Democracy and the Rule of Law

When we attained our Independence in 1980, we did so in style. Changing the guard democratically, creating new democratic structures for the State and local government and at the same time we preserved a well developed system of law supported by an independent Judiciary of surprising quality and experience. These achievements after a long drawn out civil war and decades of abuse by successive governments that were determined to protect the security of the State at the expense of the rights of the individual, were significant.

Since then it has been downhill all the way. First Gukurahundi and the smashing of Zapu as a political entity. In a savage, secret campaign over 7 years, the Zimbabwe regime under Mr. Mugabe sought to achieve total hegemony over the political structures of the country. The rules of both democracy and law were flaunted; the rights of millions denied, the media controlled and manipulated and both the Judges and the international community were silent.

Once Zapu had been silenced, the State continued its attempts to control and silence centers of dissidence. One by one the key social institutions were infiltrated and subdued until the number of truly independent social institutions in the economic system or in open society at large could be counted on the fingers of one hand. There were flashes of resistance - Margaret Dongo, Enoch Dumbutshena, but they were soon snuffed out. By the mid nineties only the Trade Unions and some Churches remained independent of the State and able to express themselves in the interests of their members and society at large. The State was arrogant and took the view that at last it was totally in control, the one Party State had been achieved in all but name, at the expense of both democracy and the rule of law - the two great achievements of the liberation struggle over a 80 year period.

Then the MDC took shape and suddenly the world molded by Mr. Mugabe looked threatened and fragile. The struggle against the rule of law and democratic forces took on a new meaning and intensity. In the ensuing battle hundreds have been murdered, millions displaced and hundreds of thousands subjected to beatings and worse at the hands of the so-called 'forces of law and order'. All the basic tenets of real democracy have been abused and distorted as the regime sought to defend its hold on power with increasing ruthlessness and desperation.

At first these abuses received little attention from the world community. African leaders went one step further and tried to defend the indefensible and the unjust activities of what had become a rogue regime in every sense of the word. One by one the independent Jurists were dealt with to be replaced with pliant and complacent men and women who were willing to compromise their training and ethics for a mess of porridge.

But at last the international community came out and said; enough is enough! Recognition was withdrawn and the regime in Harare formally defined as a rogue regime. We are also now classified as a 'failed State'. But it took the African States much longer to step up to the line and agree with their international counterparts. Mugabe was one of their own they argued, he was a hero of the liberation process and could not be touched. But even they have now accepted that the Mugabe regime has gone a step too far. At the SADC summit on the 29th March this year, that was in fact the main message given to Mr. Mugabe behind closed doors.

At that crucial meeting the regional leaders agreed that the crisis in Zimbabwe was home grown, had gone on long enough and had to be brought to an end. They agreed hat the regime in Harare had to open discussions with the much-maligned MDC and put in place arrangements for the next elections that were scheduled for March 2008. They put South Africa in charge of the process and gave President Mbeki their total support.

And so, in a country that still claims it is a 'democracy', we have spent the past 8 months negotiating the conditions that will allow our people the simple right they fought for over a period of 80 years - the right to vote under free and fair conditions for the leadership of their choice. 8 months of tough, unrelenting, behind closed doors, negotiations to restore the very conditions that were ours in 1980.

Even as we have been negotiating the very basic conditions that should be the norm in any sane society, the regime has continued to pound the official opposition to death. Our leadership has been hounded, meetings banned, unreasonable conditions imposed on other meetings, billions of dollars of destabilization money has been poured into the CIO for the purpose of making our lives a living nightmare. They decided the urban worker was the enemy and they have set about smashing what remains of the economy and driving millions of voters out of the country. This action has been similar to a long-range artillery barrage in advance of an infantry assault over the trenches.

Many doubt we will even get to an election - let alone have a free and fair contest. I just want us to be able to vote in secret and without any fear of recrimination. The people will do the rest.

As for the rule of law! You must be joking! We have a Chief Justice who occupies a farm stolen from its rightful owners and who last week gave his assent to the wholesale theft of private assets from farms. A Chief Justice who pays scant regard for the welfare of his colleagues and the lower ranks in the Judiciary. We live in a society where even if you can clearly identify the killers and link them to an incident of political murder, no dockets are opened and no prosecutions are mounted. Not a single political murder since 2000 has been investigated and prosecuted - not a bad record for a so-called system of Justice.

In fact we live in a society where the whole system of Justice has been subverted and citizens have absolutely no recourse when it comes to the protection of either their person or their property. In 1980 I would never have imagined that we would be in this state of affairs some 27 short years down the line.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 11th November 2007