Zimbabweans too educated to toyi toyi?
A close friend, reacting to calls for nationwide protests against Robert Mugabe's regime, aptly summed up his feelings when he said: “We Zimbabweans are too educated to throw stones or toyi toyi in the streets...”
He further went on to illustrate his point by calmly pointing to my chest and offering a bet: if war veterans were to march today along Samora Machel, urging everyone to join them on a march to State House to remove Mugabe, no-one would join in, period. In fact, he added, someone in the crowd would likely shout: “Those uneducated O-vets are at it again.”
I mulled over this for a good few minutes as I nursed a gin and tonic - shaken, not stirred. Perhaps he was right? Come to think of it, he was right!
So if the MDC ever wondered why Zimbabweans are reluctant to join mass street protests, the answer is above. There is a belief in Zimbabwe that demonstrations are for township simpletons, not those with an O-level or above. And anyway, I have yet to see any opposition leader chanting in the streets in front of demonstrators!
But curiously, the same educated Zimbabweans are at the forefront of rushing for the most demeaning jobs in the Diaspora.
Or is it possible that we can only demonstrate if we are promised payment? That would be plausible. After all, the opposition leaders actually get paid for being in opposition! And they get to fly all over the world using nary a cent from their bank accounts.
I might add here that we as a nation lack the ability to criticize the weaknesses of our opposition leaders, or any political leader for that matter.
Granted, the opposition has been at the receiving end of state brutality, but they have never grabbed the chance to take advantage of their disadvantages. Ruling parties in Africa are there to make life hell for the opposition. That is their mandate. To expect the ruling party to level the playing field for you is naivety of the highest order.
But seriously folks, the local opposition politicians today do not know whether they are coming or going, and they need to change their ways. Their new slogan must be: “Ngatichinje maitiro edu tisati tachinja evamwe.”
I have said it before and I will say it again, the current opposition leadership in this country is not fit to be at State House. They are irrational, immature, impatient, quarrelsome and always flying out of the country. They are more like foreign diplomats than opposition leaders. A good leader stays with his people.
The people are also to blame for the current state of affairs in the opposition camps because we think criticizing the opposition is being unpatriotic.
It’s time we gave the opposition in this country a run for their foreign currency; keep them on their toes and give them a more torrid time than what Zanu PF is giving them. We must ask for accountability from the opposition before we ask of it from government. They must not escape censure. Above all, we must drive into their thick skulls the fact that a single opposition leader has better chances than several.
In Britain recently, Labour ministers who felt Tony Blair was not leaving the government fast enough decided to resign in protest. On October 12, 2005, some MDC officials resigned in protest after Morgan Tsvangirai allegedly refused to step down. None of the British ministers have so far been attacked for rebelling against their leader. Criticism of a leader anywhere else in the world is healthy for democracy.
But in Zimbabwe? Let me shut up before someone does a Trudy on me!
I was alarmed to hear that the BBC is currently asking Zimbabweans to send them some questions to ask Tsvangirai in a forthcoming interview. We must ask ourselves: has it come to this? Why have Zimbabweans resorted to posing questions to their supposed leader through the services of a foreign radio station? The answer is simple: Morgan Tsvangirai has become inaccessible and big-headed. There is a firewall of invincibility that is slowly being built around him by his handlers, and he’s not even president yet.
Anybody who strives for political office should know that voters have the inalienable right to put them to account.
When Tsvangirai embarked on his walk to work in protest at fuel prices last year, it was a good gesture initially until I realized it was more of a publicity stunt ahead of a bitter split than a genuine feel for the toiling masses. If Tsvangirai was genuinely walking to work in sympathy with the long-suffering masses, why didn’t he board a bus or a kombi full of workers and get the chance to literally rub shoulders with the people and hear their grievances first hand?
Needless to say, he lost a very good photo opportunity.
Since September 1999, Tsvangirai has been playing to the international gallery like a movie star, forgetting that it is NOT the international community that votes for him.
I have often been attacked by supposedly learned media practitioners for suggesting that the only way for the opposition to win the hearts and minds of the people so far as street protests are concerned, is for them to get down to basics, to literally roll up their sleeves and work for the people.
It is the African culture of worshipping their leaders which always entrenches them in power, because once you start praising them, they want you to continue, even if they have to beat the praises out of you using people who get angry on their behalf.
The MDC should now ask themselves, what have we done for the people since our formation in 1999, besides asking for them to vote for us? They must cast aside the obsession with State House for a moment, and transform themselves into a civic and consumer watchdog.
The MDC’s moments of silence whenever they are called upon to be vocal on critical national issues have been depressingly deafening. It’s as if they want to see which way the wind blows before they react.
They have become a party that reacts to events rather than that which creates events. They are the proverbial rabbit in Zanu PF’s headlights -- a witless witness.
At one point Tsvangirai said he was frustrated with Zimbabweans for not heading his mass protest calls! What a country!
Almost every column I read always talks about the need for Zanu PF to change, but never for the MDC to change. Yet, if the truth be told, it is the MDC which needs to re-invent itself, and urgently. There has been NO democratic change in the country since 2000, so it is only fair that MDC change its name to perhaps Movement for Democratic Governance (MDG) or Movement for Democratic Principles/People (MDP).
