By Tafadzwa Dainton Munjoma (Independent Researcher – Pretoria, South Africa)
Zimbabwe is on the verge of another hotly contested election, where the mood is heating up and the 93-year-old-incumbent was on medical holiday, the one of many of his frequent medical vacations. This election is unique from previous contests, as the political arena has widened.
The leadership options have swelled and the picture has changed. An estimated 50 political parties are in the race to remove a tired and ill man. What is most unique about this election is the citizen movement. Could this be the vehicle that will lead to the long-awaited change?
The nation still has potential to reclaim its status as the bread-basket of Southern Africa and to be a continental powerhouse. The gift lies in rich natural and mineral wealth, a skill set that is comparable to non on the continent and a conducive climate for agro-advancement. This is an ideal set of ingredients for a successful nation.
In a nation with an estimated 95% unemployment, a reducing life expectancy and standard of living, poverty levels at 72%, poor or absent service delivery and a struggling health care system, the citizenry has become activated to the situations they find themselves in.
The focus has shifted from self-pity to realization that the problems are political and not self- induced. Frustration levels have reached great levels, with mental illness standing at 10% of the population. This could be attributed to two decades of economic free-fall and how it has had a devastating mental, emotional and physical toll on the generality of Zimbabweans.
In 1980, what Zimbabwe experienced was the transfer of power from one oppressor to the next, it was a shift of opportunities from one minority group to another (ZANU-PF elites). The nation’s resources have been systematically exploited to fund the governments repressive governance and flamboyant lifestyles of the politically connected.
This has been a picture the majority of Zimbabweans are aware of and learnt to be silent about. The citizens have in the past put faith in political parties to restore sanity of governance in the nation, but to limited avail. The government’s repressive rule has silenced dissenting voices ruthlessly, restricted the freedoms of the citizens to take action and manipulated institutions to demand respect.
The political landscape has been monopolized by ZANU-PF and other contestants have not been given an equal platform to manoeuvre and campaign. The playground has not been even, with the only voice being ZANU-PF and fear being instilled in the electorate.
However, citizen movements have found a voice among a shrinking corridor of freedoms. They are a critical mass in countering the monopolized campaign and have been instrumental in raising attention to the levels of corruption and misrule.
They may not be on the ballot but they have managed to open up the political arena and neutralize ZANU-PF’s enforced dominance. Could 2018 be the tipping point for Zimbabwe?
The conditions for change seem difficult in Zimbabwe, with a repressive government, a fragmented opposition and a frail democracy. Coalitions have been a hot debate in challenging the Robert Mugabe regime. However, politics is a game of numbers, it has to be understood that you can unite and still fail to reach the required numbers. What is required is to reduce the dominance of ZANU-PF, which only the citizen movements have managed to do and they have created panic within the regime.
Whilst many have lost faith in the political process it has to be understood that the collusion of citizen movement action and the political process may set Zimbabwe on the dawn of a new era. The participation of citizen movements in politics is essential to build and sustain the socio-political infrastructure that will enable positive change.
Citizen movements should maintain sustained action without them being consumed into political parties. Whilst political parties should strengthen their frameworks through clear articulation of policy position and presentation of capable leadership. The coordinated convergence of these actors and actions could yield a new day in Zimbabwe.