by Constance Manika
– Zimbabwe –
On March 11th, 2007, 64 year old Sekai Holland woke up unusually early. She was restless and anxious because of the scheduled protests that her party was going to go ahead with against the police’s will. She knew it was going to get nasty.
The Save Zimbabwe Campaign is a coalition of Christian organizations pushing for change in Zimbabwe; they organized the protests. Although police had refused to authorize this public meeting under the Public Order and Security Act, leaders of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign hinted that they would go ahead with the meeting. (According to a provision of the act, any political party or organization wishing to hold a public gathering of more than five people needs to get police clearance.)
They argued that as a Christian alliance they were not planning on holding a political rally but a prayer meeting to ask God to save Zimbabwe from its current problems. Leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, was invited to the event as guest speaker. Because of Tsvangirai’s involvement, police argued that the prayer meeting was a political rally in disguise.
Sekai was right: it did turn nasty. On the way to the prayer meeting’s venue, police officers set up roadblocks and forcibly plucked opposition leaders from their cars and arrested them.
Grace Kwinjeh, also on her way to the prayer meeting, heard that state security agents were arresting opposition leaders; she quickly made a U-turn.
She later teamed up with Sekai and together they went to the police to inquire about the arrests of their fellow activists. An over zealous police officer immediately arrested them. They were taken to the back yard, where they saw numerous other activists arrested. Police then took turns beating them up as they lay on the ground.
More than 50 other activists including MDC leader, Tsvangirai, suffered the same fate. They were abducted before they had even made it to the protests and were taken to various cells where they were brutally assaulted and tortured.
At a stadium in the notorious high-density suburb of Highfield where a prayer meeting had been scheduled, some activists had already gathered.
Upon hearing that their leaders had been arrested, youth and opposition activists ran amok. They began stoning riot police, burning police cars and assaulting police officers, who reacted by firing tear gas and beating and arresting anyone they caught. In the chaos, gunfire was heard. For a moment time stood still. The bullet hit one popular MDC activist, Gift Tandare, who died on the spot.
Sekai fractured three of her ribs and broke a leg. From the Highfield police station Sekai was taken first to the Central Police Station in the Central Business District of Harare and then to the Avondale police station. There, they threw her out of the truck; she landed hard on her head. She spent two days there without food, water or medical treatment for her injuries. After her release, Sekai had surgery to insert pins and a plate in her broken leg, and finally had her broken arm set.
This is what some opposition activists have had to endure to bring change to Zimbabwe and remove Mugabe from power. But unfortunately all of their pain and struggle may come to nothing on March 29th, the day set for elections.
The MDC split in October 2005 over whether or not to take part in the 2006 senatorial elections. From this split two factions emerged: one that is anti-senate election and the other that is pro-senate election.
Led by founding president of the MDC, former labor leader Tsvangirai, the anti-senate faction was opposed to the 2005 election as it felt that the exercise was costly to Zimbabwean taxpayers and unnecessary. Tsvangirai and his lot also felt that the country was not ready for these senate elections and in indeed, any elections in the country. He argued that the playing field was not leveled and would most likely work in favor of ZANU PF.
The idea of an election boycott was to put pressure on Mugabe to reform electoral laws, media laws and make changes in the constitution that promoted a free and fair election. This is why Tsvangirai and his supporters refused to take part in the election.
But on the other hand, we had the pro-senate election faction arguing they wanted to participate in the election because they could not allow Mugabe and his party to occupy all the democratic space in Zimbabwe. They wanted to curb ZANU PF’s dominance, so to speak.
Led by academic Arthur Mutambara the pro senate faction remained headstrong and split from the rest of the party. They went ahead and took part in the election and many suffered huge humiliating defeats as Tsvangirai read the famous, “I told you so” line to Mutambara.
However, talks to reunite these two factions before the March elections have been ongoing since last year but have sadly broken down. The two factions will now stand in the elections as separate political parties, splitting the opposition vote and giving a lot of advantage to ZANU PF and its presidential candidate, Robert Mugabe.
This is very depressing news for many Zimbabweans here. It is definitely and particularly disappointing for people like Grace, Sekai, and the many other activists who have suffered at the hands of what has become Mugabe’s personal property – the army and police. It would have disappointed but not surprised the late Gift Tandare.
