Judging by on-line reaction, this column has only a handful of readers, but millions of critics! Which is what makes writing it worth every of my while. Week in, week out, you get fiery feedback from persons who, having been upset by its postulates, swear by their chaste mothers they haven’t read beyond the first word of it. Yet they proceed to spew vitriol against me and the column, vainly proceed to grapple with its whole argument in an admirably nuanced fashion. Or knowledgeably praise the column’s expression, while hating every particle of thought conveyed through its “marvelous” style. Such are the joys of writing, reading, and commenting, indeed the wonders of disquisitions and debate. Including lack of honesty, indeed appalling self-contradiction. Generously, we call it feedback, much of it very much coloured by the politically charged environment we live through nowadays. But that will soon come to pass, so we get back to calmer times, back to scholarly disquisitions.
The other half is the reader
It was Konrad de Korzeniowski — better known in literary history as Joseph Conrad, and author of Heart of Darkness —who explained the enigma I currently face, and did so as far back as 1897 when our pre-literate forefathers were in the heat of a war of national resistance against settler colonial encroachment. Writing to Graham Cunninghame on August 9 of that year, Conrad percipiently noted: “. . . for one writes only half the book; the other half is with the reader.” Some kind of mating of thoughts. My only problem is that the other half to this column’s authorship is in hot denial! But never mind; even paternity is often denied, not to mention the Son of God.
Headlines don’t go to the booth
Time continues to pass, drawing ever nearer the electoral D-day. As you read this piece, we are nine days away from voting day. If you can’t read swift time, you certainly can feel the smouldering political temperature whose increasingly incandescent heat waves by now reach all and sundry. And temperature is not only a function of weather; it is also about decibels. The times are sonorous, sonorous enough to pierce our delicate ear membranes. Hopefully we will not be hard of hearing by the time we get to July 30. Even the media industry which must help retain our balance, seems to have lost its balance, to tip over. Objectivity and equanimity are fast receding. And this does not help when you have youngsters on stage. We hear the Alliance’s high notes, must suffer them as the hard price we pay for our burgeoning democracy. Democracy, someone said, is always untidy, noisy. Chamisa and his Alliance continue to snipe at ZEC, even threatening to mount rolling vigils at ZEC’s premises, rolling vigils until polling day. They even threaten the edifice of the State, blaming it all on this one woman they hate so intensely, Judge Chigumba. My honest view is that the young man seeks continual limelight right up to decision day. And judging by the conflictual orientation of our media, he seems to be getting it, for worse in my considered view. Headlines don’t go to the booth, far less those behind them, many of whom have not even registered to vote.
Of course our generous Constitution allows freedom of association, allows compliant demonstrations, of course for as long as the pursuit and enjoyment of both rights do not interfere with other people’s rights. But there is no weather clause in our Constitution, which is why the plummeting temperatures continue to exceed the season — arguably suggesting Divine scorn. Far from ZEC or Zanu-PF, the Alliance may find itself ranged against the elements! As the Alliance people enjoy their rights, they need of course to remain cognizant of what must be simple points of law, points they do not need to condescend to grasp. ZEC must not be impeded in its work, lest the Alliance finds itself on the wrong side of the law, with the attendant difficulties. Secondly, voters must not be obstructed from exercising their voting rights, lest again the law is offended against. Thirdly, life and property must be held sacred and secure, lest the law stirs, ready to bare its canines for a beefy bite. Lastly, peace and stability of the Republic must continue to prevail, must remain assured.
Boycott, yes; blocking, no!
The young man and his Alliance must know that once the campaign period is over, the strong arm of Government, and of State, will show, show without hesitancy. For thereafter, it ceases to be democracy on show; it becomes a matter for the authority of the State to show. That ED yesterday broke with tradition to answer back on the Alliance’s challenges to ZEC puts the Alliance on notice, lest the Alliance thinks its pranks will remain everlastingly condoned, all to last forever. Just as it was vital for peace to prevail before voting, it is important, nay vital, for peace to obtain during and certainly after voting. That is the responsibility of Government, and from what I hear, all will be peaceful on voting day and ever after. For boycotting the vote is permissible; what is not is blocking the vote. The latter amounts to insurrection, which is always dealt with differently.
Discretion as demand
There is a certain duplicitously pro-Alliance argument, peddled under wafer thin guises. It takes two forms, neither of which reflects much thought. One such argument says ZEC and its chairperson must go an extra mile as part of confidence-building after a long spell of “broken” democracy in the country. Often, it is favoured by westerners. The second one says ZEC and its chairperson must improve their communication, their public relations. That, too, is favoured by westerners and locals. At face value, both arguments, whose goal is in fact one, appear fine, fair and reasonable. Until of course one traces their lineaments. To the proponent, both arguments move from the tone of appealing for ZEC discretion, to demanding it peremptorily. It is as if both confidence-building and public relations are thirteenth and fourteenth commandments from our Constitution, are matters of law. Both are pressed for with the vehemence of demanding constitutional rights. And this is where the problem begins. And worsens. Mildly, there is always a problem when a favour is pressed for as a right; a problem when an act of discretion is demanded for like a requirement. Seriously, there is definitely a challenge when the asked-for favour, asked-for discretion, undermines both a constitutional position and a statutory requirement. And does so to please one player among a multitude. This is where we are, and I will patiently take you through the argument, ready to court your ire or worse.
