A story of principle

2013-07-01 00:00

THE MDC has always rejected the use of violence to win power, relying rather on democratic means.

One of the small political parties in Zimbabwe said this past week that “you cannot remove a dictatorship by democratic means, only by revolution”. I assume he was referring to the use of violence in some form to unseat an entrenched autocracy.

Those African states that were governed by a settler class (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola) all had to fight to gain their rights. In Syria, the majority is attempting to remove an ethnic minority dictatorship by the use of arms. Libya went through a similar process. Only in those countries where an external force (the colonial state) exercised its power to determine the nature of the transition did some sort of independent democratic state emerge. In some cases (Egypt), the regime collapsed and change became possible simply by street action — another form of violence. The situation in Turkey is another example of this sort of effort. What makes the situation in Zimbabwe so distinctive is that the effort to remove the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe has concentrated almost exclusively on the use of democratic means. There were good reasons for that choice: it is doubtful that our neighbours would have given the forces of change here secure external bases and support. The fact that the Cold War no longer sets one group of states against another in such regional or country-based conflict is yet another reason. Sourcing arms would be another difficulty, although they are abundant enough to fuel conflict anywhere in the world. But beyond those arguments, it was a choice that the leadership of the MDC made at its inception, supported by its membership, which is drawn largely from the working class and rural people.

Our assumption was that everyone would recognise what a revolutionary stance this was and that support would be forthcoming from local business, intellectuals, regional states and the global powers. It was not to be. We found ourselves the subject of regional and even continental ostracism, fuelled by the determined efforts of the South African government.

Aid from the international community was sporadic and even parsimonious. The largest contribution we got in the early days was a $50 000 grant from the Westminster Foundation in London. It was bitterly attacked by the regime and thereafter no further assistance was available.

We found ourselves isolated in the region, by the African Union and even in the UN. Businesses could see no purpose in funding the MDC — what could we offer? They feared retribution from the state (fully justified) and could not see us ever unseating what looked like an entrenched oligarchy.

Despite these difficulties, the MDC made rapid and surprising progress. We won the March 2000 referendum, nearly beat a frightened Zanu-PF in the June parliamentary elections (it retained its majority by three seats) and then went on to beat it soundly in the 2002 presidential ballot. Only regional intervention and protection allowed Zanu-PF to “fix” the result and get Mugabe back into State House.

Then, in 2007, we were reluctantly accepted as a player who could not be ignored. The international community, with great cynicism, followed the African community in showing some respect for the plucky “small boys”.

We were forced into negotiations and, eventually, a government of national unity, even though it was an unjust arrangement. Through it all, we stuck to our principles and worked towards a democratic solution. Strangely, this struggle gained us little recognition. One journalist, a veteran of many conflicts, once said to me: “Come on Eddie, let’s see some violence, some blood on the streets: give us a story”.

You can see the effect of that — just watch your news every night. It’s not the peacekeepers who get the exposure. The United States has given $300 million to the struggle in Syria for humanitarian aid. That’s great, but when they have to fight an election, will they get the support they need to win?

Now we have had yet another SADC summit — very encouraging, but no sooner had we got back than Zanu-PF was once again up to its old tricks. In all probability, we will be forced into another election on an uneven playing field. In the middle of the most serious crisis in 14 years, the summit and the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe did not justify a single minute of news time on any of the major networks, even the networks of southern Africa —just hours of riots in Turkey and smashed buildings and ruined lives in the Middle East.

If, as I suspect, we end up with an election on July 31 without media reform, without security sector realignment, with a manipulated voters’ roll and millions denied the vote, we will still win by a wide margin because the people are fed up. Perhaps we will then merit a 60-second news clip on the BBC, but for the rest, we are just another small country taking a halting step towards the future.

What they all will miss is that this is a story of courage and principle, a David and Goliath story, a victory for the ordinary men and women who want a better life for their families. But above all, it will be a victory for the democrats.

— Politicsweb.

• Eddie Cross is an MDC MP. This article first appeared on www.ed


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