Zim power deal a mix of fire and water

Sunday October 05 2008
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Protesters from various political parties demonstrate in support of former president Thabo Mbeki outside parliament in Cape Town on September 23. Given SA’s social divisions, the Mbeki crowd is seen as progressive and open-minded, and appeals to the middle classes, while Zuma is seen as the ultimate prince of the masses. Photo/REUTERS

A day or two before he signed the power sharing agreement with Morgan Tsvangrai and Arthur Mutambara, Robert Mugabe spoke to an assembly of Zimbabwean chiefs, resplendent in their colonial-era red robes and white helmets. He told them that Zanu/PF and the MDC were completely different from each other — as different as fire and water.

This, too, has been the insistence of commentators in the state press. An agreement was easy to make in Kenya, they say, because Kenyan leaders are like peas in the same neo-liberal pod. But Zanu/PF is a revolutionary party, a party — as its favourite song says — of blood.

Mugabe complains that he has been humiliated and has had to allow the traitorous milk-and-water MDC into the very heart of government.

This cannot be allowed for long. Zanu/PF must rebuild itself and sweep to power in a new election, after which it can dispense with the MDC.

Meanwhile Tsvangirai has not been sworn in as prime minister; no Cabinet has been appointed; “ministers” without mandate continue to hold office; parliament, after a brief burst of raucous life, has been prorogued.

Now, of course, this game of fiery radical against watery liberal is an easy one to play. On September 23, for instance, Munyaradzi Gwisai issued a statement on behalf of the International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe, in which he described the agreement as one made between “bourgeois elites,” with fundamental interests in common.


The fire has to come from outside, from the radical rather than the rotten elements of civil society, from workers and peasants. In his eyes the signatories of the Zimbabwean agreement were indeed peas in a rotting pod.

But when one reads the agreement, it certainly does not sound as though the parties are speaking a common language. One can see seams of fire and rivulets of water running side by side, and hardly ever mingling, throughout the whole document.

The fire is certainly not a Socialist fire. It is insurrectionary, anti-colonial, “patriotic,” focussed on sovereignty and isolationism. It uses the familiar language of Mugabe-ism. Side by side with its runs the universal language of democracy and human rights and development.

Before the current crisis of the African National Congress, its spokesmen used to say that Zimbabwe’s problem was that it had never had the Freedom Charter.

The Freedom Charter combined sovereignty and democracy into an indissoluble whole. But, in Zimbabwe, sovereignty and democracy had broken apart, the former owned by the regime and the latter by the opposition. If one were to be very optimistic one might think that the September 15 agreement is Zimbabwe’s Freedom Charter, bringing them together again.

Yet it does not read like that. Instead of the forging of a new, powerful common language, it sounds like two people speaking different languages in the same room. There are moments when one discourse gains a precarious triumph over the other.

Between the March and June elections, for example, the state media attacked the stupidity of the one-person, one-vote system, by which a bribed electorate could overthrow the revolution.

The bullet, they said, must if necessary shoot the ballot. So it is a sort of victory for MDC language that Article V on the “Land Question” describes the “primary objective of the liberation struggle” as “to win one man one vote democracy and justice,” only then adding that “the land question … was at the core of the liberation struggle.”

There are many victories for Zanu/PF language too. Thus Article XV commits the parties to “a national youth training programme which inculcates the values of patriotism” without any indication that the existing patriotic youth militia has been the major perpetrator of violence against the MDC. (It is true that, as well as fiery patriotism, youth service will inculcate “tolerance, non-violence, openness, democracy, equality, justice and respect,” a whole lot of watery words but hardly adequate to baptise the militia).

Otherwise, some whole articles are Zanu/PF speak and some MDC speak. Article IX, climaxing with “no outsiders have a right to call or campaign for regime change in Zimbabwe,” is pure Zanu.

It is immediately followed by Article X on “free political activity,” which is pure MDC. Article VIII, on respect for “Zimbabwe’s national institutions, symbols, national programmes and events” is a straight Zanu/PF paragraph.

Article XII, on the need for the police to be trained to appreciate the right of freedom of assembly “and the proper interpretation, understanding and application of the provisions of security legislation” is a straight MDC paragraph.

Other articles uneasily combine without uniting the two languages. Article XIX on “Freedom of Expression and Communication” begins with Zanu/PF’s hatred of “external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe” while at the same time calling for more broadcasting within it.

Article XVIII on “Violence” is hamstrung by the MDC’s extraordinary agreement to sign a statement accepting that all parties have been responsible for it.

In the Preamble, one fiery sentence – “committed to act in a manner that demonstrates loyalty to Zimbabwe, patriotism and commitment to Zimbabwe’s national purpose, core values, interests and aspirations” — is preceded by a watery one — “recognising, accepting and acknowledging that the values of justice, fairness, openness, tolerance, equality… are the bedrock of our democracy and good governance” (Zanu/PF intellectuals hate the discourse of governance).

On September 25, Peace Watch was relaunched in Zimbabwe in order to encourage all citizens to participate in ensuring lasting peace. It deplored the continuing confusions and disputes but insisted that the Preamble to the agreement should be “used to resolve any ambiguity.” It urged every organisation in Zimbabwe to “print out the Preamble, which is clear and unambiguous” so that politicians, police and militia could be held accountable to it.

Alas, even the Preamble is very far from being unambiguous. What is its theory of human rights? Does it accept that there have been human rights abuses? Does it promise reparation?
It says a fiery thing — that the liberation struggle was “the foundation of our sovereign independence, freedoms and human rights” — and it says a watery thing, demanding “respect for democratic values of justice, fairness… and human rights.” It does not admit human-rights abuses and it does not promise reparation.

It is early days but so far Robert Mugabe seems to want to boil off the water into steam — he has made it clear in New York that organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are not welcome in the “new” Zimbabwe; he is reported to be demanding not only control of the military but also the police; Zanu/PF intellectuals reiterate that individual human rights are a neo-liberal heresy. Can Tsvangirai water down Zanu/PF authoritarianism?

Or is it still possible, if every organisation does indeed print out and debate the Preamble, that a genuine Zimbabwean theory and practice of individual and communal human rights can develop, the fire heating the water to make a nourishing stew?