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Samora Machel’s warning to Zimbabwe on Mugabe: not yet Uhuru

By Blessing Vava The month of October casts a dark cloud over of our Mother continent Africa, as it swallowed great revolutionaries ...

Monday, 23 October 2017

Samora Machel’s warning to Zimbabwe on Mugabe: not yet Uhuru

By Blessing Vava

The month of October casts a dark cloud over of our Mother continent Africa, as it swallowed great revolutionaries who greatly shaped the struggles against colonialism and imperialism. On the 19th of October 1986, Samora Moisés Machel the first President of Mozambique died when his presidential aircraft crashed near the Mozambique-South Africa border.  We will never forget on the 15th October 1987 and 14th of October of 1999, Mother Earth called Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara President of Burkina Faso and President Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania to rest. Giants in the anti-colonial struggles, Nyerere and Sankara departed leaving an indelible mark that will forever be engraved in our hearts in the same way that President Samora Machel did.

As we commemorate the luminaries we remain mindful of what they stood for and their vision for Africa to be a great continent to live for future generations. However, the purpose of my article is focusing on the legacy of President Machel, a towering figure in our struggle for liberation. With other leaders of the Frontline States, Machel provided solidarity in form of military and social support for Zimbabwean fighters as they waged a protracted war against the Smith regime. Had Samora been alive today I am sure he would be saying to Zimbabweans remember my warnings on Mugabe given the state of affairs in Zimbabwe right now. Those who were at the forefront during the war gave narrations of how Machel was sceptical of Mugabe assuming the leadership of the revolutionary movement. At least he had seen beyond!

The Samora warning
Dzinashe Machingura a commander during the struggle said that Machel had very profound misgivings about any thought of granting Robert Mugabe any importance whatsoever, let alone viewing him as being some kind of central-player-in-the-making. Dzino explained of an incident, a meeting between Frelimo and ZIPA command structures in 1976 in Mozambique at the height of the war. Samora had called for the meeting with the ZIPA leadership to discuss its long term plan with regards to Zimbabwe’s prospective leadership. Mhanda aptly illustrated the moment: ‘’ Rex Nhongo then submitted our list, with Mugabe at the top. Machel leapt from his chair in disgust. He was clearly not happy that we had included Mugabe, let alone as the leader. He went on to tell us that he had removed Mugabe from the refugee camps for a good reason: ‘He loves the limelight,’ and is opposed to unity.’’ However, President Machel went on to accept Mugabe as its new leader, but Machel was not far from the truth as evidenced by Mugabe’s selfishness as he has morphed himself into a life president. A notion against the ethos of the revolutionary code that leaders come and go.

Leaders of the Frontline States
Again, in 1974 Mugabe had previously been rejected by the Frontline leaders after he was released by Smith to go and meet the Front Line leaders, Kaunda, Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Agostinho Neto (Angola) and Samora Machel (Mozambique). According to Dzino and corroborated by Rugare Gumbo in an interview with China Global Television Network, that  Nyerere especially was so angry at the idea of a leader being so obviously sent to them with Smith’s connivance that he refused to talk to Mugabe and demanded that he and his followers go back to Rhodesia and return with Sithole.
It is evidently clear that Robert Mugabe was a blue eyed boy of Ian Smith, contrary to the Pan African giant he portrayed himself. The late Joshua Nkomo’s biography The Story of My Life, page 10, made the same revelations about how Mugabe used to get preferential treatment in jail, allowed to organise meetings that orchestrated a coup against Ndabaningi Sithole. Here is Nkomo: ‘’Next morning we gathered for our meeting with the presidents of the black nations of Southern Africa who were in the front line states of the struggle against racism. Julius Nyerere walked in off his plane and greeted us all, and the first question he asked was: ‘Where’s Ndabaningi?’ The Zanu team, surprisingly enough, did not include Sithole, whom we all regarded as president of that party. Instead there were its secretary general, Robert Mugabe, and its secretary for youth and culture, Morton Malianga. It turned out that five members of the Zanu central committee had been kept in prison and allowed to hold meetings there. This tiny group, without consulting their members or their colleagues, had decided to depose Sithole as their president: Mugabe and Malianga were acting as their spokesmen.  Nkomo went on: ‘’The presidents could not accept these two relatively unknown people as valid spokesmen for Zanu, so they were sent off to wait in their rooms while the business of the meeting was tackled.’’ All this points out to some interesting observations, that Mugabe’s role in the liberation struggle is rather a vanitisation of a narcissist geriatric posing, and posting his selfies. Secondly, our history books are so distorted in their eulogising of Mugabe, and in the fullness of time intellectuals, historians and writers must revisit that area and give Zimbabwe a correct narrative of the liberation struggle. The Kudzai Chipanga’s of this world and many of the sycophants who have elevated Mugabe to God should however be reminded that Zimbabwe belongs to all of us and inspired by many generations before us who were fearless and not Mugabe and ZANU PF. President Mugabe is inherently insecure and forever threatened by fear of the unknown. As we remember Samora Machel, Zimbabweans must stand firm in defence of the ideals of the liberation struggle and independence which the genuine heroes fought so hard to achieve. We should defend the legacy of all departed comrades who fought for real freedom, not for the freedom of one family and a few cronies.  