I don’t believe change can come to Zimbabwe under a divided opposition; all these people who have suffered for that change have been left betrayed.
However, I guess this split is just what Mugabe really needed.
Media reports say that the two factions “failed to agree on proposals to share voting districts and put up a single candidate to run against President Robert Mugabe.” Reportedly, the talks collapsed over differences on how many candidates each faction should field in Matabeleland province, known as a MDC stronghold. (ZANU PF doesn’t stand a chance in Matabeleland because the people there have never forgiven Mugabe for the Gukurahundi atrocities.)
This is the second time that unification talks between the two factions have collapsed. Last year in April after ten months of negotiations, the two factions came up with conditions for their unity pact but then failed when Tsvangirai’s national executive committee rejected them.
Media reports say the same scenario repeated itself this time because “it seemed as though the two sides were close to agreement but Tsvangirai’s team again voted against it.”
So after months of hoping that “maybe, just maybe…” we are back to square one again. I am left wondering why politicians are so self centered and power hungry. Is it a prerequisite that someone possess these qualities before running for a political post?
Sensing the nation’s disappointment after the news broke out, Mutambara held a press conference and apologized to Zimbabweans for the failed talks.
Adding salt to the wound, he even offered that he believes “a single candidate philosophy would have made it easier to deliver victory against ZANU-PF.”
So what happened to achieving that “single candidate philosophy,” I ask Mutambara?
At almost the same time, also trying to appease his supporters, Tsvangirai was at it again, holding his own press conference. He was quoted in some local and international reports saying, “We can’t force unity down the people’s throat… the decision was regrettable, unfortunate, but the reality.”
Was it really “regrettable,” I ask Tsvangirai?
Reality? Whatever that “reality” may be, Zimbabweans know they are in a fix.
They are stuck with an opposition that is preoccupied with power and a government led by Mugabe that has left half the population living in abject poverty. It doesn’t look like we have a savior or a hero to rescue us from all our problems and Zimbabweans are not amused. Election analysts say the impact will be particularly felt in the presidential race, as the chances of Mugabe’s re-election have been enhanced by the opposition’s split vote.
Political analyst and University of Zimbabwe Professor John Makumbe says the collapse of the talks was very unfortunate and “leaves the MDC even more disadvantaged in the ballots” – he questions why they should even take part in the elections.
Quoted in one local newspaper, Makumbe expressed his frustrations and that of many Zimbabweans when he said that the opposition is now the “biggest obstacle to a democratic dispensation… I have no doubt that Mugabe will have the last laugh and who can blame him really? The opposition has just done themselves in and in fact it would not be wrong if one were to suggest that they are becoming another obstruction to democratic change.”
Sekai, who sides with the Tsvangirai faction says, “What a waste of a struggle.”
Political analyst Augustine Timbe was quoted by the AFP saying the failed talks would hand ZANU PF victory on a “silver platter.”
“The votes for those who do not like the ruling party will be scattered between the various opposition candidates while those who have always supported the ruling party will stick to it,” said Timbe. “The opposition has always spoken about creating an alternative government but where making important decisions is concerned, they have been found wanting.”
Prominent political commentator Ibbo Mandaza had no kind words for Zimbabwe’s opposition leaders. He told a local independent weekly paper here, “They are bunch of idiots! I will not waste my energy and time talking about idiots!”
This is the anger and betrayal that so many people here feel. Many people just can’t understand why the two MDC factions are failing to unite and then settle their differences later, for the sake of removing Mugabe’s tyrannical government.
Many of us have learned to deal with the fact that Mugabe has dragged the country into recession. But cannot stomach that the only chance Zimbabwe’s strongest opposition had of unseating Mugabe has been snatched away from us.
This is the big betrayal.
So now where do we go from here with less than a month to go before March 29th? I really don’t know myself, but I will keep you posted.
About the Author
Constance Manika is a journalist who works for the independent press in Zimbabwe. She writes under this pseudonym to escape prosecution from a government whose onslaught and level of intolerance to journalists in the independent press is well documented.
In Meltdown in Zimbabwe, an exclusive and ongoing series at The WIP, Constance provides continued on-the-ground reporting from her embattled country where Zimbabweans struggle daily for democracy, economic sustainability and human rights.