'Third force' is people

LONDON - Months ago, I proposed an explanation for Zimbabweans’ infamous apathy to protest despite a long and debilitating crisis that has reduced them to paupers.

This disinclination has been a source of puzzlement to external observers.

Outsiders have often dubbed Zimbabweans cowards. My response to the critics has been that, while the accusation of cowardice has credence, the explanation for the reticence could be more nuanced.

It cannot be denied that fear has been one cause just as it cannot be rejected that President Robert Mugabe has for a long time been revered by many, even neutrals. His supporters have invoked comparisons with Jesus, angels and so on.

My conclusion was thus fear and reverence, combined, could perhaps offer a better explanation of Zimbabweans’ inaction.

I called the sum of fear and reverence Zimbabwe’s “docility equation”’. The reasoning being that people are usually restrained against people they fear and respect.

The fear has resulted from the memory of atrocities in Matabeleland, the routine use of the coercive apparatus, brutalities against dissenters, the acts of the CIO, the abductions and so on. The reverence towards Mugabe has derived principally from his seminal leadership after independence.

The logical extrapolation then is that when Zimbabweans lose the fear and reverence, hitherto unseen protests would eventuate.

Over time, it would appear the docility equation as a source of power has begun to unravel. Both the reverence and fear no longer constitute restraining features to protest. For instance, it was unheard of years ago for a person to make disobliging comments against Mugabe. In recent years, many people have been brought before the courts charged with denigrating the President.

Former Zanu PF official Acie Lumumba crowned this flourishing irreverence by launching an unprintable invective at Mugabe. It would also appear war veterans, who used to revere Mugabe, have also lost respect for their patron and his wife.

It would seem the ‘fear’ pillar of that equation is also gradually collapsing. Events in Beitbridge and other towns in Harare which resulted in the attack on two police officers could be an indicator of the citizens’ loss of fear.

It does not require further theorising to note that the failure of the government to address citizens concerns has compromised an equation of power that served for so long. The current agitations my lead to nothing but it is undeniable the fear and respect has dissipated.

The response of the Mugabe regime has been force, arrests and denialism. It is because of the latter that terms such as “Western-sponsored” are invoked whenever Zanu PF faces a putative challenge.

In other words, Zanu PF does not accept that Zimbabweans, of their own accord, can form opposition parties or protest against it. To Zanu PF, Zimbabweans owe it perpetual rule because it brought liberation.

This explains Zanu PF’s delegimitation of the MDC since its formation in 1999, as a “Western-sponsored” party. Teachers, nurses, lawyers, university students, workers and so on — presumably educated in a country that claims to be one of the most literate, who came together to form the party — were suddenly rendered thoughtless and pawns of the West. No, surely they couldn’t think for themselves.

It is the same denialism that informs the recent claims of the involvement of the so-called “third force” in protests. One meaning of a ‘third force’ is that it is an intermediate phenomenon between two opposing groups. However, Zanu PF parlance draws from the other meaning — the “involvement of a clandestine force”.

Zanu PF has been used to attrition with its mortal enemy the MDC.  Presumably, the Zanu PF government and the official opposition in general constitute the first and second forces. Any force outside this is regarded as a third, and not only a clandestine but sinister force. 

But the protests that have been witnessed in Zimbabwe need not be explained in such abstract and nebulous terms.

Over time, campaign groups have emerged both online and offline. These include outfits such as Thisflag, Tajamuka. These groups do not seem to be aligned to any political party.

Protests by vendors, kombi drivers, against VP Phekezela Mphoko’s stay in a hotel and at Beitbridge illustrate that spontaneous and organised agitation is occurring outside the traditional political binary.

People have not been remunerated for their work on time; many are unemployed, have seen corruption unaddressed and watched beneficiaries of dodgy tenders show off wealth. Yet their efforts to earn a living through informal means are impeded.

The protestors do not need to belong to the opposition nor do they need the impetus of some outside “force” to react to this. The “third force” is, simply, the people!

The sooner Mugabe and Zanu PF realize this and address their genuine grievances, the greater the chances of peace. Fear and reverence - the bedrocks of the regime - are fast disappearing because of years of misrule.

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