This was done initially within the ambit of the parameters set up by the Global Political Agreement (GPA), with various non-governmental groupings seeking to monitor its implementation.

Without a doubt this has been unfamiliar territory for most civil society organisations for a number of reasons, but mainly due to the fact that very few civil society leaders have had any experience in engaging with a unity or inclusive government.

This is especially so in the case of Zimbabwe which now has a government that includes a political party that was formed through labour and broad-based civil society support. The ascendancy of both Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parties into government was never simply a party project.

It was a project that involved in its beginning and until the last two years, the sharing of a common democratisation of Zimbabwe agenda not always through deliberately symbiotic acts, except for the “NO” vote’ in 2000 and the Save Zimbabwe Campaign Prayer Rally of March 11 2007. In all these years, political repression by the Zanu PF administration has been experienced and shared between civics and the MDC.

Whether eventually intended or not, civil society organisations that sought the democratisation of Zimbabwe in the last 10 years cannot easily deny that they shared some common principles and experiences with the MDC.

It is within this context that the advent of the inclusive government in February 2009 has significantly changed the manner in which MDC- civil society relations have been configured over the last 11 or so years.

This is mainly as a result of the fact that before the MDC signed the GPA, its positions and manifestos tended to reflect the policy intentions and requests of the majority of civil society organisations. 

Added to this is that through MDC’s nine-year parliamentary presence, civil society was involved in lobbying the aforementioned party’s legislators to greater reception than with the Zanu PF parliamentary caucus.

Given the reality that the MDCs are in government, it is this relationship with civil society that needs re-examination either in order to continue with it as of old, or to begin to redefine its parameters.

There are two inclinations within civil society over the nature of the relationship that must be pursued with the inclusive government.

The first is that a number of civil society organisations have argued strongly that the inclusive government is an opportunity that cannot be allowed to whither or be lost.

This is a position that has bordered on the sacrosanct given the political environment that was experienced in the country particularly between March and June last year as well as over the last 10 years.

It is reasonably argued that the inclusive government is a very important opportunity and it must be supported as far as is possible regardless of the shortcomings of the GPA or the lack of expected progress and delivery on promises made by government.

The opportunity is also premised on fear of the return to an outrightly repressive political environment and hence a return to a political status quo dominated by Zanu PF.

Ostensibly this position can also be viewed as one that understands the next phase of the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe to be closely linked to that of the fate of the MDC in government and not necessarily as a political party.

The alternative position within civil society is that the current political environment is not necessarily one that is preferable in terms of the processes that occurred after the March 2008 harmonised elections that were as undemocratic as was the eventual signing of the GPA.

This position argues that the inclusive government is a transitional one that must seek amongst other things to stabilise Zimbabwe’s economy, free the media as well as deliver a people–driven constitution from the onset.

This understanding of the current political setup in Zimbabwe is premised on a view that the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe was established on certain fundamental and binding principles that should not be abandoned solely because the labour-backed MDC is in an inclusive government.

Those persuaded by this argument regularly juxtapose the resolutions of the National Working People’s Convention (NWPC) of 1999 that led to the formation of the MDC with the contents of the GPA and cite the differences between the two as one of the main reasons the inclusive government must be closely watched, criticised and even challenged.

Civil society groups or individuals within this framework are not opposed to the MDC.  They argue that they differ in terms of the nature and manner of compromises that have been made in the MDC’s arrival at an inclusive government, as well as the seemingly continuing lack of deliverables in relation to previously agreed to principles within the context of the struggle for democracy.

It is however not as if the civil society groups herein do not see the inclusive government as an opportunity of some sort of incremental change.

They do see a chance for reprieve in relation to political repression, even though they argue that this remains tentative, and they do see the MDC in government as being part of a potential change of governmental culture.

They are however not willing to throw all into it, neither are they willing to witness key tenets of Zimbabwe’s struggle for democracy as outlined in the NWPC and the Zimbabwe People’s Charter severely undermined or compromised in the name of keeping the inclusive government afloat.

Having outlined these two divergent views of how civil society has been and shall probably continue handling the inclusive government, it is also important to explain four key issues that activists from civil society, the political parties as well as ordinary citizens of the country must continuously consider in understanding the current political context.

First is the need for political party leaders and civil society to be continuously cognisant of the key establishing principles and founding declarations of the struggle for a truly democratic Zimbabwe.

These are to be found in collective declarations such as the NWPC of 1999, the first People’s Constitutional Convention of 1999, the Zimbabwe People’s Charter of 2008 as well as any relevant party manifestos that concurred with the need to enhance democracy in Zimbabwe. Such a practice allows for leaders and those that support them to be consistent in their quest to deliver a democratic Zimbabwe.

Secondly, there must be an understanding that there is consistent need to measure whatever “opportunities” the inclusive government presents to civil society or the people of Zimbabwe against aforementioned principles for the pursuit of a democratic Zimbabwe.

This is because where people have found opportunities they must be cautious that assumed changes to media laws, the constitution, the judiciary, youth policies, education and gender policies, imperfect as they shall be, can easily become permanent.

And in this, there must be a broader perspective that accepts the fact that not attending a conference organised by the inclusive government is not in itself a “dis-engagement” from the inclusive government.  It is an act that seeks to negotiate with the same government to first meet key requirements which, though it may disagree with, it has to be made consistently conscious of.

Thirdly, it is imperative that we all do not easily mimic the political culture engendered by Zanu PF since Independence. This includes taking on the characteristics of the trappings of power that Zanu PF has continually shown to the people of Zimbabwe.

Especially so fighting to demonstrate political loyalty to one party or person beyond democratic reason as has been the case with Zanu PF and its interactions with war veterans, women’s organisations, peasant organisations, farmer’s unions or youth movements.

Fourthly, emphasis must continually be placed on the imperative need for civil society to remain conscious of the fact that all the principled and people-centred work that has been undertaken since our country’s national independence is not lost to the next generations of Zimbabweans.

It is not the opportunities of the present that pass on the torch of the struggle for democracy from one generation to the next.  Instead it is the continued public placement and consciousness-raising of the founding democratic principles, goals and beliefs of the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe that ensure it is not lost to a historical pursuance of a better Zimbabwe for all.

Zhangazha is National Director of Misa Zimbabwe. He writes here in his personal capacity. (This article was originally published by The Zimbabwe Independent)