The war of liberation was not an individual struggle
For ZANU PF they have forgotten that the liberation struggle was not an individual, or a one party struggle but rather it as to free all the masses of our people from the yoke of dictatorship under a racist imperial white settler regime. The recent political developments are just but an indication that ZANU PF is a self-serving party which has used the liberation narrative as an excuse to stay in power. Various political formations, the youth movement, civil society, trade unions have since independence decried the economic decay, underdevelopment which has had to accompany political liberation. Sadly, a majority of Zimbabweans have left the country and are scattered all over the globe because of oppression, economic exclusion as people are still trapped in the poverty and starvation that existed under colonial domination. President Samora Machel’s warning indeed cautioned of what we are experiencing under a self-serving leader. Mugabe’s rule has been characterised by dictatorship, patronage and extremely intolerant forms of leadership. His inability to persuade and politically convince those that disagree with him, has resorted to use of force and coercion as his leadership style.

A tale of two liberation movements
There is no doubt that Mugabe has been the biggest curse that Zimbabwe has ever got, his empty rhetoric as the champion of black empowerment has remained on his mouth. Since ZANU PF got another mandate after the ‘resounding’ victory in 2013, the party has dismally failed to transform Zimbabwe through their ill-fated ZIMASSET blueprint which has since gathered dust. The party’s obsession with elections is worrisome as if a new mandate in 2018 would translate to a new order of development and economic recovery. Mugabe like all ancestral spirits who from time to time need appeasement through traditional rituals, has become a living ancestor who, despite facing no challenge from within his party needs regular endorsement to reaffirm that that he is the ultimate leader of ZANU PF. For example they have already indicated that the party is going for an extraordinary congress in December to ‘endorse’ Mugabe as the party’s candidate and centre of power. It is all about him and he wants the limelight, as described by Machel. The useless conferences by ZANU PF clearly show that they are out of touch with reality and should however take a leaf from their all-weather friends the Chinese Communist Party, who had their congress these past days.  
While ZANU is gathering for a special congress to ‘endorse’ Mugabe, the CPC’s congress was highlighting the successes that the party has made since their last congress. The congress report recorded China’s average annual growth rate of over 7 percent, which contributing more than 30 percent on average to world economic growth. Under the CPC leadership, China created more than 13 million new jobs annually for four consecutive years between 2013 and 2016. China Daily also reported that new jobs created in the first 18 months of 2017 stood at 9.74 million are some of the highlights from China. Since 2013, China has lifted 66 million Chinese people– equivalent to the population of France –out of poverty. They have benefited from the Targeted-Poverty-Alleviation strategy put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Under the strategy, China aims to lift 10 million people out of poverty each year, and is expected to reach the goal of “eliminating poverty in China by 2020. The congress also outlined China's future development at a new historical starting point and indicates the effects the country's development will have on the world.  Xi Jinping’s talk of the China Dream should inspire ZANU PF and President Mugabe to lead us to the Zimbabwe dream. A Zimbabwe dream that should in it carries the aspirations of the masses. However, I should say that Mugabe doesn’t have any Zimbabwe dream but a Mugabe dream as he has literally become a life president.

 A big lesson for ZANU PF is that congresses are not for rituals to endorse the ‘the ancestor’ but rather an opportunity to articulate strategies and tactics, providing a programmatic and methodological guide for any serious movement that seeks to develop the country. ZANU PF seems lost; theirs is about power, and power to One Man, chastised by Samora as a selfish individual who shouldn’t have been given any leadership role of that magnitude.

Blessing Vuvuzela Vava is a blogger based in Chipinge. He can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com

Monday, 21 August 2017

Thinking Beyond MDC-99: Some Notes on Designing Winning Coalitions

Blessing Vava**

The defeat of the opposition by ZANU PF in the 2013 plebiscite eroded the once vibrant power of the opposition. Since that heavy defeat of the MDC-T, the ruling party ZANU PF has been consolidating its support base to an extent that pundits have already predicted a landslide win for the liberation movement in 2018. Yet, benign to the so-called resurgence of ZANU PF are internecine struggles and convulsions that make it vulnerable to its own self-engineered demise. With endless splits, the once vibrant movement, the MDC-T has been reduced into a ‘pressure group’ that now needs to rejuvenate itself and undergo a serious metamorphic phase to reclaim its lost glory. As a mitigating measure, the opposition has forged an alliance in the hope that they will field a single candidate under the auspices of the MDC Alliance, with Morgan Tsvangirai as its sole candidate. 

