Source: The colossus NERA is fighting | The Financial Gazette September 22, 2016
HATS off to Zimbabwe’s opposition family for daring a Goliath!
But alas the giant has stirred and its angry snarl has temporarily unnerved the opposition.
As the giant called ZANU-PF awakens from its slumber, its potential to send the opposition into disarray is abundantly evident, albeit the fact that the means of disrupting the unity between the opposition parties might be neither democratic nor constitutional.
Using all the machinery of State and from its own arsenal, ZANU-PF, being the ruling party it is, has undoubtedly influenced, behind the scenes, the banning of public protests.
Many people have also been arrested by the country’s police force, which has taken advantage of some contentious provisions under the controversial Public Order and Security Act.
Rallies have, on and off, been put on hold for reasons that many observers believe are indicative of a government that has run out of ideas in as far as keeping the country’s volatile political situation under control is concerned.
After attempting to thwart all voices of dissent, the ZANU-PF government is now being accused of creating dubious fringe parties to confuse the opposition.
A classic example of government’s shenanigans emerged when, recently during a meeting between the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and representatives of 18 political parties under the National Electoral Reform Agenda, (NERA), some 30 outfits claiming to be opposition parties emerged literally out of thin air.
ZEC had invited NERA — a grouping of opposition political parties pressing for electoral reforms ahead of the potentially explosive 2018 general elections, for the meeting to discuss the thorny electoral reforms issue.
Arriving for the meeting last week NERA was met by an extraordinarily large number of other opposition political outfits that outnumbered the group’s own membership.
NERA representatives were forced to walk out midway through the meeting, leaving ZEC to proceed with the remaining other 30 opposition parties, some of which had some very strange names, according to NERA legal representative, Douglas Mwonzora.
NERA believes that all the 30 parties were bogus and were hastily created in the nick of time to simply outnumber NERA when it came to voting on any resolutions so as to thwart progress towards electoral reforms.
Such can be the cunning and shrewd nature of the beast called ZANU-PF.
That is probably why the party has hardly flinched each time the opposition has challenged it over the past 36 years that it has ruled the southern African nation.
Its actions have clearly shown that it is determined to maintain the status quo, because it has, so far spectacularly, matched NERA pound for pound on all fronts.
NERA and all the opposition parties it represents are facing a colossus of a party which, once it takes a stand, is prepared to defend it to the bitter end; no matter what it takes.
If the terrain demands change of tactics, the ruling party adjusts accordingly — as recent events have clearly shown.
And most likely, NERA might have underestimated the nature of the warfare that it has thrust itself into, raising fears in some circles that NERA could be fighting a losing war.
Political thinker and high-ranking ZANU-PF official, Jonathan Moyo, last week joined the currently raging debate on electoral reforms with the following short but very insightful tweet: “We cannot reform ourselves out of power.”
What is clear from Moyo’s assertions is that ZANU-PF is unwilling to implement any electoral reforms, especially given that it now faces a potentially formidable united opposition which has a realistic chance to defeat it in a free and fair election.
With divisions tearing it asunder, ZANU-PF realises that it needs an electoral field tilted in its favour to win and it will not easily give in to NERA’s demands.
And its actions over the past months have proved that it is prepared to take on NERA both on the rough and the smooth terrain.
It has the arsenal to do so.
When NERA staged a demonstration in the capital, Harare, last month, the ruling party, which has instruments of State power at its disposal, unleashed the anti-riot police armed with stinging teargas and water cannons that spat out itchy liquids.
Some of the protesters are now languishing in remand prison while others are in hiding.
ZANU-PF has, however, tried to give the impression that it was a fair player as well.
On two occasions last week, ZEC invited NERA representatives to dialogues aimed at mapping the way forward.
Both meetings ended disastrously.
The first meeting, which was held on Monday in Harare, ended with NERA representatives walking out after finding that ZANU-PF had planted not less than 30 “bogus” political parties.
The parties made sure to raise disagreements on any subject such that it would be put to vote, in which case they overwhelmingly defeated the 18-member NERA.
On that basis, the meeting became a complete waste of time.
NERA representatives retreated to the Media Centre where they expressed disappointment with ZEC and the ZANU-PF government.
The group then threatened to flood the streets again.
