Zimbabweans who ventured out of home this Sunday morning will have been greeted by the front page news in The Standard of more officially sanctioned violence by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
What they wouldn’t know at this juncture is that all 9 detainees bludgeoned whilst in police custody and ordered off to hospital by the presiding magistrate, were last night abducted around 11pm from their hospital beds. An army doctor and a clutch of men in the ubiquitous blue uniforms of youth militia forced the injured into prison garb and dragged them off to destinations not known at this stage. Why? Under what authority were they acting?
Ostensibly our law enforcement agents are trying to bring the perpetrators of a series of petrol bombing incidents to book. They must do this at 11pm at night?
In a normal democracy, there is a separation of powers to ensure that no single arm of governance overreaches its authority. In a normal democracy the police would be out of line. But here they have been given carte blanche to do whatever it takes to beat Zimbabwe’s citizens into submission.
Now, according to the public face presented by SADC’s leaders, Zimbabwe’s democracy is functioning within the norms set by the region. (They meet every so often to TALK about Zimbabwe, but to-date they have taken no single action that has made a positive difference to Mugabe’s style of governance). So, if democracy is alive and well in Zimbabwe, we should be able to expect robust political debate and active organizing – especially with elections looming in 2008, right? If the opposition wants to hold public rallies and publish printed materials and distribute party regalia, that’s all very normal – in a functioning democracy, right? If the economy is on its knees and 80% of the population is unemployed, labour has a right (actually an obligation) to organize and protest around the crisis, yes?
Sadly, the beatings and abductions, the hide and seek games played with detainees, the overt non-compliance with court orders, the thuggery of the state’s agents, the banning of public meetings, the shambolic voters’ roll, the biased registration of new voters etc all shout the truth – there is no democracy in Zimbabwe.
Until and unless the region’s leaders speak out publicly and definitively against the tactics employed by Zimbabwe’s government, we have to deduce that they tacitly agree with them. This would lead us logically on to the realisation that the SADC leadership have more in common with Mugabe than they would have us otherwise believe. What a horrible thought – investors and donors, please take note.