The Need for Numbers that Matter.

 In so doing, the opposition is responding to the reality that ZANU PF is a colossal animal that requires all forces to unite and confront it in the upcoming elections.
High school reunion of 1999 boys?

The default logic of politics is that the numbers matter at the end of the day and the fact that they have coalesced means that they need numbers. However, the critical question that has to be asked is whether the MDC alliance will bring the numbers that matter as argued by McDonald Lewanika, a London School of Political Science Doctoral Researcher in Gravitas Vol 1 Issue 2 of 2017. Lewanika observes that:

             In the final analysis, an opposition coalition alone may be necessary but       
             insufficient to lead the opposition to victory, and a coalition of opposition  
             parties, which doesn’t take on board broader societal interests, and interest   
             groups in urban and rural areas may be doomed to fail. Opposition parties     
             can fail to garner the numbers that matter for defeating ZANU-PF if they
             do not accede to the reality that putting together a winning coalition may
             entail moving beyond the limited space of political parties to encompass
             other social and economic interest groups, in urban and rural areas.

The fundamental lesson learnt is that coalitions are the key to electoral success for opposition parties but at the same time designing a winning coalition needs to consider diverse and complex interests rather than simple arithmetic reductionism. The idea of coalitions ahead of an electoral process is not a new phenomenon, a glance in many parts of the continent can attest to the value of cooperation by the opposition movement and building alliances to achieve common goals. There are many examples in Africa, where the opposition have 3 successfully coalesced to defeat the incumbent and some cases are instructive: Gambia (2016), Nigeria (2015), Lesotho (2012 and 2015), Senegal (2000 and 2012), Benin (2006) and Kenya post-2002. In these cases, the coalitions were successful because, they designed alliances that were informed by and based on the different social classes composing their societies. It is my contention that the recent coalition signing ceremony that happened in Harare on the 5th of August 2017 was nothing short of a high school reunion laced with pomp, fun fare and hot air rather than any heat to melt the hegemon or dominance of ZANU PF. The event which drew a significant crowd failed to restore hope amongst many Zimbabweans who yearn for a better alternative to end ZANU PF’s decades of misrule. In my view, the coming together of these ‘former’ comrades was nothing much to write home about. In much simpler terms, it was just an elite pact or rather a high school reunion of 1999 boys and a congregate of the banqueting; simply rearranging chairs. In reality, they took the prefects to the banquet and forgot the students from the classes (society). There is a lot of work to be done if that said coalition is to see the light of the day.

 Names Matter: Where is the New Zimbabwe Alliance?

Firstly, the name itself ‘MDC Alliance’ is not inspiring at all, it is trapped in the nostalgia of history, in particular 1999 and in this case, they could have sought Job Sikhala’s permission to run under the rubric MDC 99. I do not doubt he would have accented. However, the only danger of this strategy is that in as much it will send a clear message of the terms of the reunion, it will be oblivious to Professor Brian Raftopoulos’ observation of the reconfigured political economy and calls for new forms of organising. In addition, it becomes exclusive to the present realities that there are now new kids on the block such as Zimbabwe People’s First, National People’s Party, citizens’ movements and new voting demographics, thus becomes limited in attracting the numbers that matter in designing a winning coalition. Naming and branding are very important in politics and the coalition needed a name that unites the people and at the same time a name that gives the people hope. Branding is all about appealing to peoples’ dreams. Politics is all about selling hope to a people. Political branding is gaffe-prone territory. It is a delicate operation where missteps and unplanned moments can spell political doom. This is indeed homework for the coalition. Maybe, The New Zimbabwe Alliance may have helped in giving a national outlook and as well as aspiration for a better tomorrow, thus sending a clear, simple and straightforward message that can easily resonate and at the same time energise the masses. Secondly, the speeches by the principals were nothing but hot air with the usual rhetoric of ‘Mugabe must go’ and massaging inflated egos of the politicians without proffering a clear framework on how to solve the economic political impasse engulfing the nation. There was a sense of insincerity and it shows that the leaders are not coalesced around certain ideological principles, a shared national vision which is more than the Mugabe must go rhetoric. With allegations that the donors were behind this coalition, it already paints a bad picture on part of the leaders as greedy people who are driven by their own material conditions. Coalitions should not be formed because the donors have said so, but they should be formed on the basis of the people’s aspirations.

Forget Makarau and Think People.

