Zimbabwe: Democracy is not a privilege

Z. Pallo Jordan, ANC Today, Volume 8, No. 19, 16 —22 May 2008

Speaking in parliament during the budget debate of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2003, amongst other things I said:

"Like peace and stability, democracy and good governance are developmental issues. Africa waged a century-long struggle against colonialism and apartheid precisely to establish the principle that governments should derive legitimacy through the consent of the governed. Democratic institutions are therefore not privileges that may be extended or withheld at the discretion of those who wield power. They are an entitlement; a right that the people of this continent waged struggle to attain and won at great cost!

"In the ANC's continuing interaction with the political parties in Zimbabwe, we have warned against the subversion the rule of law as we have about the heightening of tension.

"We have also warned against the temptations of recklessness that could easily precipitate armed conflict. We have consistently appealed to the values and norms that the national liberation movement in Zimbabwe waged struggle to attain - the values of democracy; accountable government; the rule of law; an independent judiciary; non-racialism; political tolerance and freedom of the media. Not a single one of these values was observed under British colonial rule, let alone under the UDI regime of Ian Smith and his cronies. We consider it a scandal that they are now being undermined by the movement that struggled to achieve them."

Consequently I was deeply shocked, if not alarmed, by an article on Zimbabwe from the pens of Eddie Maloka and Ben Magubane carried in City Press on Sunday 4 May 2008.

I was shocked by the suggestion of the two authors that the criteria we normally employ in judging the behaviour of governments are extremely flexible and are so malleable that what we judge as criminal in one instance we should find quite acceptable, even defensible, in another.

I thought it was common cause, within the ranks the ANC that the legitimacy of a government derives from the mandate it receives from the people. That mandate is usually expressed through free and fair general elections. The record will show that the ANC has consistently adhered to these principles since its inauguration and re-affirmed them in "The African Claims" of 1943; the Freedom Charter of 1955, the Strategy and Tactics document adopted at Morogoro and in every subsequent document setting out its aims and principles, including the 1987 "Constitutional Guidelines for a Democratic South Africa". What is more, we have also insisted that these are principles applicable to all countries, including Zimbabwe.

Anyone familiar with the history of European colonialism in Africa and Asia knows that at the core of the colonialist project was seizure and control over the natural resources of the colony. In the white settler colonies of Africa, like Kenya, Zimbabwe and Namibia, seizure of the land was invariably the means of acquiring such control. The reproduction of the long quotations from The Guardian in the City Press article thus serves no other purpose but to remind the forgetful of that reality. But, the information they contain adds neither light nor weight to the principal thrust of the two authors' line of argument.

Opposition as counter-revolution

Underlying the line of argument which the two authors advance is the suggestion that since the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) came into existence after independence, that political formation is necessarily suspect. They try to buttress this by suggesting that given that, like Britain, the revanchist "Rhodesian" whites, the USA and the European Union, the MDC is not happy with the ZANU (PF) government, there is an indissoluble link amongst them and they all must be pursuing the same agenda. Proceeding from these highly flawed premises, they go on to argue that it is therefore incumbent on anti-imperialists to support ZANU (PF).

There are disturbing parallels between these two writers' line of argument and the all too familiar ones emanating from former US Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and, in our day, George W Bush. Step back a little, invert the names, and the line of reasoning can be seen for what it is. Justifying unqualified US support for right wing dictators in Latin America, Teddy Roosevelt declared:" Somoza (the former banana-republic dictator of Nicaragua) is a bastard, but he is our bastard!" The authors also deploy the same guilt by association, so loved by anti-Communists and other rightists when they repress dissent. Virtually echoing the sentiments of Senator Joe McCarthy: "If someone sounds like a duck, associates with ducks, and walks like a duck, can it be unfair to infer that he is a duck!"

But perhaps the most alarming suggestion of all is that opposition to ZANU (PF), irrespective of its merits, is ipso facto illegitimate and necessarily counter-revolutionary, and therefore pro-imperialist.

This curious line of reasoning dominated in the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union and other east European countries. When workers complained about the conditions of work (as they did in Poland) that was characterised as counter-revolution. If intellectuals complained about rigid censorship and the repression of the free flow of information, ideas and knowledge, that was counter-revolution. Even youth, yearning to enjoy rock and other forms of popular music produced in the rest of the world, that was counter-revolution.

Is it any wonder that those countries are now governed either by right wing coalitions or by anti-Communist liberals who want to hitch their countries firmly to the EU or to US-led alliances like NATO?

Proceeding from the tried and tested principles of our liberation movement, I contend that democracy is not a luxury, perhaps affordable in a few rich countries, but far too expensive for peoples and countries emerging from decades of colonial domination. What is more, I insist that democracy is not merely the right to participate in elections every few years; it is a complex institutional framework that serves to secure the ordinary citizen against all forms of arbitrary authority, whether secular or ecclesiastical.

