It is undeniable that our nation is in need of fresh thinking in order to move forward and that requires dialogue which must tap the vision of all Zimbabweans at all levels and across the world – not just the army as proposed by Tendai Biti. Interestingly Vice President Chiwenga and Tshinga Dube have joined the dialogue bandwagon but did not propose their intended stakeholders – this must concern and level headed Zimbabwean.
My observation is that our failure as Zimbabweans to address the nature of the state is in large part to blame for our lack of political and economic progress these past many years. Defining the state is a core component of national development and in addition, defining the role of the political party is a crucial element in that discussion. We have deteriorated from a narrow definition of the party as the vanguard of the people, to the party as a battering ram for breaking into the realm of power and privilege and as a fortress to keep others out of that realm.
The only reason I am responding to Biti’s utterances is because of my many years of advocating for a Zimbabwe Sovereign National Conference (SNC) where all the stakeholders, not those preferred by political parties, but all stakeholders would be represented. There will be church leaders; Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA); Teachers Union, Student Union, and other professional bodies, as well as civic group leaders – in short, civil society. Their voices too need to be heard because the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy affects them too. The SNC broadens the scope of participation. It is no longer between MDC and ZANU (PF). ZANU (PF) has been primed or tuned to “deal with” MDC. Now, it has to deal with a much LARGER grouping. Moreover, the SNC takes the burden of resolution off the shoulders of Mnangagwa or Chamisa. If I were Chamisa, this is the strategy I would pursue.
The only challenge I have faced with the SNC initiative is that this is suitable only in the case of a failed state or to conditions where a new state is being established. As much as we might point to the failures of our present government to fulfill the expectations for which it was originally elected, Zimbabwe is not a failed state.
While it is hard to stand up and oppose a “negotiated settlement”, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) should not repeat yesteryear’s mistakes by becoming a facilitator or enabler of the torture, beatings, gruesome deaths endured by the opposition supporters in the hands of a brutal regime. The whole world knows this “negotiated settlement” gambit is a FARCE. So why enable it? The opposition is falling straight into the same trap Morgan Tsvangirai fell into; this is what ZANU PF wanted all along and now they will find a perfect way and time to snooker MDC. The settlement will be dictated to MDC for them to sign and sooner after, they will find themselves in the dustbins of political history. Mnangagwa, not MDC has full control over the option of a “negotiated settlement.”
Having come to that realization, I cannot see any valid way for Zimbabweans collectively to shape the state outside of constitutional processes. We cannot abandon the supremacy of the current Constitution and set up an alternative process that would have sovereign status over those structures of state that are safeguarded by the Constitution. Such a move would create an unnecessary power vacuum that would inevitably lead to chaos in the current volatile environment.
The proposed dialogue needs to take into consideration the current climate and emerging trends with regard to democratic debate and decision making in Zimbabwe. The 2018 New dispensation indeed need to bring a new vision of the contract between state and citizenry. The question is: What form of national dialogue will have the buy-in of the majority of Zimbabweans so that it becomes a unifying process, and when is the most productive moment for that to take place?
If we look back to the referendum that brought in the 2013 Constitution, there was considerable debate on the nature of the state, its responsibilities and its limits, but this debate was too confined to a select group of “stakeholders” identified by 3 political parties. The general citizenry did not have much faith in the narrow 3 party process as inclusive of their views, nor was it given a genuine chance to participate in the debate directly because the prescribed mechanisms for doing so were too tightly controlled from the top. Anything more open and productive than this was impossible, given the nervous conditions created by interparty mistrust. The Constitution that emerged from that flawed process was accepted in a national referendum because Zimbabweans wanted progress. But the sluggish pace at which key sections are being enacted and the fact that barely 4 years after adopting it there were proposals to start making amendments is an indication that the process we used to produce this Constitution was insufficient to capture the allegiance of key groups in the nation. This event is full of lessons for the proposed dialogue.
Representative democracy has failed Zimbabweans to such an extent that most people dismiss their local Councilors as being incapacitated by corrupt structures and dismiss their Members of Parliament and Senate as having little or no devotion to the needs of their constituents. When there is need for a serious challenge to be addressed, the public often has more faith in the capacity of traditional leaders or the church than in their elected officials to understand them and give them support. Until and unless this changes, the more popular style of direct democracy will remain a pipe dream.