 As it stands the coalition has failed to inspire hope and questions which we might have to ask are: What has changed and what is new, in the wake of the same political players that failed to unseat Mugabe whilst still united? Whilst there is much talk about electoral reforms and emphasis on transforming Justice Rita Makarau’s ZEC; it has to be borne in mind that ZANU PF has already declared that it will not reform itself out of power and any over-investment or over-reliance on that strategy is tantamount to chasing a waterfall. Without the much talked about electoral reforms, what is the strategy of the Alliance in as far as ensuring pacification of the margin of fear and margin of rigging? I would hasten to say that the MDC Alliance might need to go back to the founding documents of that movement of 1999 in Gwanzura, as those are still as relevant as today. The National Working Peoples Convention and documents like ‘Beyond ESAP’ clearly articulated a shared vision of the mass democratic movements, the working class, the churches, students and other social classes of our broader society. In the same vein, the MDC Alliance needs to go beyond the 1999 analytic lens and realise that there are other new social classes such as, rank marshals and touts, Kombi drivers and operators, artisanal miners, vendors, new farmers, millennials, cross border traders, and the new citizens’ movements amongst many other existing groups or that may emerge.

 Sincere Reconciliation is the Foundation for Democratic Politics

Thirdly, one can get the sense that there was a lot of hypocrisy and if not grandstanding of the highest order especially from the likes of MDC leader Welshman Ncube, who chose to trivialise his speech by ‘apologising’ to the people of Zimbabwe. One wonders what exactly the law professor was apologising for, when in reality his departure from the united MDC was a genuine expression of the lack of internal party democracy under the leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai. Perhaps, the professor might need to tell us what has changed now? The need to forge a coalition is more than just the call for Mugabe to go, but rather it is about bringing a new politics and forms of governance practices that are pro-people and different to ZANU PF’s anti-people politics. It is about delivering social services and a better life to people as well as ending corruption, but above all the coalition should provide a framework on how they envisage taking the country forward. Fourthly, this coalition is not a sincere move but rather it is just meant to address short-term goals of ‘Mugabe going’ rather than to inculcate enduring democratic reform agenda. Instead of the opposition coalescing around a shared vision, ideological underpinnings and principles that will provide a democratic narrative to salvage Zimbabwe, the parties in Zimbabwe are opportunistic vehicles for their own selfish ends. It is just a coalition of individuals without an organic mass movement enough to bring confidence and building the numbers for the coming elections. There is need for the coalition to extend beyond the existing political parties and an elite civil society comprising of individuals who dominated the proceedings at the launch.

Realism Helps

Fifthly, there is an issue of the spoilers: small man with a big man syndrome in the mould of PDP Secretary General Gorden Moyo who is exhibiting shocking levels of infantile radicalism. While his principal Tendai Biti has shown commitment to be part of the coalition, Moyo is busy packing emotions as science and objective reality. Moyo should know that good English and rhetoric is not the same as having the numbers. He and his lot need to be patient, otherwise they face the wrath of history and run the risk of perishing. The painful reality for the other small parties is acknowledging that at least for now there are two political homes in Zimbabwe: Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe and the rest will remain shadows for now. Nevertheless, this is no blank cheque for the MDC-T to be arrogant but a call to leadership and exercise magnanimity by realising that all creatures great and small matter. However, it has to be noted that the opposition coalition will have a twofold objective outlined in the perking order and weight below in the 2018 elections. The numeric power that is needed is firstly, to dislodge ZANU PF from power and this is the most primary objective and best-case scenario. Secondly, is to reduce ZANU PF’s two-thirds parliamentary dominance, i.e. capacity to amend the constitution in the legislature and to defend the zones of autonomy as part of withering authoritarianism. The question of Mugabe going is now a question of Nigerian Novelist Dan Fulani’s “God’s Case: No Appeal”. If he wins the 2018 election, the constitution will not allow the nonagenarian to run again for office in 2023, assuming God is gracious with time and life to him, thus this is likely Mugabe’s last dance as president of  Zimbabwe. If he decides to run again in 2023, Mugabe may not rig the biological life circle of a human being; his day is now a matter of time and the tale-tale signs have started creeping in. That day will certainly change the dynamics of our politics. For doubters, a reading of Malawian and Zairean history will give us lessons on how Africa’s former strongmen tumbled from grace in their last days: Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda and Mobutu Sese Seko Wazabanga.

This article first appeared in the Gravitas Edition on Coalition Politics

**Blessing Vava is a Zimbabwean blogger based in Chipinge. He can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com. Twitter: @blevava

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Some Reflections on Student activism and the Pitfalls of Celebrity politics in Zimbabwe

By Blessing Vava

''Student activism is a highly conflict-filled terrain with very passionate individuals and groups involved'' said one scholar (Moyo: 2013) in his journal article as he looked at the relationship between politics and student activism. In many parts of the world students protests have been a catalyst for change and in some instances causing the collapse of unpopular regimes. In his paper (Moyo: 2013) concedes that while student activism has been highly associated with social and political change and as a form of affirmative action it has been demonised by governments.
Glory seeker? #thisflag founder Pastor Evan Mawarire (Image; IB Times)

While students have been able to articulate and fight their struggles, against high tuition fees and in many instances it is the fight for free education there has been a concern of those genuine struggles by the students being hijacked by political figures and parties. It is important to note that the issues driving the student anger and rebellion go far beyond the unaffordability of higher education for the poor and the working class. It is having to slot into an education system that emulates the society we live in – an elite ruling class sending its children to study abroad and the perpetuation of inequality and prejudice against the financially weak.

