Polarisation of Zimbabwean society dangerous says coalition

The continued polarisation of Zimbabwean society into camps of enemies rather than communities of fellow citizens is dangerous to the country's social and economic development, a report on the "final push" of June 2- 6 compiled by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition says.

The report, entitled: Defiance vs Repression - Critical Reflections on the Final Push, says it is therefore incumbent upon civil society organisations, business leaders, faith based organisations, human rights activists, media practitioners, opposition parties and other concerned constituencies within Zimbabwe and the region to ensure an amiable resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis in order to reverse the spiraling humanitarian disaster and limit its contagion effect on the entire region because Zimbabwe continues to burn as the gulf between pro-establishment and pro-democracy groups widens.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition is a grouping of more than 350 civil society organisations. It represents labour, students, women, church groups, human rights activists, media practitioners, war veterans, farmers, lawyers, doctors and pro-democracy actors.

The report says though the stayaway, organised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was a success because the country was paralysed for an entire week with businesses sacrificing massive losses and workers risking their jobs, pro-democracy activists must be clear about the desired results of their actions and must develop effective strategies consistent with these aims.

"If the objective is to bring Mugabe (and ZANU-PF) to the negotiating table to discuss the terms of his resignation and the mandate of a transitional authority, mass action may or may not be the most effective strategy," the report says. "Rather than pointing fingers, passing blame or decrying state repression, the after math of the 'final push' should be viewed as an opportunity to debate both the objectives of the democratic struggle and the most effective strategies to achieve those goals."

The report says there are critical factors that should be reviewed to explain the shortcomings of the "final push". These are the objectives of the mass action, the timing, its form and content, and the coordination and communication.

It says the objectives of the mass action were not very clear at the beginning. It was not clear whether this was just another stayaway or a final push to chase Mugabe out of State House. Though the MDC later clarified that the mass action was meant to encourage ZANU-PF to come to a serious negotiating table and resolve the national crisis, it was not clear how the marches for freedom would proceed and in what way the demonstrations would yield dialogue and what demands the MDC was making for such dialogue.

There was also a misunderstanding between the MDC and other civic organisations about the objectives. Civic organisations had maintained that mass pressure should lead to multi-stakeholder dialogue which would develop a transitional authority. But just days before the mass action, the MDC seemed to be calling for Mugabe to step down and allow new elections within 90 days of his resignation.

"This sent mixed messages to civic society, as it smacked of 'power first, principle later' as it appeared that the MDC was prepared to go ahead with a transition under the 'current defective Constitution of Zimbabwe'."

The report also says there was disagreement on the timing with some organisers within the MDC maintaining that Zimbabweans could not "wait a minute longer for mass action" since more than a year had elapsed since the disputed presidential elections. They argued that the sharp increase in the cost of living and the rampant shortages of basic commodities, including fuel and cash favoured earlier action.

"Others, however, questioned if the majority of the population was ready for the demonstration aspect of the action (as opposed to only a stay away) which the MDC sought to introduce. While the MDC should be commended for taking care to ensure that its action coincided with payday for most Zimbabweans, the fact that there was such little cash in circulation at the time mooted that concern," the report says.

It was also not clear where people who wanted to demonstrate should gather and what they should do. "The MDC had legitimate concerns regarding security and infiltration which influenced its decision to be vague about the specific form, content and timing of the action," the report says. "This, however, contributed to some frustration among activists who wanted to participate in demonstrations but who were not sure what was expected of them. While everyone knew to be looking for something, beyond the stayaway, many people were not sure exactly what that would be.

"It was also not clear whether the intention was to demonstrate in town, or to march to the State House (in Harare, at least). In the unlikely event that the protestors were permitted to arrive at State House, it was not clear what they would have done there, or how they would have progressed had they been welcomed by Mugabe. Moreover, it remained unclear exactly how these demonstrations would persuade Mugabe to the negotiating table. In the end, the multi-layered ambivalence provided many people with a convenient excuse to stay at home," the report says.

The report also says there was very little coordination with civic organisations with most of them reading about the date and activities of the mass action in the independent press. It says a number of issues remained unresolved during the mass action. These included the pre-mature announcement to the press of the intended action, lack of clarity on how to counter anticipated state repression, methods of how ordinary citizens would get information in view of their lack of access to the independent media, methods of how interested individuals would identify party leadership at various strategic points, the role of civic society in mobilising support for the mass action, methods of ensuring accountability and measuring effectiveness of the action, and strategies to account for and assist victims of state repression.

Despite these shortcomings, the report says the mass action was a success because the MDC had managed to bring the nation to halt despite the massive state repression. "The fact that the opposition leader can call on employers and workers alike to close their businesses, and have this call to action heeded nationwide for five full days-despite intimidation and recrimination by the ruling party-is a powerful testimony to the considerable influence the MDC wields," the report says.

But it adds that despite the state repression, "the MDC dangerously oversimplified the problem in its mass communications. Many people entered the week of June 2-6 naively hoping that one decisive week of action would cause an entrenched and determined regime to lay down its arms and concede to negotiations".

"While psychologically it was important to motivate Zimbabweans that their commitment to mass action could yield an immediate and tangible result, this strategy delivered unrealistic expectations of a swift and decisive victory for the pro-democracy movement. Herein lies the challenge for pro-democracy forces, namely how to maintain realistic expectations of an action while motivating constituents and providing hope to the nation."

The report says the strengths and shortcomings of the "final push" must therefore be analysed carefully and rationally. "The collective frustration of a people ready to defend their rights and insist on good governance is a powerful force. With greater coordination and careful strategising, this will easily become the most important tool in the struggle to achieve a democratic Zimbabwe."

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