Why every protest matters in Napoleonic Zimbabwe
The chief argument has been that they will achieve nothing as not enough people are brave enough to march in support given the brutal force often used to suppress protests. To them and other sceptics I say that every protest it worth it. We should not take away from these acts of bravery and defiance by reducing them to a numbers debate.
All the police beatings and physical abuse will not be in vain. Guns and the threat of force have limits. They did not stop the protests in Nepal, South Africa – during apartheid or the millions who fought for the liberation struggle or Dr Martin Luther King and company in their fight for racial equality in America. We should never allow the spirit of indifference and compliance, which pervaded the lives of inhabitants at animal farm, to take hold among Zimbabweans.
A look at Zimbabwe’s history reveals many uncanny similarities between George Orwell's Animal Farm and Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. Just as the animals fought and defeated a common enemy, so too did we fight colonialists and take control of our destiny. Like the animals who drove off the humans, we overthrew the undemocratic and repressive government of Ian Smith.
Sadly, just like the inhabitants of animal farm, those who championed the causes of the masses have become corrupt and tyrannical. They have betrayed the revolution. In today’s Zimbabwe, some animals are clearly more equal than others. It is now so bad that it is hard to distinguish them from the old rulers. In many ways, as at animal farm, the vast majority of Zimbabweans are worse off than before self rule came. All hope is not lost though.
The hardships we face suffer today should serve as a lesson from which a new political dispensation should emerge. One in which, we should never revert back to the same oppressive and brutal governance we witness today. The challenge is to not only break free from the tyranny which is destroying us, but to ensure that we also defy Orwell’s underlying message in animal farm.
We should ensure that the new Zimbabwe puts structures in place to ensure that those who supplant the current leaders do not themselves end up poisoned by power and become dictators in order to keep it. Should this dream not be realised then, all the pain, protests and deaths we suffer today would have been in vain. I believe that Zimbabweans can and will deliver a new Zimbabwe. Perhaps a reminder of where we are would not be amiss.
The values and freedoms which many paid for with their lives, such as freedom of expression, association, equality before the law, fairness and security have been emasculated by the present government. If, for example, one does not accept that Napoleon (Mugabe) is always right, then one runs the real risk of being ostracized or punished as an enemy of the people. Such is how politics is framed in Zimbabwe. You are either for or against the government. There are no in betweens. Those who rightly draw attention to the government or leaderships inadequacies are quickly branded sell outs and dealt with a heavy hand. Many journalists have been assaulted, arrested or intimidated for criticising the government. Some have had to flee the country in fear of their lives. People like Basildon Peta, Wilf Banga and Ray Choto to name but a few.
The feelings of many Zimbabweans are crystallised in Orwell’s character, Clover. As she reflected on Napoleons cruel retribution on those who were charged with plotting against the leadership, she was filled with many questions. She remembered how they had all yearned for a society in which all animals were set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, where the weak were protected by the strong. In contrast, she was living in a time where no one dared speak his mind, where fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere and where one witnessed fellow comrades put to death. In addition, she was further confused by the constant revision of the 7 commandments which were the cornerstone of animalism.
At the convenience of the pigs, some of the animals’ guiding principles changed. For instance, ‘No animal shall kill another animal,’ had ‘without reason’ inserted at the end, in order to justify Napoleons butchering of the ‘traitors’. The word Gukurahundi immediately springs to mind. Gukurahundi is a euphemism used to describe the killing of more than 20 000 people in Matabeleland in the early 1980’s. All those killed were labelled dissidents who wanted to destabilise the country. To date this is still an emotive subject which attracts fierce, passionate and divergent views – often with tribal connotations.
It was the dogs though that made the difference for Napoleon. Vicious, obedient and well fed, they struck terror into the hearts of all other animals on the farm. Such is the power of the army, the secret intelligence (CIO) and the police that, their deterrence has made the difference too for Mugabe.
Without the threat they pose to the long suffering and opposition masses, it is a certainty that Mugabe would have been confined to history by now. Speaking on the 15th of August 2006, during the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Day, Mugabe said, "…we want to remind those who might harbour any plots to revolt against the government: be warned, we have armed men and women who can pull the trigger”.
It is imperative that this collective threat be addressed in the post Mugabe Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans should ensure that a political renaissance takes place in which the army, intelligence bodies and the police are no longer bedfellows with the executive.
Changing the rules, Squealer style.
It would be remiss not to mention the role Squealer played in crafting and instilling fear and obedience in the rest of the animals. Indeed, at every turn he would remind them that Mr Jones could come back. Had they forgotten? Exactly the same sort of tactics are deployed by Mugabe’s propaganda machine. In order to justify ‘changing the rules’ and to divert attention from his own failures and corrupt leadership, imperialism and foreign forces have been blamed for Zimbabwe’s problems. Just as Snowball was used as the scapegoat for almost all the problems at animal farm, so too have the ‘neo- colonialists’, lead by Britain and the USA been blamed for most of Zimbabwe’s ills.
