By Hopewell Chin’ono
I don’t know to what extent this “Shona speaking” Council issue is riling up people in Bulawayo. An MDC-A Alliance Councillor took an oath in Shona and for that, he was verbally abused.
I was at a wedding reception last night where a couple of us got talking about this Shona speaking “incident” in Bulawayo.
One of the chaps from last night’s discussion ran as an independent candidate and lost. He described to me what went on when they were campaigning.
People wouldn’t listen to any electoral candidate who was not from their own political party.
Suddenly after the election results were in, they noticed that there are “too many Shonas” in the Bulawayo City Council. An MDCA leader told me that their statistics show that almost 50 percent of the voters have a Shona background.
The reaction by Ndebele speaking folk to the Shona speaking Councillor is part of the human condition that we see replicated in many parts of the African continent depending on the political literacy and maturity of the voter.
The colonialists used ethnicity as a tool to divide us and it worked devastatingly well for them.
Unfortunately for the black man and woman in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe saw value in that ethic negativity, it gave him a vice-grip on domestic and local politics.
That is why he never removed an assortment of colonial laws which were used to subjugate the black communities by the successive colonial governments.
Mugabe and his administration sought to use these repressive laws and colonial ethnic profiling against his fellow black men and women opposed to his rule.
That is also why you have Mashonaland, Matabeleland and Manicaland. These were colonial constructs that should have been done away with!
It also explains why during the war of liberation cadres were not allowed to ask another freedom fighter where he came from. The dangers of ethnic profiling become accentuated when people hold on to fluid identities and use them as political tools against other citizens!
Amazingly, black Africans are more welcoming to whites than a Blackman from 300kilometers away.
They are more likely to welcome a white British son in law than a black one from another province in Zimbabwe.
That is the retrogressive power of domestic ethnic profiling.
More importantly, the Bulawayo “incident” shows the dangers of not voting for competences, values and individual promises.
Our people vote for parties, that is why there is this sudden realization of who they voted for at an individual level the morning after they voted.
They voted for the Alliance and didn’t care to interrogate the individuals put forward by the Alliance and what they stood for.
I once mentioned this and the Alliance mob came after me.
In Glen Norah where I grew up, they voted for a drunk, a Kombi tout who has no fixed abode.
He won because he was an Alliance candidate who beat a local, an accountant who was born there who ran as an independent.
The Kombi tout was selected to represent the Alliance because he is an enforcer for the local leadership. He uses thuggish tactics to pushback on anyone who challenges the local leadership.
Suddenly too, the voters are regretting their decision after the punch drunk moment, they can only reverse this decision in 2023 and have to live with the political reality they made for themselves and service delivery consequences that come with it.
Many here said that there was nothing wrong with voting for a vagabond. I call that emotional politics.
The outgoing mayor Ben Manyenyeni tried to explain on my Facebook wall why this electoral decision will come back to haunt the Glen Norah residents.
Interestingly, the Glen Norah residents are already realizing the political blunder they made.
I have maintained that the voter can be very politically illiterate that is why they make illiterate choices in the name of democracy and free choice.
They have a propensity to vote against their own group interests in pursuit of party political imperatives which at times are narrow and very parochial coupled with unrestrained emotion!
The “anything but” mentality which has seen good people willing to work and reverse years of rot being shunted aside is part of the voter accessory habits which have stunted progressive thinking on all our political parties.
There are good people like Fortune Chasi who are in ZANUPF and have stood their ground against Grace Mugabe in pursuit of what is good for their constituents.
Why would you vote against such a candidate if he has a track record of delivering?
The voter should not therefore complain when rubbish bins are not being picked up and no municipal progress is being made in their neighborhood if they chose the party jacket over competences.
We saw this with the removal of Jessie Majome and James Maridadi, the most effective MDCT MPs in the last parliament.
The quality of parliamentary engagement might suffer and service delivery might stall.
These are the consequential effects of making emotional political decisions.
This has nothing to do with a candidate being a ZANUPF or MDC Alliance cadre because there were equally qualified independent candidates in the most recent election.
They lost because of their lack of party political affiliation.
The Fadzayi Maheres and folks like Henry Munangatire and Duduzile Moyo Duduzile Moyo Nyirongo of POVO.
The UNDP country director would have more likely given an audience to the Accountant in Glen Norah, Fadzayi Mahere, Herbert Munangatire or Debbie Peters who all lost to party jacket candidates than the Kombi tout, an audience that can lead to boreholes being drilled for my community in Glen Norah.
That is just how the world works and if we don’t understand that, it confirms our political illiteracy and immaturity.
I have worked across the African continent and I can confirm that political literacy has nothing to do with having university degrees.
In Nigeria, an old woman in some backwater village wants to know why they should vote for you over the other candidates on offer. That is political literacy and maturity, it doesn’t only know what one detests, it also knows what one wants out of a candidate!
At times they wouldn’t care less whether you are from their community or not if you can do the job and deliver on your promises.
Some communities get that, that is why Roy Bennet won elections in Chimanimani. It was not because he was an MDC candidate.
Bennet joined the MDC from ZANUPF, he had been blocked from standing as a ZANUPF candidate where he was equally popular with the grassroots.
He was hugely popular within his community so they voted for him as a an MDC candidate, not because of it, but in spite of it.
That is political literacy and maturity by the Chimanimani community.
This time around they voted for another Shona speaking white man not because of his party, but because of what he is doing for them.
He is a ZANUPF candidate MP. Some communities don’t get it but hopefully the negative impact of their electoral decisions will be the beginning of a long walk to political literacy and maturity.
A literacy that would hopefully include knowing the job of a member of a parliament and that of a Councillor and knowing the difference.
Democracy empowers you to make an electoral choice, but don’t complain as you often do when there is no service delivery.
Don’t bash the mayor as you did to Ben Manyenyeni when nothing is done because a mayor can only work with what you give him.
Walter Lippman said that it is altogether unthinkable that a society like ours should remain forever dependent on untrained accidental witnesses.
The better course is to send out a generation of professionals who will, by sheer superiority, drive the incompetents out of business.
Only the voter has the power to do that, power without responsibility is dangerous because it works against one’s own interests. Remember that in 2023!
Happy Sunday folks.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film coming out which is looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind. State of Mind has been nominated for a top award in Kenya.
Hopewell can be contacted at [email protected] or on twitter @daddyhope