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Intolerance in Zimbabwe the greatest threat to national peace and stability

As Zimbabwe heads for crucial harmonized elections – expected some time mid this year – there has been an unsurprising increase in calls for unity amongst the country’s citizenry.

This is in response to the highly toxic nature of our political environment – which, for the past two decades, has been characterized by polarization and hatred, with elections largely being tainted by violent incidents.

Indeed, these calls are noble – since there is really no justification for the people of one nation allowing themselves to be divided and hateful towards one another – merely on account of different political party affiliations.

Surely, why should Zimbabweans fight if their political leaders’ desires to serve the nation are sincere and unquestionable?

For instance, if I want to help an elderly lady, who is burdened by a heavy load – and, there so happens to be someone else also intent on assisting the same granny – what reason is there for us to then end up exchanging ugly words, eventually going for blows, simply because we both desire to help?

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It just does not make sense.

If those in politics are genuine in their proclamations that their intentions for public office are purely out of a desire to improve the citizenry’s standards of livelihood – then, there is no justification for any divisions and fights between them.

They need to campaign freely and openly – so as to sell their programs and policies to the nation, without any hindrance and impediments – so that the electorate can make informed choices in the ballot box.

Nonetheless, there have been those in the habit of urging Zimbabweans to desist from sowing seeds of division – whose motives are driven by sinister objectives, which have absolutely nothing to do with the maintenance of unity, peace and order.

These entities, who are manly in the ruling elite – have a totally different interpretation of ‘divisive acts and divisiveness’ – whose goal is not really to foster national unity, but to starve off any close scrutiny of their deeds, and being held to account by the citizenry.

That is why those in power in Zimbabwe are now targeting the media and civil society organizations – in an effort to intimidate them into silence, and cower them into subservience – so that they cease playing their watchdog role in society, of ensuring that the leadership is answerable to the people.

This is where the line has been willfully crossed between what is a legitimate cause, as far as the need for unity and desisting from divisiveness is concerned, on one hand – and, a leadership that does not want to be questioned by the people, with their shortcomings and failures exposed.

Whilst, there is everything wrong in those that seek to spread hate speech, particularly that which incites violence and hatred amongst Zimbabweans – there is, however, everything deplorable and unacceptable when those in leadership positions seek to hide from public scrutiny, under the veil of preventing divisions and disunity.

It is one thing labeling those opposed to one’s leadership as ‘mhandu’ – and, a journalist or civil society organization that exposes the rampant looting of national resources by those in office, or shenanigans by the electoral commission (ZEC) in preventing the conducting of free, fair and credible elections.

Referring to fellow compatriots, who are simply interested in winning elections, or those demanding accountability from the government as ‘mhandu’ or enemies – is undeniable hate speech and divisive.

Nonetheless, bringing to light questionable dealings by the political elite and their cronies, or wanting answers from ZEC, or speaking against the gross violation of citizens’ rights – can never, under any circumstances, be construed as ‘divisive’.

If anything, those in public office who find offense in being held accountable, are the real problem in this country.

They are the ones fomenting divisions and polarization – as they seek to ramp up public emotions by branding those merely doing their jobs, particularly in the media and civil society, as ‘enemies’.

Let me hasten to elaborate that this is not something witnessed only in the ruling party, but a very common feature of the opposition as well – in which the nation has watched, in utter shock, as any who dare question or challenge their leadership have been subjected to the most shameful vitriolic attacks, if not brazen violent brutalization.

In other words, intolerance in the Zimbabwe political landscape has been the greatest threat to national peace and stability – than any perceived or imagined so-called ‘anti Zimbabwe’ or ‘unpatriotic’ forces within the media or civil society.

Those who are spending sleepless nights formulating and promulgating laws that restrict or even clampdown on the legitimate work of the media and civil society are the real enemies of the nation – who want to cause hated, division and disunity where they was originally none.

Honestly speaking, what purpose does legislation as the PVO (Private Voluntary Organizations) Bill, or the proposed Media Practitioners Bill and the ZMC Act Amendment Bill, as well as the Cyber Security and Protection of Privacy Act serve in preserving national unity, and safeguarding our national sovereignty?

In what way is shutting up, or severely restricting, those who are mandated to speak out whenever those in authority have erred, supposed to help the nation and our national interests?

When our national resources are being plundered on a daily basis, with citizens being pushed into destitution – what peace and unity is to be preserved, or national interests served, when these disgusting and disgraceful criminal acts are swept under the carpet?

What peace and unity will we be promoting when poor villagers are forced off their ancestral lands, without any meaningful compensation or benefit, by Chinese companies who are connected to powerful people in Zimbabwe – and, these things are kept quiet, as we pretend that they are not taking place?

What benefit is there to the country when we choose to ‘see no evil, hear no evil, or speak no evil’ in the midst of billions of dollars vanishing into thin air – or rather, into the pockets and bank accounts of the politically aligned – with millions of Zimbabweans wallowing in abject poverty?

Let us remember that peace is not necessarily the absence of violence – neither is unity the mere absence of questioning those who would have done wrong.

A nation can never be founded on a people who are compelled to stay silent when they perceive things being done wrong by their leaders.

In fact, holding our leaders accountable is exactly what is expected of a responsible citizenry.

Those who blindly support, and even shield a leadership that is taking the country in a dangerous direction are the real enemies of the state and unpatriotic – who are actually propagating division and disunity amongst the nation through their intolerance.

It is only when we have a leadership that strives to benefit from ill-gotten wealth, whilst riding roughshod on an ignorant people – who are never held accountable for their despicable and depraved actions – will actual division and disunity prevail in Zimbabwe.

Real peace and unity is when those in office are made to respect the rights and dignity of the people they are supposed to lead.

Anything less is purely a façade – which will inevitably crumble, and lead to real divisions and conflict in future.

● Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate, writer, researcher, and social commentator. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email: [email protected]