columnBy Geoff Nyarota
Harare — A FRIEND who visited the popular Guzha Township in Chitungwiza on the night of Tuesday, September 12, the eve of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions' scuttled protest march, tells a harrowing tale of the sudden arrival of armed riot policemen, accompanied by youths dressed in ZANU PF Youth Militia T-shirts.
They descended on the centre's many bottle stores and butchery shops, outlets which keep Chitungwiza's residents as well as hordes of visitors from the leafier suburbs of Harare, 30 kms away, entertained and nourished.
Apparently, the police ordered all shops to close at once and the patrons to depart immediately. In a situation where the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) renders it virtually impossible for members of civil society to organise meetings where they can strategise on how to alleviate the common man's plight in Zimbabwe; a situation where daily newspapers, radio and television no longer disseminate information in the public interest, the bottle stores, like the commuter omnibuses, have come to play a vital role in providing convenient and free venues for the exchange of ideas and for the organization of political strategies by a besieged civil society, while the cell-phone texts messages from one bottle store to another and from office to office.
The powers that be have become painfully aware of this loophole, hence this effort to disrupt any last minute refinement of plans for the proposed ZCTU march last week.
By all accounts the police were out in full force the following morning, on September 13, cordoning off downtown Harare with their heavy presence and thus effectively rendering it impossible for any citizen, however aggrieved or determined, to assemble, let alone march, in any predetermined direction.
The demonstration started around 1pm with people singing and dancing in the street. "It was over in seconds," says an MDC member, one of those arrested. "The demonstrators were ordered to sit down and then the riot police went beserk. They beat the people so viciously and brutally it was a terrible and shocking spectacle to witness."
The arrested were loaded onto trucks and conveyed, some to Harare Central and others to the notorious Matapi Police Station. The latter facility has been condemned by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe as being totally unfit for human habitation. A police officer at Matapi allegedly informed the arrested ZCTU leaders on arrival: "We are not trained to write dockets; we are trained to kill".
It is alleged the arrested were "then taken two at a time into a room and brutally beaten by five men with knobkerries and long baton sticks for up to 20 minutes."
In both stations the prisoners were:
Denied access to legal practitioners
Subjected to brutal and savage torture and beating in Matapi Police Station
Denied access to relatives
Not supplied with food or water
Not supplied with blankets
Mostly kept in darkness.
Subjected to extremely abusive language
Forced to make do with toilets that were overflowing with human excreta.
The older among them must have been reminded of the fate of political detainees during Ian Smith's Rhodesia. Late that night the Matapi contingent was moved to Harare Central.
"It was a pitiful sight to see those 14 physically and mentally battered and brutalised figures appearing," says the MDC member. "Three could hardly walk or stand."
The brutal smashing of the protest march by the police, reinforced by CIO vigilantes and ZANU PF militias, served to effectively dispel any lingering doubt that our revolutionary and supposedly benevolent rulers meant business, assuming the dire threats issued by the likes of State Security Minister, Didymus Mutasa, and others had not driven that point home during the week preceding the proposed march. It is alleged that Mutasa was seen hovering around Matapi as the ZCTU leadership was being brutalised.
Mutasa should take note that this is an allegation, which he is at liberty to confirm or deny, before he rushes to his lawyers to institute legal proceedings for defamation. In any case, the mere act of hovering around Matapi cannot in any way further tarnish his already severely damaged reputation.
It was the pre-emptive action on the part of the state machinery, rather than the lack of support on the part of the public, that disrupted the proposed march last week.
Yet the hawkish Dr Tafataona Mahoso has the temerity to propose in his weekly column in The Sunday Mail, "Thanks to the masses of Zimbabwe, the mass action has turned out to be the ZCTU leaders' equivalent of the MDC leaders' 'Final Push' which, in fact, turned out to be the 'final yawn'.