 In the same vein, politicians should leave students alone and equally students need to be careful on the pitfalls of having their issues drowned by those of politicians.  Whereas students have the right to freedom of association the events at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) yesterday are surely a cause for concern.

I watched in disbelief on #thisflag leader Evan Mawarire’s Facebook wall streaming live as he addressed the demonstrating students. At that moment I realized that the presence of Mawarire was a tactical blunder.

Mawarire, a non-student, a man currently on bail on ‘trumped’ up charges to subvert a constitutionally elected government (false charges) addressing students already sent a wrong signal.  He had no business at UZ, his actions might have been ‘genuine’ but I wouldn’t want to say here was a man on an attention seeking adventure to revive his waning popularity after a self-inflicted blow when he fled to the US. 

His arrest yesterday is what is now dominating the news, diluting the genuine efforts by the students who were seeking an audience with regards to the fee increase. The clashes at UZ could have been avoided had Mawarire stayed at home to ‘pray’ for the students. We must always look at the bigger picture and avoid individuals with selfish agendas to override a genuine cause of the students.

For him he has 'achieved' to gain mileage, it’s like he was trying to make a ‘re-entry’ after his movement failed to take off. And for the students, they remain to face their challenges.

I am sure those who reacted violently were as a result of Mawarire’s presence which probably was viewed as a #thisflag protest. While it is good for people like Mawarire to offer solidarity, yesterday he was just at the wrong place and at the wrong time. I have nothing personal against the Man of God, but ‘politicians’ and ‘celebrities’ must stay away from campuses, they should fight in the streets.  Let the students fight their struggles on their campuses, they are many ways of offering them solidarity than to hijack their noble cause simply because of his insatiable appetite for newspaper headlines. Students should be wary of associating with figures that will do little in contributing to their struggles. 

As a result, looking back, history is pregnant with numerous examples and lessons which the students can learn from in as far as the relationship between student activism and mainstream politics is concerned. Many will remember ZANU Pf’s hijacking of the Zimbabwe Congress of Students Union (ZICOSU) which was formed by progressive comrades like Gabriel Shumba. ZICOSU eventually slipped away as ZANU PF became directly in control of the student's body in their bid to control the student's community. This they did by sponsoring leaders of the said Union, sponsoring candidates in SRC elections across the country as a rivalry union to ZINASU. The same can also be said for the opposition the MDC which tried in vain to hijack the biggest students’ body, the Zimbabwe National Students Union, and clearly, the agenda was the same, but rather the party eventually failed in its futile attempt years to come by. But however many will recall that before the formation of the MDC, was the turning point in the struggles of the student's movement in Zimbabwe.

While the students were a critical mass at the formation of the MDC in 1999, the students movement failed to maintain its independence and as a result perceived as either an appendage or rather an opposition movement towards the government of the day which then created a host of problems that came to haunt the students movement up until this day.

It would be critical to posit that after the formation of the MDC, the relationship between the students’ movement and the party intensified the ‘cat’ and ‘mouse ‘relationship between the ruling government and the students’ movement. The “association’’ of ZINASU with the MDC gave the state more arsenal and artillery to pounce on the students as perceived the union as agents of regime change. The state became more vicious towards the students, demonstrations were now being responded with brute force, suspensions and expulsions of student leaders became the order of the day. The government no longer viewed the students union as a critical stakeholder but rather in ZINASU they saw the MDC, and to make matters worse, the idea to form the party was consummated in the packed New Lecture Theatre 400 at the University of Zimbabwe.  
The ‘MDC’ tag has caused nightmares for the union and has been difficult to disassociate with thus making life very difficult for the students union in pursuit of their struggle for academic freedoms.

 Consequently, for the political parties, the students’ community is an easy ground to use for their political expediency. Regional experiences presented us with good examples on the need for politicians to stay out and students to avoid being hijacked. As was witnessed during #feesmustfall in South Africa were several political actors tried to seek relevance by joining the student's protests. 

Many will remember the DA leader Mmusi Maimane and EFF's Floyd Shivambu getting the rod of the students after attempts to address the protesting students in Cape Town. It was apparent that the students cannot be politically controlled, bullied or manipulated.  It was clear that these politicians were driven not by the cause of the students but rather their own selfish agendas as they seek relevance in associating themselves with a movement that had shaken the corridors of power in South Africa.

Other national political party leaders could face the same humiliation if they try to exploit the situation. Quite clearly, the students were aware that once they allowed the politicians to come and address them at campuses their cause was going to be diluted and misconstrued and giving ammunition to the ruling government to dismiss their cause as being pushed by the opposition parties. 

