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Zanu PF and the curse of majoritarianism

By Conway Tutani

“Imagine if all of life were determined by majority rule. You would have sadza and beans each and every day simply because the majority says so. And since women are a majority of the population, they would all be married to one man,” if I may paraphrase American journalist and political satirist PJ O’Rourke.

Minister of State for Harare Metropolitan Province Miriam Chikukwa
Minister of State for Harare Metropolitan Province Miriam Chikukwa

Last Friday, newly-appointed Minister of State for Harare Metropolitan Province Miriam Chikukwa declared that the City of Harare should be run in line with the Zanu PF election manifesto and nothing else since it is ruling as the majority party.

“We only have one manifesto, one commander (President Robert Mugabe) and his manifesto is what we are going to use. Tell those MDC-T councillors that we have to work together and implement the manifesto of President Mugabe.”

It seems she wants to serve Harare the same dish day in day out solely on the basis that Zanu PF won the harmonised elections and people have no choice, but to take everything they throw at them.

Where will it stop? Does this mean, for instance, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Dynamos Football Club, churches, school development associations, women’s clubs, burial societies, crèches, Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV and Aids, etc have to submit to the manifesto? You can’t turn them into commissariats – that’s purely party business.

Indeed, the reality is that Mugabe is in power at the national level and his way goes, but not totally, because the other reality is that the MDC-T runs major cities and towns like Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare, Masvingo and Chitungwiza based on its local election victories in these urban areas.

So, you cannot make them completely submit to Zanu PF. They have authority in their own right over those cities. After all, these municipalities are also called local government authorities as opposed to central government, the niche Zanu PF occupies at the moment. This is the constitutional state of affairs. There are different layers or levels of power and authority as defined in the Constitution.

It must be pointed out that democracy operates at various levels; it does not come from one source. It is not customised by one individual like, for instance, the Great Leader and Dear Leader of North Korea who found it fit to call the country “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” despite their undemocratic dynastic rule.

Equally, the opposition must accord central government its due space as the higher authority. They mustn’t behave as if Harare is some enclave or some liberated zone. But we don’t want a situation where militias like Chipangano in Harare and al-Shabab in Kwekwe usurp the role of duly elected councils under the guise of implementing the Zanu PF manifesto.

They have been situations — far too many – where councils have been stopped from taking action against thieving senior municipal officials simply because those officials are politically connected. Former Chitungwiza town clerk Godfrey Tanyanyiwa, now languishing in jail, was said to be a beneficiary of such political protection, allowing him to steal from council coffers for years and years with impunity. He had created his own fiefdom.

A similar situation developed at State-owned road transport utility Zupco where the workers’ committee, by virtue of being made up of Zanu PF members, had virtually usurped the role of management, resulting in the company tottering on the verge of collapse in the 1990s.

Zupco has not regained its former dominant status. If one looks closely at what has been happening, it has had the least to do with the manifesto of the ruling party, but governance issues.

Indeed, Zanu PF is in charge at the central government level, but they ought to have a sense of proportion that this is not a world of absolutes; that rulers do not have untrammelled power; that constitutionalism is explicitly and implicitly about limiting and diffusing power in the State.

This starts at central government level with the separation of powers between the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary (note: the Judiciary is at par in the scheme of things even though it is not elected like the other two branches of government) cascading to local government.

With such an approach, central government and local authorities will see eye to eye most of the time and work together without constant reminders about this or that manifesto. There has to be co-habitation.

One real wishes Zimbabwe were like Germany where re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel, to quote Reuters news agency this week, “romped to victory in Sunday’s election with 42% of the vote”. Yes, 42%, not an absolute majority, but that’s enough for her to form a coalition government.

That’s how least polarised and most accommodative the country’s political system is. Germans, after suffering a horrendous loss in the Second World War because of Adolf Hitler’s excessive use of power when — after democratically winning elections — he trampled all over other institutions, now know the wisdom of using power with restraint. This has resulted in the country becoming one of the most stable and prosperous nations in the world.

Back to Zimbabwe, with sincerity and willingness on both sides, Zanu PF — indeed more so Zanu PF — and the MDC-T can arrive at a framework to manage their differences. They have to balance political egos with the national interest. There is need to act with calm and reason — not go berserk with power. So, it is not all about doing whatever you want simply because you are in the majority.

You need pluralism — a system in which two or more sources of authority co-exist; not Hitler’s curse on Germany of majoritarianism – a system where the majority bullies and torments the rest into total submission.

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