Below I give suggestions on how Tsvangirai can try a completely new photo opportunity.
First, they must learn to exploit Zanu PF’s moments of weakness, which are bountiful. Whenever a moment to win hearts and minds is presented, MDC must seize that moment and never let go.
And how do they seize that moment? Well, listen carefully, for I shall say this only once.
The MDC needs to have a human face. They need to start a new resolution that involves the people, both urban and rural.
MDC have a very healthy youth league nationwide, and they could give these youths work like clearing garbage, digging trenches or sweeping the streets in their constituencies. Hanging around Harvest House all day is not work by any stretch of imagination. This should endear them to skeptical Zimbabweans, who are used to seeing nothing good coming from the opposition or Zanu PF.
Of course, the issue of remuneration is always a thorny one, but once the youths are politicized enough to know that they are doing something worthwhile; they will do it with undisguised gusto. The MDC leadership must cut down their foreign trips or missions and use the money saved to cover food and transport costs for these volunteers. (I don’t care what people say, MDC’s foreign trips are totally useless). The top leadership must supervise these youths if need be. Small groups of five to ten youths for every constituency for a start.
Naturally, this kind of community work will attract the ever-resourceful and jealous ZRP. This is good, as it is likely to work in the party’s favour. And the international headlines will scream "MDC youths arrested for not requesting police permission to clear garbage”.
A plus for the MDC, a minus for Zanu PF!!
When Hezbollah announced a ceasefire with Israel a few weeks ago, they did not waste time to be among the Lebanese people. They immediately started distributing cash to residents whose homes had been destroyed by Israeli jets only a few days earlier. There’s no hearts-and-minds strategy that can beat this anywhere in the world. It was as if Hezbollah had just come out of a Davis Cup match with Israel! They did not moan to the UN about Israel’s brutality or about an uneven playing field. The Lebanese themselves even said they were prepared to die for Hezbollah!
The MDC leadership also needs to establish consumer desks in their constituencies where people can complain about consumer issues like price increases, poor service delivery, etc.
They must hold regular people oriented workshops on food security, housing shortages, job creation, etc. There are too many workshops, which discuss nothing but “the Zimbabwean problem” day in day out. How about workshops that change people’s lives for the better? I have yet to hear that the MDC leaders have convened an Aids workshop, or that their business department (if they have one) has held a workshop to help youths set up business projects.
At rallies, they must identify a few needy widows and orphans in constituencies and buy them food packs every month. Even if they help just one widow, it’s a start. They could set up soup kitchens for street kids, or establish collection points for people to drop their children’s old school shoes and clothes.
Furthermore, the MDC could start their own rural Zunde Ramambo feeding scheme where those villagers with a few maize grains to spare donate towards those that don’t have, especially orphan-headed households. It is not enough for Tsvangirai to say people are suffering. What has HE done for them?
The MDC always moans about government failing to build houses, but where are the MDC housing cooperatives?
Let’s see a photo of a smiling widow standing beside a hut that has been refurbished by MDC youths. Even if he can’t donate ten computers to every school, let’s hear that Tsvangirai has donated a term’s school fees for at least five rural pupils from his own Buhera, or donated a food hamper to a children’s home. And MDC must do these things VISIBLY. MDC lawyers must get off their butts, and, for once defend (free of charge) those widows who are always having their houses taken from them by relatives.
How about getting birth certificates for rural orphans writing Grade 7 examinations?
MDC aligned doctors could set up free clinics in the townships once a month to peer into people’s mouths, noses, ears and conduct any other minor medical examination, and be seen to be a government-in-waiting that is worth voting for. The opposition shouldn’t complain about where to get money. It’s very easy to source money from business people if they really want to. After all, it is not a crime to ask for donations to help the less privileged. Except maybe in Zimbabwe!
Priscilla Misiharaibwi-Mushonga, though in the “wrong camp”, does a lot of charity work in her constituency. So does Job Sikhala in St Mary’s. I do not know what other MPs are up to. It pays to be visible, especially if you are a political figure, that’s why Zanu PF mandarins are always at pains to drag Newsnet to every toilet-opening event. If you don’t have your own Newsnet, then have your own publicity camp in tow.
It is mind boggling that a party like the MDC does not have its own newspaper. The Changing Times should be a newsletter that is regularly found in every letterbox or sent as an e-newsletter. During the war, Zanu PF successfully published and distributed Zimbabwe News because they knew guns were not enough to win the hearts and minds of the people.
And there’s no earthly reason why MDC cannot have a community radio structure in place.
Visibility is the key word here.
I am quite confident that, once MDC has successfully done all these services, all Tsvangirai has to do to get people onto the streets is to snap his fingers. But let me not be naïve to think that opposition leaders listen to ordinary mortals like me, but if they continue their narrow-minded obsession with removing the State House tenant without proving they are competent enough to take over, they will remain a shadow, as Jonathan Moyo once said.
Am I expecting too much of them? Perhaps.
I end with Jonathan
Moyo’s two favourite words: economy and stupid.
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