Sunday, June 10, 2018

Stan Zvorwadza’s Damascene moment

While holding sitting governments to account is an essential duty of citizens in any democratic state, this does not absolve the opposition from criticism, Zvorwadza argues.
It is this criticism of the opposition that has landed him on the wrong side of his former colleague.
Since his apparent transformation, he has become a veritable punching bag of the frustrated opposition.
In what was probably a moment of intense divine revelation, it dawned on him that for nearly all his adult life he continued to place the wrong bet – on a losing horse.
In a moment of deep self-introspection, Stan Zvorwadza realised that for all his exertions he had learnt nothing, earned nothing and was destined to fight a losing battle.
A deep sensation of betrayal overwhelmed him.
He made the decision to restrategise, change tack and re-invent.
Having spent years in the trenches, at times vacuously fighting the previous Robert Mugabe Government, it dawned on him that victory was no nearer than it seemed.
This “Damascene” moment followed the events of November 2017, which led to the dramatic fall of Mr Mugabe.
For years, Zvorwadza, chairman of the National Vendors’ Union Zimbabwe, was one of the poster boys for the civil movement that fought running battles against the previous administration over alleged excesses and negligible democratic tendencies.
Known for his rather eccentric protest methods, Zvorwadza became a darling of those in the opposition, generating politically convenient headlines across local and international media.
He rose to prominence during his one-man protest against former Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko’s prolonged stay at a local five-star hotel that extend for close to two years.
For that protest, he was arrested and arraigned before the courts after allegedly threatening to burn down the five- star hotel.
At one point, outlandishly, he gave Mr Mugabe a two-week ultimatum to clear his name over harassment of vendors after a joint police and council operation to remove vendors from Harare’s streets.
These unconventional and over-the-top manoeuvres made him a darling within the protest movement.
Today, however, Zvorwadza is a changed man.
Still abrasive as ever, he has thrown his weight behind the new political dispenstion; and rather than continue with the antagonistic relations with authorities, he is now pledging to work with the new administration.
Predictably, this has not endeared him to his former comrades in the opposition; the resentment being made all the more fiery by the looming elections.
For his troubles he has been christened a traitor and accused of selling his soul for 30 pieces of silver.
Never the one to back down from a fight, he says he will not be silenced for choosing a path that is divergent from the one he was on just seven months ago.
“I am not a victim of fear; I speak my mind, I fight for justice in society, I represent the poor and those that cannot speak,” he declared last week.
“The events of November 2017 made me assume an additional burden of being a development practitioner with a view of empowering informal economy workers whose majority did not benefit from the land reform after being misled by the opposition leadership.
“I am also a victim of that ill-guidance; I am chief’s son – Chief Chiweshe – but I do not have even a square metreof land in my home area.
“What I mean is that in the past we have heard instances where our opposition political leadership discouraged us from joining the land reform programme under the pretext that it was only for Zanu-PF party supporters.
“But where are we today? We have no land and we are now victims.
“We have learnt a lesson and we have learnt it the hard way.
“Now we need to learn from those mistakes and learn the hard lessons.”
Battle-weary, Zvorwadza now declares, “we cannot all be specialists in fighting”.
He has decided a change of tact is overdue.
Today, he preaches the gospel of engagement and collaboration in place of confrontation.
A veteran of dozens of court indictments, the battle-hardened activist declares that he has now found a new home in the political middle-ground.
“We cannot all be specialists in fighting and neither can we all be politicians.
“Our country is highly polarised and divided and that is not healthy for development.
“I have personally chosen to occupy the middle ground, that’s dominated by open thinking, and not influenced by political formations and groupings.
“When Government is not playing ball, it is our duty to remind them to play ball, it is common sense.
“If Government is playing ball we should unite behind it.”
While holding sitting governments to account is an essential duty of citizens in any democratic state, this does not absolve the opposition from criticism, Zvorwadza argues.
It is this criticism of the opposition that has landed him on the wrong side of his former colleagues.
Since his apparent transformation, he has become a veritable punch bag for the frustrated opposition.
“If the opposition is not being accountable and fair to the membership and citizenry similarly, it is our role and duty to remind them to do the right thing,” he declares.
“When we say do the right thing, people should know that doing the right thing is providing justice to the electorate.
“And when we see that there is a gap within the opposition that speaks of injustice that does not show the roadmap of democracy, we stand up and speak against it.
“And some people feel that we shouldn’t speak against the opposition and that is a very wrong notion that we do not subscribe to.
“Gone are those days when civic organisations were either defined as left or right.
“I now choose to focus and expend my energy on the positives and nation building, which is non-partisan.
“The Government of the day needs to be supported in terms of ideas and sustainable policy formulation at all material times.”
But it is this line of providing support for Government that has not endeared him to his former comrades.
Allegations abound, largely from the opposition side, that the former fierce Government critic has been bought off.
Put to him that he has allegedly been bribed to tone down his anti-establishment rhetoric, he laughs off the allegations in a somewhat poetic rebuttal.
“If being bribed is blind loyalty, dishonesty and objectivity destitution, in that instance I will choose to be bribed.
“Honestly, if it is about gold and silver and taking bribes for expressing opinions, the opposition would be broke no doubt, my history and contributions to fairness and justice are well documented and they speak for themselves.
“When you are dealing with the people, for me honesty and truth becomes a calling.
“I am too expensive to bribe, my conscience is my master.
“I want to say what I want, when I want and how much gold, silver and diamonds can buy that?
“Those accusing me are in a section of myopic individuals that is opposition aligned and they cannot raise their voices even if the opposition is abusing the electorate.
“For me it is about country; it is about nationalism.”
With elections around the corner, it appears Zvorwadza has settled on his preferred candidate.
Asked which way he sees the election swinging, he says: “I can tell you without doubt that I know the candidate that will win, and the winner is someone who: Is a composed candidate; listens to the citizens including vendors like myself; democratic and open to ideas; relates well with the regional and the international community; is honest and does not  lie to his supporters and the electorate; does not give electorate unrealistic promises; is concerned about the welfare of even the lowest and poorest person in the society; and pronounces and practices peace.”