Home » Governance » Political Transition On a ‘Silver Platter’ [opinion]

AS Zimbabwe’s opposition political parties grapple with the agenda for democratic transition in Zimbabwe, they must keep alive to the history of critical political transitions in this country. Although there are opportunities for countries to achieve political transitions by defying their historical narrative, there are also countries that are shaped by history in their insolence to such transitions. Slowly, I am beginning to accept Zimbabwe’s own tale that our history shapes the quest for political transition. In its history, the country has never had a “silver platter” political transition. A “silver platter” political transition being one that ensues without any concerted political struggle or show of political courage. The country has always had to struggle for any form of political transition, both in the pre-colonial and colonial eras. In 1896-1897, the Ndebele-Shona uprising against the British South Africa Company’s (BSAC) administration marked the First Chimurenga. History records that, the Matebele spiritualreligious leader, Mlimo, was credited with sowing the seeds of this uprising while amongst the Shonas, it was Mashayamombe and Kaguvi. The end of this struggle was marked by the capture and execution of Hwata and Nehanda Nyakasikana who had become the force behind the uprising in Mashonaland while Mlimo was assassinated in Matobo Hills.

This transition, though regrettable, was marked by a concerted struggle. During the colonial era, the Ian Smith regime, in its quest for independent sovereign status, settled for the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965. Although that is another regrettable piece of the country’s history, it’s important to note that for that racially exclusive consummation, the Smith regime did not get it on a “silver platter” political transition. There was some defiance of the British political order.

In the late 1970s, as Ndabaningi Sithole’s leadership of ZANU began to fade, President Robert Mugabe began to emerge. His emergence was catapulted by the Mgagao Declaration as well the endorsement by the DARE leaders. That endorsement was however not without its complications as a group opposed it. The likes of Dzinashe Machingura and others, who had anchored the Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA), were caught up in skirmishes around the rise of President Mugabe.

They were alleged to have been planning a military rebellion thereby leading to their incarceration in Mozambique for the duration of the liberation struggle. The ascendancy of President Mugabe to the leadership of ZANU, despite being one of the decisive moments of political transitions in Zimbabwe’s history, was marked by tension, protests and alleged rebellion. Again, this transition did not come through on a “silver platter”, it was a troubled transition.

The independence of 1980, although assumed to have been dispensed through an election, was actually forced by the eminence of the liberation struggle’s possible end game.

There were a lot of “behind the scenes” efforts made by the British government, during the Lancaster House Conference, to get the Patriotic Front negotiators to agree to a peaceful transition in the country.

The threat of the continuation of the liberation war, which was now fermenting in favour of the freedom fighters, and its debilitating effects on the colonialists and white population, was unbearable. Smith’s negotiating team, including the then conscripted marionettes of Abel Muzorewa and Ndabaningi Sithole, were also fearful of a sustained war and therefore sought refuge in accenting to an election. The real force behind the 1980 political transition in Zimbabwe wasn’t the election it was the war that forced the election.

Looking back at all the highlighted political transitions, as highlighted above, the country has never known any political transition offered on a “silver platter”.

There had to be some form of struggle or rebellion that enforced the aspired transition. Whether the aspired transition was for good or bad, nothing came on a “silver platter”.

Today, when I consider the current opposition political parties, their call for political transition and their seeming “silver platter” laced aocacy processes, I find it distanced from the reality of what the country’s history dictates.I find it very elitist, too systematic and based on the academics of political theory. None of the opposition parties are willing to get their hands dirty for the aspired transitions. From high rise offices and the chauffer-driven back seats of luxury cars, they are hopeful they will score a first, by influencing a political transition that comes on a “silver platter”.

I am not aocating for violence or any unbecoming means of seeking political transition in the country, but am challenging them to moral ways and methods that contrast to their current laissez-faire approach. One of the main mediums that real political transition can be dispensed in the country is through engagement and mobilisation of the citizenry.

There has never been a time that citizens have become so desperate and yet so unrepresented. While civil society claims to represent citizens, the sector has become embroiled in rent-seeking behaviour and has become more commercial than struggle-driven. ZANU-PF on the other hand has eventually proven that it has no substantial answers to the citizens’ aspirations for a better life, preferring to abuse them as political fodder for votes and political mileage.

The opposition parties have not created enough traction to represent the citizens nor engrain their agenda on citizen priorities. All we have seen of opposition political parties is powerleadership struggles and the epitomised belief that political transition will come from internal fights inside ZANU-PF or from their lop-sided academic calls for reforms.

Zimbabwe has never known any significant political transition that is not driven by some form of struggle. If the current opposition is to have any traction, which I doubt they will ever have, then their main focus should be in mobilising the “orphaned” and politically abused citizens of Zimbabwe.

The opposition should be in the forefront of mobilising the now infested informal sector towards demands for sustainable livelihoods rather than piecemeal living masqueraded as economic empowerment. The opposition should be at every public hospital representing and mobilising citizens whose relatives die daily of diseases that are otherwise preventable in any country with caring political leadership. They should be up and about mobilising and representing the multitudes who are being evicted from their land to make way for land-grabbing elites.

They should be mobilising and representing the multitudes of school leavers whose many years of school attendance have now resulted in them selling airtime or deep in the perilous pits of artisanal mine claims. This current crop of opposition parties and politicians represents a daydreaming crew. They are hoping to make history by waiting for a “silver platter” that will deliver political transition to the doorsteps of their mansions in the leafy suburban areas of the city.

These opposition parties must realise that in Zimbabwe even the next aspired political transition will not come on a “silver platter”.

Source : Financial Gazette