THE Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (Copac) outreach debacle in Harare in general and at Mai Musodzi Hall, Mbare, in particular, must have come as a huge anticlimax for most media houses.
There were media which were prepared for a bloodbath, the final showdown between the forces of darkness and those of light. But like most of their phantasmagorical, laptop-generated “what Zimbabweans want” findings, it was a damp squib. Thus has been the story of Zimbabwe for more than a decade: violence, prosecutions and elections.
A new constitution was supposed to close that chapter; instead such a constitution has been foreclosed.
Back to Mai Musodzi and violence. It all started way back. The Jabulani Sibanda “trail of destruction” in Masvingo last month where two huts were burnt as part of this series. In one of its briefs, the London-based SW Radio Africa allocated every senior Zanu PF official in Manicaland province a terror zone to stop the constitution-making process “because they fear losing free and fair elections”.
All this culminated, but did not end, in a huge lie by SW Radio, which had been diligently annotating a chart of this escalating violence.
At 19:41:35 on September 17, 2010, I received the usual alert on my mobile phone of SW Radio’s main news items of the day. “Civil servants in Hre protest Fri for pay rise from diamond sales; Mutasa vows MT will never be Pres; Violence cancels 23 Copac meetings Manicaland.”
I won’t comment on the first two. I have received SW Radio’s news summaries probably since 2007. Each time I am staggered by the sheer scale of exaggeration of every little disagreement in Zimbabwe involving especially Zanu PF and MDC-T. (MDC is mentioned only when it commits the sin of acknowledging President Mugabe’s positive contribution to Zimbabwe, incidentally a sin committed by Prime Minister Tsvangirai recently by calling Mugabe a “hero”).
Two things bothered me about this particular SW Radio report. First, there has been a tendency of late by our fear-paralysed reporters in the print media to reproduce these terror reports without further inquiry but generous embellishment. Then from the blue sky, the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (Jomic) is accused of NOT DOING ANYTHING. Nobody phones Jomic, however. When they choose to, and you don’t endorse what they “believe”, then you are hiding something.
That’s what happened in Sibanda’s case, even after Jomic’s investigations failed to establish a causal link between what Jabulani said at Old Mashoko in Bikita, Masvingo and the burning of David Hallman’s two huts some 90km away, which he himself said he suspected was the result of a dispute over a neighbour’s wife.
The MP who alleged a link refused to cooperate when confronted by Jomic and the three Masvingo provincial party chairmen of MDC-T, Zanu PF and MDC to explain his theory.
Second, the report was, prima facie, a blatant lie on violence and the cancellation of 25 meetings.
On September 10, I left Harare for Mutare with the Jomic national coordinator to monitor Copac meetings in Manicaland while our colleagues went to Muzarabani, Mashonaland Central. The following Saturday morning, we were on the road. All the 10 teams were going to Makoni Central. All started their morning from Mutare and ended the day back in Mutare. Each team held only one meeting per day because of the long distances between venues, even in the same ward. We managed to attend three meetings, all centres randomly selected. There were no reports of cancelled meetings.
Sunday, September 12, was a day off. Monday September 13 all 10 teams descended on Makoni West, that is the Headlands area. Before we left Mutare, we received an SMS from Hon Elton Mangoma, a Jomic committee member, that there was a problem at Nemaire primary school in Makoni Central. For logistical reasons, we were unable to investigate the incident, so proceeded to Headlands.
At two centres, we stayed only briefly to assess the situation and left because Copac teams had not arrived. At Chiwome Primary School, we found the same team which we had observed in Makoni Central on Saturday, which included Hon David Chimhini, and so left after 15 minutes. Altogether, we covered seven centres in two days, with the last meeting at Inyati business centre near Inyati Mine.
Since all teams were in the same constituency at a time, it would be easy to hear of any disturbances back in Mutare — but there were no such reports from any political party. And for the avoidance of any doubt, the parties to the GPA undertook “to channel all complaints, grievances, concerns and issues relating to compliance with this agreement through Jomic …”
Our time done, we then returned to Harare. The Jomic team which had just returned from Muzarabani then proceeded on Wednesday, September 15, to Makoni to investigate the disturbances at Nemaire Primary School. In short, they were informed by the Copac leadership that there had been a minor incident which they judged didn’t merit reporting to police. The meeting had been held the following day, Tuesday, September 14, they were told. The team returned to Harare on Thursday, September 16.
SW Radio’s horror bulletin of “violence cancels 23 Copac meetings Manicaland” followed them on Friday September 17, in readiness for Mai Musodzi’s copious tears. I immediately phoned Copac colleagues in Mutare, including Hon Frank Chamunorwa, a Jomic committee and Copac rapporteur, who said the only time they recalled a Copac meeting being cancelled in Manicaland was over the “indecent exposure” incident.
But for the violence lobby, the desired publicity had been achieved. The SW Radio horror story was supposed to mark violence’s triumphal entry into Harare through Mai Musodzi Hall. And true to the horror script, the media gangs, never seen anywhere Jomic has monitored Copac meetings across the country, were all duly gathered in Mbare to bear witness to, and capture, the spectacular failure of Copac’s constitution-making outreach programme, in tears and blood. Never mind that the meetings throughout country went on relatively peacefully, including in the second city of Bulawayo on the same day that people in Mbare were head-butting each other.
Listening to the feigned hysteria on foreign radio stations in the evening and reading the print media the following day, one felt a sense of being let down; that Harare and Bulawayo had been expected to degenerate into the bread riots of Maputo or pay rise demonstrations in South Africa.
The biggest weakness of this whole thing, like I have said in the past, is not violence, but that the parties to the GPA and the media, having been fooled by NCA’s Lovemore Madhuku that people didn’t need a structured approach to the constitution-making process in the form of the ‘Kariba Draft’, and some being threatened by their political NGO partners, decided to take their party positions to the people separately. It became a contest of numbers between two political parties. The nation’s voice was subsumed under partisanship. That has only served to worsen polarisation ahead of so-called “imminent” elections.
Typically, our media, unable to provide enlightened direction to their readers, and so unsure of what Madhuku meant by “people-driven” and how the success of such a process would be measured without the same Madhuku being player, referee and judge to pronounce the final verdict, have been ambivalent about the outcome of the constitution-making outreach, hence the frenetic attempts to manufacture violence as fig leaf to discredit a programme fraught from the beginning.
But there wasn’t much violence to go on. With Mai Musodzi’s eyes staying stubbornly dry, that was the last straw. It was like enduring a drab Harare Agricultural Show for a whole week only for the fireworks to refuse to explode on the final night.