Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

We, the people of Zimbabwe

In the past, Zimbabweans have looked to African heads of state to support their struggle for democracy. But in the face of their refusal to act, civil society organisations are considering more direct kinds of action. Mary Ndlovu writes from Zimbabwe

August 4, 2008
7 min read

African governments meeting at the African Union (AU) summit in July acknowledged that Zimbabwe’s presidential run-off election on 27 June was fraudulent. But what have they done about it? Refused to recognise Mugabe’s government? Isolated him regionally? Recognised the winner of the freer and fairer first round in March?

No. Only a few African heads of state were prepared to point out the obvious – that Mugabe’s regime is not legitimate and Morgan Tsvangirai is entitled to be recognised as the president of Zimbabwe.

Instead, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has persuaded the majority that the best solution is to negotiate and create a government of national unity. This would put Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in an impossible position, as Mugabe holds all the bargaining chips. It is hardly surprising that the MDC is refusing to participate unless violence ends and Tsvangirai is acknowledged as the winner of the March poll.

Even if the two parties do eventually sit down to ‘talk’, we can be sure that negotiations will drag on for months as Mugabe stalls to keep himself in power for as long as possible. Besides, Mugabe is unlikely to concede anything meaningful in the absence of much more serious pressures either regionally or by the AU as a whole – unless the impact of Zimbabwe’s imploding economy intervenes in some way to terminate his government.

If a government of national unity is created in some form, it is likely to be a clumsy deal made between elites, ignoring the wishes of the people for a government that is accountable to them and committed to delivering social justice.

The EU, the US and other developed countries may intensify sanctions and withdraw their diplomatic missions, but this is likely to make Mugabe even more defiant. Meanwhile, his unworkable economic policies will continue, prolonging the misery of Zimbabweans, whether at home or in exile, and impacting seriously on the economies of the entire region.

The AU summit has helped us in Zimbabwe to see clearly that the governments of Africa, and the Southern Africa Development Community in particular, will provide no early solution to Mugabe’s usurpation of power. A counter-force is now needed within the region to establish governments in each nation that can stand up for both their own people and their neighbours.

This is hardly a new idea; progressive social movements do already exist. But we must recognise that the days of sitting back and expecting governments to do it for us, with a bit of pressure here and there, are gone. We’ve seen over and over again that they will not act.

The fault is with us, the people, as much as with those leaders who join the elite only to betray the people’s ideals. The seduction of wielding power is too great, the temptations of holding office too many for ordinary human beings. The responsibility of holding governments to account must belong with the people. We must build popular organisations with strategies that learn the lessons of these failings and ensure that governments act in the interests of the masses.

This work must be regional, based on the solidarity of peoples whose lives are inextricably linked through history, proximity, migration and economic integration. There is a long struggle ahead – a struggle to build democracy from the bottom and create participatory structures and practices that can hold governments permanently accountable for their actions and assist them to fulfill the promises of social justice on which independence was achieved.

In this broad context, what is the way forward for Zimbabwe?

Some are now calling for armed resistance – but this is the solution that has been tried before and has produced the undemocratic trap in which we are now ensnared. Few desire this road: as a region we have seen the inevitable suffering that it causes without creating popular and accountable government. Those nations that appear to have more responsive governments and are further ahead in developing the practice of democracy are those very nations where nonviolent forms of independence struggles predominated. What we need is strategic and mass action of the type that South Africans developed to complement their own armed struggle to topple apartheid. And we need it both within Zimbabwe and outside.

Within Zimbabwe, progressive individuals and organisations need to recover rapidly from the disappointment and terror of recent events. They will have to peer into the darkness and overcome the temptation to give way to fear, despair and dejection. Hopefully they will respond to the opportunity – and the necessity – to build a new people’s movement that can create the foundation of a future participatory democracy.

It will be difficult. Any such movement will have to operate under repressive conditions. But the aging generation of Zimbabwean grandfathers and grandmothers devised strategies and made sacrifices in order to achieve their own goal of independence. Why should their children and grandchildren not be prepared to do the same now?

As the charade of a negotiated settlement plays itself out at the level of political leadership, Zimbabwean civic organisations and social movements will be restrategising and mapping their way forward. Meanwhile, there is very important work to be done in the region in further developing effective social movements and in making use of existing structures to bring pressure to bear on the Zimbabwean and regional governments. Such cooperation and solidarity activity is already under way and includes:

  • Continuing pressure on regional governments to change their position on Zimbabwe and refuse to recognise Mugabe’s government as legitimate;
  • Lobbying for Mugabe’s government to be replaced by a transitional authority under the auspices of the AU or the UN to move Zimbabwe forward to a new constitution and a new election;
  • Lobbying internationally for boycotts of Zimbabwean government officials when they travel, their exclusion from international bodies and other sanctions against them;
  • Lobbying regionally and internationally for the exclusion of the Zimbabwean military and law enforcement agencies from any co-operative forums;
  • Boycotts of any companies carrying on business with the Zimbabwe government;
  • Arrests and prosecutions of Zimbabwean officials who are known to be perpetrators and promoters of torture under the Convention Against Torture, when they travel in countries that are signatories to the convention;
  • Mass demonstrations at Zimbabwean embassies whenever Zimbabwean officials visit other countries;
  • Direct action by trade unionists and legal activists to prevent any support or services being provided to the Zimbabwean government, especially to prevent any weapons from reaching Zimbabwe; and
  • Sharing experiences and lessons of struggle in the region.

    Trade unions, students, professional groups and other popular movements have already shown that they are capable of taking such actions. One of the most uplifting moments of the past gloomy months was when dockworkers in Durban refused to unload a Chinese ship carrying 77 tonnes of arms and ammunition for the Zimbabwean regime and the Durban high court ruled that the shipment should not have been granted a permit by the national convention’s arms control committee.

    Such solidarity inspires us and gives us hope. Let it continue and multiply throughout the region as together we can not only solve the Zimbabwean problem but build truly democratic societies that can provide decent lives for all southern Africans. Governments will not do it for us, but we the people can. Robert Mugabe’s satisfaction must not be permitted to linger for long.

    Mary Ndlovu is a social justice activist involved in Woza (Women of Zimbabwe Arise). A version of this article was published in Amandla, Red Pepper’s sister paper in South Africa

  • Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
    Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

    #MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
    Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

    Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
    The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

    Meet the digital feminists
    We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

    The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
    Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

    Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
    By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

    Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
    Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

    You might be a centrist if…
    What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

    Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
    Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

    This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
    Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

    Review: No Is Not Enough
    Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

    Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
    Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

    Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
    James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

    ‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
    Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

    Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
    A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

    There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
    The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

    Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
    As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

    ‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
    Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

    Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
    Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

    ‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
    Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

    The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
    Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

    Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
    What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

    Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
    Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

    Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
    Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

    Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
    Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

    Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
    It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

    New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
    Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

    What is ‘free movement plus’?
    A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

    The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
    Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

    Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
    A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

    The dawn of commons politics
    As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going