THERE is a song by the late Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti titled ‘Beast of no Nation.’ This is taken from that relic of apartheid PW Botha. At the height of civil disobedience in South Africa, Botha was heard to angrily remark that, ‘this uprising will bring out the beast in us!’
Fela stretched that unfortunate retort to encompass other forgettable African dictators who seemed to swear by this haunting mantra. Stretching it further, one is tempted, nay, forced to apply the same to the Zimbabwean situation. It is a glaring fact that elections in this southern African country indeed do bring out the beast in some of us.
The mere mention of elections sends chills down the spines of many. Why is this so? It is because violence has become so synonymous with any poll that it has become the norm rather than the exception that bones will be broken, backsides roasted or God-forbid, lives lost.
Zimbabweans have allowed the culture of violence to permeate their electoral processes to the extent that violence is the norm rather than the exception. It is anticipated. It has become so perverse that people discuss it as if it were normal for political sycophants to bash the heads of those who do not agree with them. Even the idle talk of gossipers is peppered with references to the man who was whipped in front of his wife and children with the intention of stripping him of his dignity.
Violence as a political tactic has real and intended effects. It is a political diversion from genuine and pressing issues. Among these are security reforms that are essential in disabusing critical instruments of the state of any partisanship. This is an important precondition for free and fair elections be held and not, as some put it, interference in the running of an essential pillar of government.
There are outstanding legislative and media reforms that are a necessary prerequisite for a level political field as we approach any campaign period. There is too much partisan control over the pillars of democracy such that they tend to be abused to the advantage of one party at the expense of the other participants in the electoral race. Political violence then tends to fall in between the cracks of such a compromised political setting. Violence begets violence and the cycle has no end.
There are some among those who wield political power who do not have any respect for human life. Perhaps it is this “war thing” we are told we do not understand. Evidently, when some came out of the bush, the bush never deserted them. Does the revolution have to eat its own children in order to survive?
Threats so blatant against those who are perceived to be traitors and dare vote for their opponents are bandied about even at public forums. Others even have the temerity of boasting that they are above the law.
Terrified villagers are cowed into involuntary silence because the nature of the retribution is too ghastly to contemplate. People are made an example of in the same way it was done during the liberation struggle. Who from those dark days does not remember ‘kurova proni’ to lie prone on the ground while someone pummelled your back into a pulp?
Fast forward to 2008 and individuals who were labelled sell outs were singled out for the most heinous of torture one can ever imagine with the intention that the image remained permanently etched in the minds of those who dared go against the so-called gwara or the cause.
What has made things worse has been the paralysis of the security forces to act decisively in curbing political violence. In fact, such inaction is directly responsible for encouraging impunity on the part of the perpetrators. They deem themselves untouchable and this adds to the dilemma faced by victims about how they can report cases of violence and intimidation. To top it all up, there is the continued presence of extra-judicial militia who are at the back and call of certain sections of known political characters.
The SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing democratic elections have not been implemented in letter and spirit. Human rights activists have for a long time lamented the fact that the heads of state in the region have paid lip service to the principles which lack a clear implementation mechanism.
Certain players on the Zimbabwean political playing field are insiting on internal devices that are supposed to ensure free and fair elections without outside ‘interference.’ This only serves to muddy the waters in which the big fish prey on the small ones. Such mechanisms are supposed to be driven by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the organ for National Healing and Reconciliation and the Global Political Agreement itself and are all compromised. These Institutions remain paralysed by the ‘toxic’ nature of our national politics.
What should it take for genuine free and fair elections to be held in Zimbabwe? We need a process whose conduct would be above reproach or something near where the results would not be contested of even denied all together. Stolen elections have a tendency of leaving a bitter aftertaste.
The solution is simple. In a situation where Zimbabweans and their internal institutions have been found wanting in the absence of outside scrutiny and in the absence of guarantees, the responsibility falls on the citizens themselves to grab the opportunity presented by any election to be proactive and daring. They should troop to the polling stations in their millions and thumb their noses at the merchants of death. They should grab the right to choose the leaders they want without unsolicited assistance.
The sanctity of the ballot should not only be protected but it should be guaranteed by the same security forces whose constitutional obligation is to protect every citizen of Zimbabwe without favour. No Zimbabwean is inferior to the next man, let alone qualified by the number of degrees in violence.
Zimbabweans should be brave enough to expose those who promote blatant violations of the smooth conduct of elections. How many times should people be reminded that the war is over? Isn’t it high time we left the trenches and caves of a liberation war that ended generations ago and for liberators and victims alike to enjoy the true fruits of freedom?
The decision to break free from the dark past lies at the door of every Zimbabwean and in that decision, lies their fate. Will it be another four years of bitterness and regret or four years of hope, peace and prosperity? Let the elections come. Whether black or blue every countryman should be true to the motto that says; “See you at the ballot box!”