Let's think of the nation first

The date for the general elections has been set confirming what we predicted in our last issue that President Robert Mugabe is likely to defy conventional wisdom. Early elections may not be good for proponents of democracy and good governance but they may be good news for business.

If ZANU-PF retains power, it will have been given a new mandate. With another five-year term, it is hoped that it may stop politicking and seriously try to get the economy back on track.

It may go back to the international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and negotiate a new package which it will implement this time as elections will be far off.

The government might also allow the dollar to depreciate according to market forces, which is what tobacco farmers and exporters have been calling for as this will mean increased revenue in Zimbabwe dollar terms and higher profitability for their businesses.

It might also stop all the pretence on land redistribution, restoring confidence among the white commercial farmers and the British government. In short, it is only the voter who will pay for retaining the ruling party in office.

But ZANU-PF will not be worried as their vote will only be required in 2005. This, however, does not mean that ZANU-PF, if it retains power, will have an easy ride.

In fact, the rushing of the elections could be its downfall. The biggest threat to the ruling party will not come from the opposition but from the people.

The biggest challenge will be whether the government can contain the people's anger, if they are not happy with what is happening, especially in view of the ever worsening economic situation.

In Indonesia, President Suharto rushed the elections, won them but was ousted in two months after people took to the streets.

In Lesotho, the same thing happened. The Lesotho Congress for Democracy was retained in power but it was ousted after people took to the streets.

Indonesia may be far off but Lesotho is very close. Perhaps our politicians should pay a visit to Lesotho, especially the capital Maseru so that they can see what people can do when they get angry.

The Maseru of June 1998, is no more. The town was razed to the ground.

Right now the people are rebuilding the entire town. Of course, construction companies are making money, but the people have to pay for it.

Competition among traders has been reduced because most of the shops were destroyed. Some of the businesses are not reopening and some chancers may be taking advantage.

This is something Zimbabwe should try to avoid at all costs. Zimbabwe has the second largest economy in the Southern African Development Community. Its business sector is well developed.

If what has been happening in Zimbabwe since November 1997 had happened to one of the other SADC countries, except for South Africa, the country would have been on its knees long back. This is something every Zimbabwean should cherish. And to enjoy one's freedom, one must be able to express oneself without fear.

The people of Zimbabwe must learn to tolerate other people's views especially if they do not agree with those views. That is one of the basic tenets of life, to agree to disagree.

The ruling party, however, does not seem to want to tolerate dissent. Worse still, it rushes to call anyone who disagrees with them, a sell-out. Those born prior to independence know what it means to be called a sell-out.

Of course, it may be losing its meaning as there is now a new generation of Zimbabweans who did not witness the liberation struggle, and therefore may not understand what it means to be called a "sell-out".

One can only hope that as the campaign for election 2000 begins, political parties will not resort to dirty politics. For one, the ruling party, having been in power for 20 years should take the lead in desisting from violence.

So far, all the violence has been blamed on the new Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Harare chairman Tony Gara has even accused the MDC of trying to bring back violence of the 1960s.

Indeed, as the MDC seems to be offering the most plausible opposition to ZANU-PF, the ruling party has a right to shoot it down. But this must be a fair fight. ZANU-PF has all the major media behind it.

It has just been awarded $65 million under the Political Parties Finance Act. Most of its leaders have access to free government vehicles.

Everything is going so well for ZANU-PF that its leaders should relax, unless of course they know deep down they are no longer popular. Having tasted power, it looks they have vowed to stay in power, even at the expense of the electorate. No true patriot should allow this.

The country must come first. Besides, people are not that stupid.

They might start asking themselves: who has a history of violence? How old where the leaders of the MDC in the 1960s? Apart from reading it in history books or newspapers, do they know what was happening in the 1960s?

And with the current shortage of petrol, do they have enough resources to buy petrol for their violent campaign? Who is selling this petrol since most service stations will not serve anyone using a container?

President Mugabe himself has vowed that if the MDC wants a fight, his party is ready and they will bash its leaders up. Who is therefore spoiling for a fight? One reader even wrote to a local newspaper: "Violence by political parties must not be tolerated.

“It was very disturbing to see our President on television vowing to treat his enemies with his fist. What message does the 75-year-old President (Mugabe turned 76 on 21 February) convey when he bluntly challenges his opponents to a fist fight?"

Having tested defeat for the first time in 20 years, one can only hope that ZANU-PF will learn to respect the electorate and not take people for granted.

One can also only hope that the ruling party will not become vindictive and punish the electorate for not supporting their Yes campaign.

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