On the 17th of July, a fort night to the the 2018 harmonized elections, a very crucial event took place at Arrupe Jesuit University in Mount Pleasant, Harare. It was the first of its kind in the history of Zimbabwe. The presidential candidates, representatives of political parties, heads of churches and denominations, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, media, civil society and citizens of various backgrounds converged to witness this important event. Unlike the usual rallies, in addition to the speeches from the presidential candidates, the audience got a chance to contribute meaningfully to the proceedings. A key feature was the signing of the peace accord by each candidate or party delegate as a symbol and promise to uphold peace in the period leading to, during and after the Election Day. The venue bore an ambience of hope, unity, prayerfulness and excitement which resembled in all honesty the dawn of a new era. Months after, we look back at the events that have unfolded in search of insights to what went wrong and what went right.
What took place on the 17th was not a joke for where two or more are gathered in His Name, every word, deed and desire expressed is consecrated, written not just on a piece of paper and forgotten, but endorsed above. The people of God who gathered to witness this event constitute an authoritative commission of inquiry into the disputed results and the ensuing violent outcome of the post-election period. It is only when we reflect back in the same spirit we set out with that we can learn the truth and make progress towards meaningful dialogue as we shape the discourse resonant with a new political dispensation. We hold firm to our vision of a peaceful and just Zimbabwean society, where co-responsibility and co-participation are central values. Transparency and accountability are fundamental to creating a new republic.
Zarathustra, the saintly character of the book Thus Spake Zarathustra by the controversial German philologist, Friedrich Wilheim Nietzsche, designates unto us the three metamorphoses “… how the spirit became a camel, from a camel to a lion, and from a lion to at last a child.” Zimbabwe prior to November 2018 was a load barren nation whose majority lived in constant fear, uncertainty, conflict, and mistrust, stuck in survival mode. The freedom march to the State House that marked the end of that epoch and inaugurated the dawn of a new era all the way through to the people expressing their will through the ballot echoes an uncompromising denial of the repression of the past, a “Holy No”. Nonetheless, to remain in a mode of conflict with the past, charged against each other as witnessed so far will not help us to progress into the future. Zimbabwe needs the spirit of a child, the openness to learn and create new values, a “Holy Yes”. Dialogue is at the core of this exodus, this metamorphosis. Here are some points of reflection to usher us into a constructive debate on the nation rebuilding process:
What went wrong?
- The anomalies in the Electoral Processes:
According to reports by observers, among them the European Union Observer Mission, the Zimbabwe 2018 Harmonized Election fell short of international standards in, among others, the following ways:
a) The media was polarized and biased such that political parties and contestants did not have equal access to the public media. This remains so.
b) The vote counting process had avoidable errors and the results raised suspicions due to the delays in announcing the presidential poll results as well as their unusual aggregation into provincial totals.
- Post-Election Violence and the Killings:
State security used excessive force in response to protesters who took to the streets to demonstrate against the anomalies in the electoral processes leading to loss of six lives by the gun. Subsequent protests by various groups seeking redress of economic hardships have also been met by unfortunate responses from the authorities yielding negative humanitarian outcomes. Among them, arrest and persecution of leaders of unions e.g. the Vendors Association of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions who sought to protest against some legitimate wrongs are regrettable.
What went right?
- The Dispute over the results of the presidential election was settled by a ruling of the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe. This event was televised and widely covered by media, a sign of openness to public scrutiny of national democratic processes.
- A Commission of Inquiry into the post-election killings was set up. The process has been open to the wider public, those who can physically attend, broadcast over radio, television, and the press. There has been wide consultation; key informants were included in the investigations.
The Way forward…
The “Zimbabwe We Want” is a nation that values dialogue among its people and with the international community. The democratic processes that have taken root since the beginning of the year, 2018, should continue to shed more light on the dark places of our life as a nation. Examples of some darkness which continues to hold us back as a nation include the killings of thousands in episodes such as the Gukurahundi, the mass displacement of people during Murambatsvina 2005 and fast track land reform of 2000, and the violence of the period leading to the 2008 election re-run among others. More continues to pile up. These cases never went under the kind of scrutiny that we all wish to witness in the “Second Republic.” We might be on the right course to a new Zimbabwe, save that there is more to be done. Hopefully the following are helpful proposals to sketch a roadmap to that Promised Land:
Firstly, the mandate of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission must be prioritized on the agenda. Building a new nation on a shaky foundation has disastrous long-term effects. Secondly, electoral reforms that not only address the concerns raised in the previous elections, but also look into the adoption of more effective processes ought to take stage right away. Remember the next election is in just 5 years and that is not a lot of time relative to the task at hand. Thirdly, economic and social reforms that nip the problem in the bud are most urgent. Paying debts is one thing but making sure that they do not resurface is another. The solution demands going back to the source, the origins of our problems. There are several research papers that detail these problems and proffer sound and effective solutions, needless to repeat. Lastly, we need media reforms that can afford us a new set of lenses through which we can see the world lest, disinformed and misinformed, we stumble and fall.
On July 17th, the Church in Zimbabwe (united) kindled a fire into the hearts of the people when it brought them together to work out a future along the path of peace and harmony. No one lights a lamp only then to hide it under a bushel. The New Era is at hand. May the Spirit of the Risen Lord continue to guide the people of God on their journey to the “promised land?”