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The poverty of Zim politics, emergence of citizen activism

By Paul Kaseke

With the next elections slated for 2018 and the worsening economic situation in Zimbabwe, I have come to realise that there is a glaring poverty in our politics. This is the kind of poverty the ruling party thrives on and explains why we have more political parties than the zeros we had in our currency during the hyper-inflation period.

Evan Mawarire
Leading the way in citizen activism: Evan Mawarire

The ruling party’s failures should have been enough to bolster a strong opposition, but that is not the case. The opposition in Zimbabwe is more divided than before and each passing week presents the formation of a new political party, each with promises of a better tomorrow for Zimbabweans.

The voting statistics in Zimbabwe reveal that there is a consistent low voter turnout for elections. In 2013, for instance, 59% of registered voters voted whereas our neighbours across the Limpopo had a voter turnout of 73,4% in their 2014 elections.

In 2008, the Zimbabwean voter turnout was 42% and in 2009, the South African turnout was 77%. Why are so many Zimbabweans disinterested in voting?

Well, two reasons become pretty obvious — they either have no faith in the electoral system or, more possibly, they have no faith in any of the political parties contesting. This is where the poverty of our politics lies.

I find myself asking if any of our political parties (including the ruling party) actually care about the ordinary man or woman on the street. I wonder if the fact that Parirenyatwa Hospital is a death trap bothers any of the parties out there.

I wonder if the water issue in Harare generally gets the attention of parties because I have clearly missed it from some policy plans. I wonder if the issues around kombi usage ever makes the concern list of our parties. I wonder if anyone cares about the vendors, who cannot afford to go home after a day of work and end up sleeping on the streets during this blistering winter cold.

I wonder if our parties worry themselves over schools that have no formal structures and gather under trees 36 years after independence. You see, it’s very easy to start a party and blame the ruling party for everything that has gone wrong, but what happens after that? Do parties possess the policies, the integrity and sincerity to change the Zimbabwean story?

The biggest sign of this poverty in our politics is that ego goes before the citizen. At such a time when we need a selfless and united opposition voice, most are still interested in being seen as the “face behind a new Zimbabwe” or being the sole hero or heroine to change Zimbabwe. At some point during the liberation struggle, it became clear that the common objective was to free Zimbabwe and remove the Smith regime from power and this brought the Zanu and Zapu forces together, where they had previously fought separately.

The united front is no doubt the reason we enjoy independence today. We have over 20 political parties opposed to the ruling party and each of them believe that they will unseat the government come 2018 as stand-alone parties. We are all allowed to dream, but we must, at some point, realise that to remove a party that has been in power for 36 years requires a bit more than dreams. It requires a collective effort, strategy, tact and depth.

The poverty of our politics is that it is plagued with a serious case of “I, I, I and I”. Until such a time as the vocabulary of our opposition leaders changes and they realise that the struggle before them is greater than self or the party, we will continue to have a divided opposition and in turn continue to be governed by the ruling party.

Who then really cares for the Zimbabwean citizen?

It is this poverty of politics that leads me to make a prediction. My prediction is very simple: Just like the Civil Rights Movement in America was not initiated by politicians but ordinary citizens, change in the Zimbabwean context will have to come from ordinary citizens who are tired of being used by big political parties when it’s election time only to be dumped after such elections.

I have come to realise that most of the existing politicians are not in tune with what the ordinary citizen wants. When I think back to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, I see how aptly the work captures the Zimbabwean story. I also see how given the prevailing attitude of parties in Zimbabwe, opposition parties could well become the next Napoleon — a liberator turned villain.

What Zimbabweans need at this point is leadership and not just any leadership, but credible leadership. It is no excuse to say that one is not in office as yet, and as such cannot provide leadership. A leader is a leader even without office. In fact, the greatest leaders do not need an election to act, nor do they need to occupy offices to effect change.

Everyone seems concerned with the 2018 elections, which are two years away. But what happens between June 2016 and 2018? The reality is that some people may not make it to 2018 because of hunger, politically-motivated violence, preventable diseases and poor living conditions. This is what is on the ground and yet most parties are using the plight of suffering Zimbabweans as triggers to campaign.

When the #ThisFlag movement started, Pastor Evan Mawarire was joined by many citizens in and out of Zimbabwe, but the politicians were dead quiet, which leaves one wondering whose side these parties are on. The movement speaks to the very things at the heart of every Zimbabwean and yet parties are focusing on showing off who commands a greater following and whose candidate is going to win those elections. The very birth of the movement points to a failed leadership in the country, but, more so, a poverty of politics.

Because we have been abused for so long, we will not be satisfied by anything less than people-driven and focused leadership; and if the politicians can’t offer it, then this will only create a surge in citizen-driven initiatives and movements.

Maybe we should all refuse to become political tools in the hands of politicians and start asking them hard questions before we give them our votes.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves if these politicians really represent us and if they walk their talk.

Maybe we are to blame for being too passive with issues of governance in our country.

Maybe the real heroes and heroines of this phase we find ourselves in will actually be the ordinary citizens that take back control of their country and decide to hold our leaders accountable.

Maybe it’s time we put an end to this poverty of politics.

Maybe we should stop relying on political parties because they have consistently failed us when we need them the most. Maybe we should build the Zimbabwe we want, one citizen at a time.

The winds of change are already blowing and the wheels of the bus of transformation know no brakes and will continue to turn as we have already seen them do. Those that abduct will find it difficult to abduct the growing number of masses who are simply fed up of being used, bruised, confused, abused, misused and refused. Our collective story as a people is changing, but it requires all of us to play our part regardless of how difficult or uncomfortable it seems. After all, change only begins when we step outside our comfort zones.

 Paul Kaseke is a legal adviser, commentator, analyst and sessional law lecturer with the Wits Law School. He writes in his personal capacity. You can give him feedback via email: paul@paulkasekesnr.com or follow him on twitter @paulkasekesnr