocratic and inorganic in his/her interactions with former allies.

 The reality of the matter is that the struggle as we know it has come full circle. For those in proximity to power and resources it may well be over. For those who remain conscious of its founding principles, its people-centered pedagogy, the struggle is, unfortunately not over. Even if it were to be willed to end in such an undemocratic fashion, there will be others who will remember its genesis and fulfill its aspirations. And to paraphrase Marley from the same song, ‘in this great future, you can’t forget your past, so dry your tears, I say’ . 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (