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Home | ZimCrisis#129 -- Challenging Government's Moral Right to Rule

Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2000 22:09:27 -0700
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From: Zimbabwe Crisis
Subject: ZimCrisis#129 -- Challenging Government's Moral Right to Rule

The Independent - Challenging Government's Moral Right to Rule

ZANU's Mandate? Or is there one?!

Tony Reeler

NOW that the government has been formed and parliament has begun, we can see what needs to be done. First and foremost is a clear understanding of the election process, for it is this understanding that will determine the moral platform for the government: this will establish whether this government has both the moral and legal mandate to rule. So let us look at the election.

All reputable observers have made the comment that the election was seriously flawed by the pre-election violence, and most have placed the blame for this violence on Zanu PF -- both the party and its mercenaries, the war veterans. Murder, torture, rape, mass psychological terror, forced attendance at political meetings, forced renouncing of political affiliations, destruction of property and belongings, and internal displacement are all documented.

These are not assertions, but based upon the testimony of the victims, and independently verified by the free press. Making low-intensity war upon your political opponents is no longer considered good democratic practice, and all observers are in no doubt that this is what ZanuPF did. The blatant propaganda of the state media that the Commonwealth Observer Group approved the election are at complete variance with the actual report that condemned the pre-election violence and placed the blame fairly upon Zanu PF.

The electoral process proved no less unsatisfactory. The polling days were largely free of violence, but the combined efforts of the registrar-general and the attorney-general made it near impossible to achieve the standard of regulation that was required by the Electoral Supervisory Commission. There were many serious irregularities that flawed the electoral process: the near-impossibility of obtaining copies of the electoral roll, the arbitrary changes of regulations that undermined the whole process of monitoring, the denial of open-air time for political parties on TV and radio, and the blatant use of state resources by the ruling party all need to be evaluated for their contribution to the overall result. All were noted by the various observers.

When all these facts are put together, there can be little doubt that the moral underpinning for this new government is missing. The election was won by mostly foul means, and this cannot now be overcome by creating a new cabinet of "technocrats": good governance cannot come from a flawed election, which is the basis for the United States Senate and Congress considering passing the Zimbabwe Democracy Act.

A government created through a process of wiping out the opposition and interfering with all the basic freedoms necessary for free and fair election cannot be considered to have a moral mandate to rule. It should not therefore be rewarded by uncritically giving it a place amongst the other civilised nations of the earth.

The Zimbabwe Democracy Act is simply a sticks- and-carrots response to bad governance, and little different to the responses of most democratic nations to our nasty little election. Many nations are revising their relationships with Zimbabwe, and the terms of their revisions seem little different to that proposed by the United States.

However, whatever the international community decides should be done with Zimbabwe, there remains the issue of what we Zimbabweans should do ourselves. How shall we as Zimbabweans regain the moral dignity that has been thrown into the gutter by Zanu PF?

The first steps are already in process with the challenges to the results. This takes the problem back to the courts and is an attempt to reassert, through the rule of law, the grounds under which elections should actually take place. It is also implicitly an attempt to reassert the power of the courts, so sullied by pre-election events as well as the ugly clashes over the rule of law last year. It is finally adherence to the rule of law that determines the moral standing of a government.

We can have no doubt that many results will be overturned, and, during this process, we shall see how independent analysis deals with the claims of Zanu PF that this was a free and fair election. We may even see the MDC move from opposition to government-in-waiting!

However, challenges in the courts to electoral irregularities will not be enough, for, although we may see the government lose those seats that it did not deserve, it will not wholly restore the situation created by the violence. Much more is needed. We need a proper accounting for the violence and an end to the practical impunity that so characterises Zanu PF rule.

The current allegations have been far too serious for the mere criminal investigations suggested by Commissioner Chihuri: the serious allegations of the state's involvement in the violence cannot be addressed by investigation of individual cases alone. Moreover, the partisan position adopted by the ZRP during the whole period of both the farm invasions and the elections provides no basis for confidence in the usual criminal process. We need an independent -- and not appointed by the president -- judicial commission.

Perhaps parliament should appoint this commission. It is clear to all that we are not dealing with isolated instances of violence, but with a sustained low-intensity war based around militia groups with at the least the approval of the president and the government.

However, we can have no confidence that this government will do anything like a proper accounting, so we will have to take action ourselves. This is a fair assertion based on the evidence of Gukurahundi, the food riots, the pardoning of convicted criminals, and even the failure to prosecute the torturers of Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto.

The calls for a judicial commission of inquiry have been made by all reputable observer groups, but these calls have always fallen upon deaf ears in the past and there is no reason to believe that it will be different this time. Perhaps it will be even more difficult this time, for the stakes are much higher and the possibilities of identifying the perpetrators much better than in the past.

In order to counteract the usual impunity practised by Zanu PF, three immediate courses of action suggest themselves: class legal actions against the war veterans and Zanu PF on behalf of farmers, farm workers, and all the other victims of organised violence and torture. Again to use the courts and the rule of law to provide remedies for the wrongs inflicted in the name of Zanu PF, and to re-establish the rule of law.

This will not be as satisfactory as a criminal tribunal, but will once again test the moral worth of this government. A fair bet is that it will be found wanting! Allied to these actions, both the electoral challenges and the human rights challenges, civil society must come to some decision about how the government is dealt with on the day-to-day level.

How you deal with a morally bankrupt government is not a new problem, and we can learn from our cousins in South Africa from their struggle against apartheid. It is not enough to rely upon court actions alone when pragmatically the same immoral government will operate daily: to accept this is surely to accept some basis for accepting its legitimacy, and this seems contradictory in the face of the legal actions.

Civil society thus needs a strategy to provide support for the legal actions. The first step is to begin a policy of non-cooperation in order to make plain our moral condemnation of the election and its results. We deal only with parliament and not the government, since parliament has at least some members who were properly elected. The rationale is that the members of the government, the ministers, are the visible manifestations of the immoral process, and we should not condone the immorality by giving them any credence.

It was thus highly appropriate for the members of the MDC to appear at the opening of parliament with black arm bands and to maintain the moral pressure. Civil society can continue this by stopping talking with government qua government: we do not talk with ministers, except in multilateral meetings of all stakeholders, and only then about the basis upon which the government will restore the country to the rule of law and democracy.

How else do we deal with the lack of a moral basis for the government? If we deal with Zanu PF in any serious fashion, do we not in some way validate the election? In South Africa, civil society found new ways of confronting the immorality by forming progressive organisations and only dealing with government when those organisations gave a mandate to such dealings.

In practical terms, we stop inviting the government to our meetings, to our workshops, and to our conferences. A very good method for dealing with moral impropriety is shun the moral offender, and we should shun the government. Actually, we should do internally what the international community may do externally!

We then only deal with government through the civil service. All substantive issues governing public life and policy we take to the relevant ministry, and require the civil servants to do their job. We require the civil service to become the neutral organisation that it should be, concerned only with the technical implementation of policy according to the law and regulations.

We use the law to ensure that civil servants do their jobs properly, and we seek disciplinary action through the courts when they do not. For example, Commissioner Chihuri should currently be in gaol for refusing to comply with a court order in respect of the farm invasions. The ZRP have generally shown a partisan attitude, either by action or by inaction, and we should force them to obey their constitutional duty under the law and the penalty of the law. Further- more, we take our political concerns to parliament or to individual MPs on a constituency basis: we by-pass a morally-compromised government.

We then begin to deal with the policies of a morally-bankrupt government step by step. We must ask our compatriots in industry, commerce and finance to assess with us these policies. We accept only those policies that are consensually agreed to be for the good of the country, and refuse all those that can be seen to benefit the government alone.

For example, it becomes a serious issue, as it did in South Africa, how industry, commerce and finance act in respect of an immoral government. Is it acceptable to underwrite government debt as the banks have done for Noczim and Zesa? It will become very important for the private sector to decide whether any policy is truly in the interests of the country, or whether it is mostly in the interests of getting the government out of the moral pit it has dug for itself.

This may all sound very conflictual, but it merely recognises that we are well into a conflict already, a war inflicted upon us by Zanu PF. We are merely trying to end this war by peaceful means, by democratic means. We restore the moral balance by taking responsible civil action against the harm that this government does.

We also counteract the propaganda of the state-controlled press and media by boycotting them. We give no news, interviews or statements to these organs of untruth since it becomes increasingly difficult to accept the systematic inculcation of ignorance by the state press and media.

We must use our own civil society constituencies to give the truth to the populace until such time as the airways are free and the press print no propaganda. We have been forced to do this already, and we should take heart that this has been effective. Democracy requires a free press and media, and we have this only in part: we need the TV and radio to be free to complete the process.

We cannot now, after all that has happened, merely go on pragmatically. We cannot simply say after the election that Zanu PF won and life goes on. This will be to validate the most gross impropriety and give a moral basis for this government to rule. When Ian Smith declared UDI, the choices were moral choices for this nation: to support UDI or not was a moral choice, and thus war became a moral choice. We do not have to reduce ourselves to such a terrible choice, for we can deal with the current problem both peacefully and democratically.

The choice before us is not what America or the EU does in the wake of this foul election, but what we do ourselves. Democracy is what we make it: it does not come as a prescription from on high. We must force accountability and adherence to law upon the lawless. We must use the tools of democracy to make a democracy, or else we continue to live with autocracy and outlaws.

Civil society has already shown the way, and it now remains for the wider Zimbabwean society to take up the challenge and restore the moral balance. Peace requires justice; justice requires the rule of law; and the rule of law requires political action.

The political action we take can be both moral and peaceful, and we can show this government how to return to the paths of justice.

Tony Reeler is clinical director of Amani Trust.

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Brief list of helpful sites on the issue:
- Zimbabwe Crisis mailing list archives -- http://www.niner.net/zimcrisis
- Comprehensive news updates -- http://www.1freespace.com/beetee
- Offers of and requests for help for Zimbabweans -- http://pub9.ezboard.com/boffersofhelp
- Commercial Farmers' Union -- http://www.mweb.co.zw/cfu
- Movement for Democratic Change -- http://www.in2zw.com/mdc
- Zimbabwe Democracy Trust -- http://www.zimbabwedemocracytrust.org
- BSAP Pursuit of Zimbabwean Criminals -- http://www.bsaphq.f9.co.uk