Time to try peace talks, again!

“WHEN the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace,” said Jimi Hendrix, a celebrated American rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter whose mainstream music career spanned just four years; and whose full life lasted only 27 years (November 27, 1942-September 18, 1970)

Source: Time to try peace talks, again! – NewsDay Zimbabwe September 21, 2016


Prior to Hendrix, William Gladstone (1809-1898) had once been reported to be “look[ing] forward to the time when the power of love will replace the love of power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace”.

In addition, at around the same time that Hendrix uttered the deep words, Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy Ghose (1931-2007) was quoted as having said: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then there will be true peace.”

Well, at this juncture in the history of a troubled and battered Zimbabwe, the identity of the originator of the “power of love/love of power” philosophy does not really matter. What seriously matters today as Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of Peace, also informally known as the World Peace Day, is the truth of the message; and the need for the urgent implementation of same.

After the 1981 adoption of Resolution 36/37 at the United Nations (UN)’ General Assembly, the International Day of Peace has been observed around the world annually on September 21. The UN declares this day as one devoted to “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples”.

Now, within the nation of Zimbabwe today on September 21, 2016, there certainly is no peace. Recent weeks and months have been chaotic and violent; characterised by incessant street battles between police and citizens.

Fires have been set and barricades erected in the central business district of the capital, Harare. Running battles have been witnessed in the country’s second capital, Bulawayo. Violent scenes have been captured in towns and settlements around the country.

So tense has the situation been the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) is now pushing hard for a ban on public demonstrations, notwithstanding the existence of a constitutional enshrinement of “the right to demonstrate and to present petitions” under Section 59 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution.

Of course, the exercise of that right is subjected to peaceful expression. Still, the desperate attempt by the police to suspend the operation of the Constitution is staggering, and is a real threat to peace, especially as that endeavour comes a few days after the High Court of Zimbabwe declared null and void an earlier attempt by the ZRP to suspend, through a Government Gazette, Section 59 of the Constitution.

Images emerging from this year’s protests in Harare, Bulawayo and other parts of the country expose the brutality that is fast becoming a part of the identity of Zimbabwe’s police force. Love is evidently lacking when a teargas canister is tossed into a commuter omnibus packed with passengers in the capital, or into a residential flat in Bulawayo; or when a gang of anti-riot police physically attack an elderly woman at the Harare Magistrates’ Court.

The love of power is obviously abundant where the powerful force of water cannons is unleashed onto elderly war veterans who gather at Harare’s City Sports Centre to discuss veterans’ welfare issues, and to consider the all-important issue of succession and replacement of the nation’s 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for 36 years. No water for fire brigade tenders.

Out of the love of power, and the lack of love for the people, ruling party legislators walk out of Parliament — away from debate about police brutality and on how peace can be restored through the curtailment of such brutality.

Love is certainly lacking when month-after-month, civil servants do not receive their salaries on time, or at all; yet the political elites find the money to roll in posh Mercedes-Benzes, and to trot around the globe for pointless summits, conventions, inaugurations and even cultural exhibitions.

The love of power clearly is at play when week-after-week, journalists, political opponents and human rights activists are assaulted, incarcerated and dragged to courts of law for nothing, but their speech and exercise of constitutional rights. It is the lack of love that leads a ruling political party to politicise the distribution of famine-relief food, to the exclusion of perceived and real members of opposition parties.

While ordinary citizens struggle to withdraw money from banks, political elites externalise the limited foreign currency looted from the nation’s resources and stashed in local and foreign banks. The externalisation comes in the form of enrolment of the children of these rulers in foreign universities (while local colleges are starved of resources).

The same awful governors send their children, wives, concubines, pets, and themselves, to foreign medical facilities, for simple and complex maladies alike; and even for mundane procedures like childbirth. Of course, this speaks to love of self instead of love of the people. All that tragic drama was recorded in this country in 2016, and over recent years.

The result: A tragic economic melt-down; the heartbreaking destruction of lives, and the dearth of peace in the nation. On this World Peace Day, Zimbabwe is in dire need of peace; a deficit that will certainly not be resolved by the forced introduction of the feared bond note, or the brutal suppression of demonstrators, or the silencing of the Press.

On this day, in this tough season of political turmoil, it is time Zimbabweans started talking to each other again, in search of peace.
Government must, of course, be part of the much-needed peace talks. After years of guerilla warfare in the 1970s bush war, peace was eventually realised at independence in 1980 through a series of peace talks, notably the Lancaster House Conference in London.

After the unnecessary loss of thousands of lives in the Gukurahundi genocide in the 1980s, peace was eventually achieved through the Unity Accord of 1987. After the horrific loss of life and limb, and the infamous political harassment of members of the opposition in 2008, peace was ultimately attained through former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki-led peace talks that led to the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in 2009 which ran until 2013.

That period of national unity (2009-2013) enabled the nation to write a new and more progressive Constitution, and the peace that came with that unity tamed the ruckus that had hitherto ravaged the economy.

Obviously, the prevailing political, social and economic hardships of today’s Zimbabwe demand the urgent implementation — yet again — of peace-enabling strategies.

A proposal has been proffered for the institution of a National Transitional Authority (NTA). That’s an idea that requires another detailed discussion one of these days — soon. For now though, as we reflect on the lack of — and urgent need for — peace within Zimbabwe, it suffices to say: Let’s get the peace talks going, immediately.

The first step, of course, is for government to start listening to the voices of the ordinary, suffering people. That listening process naturally entails a halt to all unpopular governmental practices and plans — like the introduction of a rejected currency.

Instead of suspending constitutional rights, the government should suspend all corrupt ministers and officials, and suspend all taxpayer-funded foreign trips for politicians and bureaucrats.

The rulers must also start talking to opposition leaders, civil society, churches, business leaders, and other relevant stakeholders, about bringing to an end the strife that currently threatens Zimbabwean life, welfare, economy and peace.

As we wait in hope to see if these privileged rulers will take up this peaceful challenge of love, we can be certain that when the power of love overcomes the love of power in this country, Zimbabwe will know peace.