Mere management tools, not requirements of law
Simply, confidence-building and public relations are mere management tools which cannot challenge legal precepts. Rather, these should arise and be deployed in the interest of, and to uphold legal positions and precepts. It is thus bold to foist on ZEC or its chairperson options of confidence-building and public relations before or against requirements of law. Good public relations is always in support, never in suppression, of an organisation’s reason of existence. More so for a legally-structured body like ZEC. Equally, confidence-building must further set goals, not flatter spoilt egos. ZEC is a creature of the Constitution — our Constitution — whose independence is repeatedly fortified in and by that Constitution. That must be the starting point. Secondly, ZEC is established to run free, fair and credible elections for the edification of the voter whose will is both regnant and sovereign.
Voter satisfaction, not party satisfaction
Often, we forget elections are run for the satisfaction of the voter, not that of contesting political parties whose contentment is incidental. If this were not so, there would have been no losers in elections, no pronouncements and verdict of free and fair polls, even against loser grumblings. Yet there are, with democracy bidding that losers submit not to winners, but to the will of the voter whose will alone is inviolate, and who installs and dethrones at his or her collective will. The majority in question is not that of the winning party; rather, the majority in question is that of the voting public in the context of political menu and choices available, however these crystallise in a body-politic. The ethic is that people must be governed through their consent. It is purely fortuitous that consent often expresses itself through choice of parties. That means ZEC’s prime interlocutor is the people of Zimbabwe, not Chamisa and his Alliance. Or any other party for that matter. This explains why ZEC must obey laws of the land, while minimally accounting to Parliament, even then after the fact of voting. This is why boycotting elections is not such a tragedy legally, although it may have political implications.
My problem with ZEC has been that of over-indulging Chamisa and his Alliance. And given the way Chamisa has couched his demands on ZEC, it is increasingly sounding as if ZEC submits to browbeating and intimidation. It should not, what with a whole Constitution behind it, and the massive powers which that Constitution grants it. I doubt if Chamisa and his Alliance know that of all commissions, it is only ZEC which has power above its peer commissions, including the power to summon any of them, even all of them, to ensure its mandate is fulfilled. I doubt very much that this implied hierarchical supremacy was granted ZEC on grounds that it is headed by a fair lady. I am convinced that this legal prerogative came to it on grounds of the seminal role it discharges in the construction of the whole edifice of our body-politic. With such a role, with such powers, ZEC need not kow-tow to Chamisa and his Alliance. Or brook any distractions from both, as if ZEC is unsure of its place and role in the scheme of things. Madhuku — himself a presidential contestant and a whole law professor — made the same point only a few days ago. He took words out of my mouth, which is why I now write what I am no longer able to say with my mouth.
Faulting ball, field, referee, whistle, wind and board
Put plainly, ZEC need only worry about you and me — the voter. It need not concern itself unduly with fretful contestants who, when facing defeat, find fault in the ball, the field of play, in the referee, in the whistle, the wind and on the scoreboard. Chamisa makes a good point: Judge Chigumba did not, does not, write the law. Which is exactly why she must obey the law to the fullest, without fear, without favour. Indeed, without a Chamisa and without a Mnangagwa. Through the assistance of our unthinking media, the whole issue proceeds without scale or balance. No one, not even the media from whom balance and objectivity are expected, nay demanded, is allowed to frame such a congested poll as a two-horse race. To say so is to pre-judge the voter, indeed to snort at the sovereign will of the voter. The verdict resides with the voter, which is why media surmise, however premised, however well — or ill-funded, must be kept in abeyance. After all, the media are no pollsters; only mere assemblages of reporters with varying levels of glory and competence. Poor ones too. Not even pollsters are substitutes for polling and, as we saw in recent history, they can be outrageously wrong — even deliberately wrong in the vain hope of influencing or swaying the vote. This two-horse race approach is what has undermined scale and balance in weighting so-called grievances raised against ZEC, all of which are extra-judicial, often mendacious, and at best frivolous. Much worse, they have got us to a stage where we have upgraded Chamisa and his Alliance above the voter, above other vying parties, above the Government of the day, above the State of Zimbabwe with all its bundle of rules and, above the National Interest.
Wrong by Man, Moses and God
I would not have had any difficulties with all this if Chamisa and his Alliance went by the rule book, in which case their cause would have approximated the pursuit of public weal. Yet in spite of pretensions to messianism, Chamisa and his lot are extremely disreputable, in fact dishonest. Dishonest even with their own. I can’t say they are wrong on points of law, for that would suggest excusable inadvertence or ignorance. Nor can I say they are amoral as that, again, would suggest an incapacity to tell right from wrong. Rather, they have deliberately chosen to infract the law, deliberately chosen the path of dishonesty and immorality. The fact that Chamisa himself is a lawyer — albeit a junior one, and a pastor — albeit a dubious one — doubly convicts him before Man, Moses and God. You cannot push your agenda on falsehoods, on unlawful conduct or threats of it, on indecency, and on threats of unleashing anarchy on this land. And then demand society’s indulgence on all these infractions on grounds of being a youthful candidate. Well, the panacea to excesses of youth is generous time allowances on oneself to grow, never indulgent judgment from those who stand to be hurt by your actions, or whose burden it is to scour the debris you leave in the wake of your excesses. Chamisa will lose the vote, not so much from what he proffers by way of vision, weird though this is. Rather, he will lose the vote from what he demands from and of the voter, while hiding behind so-called ZEC failings. And that the media have chosen to egg him on in this wrong-headedness — chosen to play echo chamber to his sonorous folly — only completes his ruin. To deploy a metaphor we hope his claimed pastoral status helps him grasp, he has chosen to preach a lower creed, with all the attendant consequences. Ngachirire!