HARARE – With fear, apprehension and excitement we are standing on the cusp of a new era in Zimbabwe.
We have the unique opportunity of starting again but this time we have the benefit of hindsight, learning from our own history.
With just a few days left until the referendum this is an appropriate time to cast our minds back 13 years, to February 2000, when we last voted on a proposed new constitution and a few months later held parliamentary elections.
At the time of the 2000 referendum there was only one facet of the MDC and it was just a few months old, Zanu PF had been in power for 20 years and President Robert Mugabe was about to turn 76.
Only 1,3 million people cast their ballots in the February 12, 2000 referendum, representing just a quarter of the five million eligible voters in the country. Of those 1,3 million people who voted, 55 percent said “no”, rejecting the proposed constitution. Mugabe appeared on ZBC TV and said the results were “unfortunate” but said: “The government accepts the result and accepts the will of the people.”
Barely a week later hundreds of war veterans and Zanu PF supporters began invading commercial farms. On March 2, 2000, despite the overwhelming “NO” vote in the referendum, Mugabe introduced a constitutional amendment authorising the Zanu PF government to take over privately-owned farms without paying compensation and held the British government responsible for paying for land being seized.
The MDC was still one party when this clause was first exposed and their spokesperson, Welshman Ncube said: “We have no legal authority to compel the British government to do anything.”
Legal or not, a rejected constitution or not, we all know what happened next. Hundreds died in the hunger that entered all of our homes; thousands became victims of crimes committed in the name of politics; many hundreds more died in pre and post electoral violence and at least four million Zimbabweans left the country.
All but a handful of farms were seized, mines were next, 51 percent indigenisation followed and businesses now cling to the edge of the abyss while the country continues to import an estimated 80 percent of the food we eat.
In the 13 years since we last voted on a proposed constitution the rich have got much richer while the rest of us struggle to keep our heads above water and always have more month than money.
In his 2011 book At the Deep End, Prime Minister Tsvangirai writes that if we had accepted the draft constitution in 2000, and in his words “kept cool heads,” things would have been very different.
“We could have saved ourselves 10 years of political chaos, economic havoc and a hazardous struggle to achieve democracy.” Tsvangirai admits that the newly born MDC made up of a ‘formidable alliance’ from all over Zimbabwe, “had failed to read the political temperature correctly.”
Tsvangirai and Bango wrote that the loss of the 2000 referendum was devastating to Zanu PF. “Using a lethal combination of war veterans, thieves, police, military officials and greedy Zanu PF politicians, Mugabe went out of his way to reverse the people’s gain.
This time round, with two elections a few months apart, just as they were 13 years ago, things must be different. Voting in the referendum, whether you choose yes or no, is voting for Zimbabwe.
Staying at home on March 16 is not an option.
It will be a sign of disrespect to the thousands who died, suffered and had to flee to the Diaspora. – Cathy Buckle