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Was it worth it?

I remember giving up on my country a couple of years ago. I remember being really frustrated with the national fixation on Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe and not being able to see beyond the struggle that was day to day life. I imagined that there were bigger, more important things happening in the rest of the world and I wanted to dwell on those.

One day, I got my chance, and I took it. Having lived in Europe for two years, I think I am even more frustrated now than I was then. From this distance, the proverb about elephants fighting and the grass being the one that suffers rings especially true. And for the last couple of months, I have asked myself over and over again if the fighting in my country was worth it.

Is Zimbabwe where she is today because Mugabe and his cronies wrecked the country? Partly. The total collapse of the country though, is the result of a conscious decision to bring it to its knees as a means of ridding it of a dictator and his accomplices. Even before the MDC had come to be, the trade unions quickly realised that the only way they could take on the regime and stand a chance of inflicting any sort of damage to it was to hurt the economy. What may have started out as a point proving exercise eventually turned into a death match. I am convinced that had the MDC and Zanu PF come to some sort of understanding years ago, as did Zanu and Zapu in 1988, Zimbabwe would be a relatively stable state today.

Let me be clear, I too advocated for a “let it all fall apart” policy. From my perspective, nothing could be as bad as living in a country where I was not free to raise dissenting opinions for fear of state victimisation. I wanted the right to elect leaders of my own choosing and I wanted my country to be respected internationally. Even now, I don’t think that any of those desires were misplaced. I am just not sure that they were worth going to war.

In his now famous address on the West India Emancipation, Frederick Douglass said:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong, which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

In all honesty, the people of Zimbabwe did tolerate a fair bit of tyranny from their rulers and it was only natural that a time should come when people said “enough”. Unfortunately, as is so often the case during a fight, all perspective was lost. On both sides, things got so personal that the best interest of the country was completely overshadowed by rage and hate.

For a long time I wondered why Joshua Nkomo sat down and made peace with a monster. In retrospect, I think he did it because he cared more about the plight of his people than about being right, winning, vengence, democracy, people’s civil and political rights, or even justice. I think for him, letting Mugabe “win” was a price worth paying to preserve the lives and hopes of people who would otherwise end up as collateral damage. Nkomo was that rare leader who genuinely put his people first. That quality seems to be in very short supply in Zimbabwean politics today.

As has been said over and over again, it is up to the people of Zimbabwe to find a solution to their problems. Sooner or later, Mugabe’s wishful thinking will become a reality, and the cholera outbreak will be brought under control. Something more interesting or sinister will happen elsewhere and global attention will shift away from the country. The rest of the world will go about finding solutions to their own problems, like the credit crunch, recession, unemployment and so forth. They will lose interest in Bob, and the decision to allow more people to suffer and die will remain in the hands of Zanu PF and the MDC.

Many people have told me that Zimbabweans are cowards for failing to “deal with” Mugabe. Perhaps we are. But if that also means that we cherish the sanctity of human life, then so be it. I only hope that Morgan Tsvangirai and his party prove to be as “cowardly” and do whatever it takes to put an end to the insanity that has overcome my country.

Joshua Nkomo was no fool.