Citizens are the Real Heroes

Friday, December 04, 2009

By Rejoice Ngwenya

Rejoice Ngwenya is not pleased  that often, "Zimbabwean activists exaggerate their encounters in the struggle" and particularly abhors the "theory that the number of times one is convicted for a good cause emits a force equal to or equivalent to the motion towards liberation."

I am not a street activist, but more from the irritable pool of intellectual key-punchers who hope that Robert Mugabe and his cronies are literate enough to notice how collective resentment and hatred for shameless, fascist dictatorship is better expressed in the written word. This I say because there is a fallacy pervading Zimbabwean society that the number of times and period that one is beaten and arrested is the only means of verifying serious political activism.  And perhaps there is precedence to this malnourished viewpoint, given that the icons of Africa’s liberation struggle have, at one time or other, had a bruising encounter with local justice systems.

The tragedy is that nationalists, like Mugabe, have used this as a basis for extended stay in power, arguing that long periods spent in colonial gaol gives them the right to oppress their countrymen.  Critics of Professor Arthur Mutambara have raised the same argument that he never received as much political bashing and detention as Morgan Tsvangirayi, thus his claim to political fame is flimsy and frivolous. The good news is that this viewpoint is devoid of good judgement and destined for extinction.

In awarding Magodonga Mahlangu the coveted Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, United States President Barack Obama mentioned that the firebrand Zimbabwean activist has been arrested more than thirty times. No doubt all progressive cadres of the struggle against Mugabe’s ‘scientific’ tyranny will and should applaud Mahlangu’s recognition, but I am one of the few who do not particularly subscribe to the theory that the number of times one is convicted for a good cause emits a force equal to or equivalent to the motion towards liberation. Moreover, the struggle  takes a further mortal knock when one, like Mahlangu does,  goes further to justify activism purely on the basis that his or her parents, friends, neighbours and relatives were at one time or another, victims of Mugabe’s Gukurahundi genocide.

More often than not, we Zimbabwean activists exaggerate our encounters in the struggle.  ZANU-PF has always been reminded that everyone fought against colonialism, thus heroism is not only a preserve of former Mozambican and Zambian exiles, members of the Central Committee or victims of post-independence detention and genocide.

Girl child activist Betty Makoni is currently exiled in England, advancing, like many of those Zimbabweans who inhabit that land, another case of persecution by the ZANU-PF government for exposing alleged ministerial girl-child abuse. No doubt she is in line for another award of recognition for her ‘struggle’ against tyranny. There is no doubt that other cadres like former political hostage Jestina Mukoko, human rights lawyer Otto Saki and constitutional activist Dr Lovemore Madhuku deserve all the accolades they get from the world movement for democracy. A crucial part of the struggle against oppression is confronting and defeating ZANU-PF it in its natural habitat – in the streets, but to limit recognition of this struggle only to the number of times one is arrested from the trenches belittles greater good.

My point is that the struggle to unseat tyranny is not about ‘rented’ college students doing street push-ups, old women and lactating mothers sacrificed on the altar of fiery fury of the dragon, merely to score political points. More often than not, strategic partners of governance and democracy have been accused of supporting only institutions that ‘raise hell and dust’ in running battles with Mugabe’s uniformed sympathisers in the alleys. This is a narrow view of resistance, for there is more like us who find pride in pounding tyranny from the keyboard. It may not be glamorous, elicit blood or swollen foreheads, but the message spreads far and wide. Street activists accuse us of ‘conference room activism’ because there is no glitz and glamour accrued from making interviews for CNN from hospital beds.

The moral of my argument is that when seminar attendance registers and police charge sheets become the only genuine evidence of political activism, strategic partners have taken the eyes off the ball.  ‘Anniversary’ day activism manifested in protest handbills and posters, glossy advertisement, angry press statements and red roses handed out at street corners are part of the continuum of the struggle against ZANU-PF dictatorship.

However, the demands of modern day transformative revolution require that we shift the gear from mere defiance to a higher pedestal of popular resistance. The answer lies in paralysing the business supply systems that keep the ZANU-PF dragon bite venomous. Restrictive and targeted sanctions are part of this exciting high-yield strategy; the other is embedded in protest consumerism.

Mr. Rejoice Ngwenya writes for  He is founder of Coalition for Liberal Market Reforms, a Zimbabawean think tank.