What role should civil society play?

HARARE - The Zimbabwean state is a continuation of the colonial State.

At the core of its administration just like its colonial predecessor, Rhodesia, is the use of coercion for political hegemony of the ruling class at any historical epoch.

The security apparatus; the military, secret agents, police and vigilant militias are its tools.

This sector constitutes the political hardware to electoral shenanigans of Zanu PF in a situation where the consensual apparatus of hegemony that constitutes the software part of the matrix has failed to win the hearts and minds of citizens.

Of late, Zanu PF officials such as Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa and spokesperson Rugare Gumbo have warned of violence in the event that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai wins the elections.

These are calculated acts of political mischief meant for political survival.

The Zanu PF demagogues know that consensual hegemonic activities such as mobilising support through cultural productions via their controlled state media without the use of terror tactics will not serve the political status quo effectively.

The margin or terror is what makes the difference.

The June 2008 presidential election sham taught them how to survive; never mind the criminal activities associated with that poll.

These statements are meant to cement the role of the military and general security apparatus hardware in preparing a violent onslaught against the voters or at least to intimidate voters in the event of failure to use violence. It is a tacit acceptance of electoral defeat in a free and fair situation.

Since 1980, these hegemonic coercive apparatus especially the military’s role in political and electoral affairs of Zimbabwe has been ubiquitous and of late have facilitated the continuation of the illegitimacy of President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF and critically blocked the democratic transition in the country.

Zimbabwe has become a state that is organised around three types of totalitarianisms namely; liberation, colonial and traditional.

All the three types of totalitarianisms emphasise the use of force in order to get political compliance.

The independence government of Zanu PF has perfected this art by placing the security apparatus (army, police, CIO, the prison service) at the epicentre of its repressive political machinery by poisoning the electoral environment with violence organised by this group.

Elections in Zimbabwe have been militarised from the 1985 violence against Zapu supporters to the June 2008 presidential election run-off sham. It is this poisonous role of the security apparatus in the electoral environment and the administration of that election that civil society need to come up with ways of combating it in order to have free, fair and credible elections.

Military and other security personnel are now found at the epicentre of electoral management bodies such as the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) and the registrar-general’s office, the two organisations that administer the elections.

There is need to disentangle the military from Zanu PF and make sure that it is not partisan.

The pre-emptive threats of coups by the military (2002, 2008) where the military have said that they would not salute any one without liberation credentials, a tacit support for Mugabe should be addressed in order to protect the vote in the coming elections. In my view, this is one of the issues that confronts and blocks democratic transition in Zimbabwe.

If the military’s involvement in the country’s political and electoral affairs is not halted, Zimbabwe will remain in a democratic political limbo unless critical and hard decisions, programmes and measures are taken. In my view civil society organisation could play critical roles.

The roles that Civic Society Organisations (CSOs) should play are at two levels; the pre-election and the post election as elaborated below.

In order to address the ubiquitous and partisan role of the security apparatus in Zimbabwe’s electoral politics, there is need to approach the problem at two levels from Above and from Below:

1. From  Above

- Outside of the State machinery, Zanu PF has serious problems of functioning as a political formation.

There is therefore need for civil society organisations to use the GPA provisions relative to the need for security sector reform provisions to lobby the government to reform the sector and make it accountable to the civilian regime as provided under the agreement.

- Parties to the inclusive government need to look at the interests and fears of the security chiefs and open negotiations with them with a view of making sure that they do not interfere with the electoral process.

There is need to reform, contain or negotiate with this group in order to facilitate a smooth transfer of power.

While the negotiations can be secret, the guarantees for change must be public. There should however be no guarantees for blanket immunity for egregious human rights violations associated with the security establishment.

- There is need for CSOs to lobby Sadc and the AU to engage the military and make them aware that the two bodies will not accept undemocratic conduct from the security apparatus that undermine both the Sadc and AU principles and guidelines governing democratic elections.

CSOs must provide credible data on the activities of the security apparatus to these bodies which show without doubt their misconduct. This means documenting incidents of violence by the securocrats, providing names, ranks, places and times where such incidents take place.

This information should be brought to the AU chairperson, its secretariat, the Sadc Troika, Sadc chair and countries that support the democratisation process in Zimbabwe. Regional civil society groups and the media should access this data. This is called the boomerang effect in the socialisation of human rights in norm violating regimes such as Zimbabwe.

1. From Below (Within)

- The Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) argues that any method that will stop the security apparatus from poisoning the electoral environment in Zimbabwe should be informed by internal processes and activities led by Zimbabweans through civic formations and the general public.

The intervention of the AU and Sadc and the rest of the international community should come in to support internal democratic process.

Lessons from the past such as the Save Zimbabwe Campaign of March 11, 2007 where the democratic opposition, students, labour, churches and other civic groups mobilised each other to march against repression led to the intervention of Sadc after wanton violence against these pro-democracy forces by the Zanu PF regime. This enormous power by the pro-democracy movement is the greatest tool against electoral shenanigans of the military and Zanu PF. In this regard, the following should be done;

- Community based organisations should form peace committees in the various parts of the country whose role is to democratically stop violence in the communities.

- CSOs that are involved in litigation such as the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights should continue their work of bringing to court people who violate human rights especially those in the security apparatus and vigilante groups such as Mbare-based Chipangano and Chinhoyi’s Top Six.

- CSOs must gather data on perpetrators of human rights violations and approach Courts of international jurisdictions such as the International Criminal Court to seek international criminal prosecution in cases where general peremptory norms of international law are violated.

It is the view of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute that a combination of methods from above and from below will assist to protect the vote.

It should be noted however, that the protection of the vote begins urgently and not after the elections.

It is a process not an event associated with the post-election period. Efficient armies are constructed during periods of relative peace.

The democratic contingent should be organised to stop normalising electoral violence and fraud each time the country holds elections.

The current window of relative normalcy should be used to look at how Zanu PF and the military intoxicated the electoral process, work to close those loopholes and prepare for the future.

History should not be allowed to negatively repeat itself. The military should get it unequivocally clear that they have crossed the democratic Rubicon in terms of undermining the legitimate expectations of the citizens.

The military is being seduced to set itself against the very people the constitution creates them to serve.

This is being done by a political oligarchy that is no longer fit for purpose. - Pedzisai Ruhanya

*Pedzisai Ruhanya is a PhD Candidate and Director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute

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