In conclusion, I challenge the students to think beyond the tactics that the yesteryear generations employed because the context and the environment has totally changed. They have to come up with new ideas of organising and defining solidarity in pursuit of the struggle for free education in our lifetime. Zvazviri!

Blessing ‘Vuvuzela’ Vava is a blogger based in Chipinge. He can contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Zimbabwe Peoples Charter and the democratic struggle

By Blessing Vava
February 9, 2017, marked the ninth anniversary since the adoption of the Zimbabwe People’s Charter. The Charter, being a product of wide consultations with the masses throughout the country was debated and produced by the more than 3 000 representatives of workers, students, churches, business, women and youth organisations.
Fundamentally, a critical interpretation of the People’s Charter is based on the view that Zimbabwe, since colonialism, has remained a country lacking the rule of law, a country characterised by the militarisation of arms of the state and government.
The People’s Charter, therefore, calls for the establishment of a social democratic Zimbabwe, in which the people are guaranteed safety and security and a lawful environment free from human rights violations and impunity. It still occupies an important role in our politics.
It seems, however, that when the Charter came into existence, there seemed to be a de facto obligation on the civic society and all social movements and struggling to transform Zimbabwe to define at some point their position vis-a-vis the Charter.
The first major meeting of the stakeholders was called for in 2011, only as a means of defining their position with regards to the Charter. It was also a meeting aimed at charting a way forward and that the civil society and social movements would be able to establish ‘our’ identity in the Zimbabwean body politics.
It was also that meeting that the Committee of thePeople’s Charter (CPC) was conceived as a political, economic, social and democratic accountability mechanism established in the interests of the people of Zimbabwe.
Its main aim was to bring the Zimbabwean government of the day to account in relation to the national economy, gender equality, youth empowerment, a democratic political environment, free and fair elections, constitutional reform, media freedom and Zimbabwe’s national value system, as aptly espoused in the Charter.
Moreso, defining a position vis-a-vis the Charter involves more than its simple endorsement or rejection. In a way, the Charter can be interpreted as an ambiguous document, despite its pithiness and simple language.
The range of possible meanings contained within the Charter has resulted in it being interpreted in a variety of ways ‑ though sometimes contradictory. However, such semantic disputes are by no means politically inconsequential, as they involve fundamental theoretical and strategic questions.
It is the meaning of the constitutional reform clauses of the People’s Charter that generated immense dispute to date. These call for a new Constitution of Zimbabwe, which must be produced by a people-driven, participatory process.
The debate on constitutional reform brewed a lot of contradictions in the civil society, as they jostled to be part of the constitutional reform process by the coalition government starting in 2009.
In Article XI of the Global Political Agreement, the rejection of the Charter was imminent, as the civil society movement unashamedly endorsed such clauses in direct contradiction to the dictates of the Charter.
A snapshot of the Charter’s demands on the Constitutional reform are as follows: “The People shall have a constitutional reform process, which is characterised by the following: -Comprehensive consultation with the people of Zimbabwe wherein they are guaranteed freedom of expression and information, association and assembly. The collection of the views of the people and their compilation into a draft constitution that shall be undertaken by an All-Stakeholders' Commission composed of representatives of government, parliament, political parties, civil society, labour, business and the church with a gender and minority balance.”
I would argue that not many civil society organisations accorded the Charter any pertinence to their struggles to date and from the outset never perceived the Charter as relevant to its exigencies.
The signing and adoption of the Charter in 2008 was a realisation from the civic movement that there was a need in our democratic struggle to have a framework of ideals, aspirations to attain the revolutionary struggle. But we reflect on the fact that a few months after the many organisations appended their signatures to the Charter, the struggle veered off the road, as the collective movement faced its biggest test.
Clearly, I should highlight that some of the key components of the People’s Charter were neglected both when the elections came and at the consummation of the coalition government.
While acknowledging the shortfalls on the constitutional reform process, the civic movement and prodemocracy movements capitulated on the electoral framework, as expounded by the Charter.
While the ink in March 2008 had not dried up, the civic movement’s shortcomings were exposed by the 'strategic' move to openly declare allegiance and campaigning for the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai in an election that fell short of the demands of the Charter.
Section 2 of the Charter acknowledged that “all elections in Zimbabwe remain illegitimate and without merit until undertaken under a new democratic and people-driven constitution, Equal access to the media. One independent, impartial, accountable and well-resourced electoral management body. A process of delimitation, which is free from political control, which is accurate, fair, transparent and undertaken with full public participation. A continually updated and accurate voters' roll, which is open and accessible to all. Transparent and neutral location of polling stations, agreed to through a national consultative process devoid of undue ruling or opposition party and government influence, which are accessible to all including those with special needs”.
The 2008 election never met an inch of that demand and this partly explains the five-week delay in the announcement of the presidential results.

