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Civil Society needs to help Zimbabweans get their voices back

Opinion by Shingi Chimwaza

As the problem of dictatorship continues unabated in Zimbabwe I cannot help but reflect on Gene Sharp’s book,’from dictatorship to democracy’,which seems to provide us with ready answers for the peculiar situation we find ourselves in as a country.

MDC Harare Province Youth demonstration
MDC Harare Province Youth demonstration in Harare

Just as he explained it in his conceptual framework for liberation, the Zimbabwean population has been atomized (turned into a mass of isolated individuals) who are unable to work together to achieve freedom, to confide in each other or even to do anything at their own initiative.

People have resorted to conversing in whispers, as they shift their trust from the MDC to the West and the US for a possible intervention that can bring the much needed democracy.

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The population’s docility has actually become predictable to the dictatorship even in face of such injustice perpetrated against them that should otherwise provoke mass action. The population has been beaten into submission such that there is a prevailing lack of self-confidence and hence an incapability to resist. Zimbabwe definitely falls under the category Sharp refers to as “today’s dictatorships”.

As the population is pushed into desperation,it is however important to call to order the faceless Facebook analyst, Baba Jukwa (with more than three hundred thousand likes) so that he stops forthwith his calls for a violent reply to the broad day electoral robbery that took place on the 31st of July.

Gene Sharp goes on to say,”By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority.”This statement is true by any measure if viewed with Zimbabwe in mind.

Zimbabwe however finds itself in a time when the way forward has to be determined by the people under good guidance of the Civil Society. By nature, the Civil society’s justification of existence is based on the premise to help shape society such that it is desirable to everyone.

A lot of political games were at play during the MDC’s tenure in the unity government as junior partners. Their fight for institutional reforms was eclipsed by their quest for power over their opponents in government, ZANU PF.

The people’s will for a transparent ZEC did not have the maximum attention by the MDC as it seemed not to dawn on them (only until much later), that the arrangement called GNU was only a temporary one.

On the other hand the dictator was already planning for elections taking advantage of a lack of a watchdog in government to guarantee a free vote. The civil society should therefore stand up and reclaim their role to fight for democratic rights and processes in every sphere of Zimbabwean life.

This may be achieved through mass mobilization of the population to engage in non-violent conflict in their demands for democracy.These would range from street protests to other forms of civil disobedience such as tax boycotts.

To be realistic, this is not going to be a one day event for civil society, but such efforts by WOZA for instance, need to be supported by a well organized network of civic organizations such that the people of Zimbabwe may regain their voice again.

It is now evident in Zimbabwe’s case that the fight for democracy can not be sorely put on opposition leaders’ shoulders but rather by the people themselves through coordinated efforts and skills of the civil society.

Sharp prophesied that,”dictators are not in the business of allowing elections that could remove them from their thrones”. This has been witnessed in our country and I do not believe it is unfair to say the MDC was naive to believe the impossible could happen, when it was all clear that the election was already rigged.

They knew of NIKUV, they did not have the voters roll, they knew of the intimidation in the rural areas and all other irregularities that marred the last election, but still promised people that victory was certain.

It therefore brings us back to the need of the population getting back its voice so as to effectively stop the nonsense! Yes , it was possible for people to demonstrate across the country against an election with no reforms, but it required the civil society to step in and justify its existence through fullfillment of their mandate which is to help ensure a just and free society!

Remember the reforms in question were not a one day handbook for a one day event, No. The reforms entailed the establishment of the basic democratic fundamentals such as an apolitical military, apolitical state media amongst others.

It was wrong for Zimbabweans and the Civil Society to send the MDC to demand reforms yet themselves could still find ‘good use’ of the status quo had they won the elections.I am not bringing the MDC’s credibility into question but recent African history has the likes of Fredrick Chiluba of Zambia who became a villain after taking advantage of a lack of transparency in Zambia’s institutions and took a self aggrandisement agenda.

It is also important to point at the fact that ZANU PF is likely to invite (a soon-to-split) MDC-T to further negotiations since it is inevitable that they (ZANU PF) will face challenges regarding legitimacy internationally.

The Civil Society should step in and show that this time they represent the popular voice of the majority.They will prove this through the numbers evident on the streets thanks to their mass mobilizing skills.

There should be no compromising with dictatorship and the people of Zimbabwe should through non-violent conflict push for their own terms and a new Zimbabwe need to be created through people initiated reforms.

Shingi Chimwaza is from the Fletcher Summer Institute Alumni Network- a group under the International Center for Non Violent Conflict