Burning bridges: The hypocrisy of erstwhile revolutionaries

By Richard Gandari

The third president of the United States of America, Mr Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was famously quoted saying, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”

These words have immortalised his memory and continue to inspire successive generations across the world. During the liberation struggle, many revolutionaries answered that call of duty largely because colonialism was entirely premised on injustice.

Even the colonial government up to Mr Winston Field knew that for a fact. Reality only became blurred in 1965 when Mr Ian Smith announced his Unilateral Declaration of Independence. According to Mr Smith and his Rhodesian Front party, Rhodesia had become a sovereign state and no longer a British colonial outpost.

History records that resistance to Mr Smith’s government was swift and determined. Many freedom fighters left Rhodesia to join liberation movements. Some went East to join ZANLA, the armed wing of ZANU in Mozambique. Others travelled West to join ZPRA, the armed wing of PF ZAPU in Zambia. Those who stayed in Rhodesia also clandestinely resisted the Smith regime in various subtle ways.

Faced with resistance, the default response of every rogue regime is to dig in. Ian Smith and his henchmen designed intricate repressive mechanisms. The easiest strategy for the regime in Salisbury was to weaponize the law. Smith’s use of lawfare outlawed every known form of resistance, which led to the establishment of prisons and secret detention facilities, ironically still in use in present-day Zimbabwe.

At this juncture, it would be prudent to draw a second lesson from another famous Jefferson quote in which he said, “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all.”

These golden words coming from a powerful statesman set him worlds apart from the despotic rulers in our midst. The spirit of resistance is inherently an integral part of human existence. No human government can completely eradicate resistance, especially to its repressive policies and economic mismanagement. It is foolhardy for any government to preside over monumental failure and still expect citizens to suffer in total silence.

In Zimbabwe, the spirit of resistance is widespread and not limited to prominent individuals popularized by the media. In the confines of their homes and small groups, citizens are unequivocal in condemning government policies responsible for economic decay. For a country that masquerades as a constitutional democracy, Zimbabwe leaves little room for organized opposition except by name. Every dissenting voice is invariably considered a puppet of the West in its alleged quest to effect regime change in Harare. Provisions for freedom of conscience and expression are enshrined in sections 60 and 61 of the constitution but the people in authority only use it selectively for power retention. If it were possible, they would suspend the inconvenient document altogether and rule by decree. Countless gazetted statutory instruments come to mind.

People who know the history of Rhodesia, either from experience or careful study, can easily see how independence only allowed a black minority elite to rear a new oppressive regime on the ruins of another. The official attitude towards dissenting voices remains the same. For instance, in September 2023, Mr Hopewell Chin’ono, a distinguished journalist, was officially designated a threat to national security. No prize for guessing what such a pronouncement can easily lead to. On 9 March 2015, another eminent journalist, Mr Itai Dzamara, was abducted from his Glen View neighbourhood in broad daylight. Ostensibly arrested for cattle rustling, Mr Dzamara was bundled into an unmarked vehicle by 5 men suspected of being state security operatives. To this day, Itai Dzamara remains unaccounted for.

Nothing is more ironic than the fact that those in charge of repression today, were at some point leading lights of resistance to the Smith regime. Mr Mnangagwa was a member of a ZANLA-deployed insurgency outfit called the Crocodile Gang, which was held responsible for blowing up a rail locomotive in Masvingo in 1964. For his role in the terrorist attacks, Mr Mnangagwa was nearly taken to the gallows for death by hanging. He was reportedly spared from execution when he was deemed to be under 21 at the time. His sentence was commuted to 10 years in prison. Other variants of this piece of history exist but let us reserve that argument for another day. The bottom line is that Mr Mnangagwa himself is no stranger to the spirit of resistance.

Surprisingly, this direct product of resistance is now averse to any form of opposition to his rule. You can try to frame it as constructive criticism but your opinions will remain invalid. Even those who oppose through music and other forms of expression are equally tagged as detractors. To him no criticism is innocuous. Perhaps when one becomes a dictator, his ears are recalibrated to accept only positive feedback. It does not help that his aides inundate him with doctored intelligence, filtered and ameliorated to keep him pacified. Hence, whenever the spirit of resistance rears its ugly head, Mr President quickly orders his henchmen to have it decapitated. Yet this is a man who bombed a train and lived to fight another day.

The erstwhile revolutionaries in power are essentially hypocrites. They fought for one man one vote but today their government only guarantees one man zero votes. Sometimes the math changes to one man ten votes, depending on the desired outcome. Without governance by consent collective economic progress comes to a grinding halt. Unlike elections, the economy cannot be rigged. Not even the military can command it back to life. Detached from the people, the government has no tangible economic output. Things fall apart. How we got here is a tragic tale of heartrending ironies and political intolerance. The abject poverty of Zimbabwe’s vast majority terrifyingly indicates the asymmetric implosion of a country at war with no one but itself.

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