As Lenin would say, that at all times, the revolutionary organisation must maintain political independence, I posit that it was, therefore, wrong for the civic movement to abandon freshly conceived the principles on the altar of political convenience.
Also key is the debate around the national economy, and the Charter calls for people-centered economic planning that guarantees social and economic rights.
It enunciates the state’s responsibilities to “initiate public programmes to build schools, hospitals, houses, dams and roads and create jobs and above all equitable access to and distribution of national resources for the benefit of all people of Zimbabwe”.
Such demands are non-negotiable until they are realised. The current government’s populist economic framework in guised is guised as centred around a pro-poor initiative while in reality it is pushing oligarchic capitalism, is certainly not attainable and befitting for our people, emerging from the background of an equally skewed colonial legacy.
To this day, the Charter remains the beacon of hope and the clearest statement in the struggle for a better Zimbabwe.
The People’s Charter is, indeed, a revolutionary programme for the masses, which could have gained significant gains for the masses.
Consequently, an admission should be made that key components of the People’s Charter were neglected in the transition to an inclusive government.
The social movements, working class, the youth, the church, the women, whose signatures were appended to the People’s Charter, illustrates its weight and, therefore, it should never be undermined or misinterpreted.
It is a living document, a People’s Manifesto that belongs to the people of Zimbabwe and that will never change anytime soon.
Essentially, what needs to be done going forward is interrogation and robust engagement of the tactics we take towards the total attainment of the People’s Charter objectives until it is envisaged. The current struggles should embrace the Charter as a living manifesto that will transform our society for the better.
Therefore, the civic society should remain independent, and never should we compromise on the aims and aspirations laid out in the People’s Charter. It still remains a revolutionary programme that is rooted in the people with a clear mandate.
The Charter acknowledges that: “All people in Zimbabwe live in a society characterised by the tolerance of divergent views, cultures or religions, honesty, integrity and common concern for the welfare of all. All people in Zimbabwe are guaranteed safety and security, and a lawful environment free from human rights violations and impunity.”
As a result, we must have a conscious strategy. We must be disciplined, mobilise, train and educate the young and new comrades in our social and political movements. It can only be by recruiting and ideological training that will help the movement remain focused.
The work of the civil society and social movements should not be haphazard, but rather systematic and consciously laid out. We cannot run away from the People’s Charter, as it basically provides us adequately with that framework. The task at hand is to reach out to the lowest members of our society and eventually win the broadest masses.
As we celebrate the nine years since the adoption of the Charter, we have not totally failed; despite that yes, there have been detours, breakdowns, and accidents, but never has the ultimate trajectory and the aim of achieving the democratic revolution been lost.
Let us continue to work, intensifying our engagement with the grassroots until we achieve the objectives of the People’s Charter.
Long live the People’s Charter! Long live Zimbabwe!

Blessing VuvuzelaVava is a staunch defender of the Peoples Charter. He is based in Chipinge and can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com

Friday, 27 January 2017

2008 election...Gambia-ECOWAS moment for Zimbabwe?