Admittedly, nobody should exonerate institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from the dreadful impact of their failed economic experiments like structural adjustment programmes of the 1980’s and the aid conditionalities. Neither do I condone the international practise of giving aid to developing countries and then undermining the efforts through unfair trade rules. Notwithstanding this, Mugabe cannot be absolved from the suffering, economic mess and stifling of democratic space he has overseen in Zimbabwe.
In order to legitimise the obscene privileges and exploitative lifestyle that the pigs and their inner circle were enjoying, Squealer got one of the key 7 commandments changed to read that - “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others”. It is hard not to draw parallels with Zimbabwe’s experiences. In Zimbabwe, the Mugabe government has amended or introduced laws such as the Access to Information Act 2002, the Public Order and Security Act, 2002 and the Broadcasting Services Act 2001 in an attempt to gag and control a restless, suffering and bitter populace which can clearly see that the virtues of the revolution have been betrayed. In addition to bending and abusing statutes, the Mugabe regime has tried to ‘spin’ itself out of its web of problems.
True to the animal farm plot, the current Zimbabwean government has become adept at defending the indefendable. Just as Squealer distorted facts and covered up Napoleons indiscretions, the government propaganda machinery has excelled at this trade. Evidence suggests that even the crafty Squealer, a master of spin on the farm, might have marvelled and taken a lesson or two from Mugabe’s spin and duplicity.
In the same fashion that Snowball’s record and intentions were scandalously twisted and facts denied or deliberately distorted by Squealer, so too have government failures been treated in Zimbabwe. A case in point is the recent condemnation of Amnesty Internationals report on the aftermath of Operation Murambatsvina by the Zimbabwean state authorities. The operation saw over 700 000 people forcibly moved from their homes. The homes were destroyed after being classified as illegal. In the words of Ignatius Chombo, the minister for public works and urban development, the charges by Amnesty are “mischievous”.
Speaking on Zimbabwe’s state radio on the 10th of September 2006, Chombo said, “These are lies, lies peddled by Amnesty. When they see a person sleeping at a bus stop they say they have no home”. The truth of the matter is that the facts speak for themselves. According to a BBC report, 92 460 houses were knocked down. Only 3325 homes have been built and most of them are inhabitable as they are incomplete. Given that the United Nations figure of those evicted is 700 000, there are clearly huge problems of housing and general social welfare for those affected.
In an economy that continues to atrophy, the challenges are clearly beyond the government’s capacity to solve. No amount of spin or denial will change this reality. The suffering of the people involved is there for all to see. To deflect attention from failures such as these and the ill thought out land reform programme, Mugabe grandstands on the world stage, railing against imperialism, international institutions like the World Bank and colonialism.
Like Napoleon, Mugabe will be remembered as a liberator who became a traitor – a tyrant who, in the end, became indistinguishable from the colonial oppressors. Apart from his kith and kin, he has failed to advance the quality of life of his fellow countrymen. For example, inflation is over 1000% and officially, Zimbabwe has the dubious honour of having the lowest life expectancy in the world. Millions are not expected to live beyond the age of 37. Furthermore, Mugabe has presided over terrible human rights abuses, committed economic suicide and will almost certainly bequeath untold hardships to the coming generations. No amount of grandstanding and Pan African rhetoric will change this dreadful legacy.
Unlike the animals under Napoleons grip of fear, Zimbabweans are not going to give in. In contrast to the animals that seemed to lose their fighting spirit, the battle to rid Zimbabwe of tyranny and oppression is gathering pace. Clearly, many Zimbabweans are not inured to the political and economic chaos that characterise their daily existence. The protests by the ZCTU and by Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) are a clear indication of this. No amount of propaganda can hoodwink an intelligent and discerning population.
Opposition Party leadership have a crucial role to play in this current struggle. Among their many responsibilities, they must ensure that the democratic spirit is always alive. In-fighting, name calling, bickering and abuse of human rights will only benefit the present government. Indeed they need to set new standards and ensure that their conduct is exemplary.
Physical attacks on those with divergent views within whatever party, should be condemned in the strongest possible terms, otherwise, the opposition will lose credibility and Mugabe will exploit it. Whenever human rights abuses are levelled at him by the opposition, he will be sure to hit back and accuse ‘the kettle of calling the pot black’.
Getting rid of Mugabe and his cronies is a mission which should not fail. Achieving this objective will only be the start of a challenging and imperative process to put structures in place which will ensure that Zimbabwe will never again allow a few individuals to control and command the democratic space and lives of the majority. Every Zimbabwean has and must play a role in delivering a new Zimbabwe.
Be it a protest of 10 women, a march of 200 people, a broadcast, newspaper article or report, every action counts. For, it keeps the terrible situation in Zimbabwe, in the eyes of the world. Every protest is a reminder to all humanity that they can not stand by and witness a nation suffer without doing something. After all, in this globalising world, we are all inextricably linked such that the problems in one part of the world often end up on the doorsteps of others. The flood of migrants from Africa into the Canary Islands is a clear indication of this. Let us all keep fighting!
Robert writes from the UK and is an executive member of the UK based Zimbabwe Action Group. He can be contacted on email@example.com
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