The Commitment to Democracy
When I grew up the struggle of the nationalist leadership in what was then
Rhodesia, was most often characterized as a struggle to gain the right to
The whites had conceded that this was a just cause but wanted the right
restricted to a so-called 'qualified franchise'. This was not a new idea
- Rhodes had proposed that the right to vote belonged to every 'civilized
man' - he even defined that and called for voting rights to be restricted
to those who had property and some education.
The nationalist leadership recognized that a qualified franchise was a
target. The qualifications were not set in stone and were being constantly
revised to limit the number of people who might qualify. They demanded 'one
person, one vote', a universal franchise based only on the age of majority.
This was the accepted standard followed in most mature democracies elsewhere
and was not disputed.
Once that right was gained however, it became a different story. Although
went along with the trappings of democracy, in fact most, if not all, newly
independent African States leaders used and abused their adopted political
systems to perpetuate their own rule and in many cases finally simply
all pretext and overthrew the system in favor of one that gave them
power in perpetuity.
Slowly as these States matured they have turned back to democracy
what Churchill had once said that it may not be perfect, but it is better
the alternatives. In addition all African States eventually woke up to the
that their liberators often made lousy rulers and that in the hands of such
rulers with unbridled power, the instruments of a modern State with its tax
banking system was simply a mechanism for looting on a grand scale.
We have gone through this cycle and since 1980, the ruling elite has shown
and less commitment to what they had claimed was the basis of the struggle
independence that, after all, brought them to power. This mantra was
most emphatically spelled out this week when Mugabe stated that he would not
overthrown by a 'cross on a piece of paper'. At least one editor here said
that he wanted to know why not? As this was the means by which he obtained
power in the first place.
But the Mugabe regimes struggle with democracy has now reached new lows.
have held elections on a regular basis since 1980 and each election has
deterioration in their commitment to democratic principles and abuse of the
electoral practice. As the democratic threat has grown so has the
and abuse. Initially the SADC and the AU ignored this and it was left to the
more mature democracies of Europe to recognize the malaise and call for
compliance to principle.
South Africa, arguably the most sophisticated State in Africa with solid
leadership and a long history of struggle and commitment to core principles,
has been the most disappointing observer. Not just because she knows better,
but because they alone have the power and leverage to force compliance to
democratic principle by a rogue State like Zimbabwe. South Africa has no
excuses - they have good intelligence, are well informed and run a State
is founded on these very same principles.
In 2006 South Africa finally recognized that the only way out of the crisis
Zimbabwe was via a process of free and fair elections facilitated by the
region. They committed considerable resources - human and financial and in
terms of their prestige, to the subsequent process. Mbeki in fact used his
influence and power to secure the essentials and when pressed, Mugabe
The switch in the date of the election from June 2010 to March 2008 was
without fanfare behind closed doors. Zanu PF participation in the subsequent
negotiations to establish the conditions under which the election would be
was also then achieved after direct intervention by South Africa.
In the ensuing negotiations substantial reforms that would have yielded a
and fair election in March 2008 were secured over a tortuous 9-month period
failure came only at the last minute when Mugabe realized that if the
were implemented as negotiated in Pretoria, he would lose power in the
contest. He simply stonewalled Mbeki and was allowed to hold an election,
by any standard was not at all free and fair. Worse, when it became clear
Tsvangirai had won outright with more than 50 per cent of the vote (54%),
went along with the subsequent charade and used the impasse to try and play
kingmaker and force the different parties to the conflict to negotiate a
compromise solution that would restrict MDC to a lesser role and protect
elements of Zanu PF.
When this failed South Africa endorsed the decision to call for a run off
then failed to ensure that not even the skewed rules of the March election
observed. Under the shadow cast by the South African umbrella, Mugabe has
unleashed a campaign of violence and intimidation against the MDC that has
ruthless and effective. Instead of condemning the violence and the arbitrary
arrest and detention of MDC leaders, Mbeki has concentrated on using the
violence to justify a belated call to cancel the run off and negotiate a
There is nothing spontaneous about the Zimbabwe campaign of political
It is a deliberate, State funded, planned and managed program that is
by the top leadership in the regime. They can switch it off at any time. Yet
South Africa refuses to attribute blame or to call for the cessation of
violence and to stop abuse of the judicial system to restrict the capacity
the MDC to campaign. There is not a shred of evidence that Mbeki has been
stronger or more principled behind closed doors than he has been in public.
But outside South Africa many new voices are at last being heard. The
of Botswana, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia as well as the Prime Minister of
have all said in the past week that the electoral environment in Zimbabwe is
not free and fair. This is an election where the two candidates are by no
equal - Tsvangirai is denied access to the media, denied funding, arrested
threatened, his campaign team is on the run or in jail, his supporters are
harassed and killed and thousands beaten and worse. ZEC has been transformed
into a military organization that will do whatever is required to return a
majority for Mugabe.
This may not be the only example of the abuse of principle in terms of
democratic practice but it is by a long way the most blatant and reckless.
as this is going on and people inside and outside the country are saying
Tsvangirai can never win such a contest, Mugabe is saying, even if he does
Zanu PF will not relinquish power.
Well at least that settles one issue - Mugabe is no democrat, never has been
and never will be. I still believe that the people of Zimbabwe will vote on
27th and will, despite all the threats and beatings, return an overwhelming
victory for Morgan Tsvangirai. The question is, then what?
Johannesburg, 21st June 2008