Articles

OF BALLOTS, BULLETS AND REVOLUTIONS

In 1964, Civil Rights activistMalcolm X made a seminal speech, which is generallyreferred to as the " The Ballot or the Bullet €. In the speech, he declared that 1964 would be the year of either the ballot or the bullet, and that black Americans needed to make their choice from the two. Malcolm, who was the more radical of the crop of Civil Rights activists at that time, made the case that freedom for the black man needed to be attained by any means necessary. At that time, the words he spoke transcended religion but were steeped in colour. The reason why the speech was seminal then, and is today is because the relevance of the question evenafter nominal freedom was attained for the black man on the African continent.

In 2011, a number of countries on the African continent were faced with similar questions around the ballot or the bullet. The unfortunate thing is that on the continent this question is often a Hobson's choice, a choice that is non-existent as the answer has often enough proved to be both - the ballot and the bullet. This unfortunate circumstance, which has seen a number of countries being plunged into civil strife and prolonged fighting between siblings and countryman has been largely as a result of recalcitrant, ruthless, brutal, frugal and undemocratic regimes who deliberately place a low premium on the ballot, using the bullet to supress it.

In the recent past, cases in point from the continent would include but not be limited to The Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Madagascar. In addition to these countries, which answered, both, the continent is replete with countries in which the choice is non-existent in real terms. The consequences of the absence of regime change via the ballot have had dire consequences, and the countries that were party to the Arab spring are testimony to this. Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya for long periods of time were countries in which the option of changing regimes through elections was non-existent, leaving people with limited choices between, not the ballot or the bullet, but the bullet and the bullet, because often enough a choice to protest even peacefully, as can be seen from the Syrian experience is a choice of the bullet, with the protestor on the receiving end.

In the absence of the peaceful and constitutional contest for power through credible elections, the other options, as can be seen by circumstances that the "Arab Spring € countries find themselves in, are options that do not auger well for peace, stability and even democratisation itself. While the revolutions in Libya and Egypt are worth celebrating because of their ability to remove die in the cast dictators, the on-going life of protest and the insecurity that comes from having gun totting militants roaming free is not a choice that one takes easily, and shows the extent to which people were desperatefor a new political order in these countries. While it is easy to talk revolution, and to salute revolutionaries, it is clear that in the 21st century more civilised means of attaining freedom have to be given prominence.

In 2012, Zimbabwe is faced with the question that Malcolm x posed in 1964. Is this the year of the Ballot or the Bullet? On the strength of a lived reality by a lot of Zimbabweans during the war of liberation where the bullet was left as the only choice, and also the carnage that is currently taking place in Syria,   the challenges faced by the people of Libya and the instability in Egypt, it would seem like the ballot is the easy choice. In fact, where Zimbabwe is concerned the ballot should be the only choice.

The ballot, granted, was secured in 1980 through the bullet. The fact that the bullet was used to secure the ballot as a reasonable choice of going about political business shows how important the ballot is. Looked at in perspective, the struggle for self-determination and one-man one vote in Zimbabwe is one that a lot of people, some who are still in our midst, scarified a lot for. The estimated costs in Human life of the struggle for liberation in Zimbabwe is put at a conservative 30,000 while thousands came out of the war physically scared for life through one form of disability or the other, the number balloons to despairing levels if you include the mental scars of that revolution.

Having cost so much, the right for Zimbabweans to choose their leaders in a politically acceptable non-physical manner deserves to be protected. Common sense would dictate that those who lived through the reality of war would understand the value of protecting the gains of that struggle. But unfortunately as is often said, common sense is not always so common.

Paulo Freire put it nicely when he postulated that due to political socialisation, there was always a danger that the liberator could easily become the next oppressor, because he or she has not seen any other way of governing. He postulated that for a lot of freedom fighters, " to be is to be like, and to belike is to be like the oppressor €.

However, since the struggle for liberation was about liberating Zimbabweans, and contrary to popular history, was waged in different ways, not just by President Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF, but also by the generality of the black population, it is the responsibility of every Zimbabwean to safe guard the supremacy of the ballot. ZANU PF cannot be allowed to monopolise that history, and fighting credentials. Itcannot be allowed to preside over the cannibalisation of our struggle through the process of allowing our 32-year-old revolution to consume its own children.

The struggle for liberation in this country, while being for land and empowerment of the majority population, was also about the sacrosanctity of the vote. In 1978, the Commander of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) said, 'Our demand is just and legitimate. We demand a free and fair election where international observers will oversee.' Most of those entrusted with presiding over the new state in 1980 seem to be forgetting this, and need to be reminded not just by those who fought side by side with them, but by every Zimbabwean that we do not want the bullet in any way, shape or form as an option in our politics.

It needs to be unequivocal that the people of Zimbabwe, given a choice between the ballot and the bullet, declare that the struggle over that choice was fought and won in 1980, and that the Ballot is the only choice that will be entertained.

It is clear that a revolution is needed in Zimbabwe, but given the foregoing that revolution has to be a ballot revolution. Executing the Ballot revolution, is a simple 5 step process which every Zimbabwean can participate in irrespective of their physical built, sex, gender, race or liberation war credentials. It entails us fighting for democratic electoral reforms, demanding that violence plays no part in our politics, registering to vote, Voting In Peace (being a VIP) and defending our ballots against any attempts to subvert them. So we choose the ballot, and declare that Zimbabwe needs a revolution, a Ballot Revolution.

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