In response, ZEC called another meeting last Thursday where mercurial former legislator, Temba Mliswa stole the show by venting his anger on ZEC and ZANU-PF.
ZEC chairperson, Rita Makarau, tried to calm him down, but the sharp-tongued former ZANU-PF strongman was not prepared to make any concessions.
He simply had it his way and stormed out of the meeting, thereby triggering a commotion that left Makarau with no option, but to again call off the meeting.
Meanwhile, when the ZANU-PF Politburo had met earlier this month in Harare, instead of promising the electoral reforms being demanded by the opposition, the ruling party’s highest decision-making organ outside congress actually devised strategies to fight NERA from all angles.
This is the reality which NERA cannot run away from; and with which ZANU-PF is not only pleased, but determined to preserve for as long as it is remains in power.
Clearly, time is running out for NERA.
Mass street protests alone will not yield results.
Neither will negotiations.
But NERA still cannot afford to give up just yet.
A revered Chinese founding father, Mao Tse Tung once said: “Revolutions and revolutionary conflicts are inevitable in a class society, and without them it is impossible to accomplish any leap in social development and to overthrow the reactionary ruling classes and therefore impossible for the people to win political power.”
In her unforgiving bestseller titled Rise Up and Salute the Sun, American writer, Suzy Kassem, also advances this edifying opinion: “Our freedoms are vanishing. If you do not get active to take a stand now against all that is wrong while we still can, then maybe one of your children may elect to do so in the future, when it will be far more riskier — and much, much harder.”
But NERA will need to think up new strategies to engage and confront government and ZANU-PF; otherwise it could just be fooling itself that it is making progress when it is not.
Political scientist, Ibbo Mandaza, has, in fact, lost all hope.
“The bottom line is what Jonathan Moyo said that we cannot reform ourselves out of power,” Mandaza said.
Even within NERA, there is not much hope.
Speaking to the press soon after the fiasco at the first meeting with ZEC last week, NERA spokesman, Didymus Mutasa suggested that ZANU-PF had already rigged the 2018 general election.
Coming from a man who knows the A-Z of ZANU-PF and its way of doing business, this was the most disheartening of statements for those in the opposition.
Reading the situation in his own way Mandaza said: “That’s how far exasperated NERA is. It’s not making any headway.”
Another issue that seems completely lost on NERA is the need to appeal to the rural electorate.
It is a known fact that in many of the country’s regions, ZANU-PF rules by the fear it instils in villagers whom it cows into voting for it in their massive numbers.
So far, NERA has been pressing for “bookish” electoral reforms without necessarily thinking about the practical applicability of the reforms that are on paper.
NERA somehow forgets that the larger part of the electorate — more than 60 percent, is in rural areas where a mere helicopter fly past is enough to remind everyone of the bloody 1970s civil war between Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Forces and guerrilla freedom fighters.
Such tactics are just some of the many in the ruling party’s huge bag of arsenal that also carries some of the most crude propaganda material.
Then there are places like Mberengwa where sometime in 2013 a supposed bomb went off in a thicket close to a crowded village, and the State broadcaster, ZBC-TV was conveniently present to capture the moment live on camera.
Every villager interviewed expressed fear that the enemy they fought in the 1970s had returned and he was after them.
Pot-bellied politicians descended upon the poor villagers to declare that the only way to keep the enemy at bay was to overwhelmingly vote for the ruling party.
The poor villagers had little choice, but to sheepishly oblige.
Political analysts are advising that NERA needs to fight also for issues like voter education and registration among others.
“I do not see any success unless there is an escalation of demonstrations combined with regional advocacy. NERA must also make its demands clearer and more attainable. So far, NERA demands have prevaricated between bio-metric voting and continuation of the current voting system under ZEC. NERA must clarify itself on ward based voting and its implications among other issues,” said political commentator, Rashweat Mukundu.
A biometric voting system is a highly advanced information system, which allows for the quick identification of millions of voters using specific biometric identifiers such as fingerprints or the iris.
Another political analyst, Alexander Rusero, said NERA might register some degree of success in pressurising the ZANU-PF administration, but would find it very difficult to achieve electoral reforms.
NERA seems to have, however, remained adamant that it will continue engaging government in the formal ways, while at the same time piling up pressure through demonstrations.
But will the colossus that NERA is fighting budge?
Time, like the ancient wise men said, shall definitely tell.