Mahoso yawns too easily. In an article which labours under the ponderous title "Sponsored politics, myths of civil society" Mahoso sallies forth in his usually rambunctious and inimical style. He pronounces in the process that, apart from being mythical, the concept of civil society is a western creation, foisted on the allegedly simple-minded black population of southern Africa by western imperialists. Indeed, the concept is a creation of the West, in-so-much as democracy, parliament, The Sunday Mail, the Mercedes Benz, the higher education, which the off-spring of Zimbabwe's ruling elite imbibe in western institutions, and the scotch whiskey that they so much love to quaff, are all creations of the West.
"Sponsored politics is big business and it is here to stay, until the people learn to discard completely the twin myths of 'civil society' and 'multiparty democracy', the key mythologies used to justify the sponsorship of puppet politics in Africa and the rest of the South," Mahoso says disparagingly.
There are a number of definitions of civil society. The most illustrative is the working definition of the London School of Economics Centre for Civil Society: "Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values"
Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power, it is explained. The centre's definition further clarifies that civil societies are often populated by organisations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organisations, community groups, women's organisations, faith-based organisations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups.
It is eminently clear, therefore that, far from being a myth, as suggested by Mahoso, civil society is a reality of the modern world, except in states whose constitutions eschew democratic values. The threat to democracy and civil liberties such as currently being experienced in our country, normally fosters the emergence and strengthening of strong civil society organisations such as the ZCTU, which Mahoso now dismisses with flourish of hand.
What is particularly rankling is his suggestion that without the assistance of the West we, Africans, cannot think lucidly for ourselves. "The ZCTU and the MDC tried to present themselves as homegrown alternatives to the liberation movement in Government, ZANU PF," he says. "They were going to meet a supposed deficit in Zimbabwean politics as defined by white imperialist powers."
The theory that political activism and advocacy in countries such as Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia or where ever else in southern Africa civil society has confronted tyranny and injustice are merely a symptom of control or influence by western imperialist powers is unforgivably demeaning of Africans. There is more than a hint in this theory that since Africans cannot think for themselves, as alleged, Africans may not feel the pangs of hunger until a white person points out to them that they have not had a square meal for days on end.
It is not-so-subtly suggested, therefore, that without the instigation or active support of western imperialists, Kenneth Kaunda would still be President of Zambia while Life President Kamuzu Banda would have remained in office until his untimely death in 1996 at the ripe old age of an estimated 100 years or so.
Such thinking is reminiscent of Prime Minister Ian Smith as the demise of Rhodesia approached. He was wont to say he knew that "his Africans" were a happy lot, or words to that effect, if it wasn't for the influence of the Communists of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War era. The leaders of our liberation struggle, Robert Mugabe of Zanu and Joshua Nkomo of Zapu, were naturally included in this insulting proclamation. Today our own Mugabe, the President, issues similar pronouncements. The people of Zimbabwe would be a happy citizenry, he says, if it wasn't for the instigation of Western imperialists, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and United States President, George W. Bush, to be precise.
It is by resort to such debasing assertions that Mahoso now seeks to justify the ruthless cracking down by government on the ZCTU last week.
Fortunately, the number of potential readers of Mahoso's anti-people outpourings, as well as those of his paper, in general, is on the decline. Hundreds of thousands of would-be readers have emigrated in search of freedom and economic survival in South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Mozambique, New Zealand and many other previously unthinkable distant destinations. Meanwhile, the buying power of Zimbabweans in the country has been sufficiently curtailed to turn newspapers into a luxury, especially in cases where editors attach little importance to factors such as public interest or relevance.
Two Sayings of the Week:
"To the extent that speculation is a major driver of our inflation, burning or consigning these speculators to the incinerator is one sure way of contributing towards inflation reduction." -- Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr Gideon Gono. (The Sunday Mail).
"It is, therefore, the highest display of intellectual impairment by those stakeholders who wanted to condemn the Sunrise Project on frivolous grounds, missing the point that it was a national exercise carried out in response to stakeholders' specific demands, a project implemented in record time and one which averted the catastrophic collapse of our systems with attendant consequences on our lives." -- Dr Gono. (The Sunday Mail).
So Dr Gono admits, after all, that "our systems" are threatened with catastrophic collapse.