OPINION – The default reaction of many Zimbabwean political pundits to the overthrow of despots around the world is to look for and accentuate even the most tenuous of similarities with their country to justify the predetermined conclusion that Robert Mugabe faces a similar fate. A fair bit of the analysis is steeped in wishful thinking.
Predictably, a common theme ran through the various analyses of the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Although the conditions were not exactly analogous, the revolutions held some poignant lessons for Zimbabwe, commentators said. The winds of people-power were definitely sweeping across the continent and Zimbabweans were prime candidates to catch the bug, so we were told.
Trevor Ncube, in his erudite take on the events unfolding in North Africa, was one of the very few to curb their zeal and proffer a more balanced analysis, eschewing bold predictions in favour of circumspection and perspective.
However, even he could not resist gleaning lessons for his beleaguered country. "The North African revolutions have potent lessons for Zimbabwe. Key among these is the fact that no amount of repression can kill the people’s desire to free themselves from dictatorship. The time will come when the masses cast away their fear and claim their freedom."
Conspicuous by its absence from many of the commentaries I read was an examination of Zimbabwe’s track record, which, to put it mildly, is woeful.
Over the past decade Zimbabweans have witnessed their oppressed kindred in various parts of the world extract a measure of therapeutic revenge from overthrowing their oppressors. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that they gleaned any useful lessons from these developments to further their own freedom cause.
In 2000, when Slobodan Milosevic met his Waterloo, many predicted that a similar rout by the citizenry was in the offing for Mugabe. So confident were some observers that the end was nigh for Bob Mugabe that they fashioned for the dictator the moniker "Bobodan".
Buoyed by Milosevic’s fate a bullish Morgan Tsvangirai christened Mugabe "the Milosevic of Africa" and predicted that a violent overthrow awaited him. Among many others, former South African president FW de Klerk waded in, opining that, "following the elections in Zimbabwe, the people there might lose patience and take to the streets in much the same way as the Yugoslav people".
A more gung-ho prediction came from the Economist. The publication refused to rule out the possibility of the "famously patient" people of Zimbabwe following the example of the Serbs, predicting that "it seems increasingly unlikely that Mr Mugabe will see out his term in office".
Years later, developments in Kenya led to all manner of scaremongering about a similar scenario developing in Zimbabwe after the 2008 presidential elections. That debate proved to be inconsequential.
It is over 10 years since Milosevic was ousted and Mugabe is still in power, having lost none of his appetite for terrorising his people.
The Mugabe regime has also inspired comparisons with some of the worst systems of government known to mankind, including apartheid. Yet the response of the oppressed people of Zimbabwe has been nothing like the gallantry exhibited by South Africans who ran the gauntlet of a nefarious regime, or the courage of the Serbs who defied Milosevic.
Zimbabweans have had a fair share of examples of courage to draw inspiration from. The problem is a failure to emulate. Part of the reason for the failure is their legendary timidity masquerading as patience. Their "famous patience" is no longer a virtue but a weakness.
Then there is the well-documented crisis of leadership and by extension the absence of the organisational wherewithal required to mount a serious challenge to the regime.
The trajectory of Zimbabwe’s quest for democratic reform tells a story of missed opportunities and a tragic failure to seize the moment. One example suffices here.
Remember the much-vaunted "Final Push" for freedom in 2003, the endgame that never was?
As D-Day approached MDC stalwart Eddie Cross enthused: "It is the crunch. It has been three years in the making … There is also no going back for either side. This will be a struggle to the end."
The "Final Push" to oust Mugabe proved to be nothing but a damp squib. What was talked up as the mother of all street confrontations with the dictator turned out to be a mass stay-away from work as the campaign collapsed on the opposition’s weak backbone and indecisive leadership.
The original MDC formation under the tutelage of Tsvangirai has a case to answer for squandering an inordinate amount of international goodwill. A litany of policy blunders, puerile internal bickering, competing agendas, parochial self-interest trumping the greater good and downright incompetence have all conspired to frustrate voters and international sympathisers alike.
The Zimbabwe political question has dragged on for years because of the opposition’s propensity to drop the ball and squander positions of some considerable promise. Far too often, much to the chagrin of the opposition supporters, the initiative has been gifted back to the regime on a silver platter.
The biggest concern now must be that the Zimbabwe political discourse is perilously close to approximating irrelevant tedium. There is the real prospect of the crisis disappearing off the international radar and becoming little more than an amusing sideshow on the sidelines of the more focussed revolutions we have witnessed in recent months.
What happened in Tunisia and Egypt may have "restored our collective faith in the power of the people" as Ncube argued. However, those events are also a painful reminder of the attributes Zimbabweans lack. We can only watch and admire the Egyptians and Tunisians’ resolve and tenacity and wish we were cut from the same courageous and selfless cloth.
Zimbabwe’s oppressed masses could learn a thing or two from their oppressors about the value of self sacrifice. Forget for a moment the despicable species they have since morphed into, Mugabe and his liberation struggle contemporaries were prepared to die for the cause. They gave unstintingly of themselves and literally put their bodies in the line of fire. They did not shirk the challenge of prosecuting the armed struggle even though it must have been gnawing at the back of their minds that they might not survive long enough to see independence and enjoy the benefits.
Sowing so that others and future generations may reap the harvest is the ultimate act of generosity and selflessness. Until Zimbabweans learn the value of self sacrifice their oppression will continue.
Lashias Ncube is a Zimbabwean journalist living in Cape Town. This article was initially published in The Mail and Guardian