What did we get wrong?
Last week we looked at what we did right in the past 7 years. Generally I got a very positive response to that mailing – today I want to ask myself what did we get wrong. That is a tough question, it calls for honesty and frankness and it is quite painful for those of us who are engaged in the daily struggle to keep the flame of hope alive in Zimbabwe. Another aspect of this exercise in introspection is that this is not hind sight – which is easy with 20/20 vision, we knew all this stuff before the elections.
Firstly we overestimated the commitment of the SADC and South Africa, and perhaps even the international community, to the principles that underpinned the reform programme contained in the Global Political Agreement. We assumed that because the region and the international community had been the motivators and even the instigators of the negotiations between the Parties and first, the Kariba Agreement in 2007 and then the GPA in 2008, that they would see us through to its logical conclusion. Wrong, at every key point they abandoned principle for accommodation – not of the views of the MDC and civil society, but of the hard liners in Zanu PF. This culminated in the abandonment of what was left of the GPA in May/June 2013 and the passive acceptance of the elections and their flawed out turn. Only the USA seems to have stuck to its guns on principle – plus Germany and Australia, but the rest just took the easy way out and compromised.
Yesterday this sorry tale was crowned by the congratulations issued by the Secretary General of the UN to Mr. Mugabe for his “victory” at the polls. Our mistake was not to recognise that we held the power of veto and that what we should have done was to demand compliance with the full letter and spirit of the GPA and refused point blank to go into elections without the necessary reforms to the electoral system. The GPA promised the dismantling of the infamous JOC system by granting the MDC a majority of the Governorships at Provincial level, it gave us significant control over foreign policy and contact with other governments by allocating us 23 diplomatic posts, it called for the reassignment of the Attorney General – long a stalwart of Zanu PF and someone who has turned the legal system in Zimbabwe into an instrument of oppression and collective punishment.
The GPA gave us reform of the media and it gave us the right to call for repressive legislation to be abolished. It provided for greater influence over the Commissions. It provided for a reformed Electoral Commission that was totally independent of the political parties, a new voters roll and fresh constituency delimitations. It laid down the requirement for a new Constitution – which was partially achieved although the final document was a compromise. Even then, although the new Constitution provided for new rules for citizenship and new basic rights for all Citizens, in the end these were not implemented and were not observed in the final preparations for the elections. Not one of these critical reforms was implemented. It represents a total failure of the SADC guarantees so clearly expressed in the GPA. Our mistake was to lie down and accept every violation as they occurred throughout the life of the GPA. Some would say we had no choice, in hindsight, we always did have the final option of veto and we never used it and in the end we paid the price.
Secondly we totally underestimated the impact of the strategies being proposed by the advisors to Zanu PF who were principally the Chinese Communist Party and the Israeli firm NIKOV. The latter, we now know, was contracted to Zanu PF for the 2002 elections and remained active in Zimbabwe ever since – operating out of a house in Avondale in Harare and now operating in over 100 countries worldwide. They were active in Kenya on the side of Kenyatta and are right now operating with Swapo in Namibia. Reading documents that have come into our hands in the past two months it is clear that these advisors brought their experience in China and across the world to assist Zanu PF in their efforts to subvert the Zimbabwean elections.
We were well aware of these strategies and had analysed them and knew full well what was going on but thought that the ground swell of support for the MDC and the failure of Zanu PF in the economy and the social services in the three decades before 2013 plus the genocide of Ghukurahundi and the savage campaigns on the farms and in the Cities through the Murambatsvina campaign in 2005 would never allow the ordinary voter to give their votes to Zanu PF when it came to voting in the elections. We were wrong and completely underestimated the residual influence of three decades of politically motivated violence against ordinary and marginalized rural and peri urban communities. People voted for self preservation and out of fear of collective and retributive punishment.
We knew that Zanu PF was settling tens of thousands of homeless families on plots of land on peri urban farms that had been taken from their owners in the decade since 2000. We knew that these communities had no security and were totally under the control and direction of Zanu PF we just underestimated their capacity to convert this subtle form of coercion into votes in the polling stations – a study of the vote shows that this explains many of the victories of Zanu PF in the peri urban areas.
We knew that the voters roll was totally subverted. There is no way that we have six million voters – 3,5 million at the most. What we did not appreciate was just how far they were prepared to go and how they would defend their position at the cost of clear violations of the law and get away with all the juggling and machinations. So we eventually had a roll with some 2 million ghost voters, up to 800 000 duplicates, 400 000 voters unilaterally moved from their chosen electoral districts, 45 000 voters who had their ID numbers changed so that they could not vote on the day. Perhaps most damaging, 1,2 million young voters between the age of 18 and 25, were deliberately denied the vote by manipulation of the voter registration system.
The voters roll was so manipulated that they have not dared to release an electronic copy of it to anyone before or since the election. Under the new Electoral Act and the new Constitution the Electoral Commission is obliged to facilitate access to the roll, before any election. We have gone to Court to seek redress to no avail, last week the ZEC claimed that a “technical” problem was holding up release. The voters roll determines who can vote and is the very foundation of any electoral system. We should never have accepted the voters roll; we should have stuck to our demand for a new registration of voters and a biometric roll that could not be manipulated. We demanded all of that – at successive meetings of the SADC Heads of State, at meetings with the facilitators. To no avail, it was a mistake.
Thirdly, we underestimated the effect of the control that Zanu PF exercises over the rural populations. Documents clearly show that both NIKOV and the Chinese understood its significance and their recommendations were followed to the letter. The Zanu PF documents call the MDC “the enemy” in military terms; they refer to the Communal Areas and the former Commercial farms as “no go areas” where no presence of the MDC will be tolerated. Villages were allocated to specific polling stations, all members of the village were recorded by their Headmen and then these poor defenseless and vulnerable people, dependent on the system for security of tenure and access to food and agricultural inputs, were instructed to vote at designated polling stations and told that if that station returned an MDC candidate, they would be subjected to collective punishment. Right now, across the country, collective and targeted punishment is being metered out to areas that voted in significant numbers for the MDC. We cannot protect them, they suffer in silence and they live in fear.
In 1980 Zimbabweans throughout the country queued in their thousands, long winding queues of people. This was their day of liberation from 80 years of white minority rule. This was the dawn of a new Country, tomorrow they would be free to live where they chose and to go to whatever school they chose. At last they could dream of becoming whatever they put their minds to. They had faith in “one person, one vote” after decades of conflict and guerilla war, after 15 years of mandatory UN sanctions. In 2013 they voted with courage and determination for the MDC and out of fear for Zanu PF. Is there any other explanation of the pall of gloom that has descended on the country since the elections? July 2013 was a funeral service for the last remnants of hope in the people of Zimbabwe that democracy would deliver a better future and we were all responsible.
Bulawayo, 12th October 2013