Mandy Rossouw

If a party has nothing to give

2011-12-13 12:45

Mandy Rossouw

Sitting at the conference of Zimbabwe’s liberation movement last week felt like a perfectly ordinary thing to do.

Parties need to touch base with its members regularly, and I think to do it in on an annual basis like Zanu-PF does is probably better than the Polokwanes and Mangaungs that we in South Africa are used to.

There were the usual contradictions. Some delegates who are ministers or businesspeople rocked up in huge 4x4s that seem appropriate to handle the potholed roads of Bulawayo, but completely out of place in a sea of people who clearly had fallen on hard times.

Some are wearing t-shirts from the 2002 conference, and others are clad in washed-out paisley shirts that have Robert Mugabe’s face plastered all over it.

[The material is cut in such a way for his face to skim the hips of some female delegates but never cover the backside - it would be disrespectful to sit on his face.]

But once inside the massive yet stuffy hall at Zimbabwe Trade Fair grounds, everyone is equal. Those sitting on the uncomfortable fold-up chairs are as hot and uncomfortable as those the ones sitting on stage.

At an ANC conference accreditation is generally a bit of a gemors, but no-one ever threatens or tries to intimidate you. Here you get bulldozed by a bulky man who rudely pushes a dog-eared notebook under your nose. “Write down your name,” he demands. Not the “hi, how are you?” one has grown accustomed to from the friendly people of Zimbabwe.

Soldiers are deployed outside and intelligence agents are on hand to check up on what everyone is doing. In the hall people are quiet and docile and only speak when spoken to.

There is none of the excitement that normally accompanies the entrance of a leader of the stature of Robert Mugabe.

People politely applaud when they need to, but there is none of the going-crazy that I expected. I remember during President Jacob Zuma’s honeymoon period how women would start screaming as if they’ve just seen Michael Jackson. Here there is none of that.

The master of ceremonies shouts very loudly about how “our liberators” must be honoured, but the delegates have that “we’re so over this” look on their faces. Here and there a few with political ambitions raise the customary bald fist, but generally they just do enough to not be accused of selling out.

More than 30 years after the liberation of Zimbabwe the only thing leaders can give delegates is just that - freedom from the colonial power. And even that is diluted - how truly free can you be under the constant glares from the soldiers, police and security personnel? During Mugabe’s opening speech he did not once mention education, health or housing, except when he sang his misplaced tune about the effect of sanctions.

Why would delegates care about at least an hour-long oration about what happened in Libya, when they are wondering what they’ll do for food when they get home?

Zanu-PF wants to have an election as soon as possible before Mugabe keels over, but other than an elaborate history lesson, what more do they have to give voters?

Liberation movements across Africa struggle with the same issue- relevance. It is difficult for them to believe that people care more about what’s on their plates than who spilled blood in which war.

Renewal is the only way a party can survive, to move with the times and find interesting and innovative ways to attract votes. Or you can go the easy route - deliver on your promises. Create environments in which people can reach their own potential. Bury the hatchet about arguments that will never get resolved.

And then, when voting time comes, the voters can believe that they have indeed found a new Michael Jackson.

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