Peaceful referendum must not fool us

HARARE - Referendums have been dramatic at times because citizens traditionally use them to express displeasure with a governing party by voting against its position mid-term.

This can be said of the referendum on the draft constitution in 2000.

Ask some of the people who voted against the draft, many will not be able to tell you why they rejected it.

The 2000 referendum only presented an opportunity for citizens to ventilate anger with the government of President Mugabe amid increasing misrule and a fast-deteriorating economy.

Today, Zanu PF blames sanctions but the economic meltdown that triggered civilian disenchantment began when no such measures were in place.

The referendum of 2000 holds historical significance not just for being the first effort to produce a new constitution to replace the Lancaster House one but for aftermath of the plebiscite.

Before 2000, Zanu PF had won elections because of the absence of strong civil and opposing political groups.

Zanu PF was engrossed in self-enrichment without any existing and credible threat to its political power.
The referendum result was a rude awakening.

The MDC had been formed in 1999 but it was the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) that was behind the successful campaign for the negative vote against the Zanu PF-sponsored draft.

Zanu PF suddenly realised the role NGOs could play in mobilising civilian protest.

The role of the NCA is seminal because its successful campaign encouraged the rise of a strong civil society movement. NGOs of different interests have since emerged.

However, the NCA success produced adverse consequences still felt today.

The humiliation and threat that Zanu PF suffered triggered a new round of violence and repression that had never been witnessed since Gukurahundi.

Farm invasions and murders of white farmers followed; supporters of the newly-formed MDC became targets of frequent and gratuitous violence.

Elections held that year marked the beginning of violent political contest as Zanu PF faced its sternest challenge since independence. Subsequent elections have been violent ever since.

In subsequent years, the Daily News was bombed twice as Zanu PF tried to silence any form of dissent.

Harsh laws were promulgated leading to routine arrests.

The NGOs that emerged after the NCA success have been the subject of Zanu PF persecution.

The current onslaught on civil society groups, leading to the arrests of Zimrights’ Okay Machisa and Jestina Mukoko of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), can be viewed with the context of the NCA’s success against Zanu PF in 2000.

On the other hand, the MDC has been the victim of un-remitted repression since its formation.

In short, an embittered Zanu PF has never come to terms with civilian rejection and bears responsibility for the politically violent society we have become.

However, Saturday’s plebiscite will be a whole different affair.

Zanu PF and the MDC have forged temporary camaraderie to convince citizens to vote for the new constitution.  

This partnership means citizens, mobilised by both parties, may not be able to utilise the referendum to express displeasure with one particular governing party as happened in 2000.
 
The event is, therefore, unlikely to generate inter-party violence.  

On the other hand, the civil society movement has, in recent weeks, been savagely battered for it to mount any strong campaign against the draft.

The governing parties will get their wish and the referendum will receive a seal of approval from the Sadc observers who arrived at the weekend.

But the event may present a false picture because the stakes are usually lower in referendums
It is the elections which matter, more so defining ones.

Co-Home Affairs minister, Theresa Makone, says the forthcoming elections will even be bloodier.

Coming from a Home Affairs minister, we cannot take her chilling prediction lightly.

Signs abound Zanu PF may revert to its old ways when the convenient friendship with the MDC ends.

A peaceful referendum must not deceive us and the observers. - Conrad Nyamutata

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