Blessing Vava
On December 1 last year, Yahya Jammeh, the strongman of The Gambia, lost an election to an unheralded opposition leader, Adamma Barrow, to mark an end to 22 years of iron fist rule in the tiny West African country.
Jammeh's defeat is both historic and significant, not only for The Gambia but the whole continent. After celebrating the fall of colonialism and the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, the continent has found itself with life leaders, who have a disregard for democratic principles and maintain a hold on power in the name of a pan-African and anti-imperialist agenda.
Most of the strong men have been using fear, violence and illegitimate elections, in the process relegating opposition parties to mere spectators as they continue to rule using terror. Controversial electoral outcomes have become rituals across the continent, with regional blocs failing to bring member states to account and encourage losers to uphold democratic norms and values.
In fact, the continent is overburdened by liberation war cults.
Jammeh’s fall brought a sense of hope for democracy in Africa, in that despite the unevenness of the playing field, characterised by fear and violence, dictators can still be defeated by a people united for a cause.
Despite earlier pronouncements accepting the outcome, Jammeh made a summersault, disregarding the electoral outcome to utter amusement from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), who stood firm in cornering the beleaguered dictator to submit and surrender.
The swiftness and the subsequent intervention of Ecowas as well as the threats to invade The Gambia to flush out Jammeh should rather be commended and it shows how much we are progressing to finding solutions to our own challenges as a continent.
Without a doubt, the Gambian scenario was a test for the upcoming 28th summit of the African Union Head of states to be held in Ethiopia at the end of this month.
Many times the regional bodies have been condemned in failing to call errant dictators to order.
The shortcomings of the African Union, have resulted in western intervention by former colonisers, however, compromising the sovereignty of the African people.
As the rest of the continent celebrated the fall of Jammeh, it was Ecowas which was rather given a gun salute for their firm position in safeguarding the will of the people in The Gambia, as expressed by the December 1 election.
From this background, there are a lot of lessons to learn from The Gambia, which can assist us in understanding the role of Sadc in the context of the 2008 election in Zimbabwe.
That election was quite significant in the sense that it was the first time that President Robert Mugabe was defeated, despite all the State machinery at his disposal.
Now, some quarters are trying to hypothesise The Gambia scenario and comparing it to Zimbabwe, saying that the regional body, SADC, should have gone the Ecowas way after Zanu PF was defeated on March 29, 2008.
In my opinion, I have three points to buttress my argument against such postulations. I would argue that Sadc did all in their capacity, despite the opposition trashing the regional body left, right and centre for what they deem a failure to intervene and drive Mugabe out.
For starters, it is not and it will never be the business of Sadc or any regional body to undermine processes in member states without enough justification and, let alone when the participants of the said elections have failed to win elections.
Firstly, March 29, 2008, election was inconclusive. The votes polled by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai were not enough for him to be declared winner and subsequently assume the presidency from Mugabe.
The Constitution was clear on the threshold 50% plus one vote for a candidate to be declared duly the winner; however, Tsvangirai had just polled 47.9%, therefore, triggering a presidential election run-off.
Equally, we must not forget that it was the same period that the electoral commission withheld results for five weeks and no-one knows what kept them for that longer period.
Those who still recall will reminisce August 2, 2013, press conference held at Meikles Hotel by the by then MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti, who announced that the MDC had won the elections hands down.
He was later to be arrested and charged for contravening the electoral act by announcing the ‘results’ of the elections. Brave chap he was!
This brings me to my second point, on how Tsvangirai shot himself in the foot by encouraging his supporters to remain patient, as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was going to announce the results. What a wait it became ‑ five weeks.
The momentum was lost, and still, how could Sadc intervene in that case?
I vividly recall a meeting held one early Sunday in Harare, were Tsvangirai begged with civil society to be patient with ZEC.
Thirdly, as if that was not enough, the MDC-T leader did the most unthinkable political gesture; his rushing to seek refuge at the Netherlands Embassy was a heavy snub on SADC and the rest of the African countries.
In essence, he showed them the middle finger, basically confirming that his party was not seeking African solutions but those from outside our borders.
Hence it would be naïve to blame Sadc for initiating a dialogue to discuss a power-sharing arrangement to break the political impasse after the sham June elections.
In all fairness, The Gambia scenario is different from the Zimbabwe case in 2008, and such an example cannot, therefore, be used to point at the inadequacies of Sadc for allegedly protecting Mugabe. Worse still the opposition in Zimbabwe created conditions that would not have made it possible for SADC to intervene.
However, Sadc’s “inadequacies” should be understood from the background of a shared sense of history rooted in liberation movement solidarity. West Africa has a very differentiated political ruling classes, which do not have very strong links.
At the same time, Mugabe presented somehow of a dilemma to South Africa because he had “successfully” presided over the fast-track land reform programme and in West Africa, the “colonial masters” stayed in the background, unlike in Zimbabwe, where they were very vocal.
Consequently, through the former South African President Thabo Mbeki papers, the African National Congress was actually advising Zanu PF, they blocked the release of the judges’ report on electoral violence.
Ultimately, democracy, democratisation and its consolidation in Africa can never be secured by the threat of water cannons and bullets, but by the self-organising initiatives of its people.
With the 2018 beckoning, the opposition parties seem clueless, with some boycotting by-elections, but hoping to participate in the polls. The Bikita by-election brought with us many lessons, and the MDC-T will pay dearly for that. The biggest lesson learnt is that by boycotting, they strategically demobilise their own structures and even the potential voters.
How does one boycott a dictator?
It will revel in such pitiful actions because a boycott is a moral statement meant to delegitimise the political class. Given our objective concrete balance of forces, what will a boycott serve or achieve in a political project of altering permanently, the balance of forces in favour of the political project?
For Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First, they may have lost, but now, they know what to do next time. Losing is important. In the United States, the Democrats got used to winning and they went to sleep and got Trumped. 
In the first place, it was wrong for the Tsvangirai group to approach Parliament to have Biti’s group of MPs expelled from the august House.
The talk of reforms is a far-fetched affair and one wonders how the parties are going to achieve something they failed to change during their stint in the inclusive government?
For the opposition, the solution is the people, the people are the last bastion and natural garrison to defend and expand a democratic sort of politics which secures their material transformation. Everything else not rooted in the concrete material reality of our people melts into thin air and the lecherous political calls will entrench its illicit accumulation project unchecked.
From my own assessment, the opposition in Zimbabwe does not have the experience and know-how of building a people’s movement and everyone seems obsessed with rallies.
Rallies are only a public display of social and political power gained, built and galvanised in the everyday lives of people based on their concrete material demands.

Blessing Vava writes from Chipinge and can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com. Twitter:@blevava

NB: no part of this article shall be used without prior permission from the author