In recent years, various dictatorships of both internal and external origin have collapsed or stumbled when confronted by defiant, mobilised people. Often seen as firmly entrenched and impregnable, some of these dictatorships proved unable to withstand the concerted political, economic, and social defiance of the people. Why then do we still have an old-aged dictator in my beloved Zimbabwe?
BY BRIGHTON MANHANZVA – HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST
Since 1980, the year that we gained Independence from the UK, dictatorships have collapsed before the predominantly non-violent defiance of people in the world. Non-violent resistance has furthered the movement toward in various parts of the former Soviet Union (playing a significant role in the defeat of the August 1991 attempted hard-line coup attempt).
In addition, mass political defiance has occurred in China, Burma, and Tibet in recent years. Although those struggles have not brought an end to the ruling dictatorships or occupations, they have exposed the brutal nature of those repressive regimes to the world community and have provided the populations with valuable experience with this form of struggle.
“Political defiance” is a non-violent struggle (protest, non-cooperation, and intervention) applied defiantly and actively for political purposes. The term originated in response to the confusion and distortion created by equating non-violent struggle with pacifism and moral or religious “nonviolence.” “Defiance” denotes a deliberate challenge to authority by disobedience, allowing no room for submission. “Political defiance” describes the environment in which the action is employed (political) as well as the objective (political power). The term is used principally to describe action by populations to regain from dictatorships control over governmental institutions by relentlessly attacking their sources of power and deliberately using strategic planning and operations to do so, easier said than done I suppose.
I am quite aware that the collapse of dictatorships certainly will not erase all other problems in our society. I know really well that poverty, crime, bureaucratic inefficiency, and environmental destruction are often the legacy of brutal regimes. However, the downfall of these dictatorships minimally lifts much of the suffering of the victims of oppression, and opens the way for the rebuilding of the societies with greater political democracy, personal liberties, and social justice. People used to think that life was going to be very easy when we got our country back from the colonisers but the latter seems too good to be true.
There has indeed been a trend towards greater democratisation and freedom in the world in the past decades. The number of countries around the world that are now classified as “Free” has grown significantly in recent years according to Freedom House, which compiles a yearly international survey of the status of political rights and civil liberties.
However, this positive trend is tempered by the large numbers of people still living under conditions of tyranny. Many countries today are in a state of rapid economic, political, and social change. Although the number of “Free” countries has increased in recent years, there is a great risk that many nations, like Zimbabwe, in the face of such rapid fundamental changes, will move in the opposite direction and experience new forms of dictatorship.
Military cliques, ambitious individuals, elected officials, and doctrinal political parties have repeatedly seeked to impose their will. Basic human and political rights continue to be denied to vast numbers of people as is the fact in my home country Zimbabwe. Unfortunately the past is still with us if you may remember what happened during the Smith regime. People in Zimbabwe have experienced over three decades of oppression under the Mugabe regime so far.
Frequently, unquestioning submission to authority figures such as Mugabe and his cronies has been long inculcated. In extreme cases, the social, political, economic and even religious institutions of the society outside of state control have been deliberately weakened, subordinated or even replaced by new regimented institutions used by the state or Zanu PF to control the society.
The Zimbabwean population has been atomized (turned into a mass of isolated individuals) unable to work together to achieve freedom, to confide in each other, or even to do much of anything at our own initiative. We have become weak and we lack self-confidence and incapable of resistance. We are now too frightened and too terrified to think seriously of public resistance and to share our hatred of Mugabe and the security chiefs and even to show our hunger for freedom with family and friends. In any case, what would be the use? We have already been intimidated to the core.
We face suffering without purpose and a future without hope. The current conditions in today’s Zimbabwe may be much worse than before we got our own Independence. There has been a massive brain drain due to professionals leaving Zimbabwe to seek greener pastures and most neighbouring countries like South Africa and surrounding neighbourhoods have gained a great deal over. What could be the worst that could have happened to the former breadbasket of Africa?
In the past, some people have attempted resistance or short-lived mass protests and demonstrations and spirits soared temporarily (remember the late 90’s in Zimbabwe?) At other times, individuals and small groups conducted brave but impotent gestures, asserting some principle or simply their defiance. Such past acts of resistance have been insufficient to overcome the people’s fear and habit of obedience, a necessary prerequisite to destroy Mugabe. Sadly, those acts brought only increased suffering and death, not victories or even hope.