It is an undisputed historical fact that colonialism denied the colonised precisely these protections, subjecting them to the tyranny, not only of imperialist governments, but often to the whims of colonialist settlers and officials. All liberation movements, including both ZANU (PF) and ZAPU, deliberately advocated the institution of democratic governance with the protections they afford the citizen. All liberation movements held that national self-determination would be realised, in the first instance, by the colonised people choosing their government in democratic elections. Hence Kwame Nkrumah: "Seek ye first the political kingdom!" The content of anti-imperialism was precisely the struggle to attain these democratic rights. In the case of Zimbabwe, democratic rights arrived that night when the Union Jack was lowered and was replaced by the flag of an independent Zimbabwe.

The questions we should be asking are: What has gone so radically wrong that the movement and the leaders who brought democracy to Zimbabwe today appear to be its ferocious violators. What has gone so wrong that they appear to be most fearful of it?

Maloka and Magubane brush such questions aside with a breathtaking recklessness. To invoke the memory of Patrice Lumumba in this context can only be an example of woolly thinking. Lumumba, let us remember, was democratically elected by the majority of the Congolese people. To subvert the will of the Congolese, as expressed in general elections, the imperialists stage-managed Mobutu's coup, kidnapped Lumumba and had his enemies murder him.

The same applies to Salvador Allende of Chile. The CIA subverted the expressed will of the Chilean people by staging a coup to overturn the democratically elected government of Chile.

Maloka and Magubane want us to ignore the will of the Zimbabwean people, as expressed in elections, and do what the imperialists did in Congo and Chile. Such action, they claim, would be anti-imperialist. In other words, we must behave like the imperialists to demonstrate our commitment to anti-imperialism.

'For us or against us'

Rather than raising and attempting to answer such tough questions, they skirt around them by marshalling a mixture of emotive arguments and outright political blackmail, again reminiscent of the far-right and its adherents. You are either with ZANU(PF) in the anti-imperialist camp, or against it (and therefore with Blair, Bush, the DA, etc).

If that has familiar ring, it is because the Bush administration has employed it repeatedly in support of its aggressive actions against all and sundry. To quote them: "You are either with us, or against us!"
It cannot possibly be right that, while we in South Africa expect our democratic institutions to protect us from arbitrary power, we expect the people of Zimbabwe to be content with less.

If ZANU (PF) has lost the confidence of a substantial number of the citizens of that country, such that the only means by which it can win elections is either by intimidating the people or otherwise rigging them, it has only itself to blame. Nobody doubts the anti-imperialist credentials of ZANU (PF), but that cannot be sufficient reason to support it if it is misgoverning Zimbabwe and brutalising the people.

Let all recall that the people of Zimbabwe endured a 15 year war of national liberation, during which the colonialist regime employed every device from beatings, to torture, to executions and massacres to repress them. They did not waver. Yet it is being suggested that today, for no apparent reason, they have fallen under the sway of the helpers and agents of that colonial power. I think that betrays a worrying contempt for the ordinary Zimbabwean. A contempt reminiscent of the colonialists' contention that the people rose against them because they had been incited by "outside agitators"! By the Russians! By the Chinese!

I do not support the MDC and my track record in the struggle against imperialism speaks for itself, but I differ most fundamentally with Maloka and Magubane. It is precisely my commitment to the anti-imperialist agenda that persuades me that our two comrades are wrong.

We will not assist ZANU (PF) by encouraging that movement to proceed along the disastrous course it has embarked on. Offering it uncritical support because it is anti-imperialist will not help ZANU (PF) to uncover the reasons for the steep decline in the legitimacy it once enjoyed. That party would do well to return to its original vision of a democratic Zimbabwe, free of colonial domination and the instruments of that domination - such as arbitrary arrests, police repression of opposition, intimidation of political critics, etc.

Given the outcome of the recent elections, ZANU (PF) should surrender power to the party that has won. Another anti-imperialist movement, the Sandinistas of Nicaragua, lost an election in 1991. Today they are back in office having won an election that even the US was unable to subvert. In order to win the Sandinistas had slowly to win back the confidence of the people, who then voted them back into power. Any attempt by ZANU (PF) to cling to power through overt or covert violence will only compound its problems by stripping it even further of the legitimacy it won by leading the Zimbabwean people in their struggle for independence, freedom and democracy!

Commenting on the dilemma faced by the Bolsheviks after their victory in October 1917, that great internationalist and Communist, Rosa Luxemburg, wrote:

"Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party - however numerous they may be - is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of 'justice' but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when 'freedom' becomes a special privilege."

Maloka and Magubane would do well to weigh her remarks seriously. Perhaps, had the Bolsheviks been a bit more attentive to such constructive criticism from an unimpeachable revolutionary, we might not be complaining of the demise of the Soviet Union, but could possibly be celebrating its triumphs.

· Z Pallo Jordan is a member of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC). This article is written in his personal capacity.


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