By Tafi Mhaka
I fell asleep on a warm summer night hopeful Morgan Tsvangirai had won a bittersweet victory in Zimbabwe’s March 2002 presidential election. I had fallen asleep desperate for tangible relief from the Zanu-PF madness suffocating life out of a bitterly divided land.
MDC activists had been beaten, tortured and killed throughout Zimbabwe in the preceding months. Rowdy war veterans and Zanu-PF youths had routinely threatened and assaulted rural-based teachers and civil servants who openly supported Tsvangirai and the MDC.
Many had to pretend to support Zanu-PF by wearing campaign regalia and shouting Zanu-PF slogans at party meetings and rallies. Many who refused to do so risked public humiliation and unpaid banishment from work.
It was such a tense time and Zanu-PF’s campaign machinery had pulled out all the stops to prevent Tsvangirai from unseating former President Robert Mugabe. ZRP officials routinely refused the MDC permission to hold rallies and flatly refused to investigate organised acts of violence against MDC supporters and activists and commercial farmers.
The ZBC refused to air MDC adverts and provide fair coverage and analysis of MDC campaigns and policies. The Daily News was ‘banned’ in Zanu-PF strongholds. Government agencies distributed food aid on behalf of Zanu-PF and ZDF commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe had warned Tsvangirai the armed forces wouldn’t accept an opposition victory.
Yet a fulfilling sense of exhilaration amid a newfound faith in Zimbabwe’s potential was palpable everywhere. We somehow believed Mugabe would finally bow out of power after 22 disappointing years at the helm. But I awoke to find the infamously enormous vote counts from Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe had stolen our landmark moment in Zimbabwe’s history.
I was absolutely shattered and a painful glut of disbelief hung tight on my throat like a hangman’s noose. My workmates felt the same way and an angry mass of obviously shell-shocked bodies wandering around Harare’s CBD and downtown districts at lunchtime told their own story.
It had been about five eventful years since Zimbabwe’s 1997 ‘Black Friday’ financial meltdown. The 1999 Constitutional Referendum had resuscitated our Zimbabwean dream and a democratic movement christened the MDC had been born. Our beloved Joshua Nkomo had died and left Zanu-PF without a credible vestige of moral fibre to flaunt.
Our quality of life had deteriorated enormously and Zimbabweans had begun to emigrate abroad in droves. An inflationary environment had surfaced after commercial farms and private companies had been invaded and mostly ruined and thousands of workers had been made redundant.
We came to know about a Polish-trained medical doctor and war veteran named Chenjerai Hunzvi for his firebrand activism, destructive politics and a reputation for torturing MDC activists at his medical chambers in Budiriro.
We came to know about an eloquent young man named Learnmore Jongwe for his political acumen and confidence. We came to miss him for his tragic departure from our midst and the distressing circumstances that preceded his death. We discovered a human rights defender called David Coltart and a multitude of constitutional lawyers behind a collective drive for inclusive politics.
We had discovered our soul amid a homegrown murderous drama. But little did we know that our nightmare had only begun and Kelvin Tinashe Choto would be killed by ZDF ammunition and defenceless women would be raped by hordes of marauding ZDF soldiers in January 2019. Little did we understand that a bankrupt Zanu-PF leadership would unashamedly waste 17 further years suppressing our electoral will and downgrading Zimbabweans to indescribable hardships and poverty.
Yet Tsvangirai probably won the 2002 and 2008 presidential polls.
But Zanu-PF managed to rig both results. Zanu-PF also managed to rig Zimbabwe’s July 30 2018 poll to secure a questionable mandate for Emmerson Mnangagwa. That problematic ‘win’ and an extensive history of political thuggery provide the fundamental context that any negotiation with Zanu-PF must be premised on.
Too many people have suffered horrible deaths simply to save the bloody and unrepentant blushes of our hopeless Zanu-PF leaders. Zanu-PF’s immense failure is always buried under an inflammatory rubble of nationalist aggression towards peace-loving Zimbabweans and ethnic minorities. The ruling party has never been held accountable for its failure to develop a thriving modern economy and its failure to stem corruption and limit terrifying human rights abuses.
Zanu-PF has never embraced democracy and allowed us the freedom to vote freely for political continuity or political change. So it’s hard to understand why Chamisa must negotiate with a ruthless bunch of failed politicians. A government of national unity will simply whitewash political mayhem and prolong our suffering. So we mustn’t be selfish about everything and forget about our past sacrifices.
We must remember our fallen heroes and not forget our responsibility to honour the dead and fight for the young, weak and elderly. Any negotiation with Zanu-PF must be conducted through the bloody prism of our human and electoral losses and our stillborn democratic dreams.
Any concession granted to Zanu-PF must move Zimbabwe forward and bury the illiberal ways of the past. Which is why a truly free and fair election is the only path to a fresh start. Our vote must for once be counted and respected by Zanu-PF.