Keep your eye on the ball

via Keep your eye on the ball | The Zimbabwean 17 June 2014 by Magari Mandebvu

Have I been boring readers by going on about the police, an old story, while you want to keep abreast of who’s up and who’s down in Zanu (PF)? I hope not, because I believe dealing with the issues that affect us daily is the start of anything bigger.

The papers don’t give big issues the treatment they should. Real-life soaps make them more money, full of “which political yoyo’s up today, or down and who’s really pulling the strings?”

Moyo, Gono, Mujuru, Mnangagwa and the motley collection of supporting characters become actors in an unending serial with more following than World Cup football or the weird antics of that Bev. Of course, Bev and football do serve the purpose of taking our eyes off the ball in the biggest game going, but what the papers say about the main characters is mostly designed to take our eyes off the ball, the important one they are kicking around.

That’s our future they are playing with and we should be focused on where we want it to go.

The changes we want and need go a lot deeper than a change of face in State House. When that comes, it could mean no significant change at all, it could bring change for the better or, which God forbid, for the worse. It’s not the mad professor’s fancy footwork that we should be watching, or the croc’s more subtle manouevres, but which way the ball is going. We may be only on the grandstands, but even with our present massive democratic deficit, we can, if we try, influence that.

What are the big changes we want?

I hope we haven’t given up on the hope for free and fair elections in our lifetime, and preferably next time round. We have a new constitution which looks quite nice on paper, but what does that mean when the main players have no more respect for that piece of paper than Adolf Hitler had for international treaties?

Foreign feminists are impressed that we have reserved seats for women in Parliament; libertarians are impressed by a hint of proportional representation, but in our present situation those moves only make the whole voting process more complex, less transparent and more easy to NIKUV the next time round.

We have all those commissions, for human rights, for free elections, to stop corruption, but what do they mean in practice? They’re just inky scratches on a piece of paper. The media commission is toothless and, though we have private radio stations now and are promised more, the existing ones aren’t independent (one owned by Zimpapers and one started by Supa Mandiwanzira!) and commercial ones seem set to take all the airwave slots that we need for community radio stations to make our voices heard on issues that affect us.

We need to study the constitution, to know what rights it allows us if we stand by it, but by declaring 15 or so official languages, they give themselves excuses for not printing it in any of them. You must admit, they are cunning.

Don’t despair. Journalists are cheering because the constitutional court has ruled that one of Zanu’s favourite weapons, the criminal libel law, is unconstitutional. There’ll be more resistance to that, or maybe they’ll just ignore it as they ignore other judicial rulings they don’t like, but we must make enough noise to ensure that doesn’t happen.

So far journalists have borne the brunt of that struggle, but we can’t leave them to fight for our freedoms, though they can be useful allies. We certainly can’t expect any politician to do our fighting and suffering for us.

We must make ourselves heard and be prepared for a rough ride until they do listen. Remember: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.