Zimbabwe’s continued reliance on secret security agents and armed personnel to achieve internal national security objectives suggests a paranoid state in perpetual conflict with its own people. There is evident lack of interest in building and maintaining strong and sustainable democratic institutions and processes. Zimbabwe’s representative democracy remains limited to elections whose conduct and outcomes are often of limited credibility.
The representative degree of Zimbabwean democracy is contentious while its benefit to Matabeleland is often the centre of political debate. Major socioeconomic projects (e.g. long-term solution to water problems and industrial resuscitation) have not been given the urgency locals think they deserved. Matabeleland residents need to be offered a genuine chance to exercise their power over decisions that impact their lives. Only direct democracy gives Matabeleland and many other minority groups in Zimbabwe a genuine chance for real political influence.
Matabeleland nationalists have ceased on the apparent Zimbabwean State failures and injustices in the region to call for the restoration of an autonomous Matabeleland region. The calls for Matabeleland independence need to be for the right reasons not merely a desire to access levers of power. The driving motivation should, indeed, be the desire to rebuild the socio-political environment of the region such that it allows all citizens equal access to the region’s political space.
It must not be lost to nationalists that with freedom comes responsibility; the responsibility to give as much liberty to others as you demand for yourself. Centralising power to politicians with biased perceptions of certain ethnic groups does not augur well for the rights of some population groups in an independent Matabeleland.
A committed and politically informed civil society is vital for democracy; civilians are particularly essential in checking excesses of power and reviewing performance of the system. Matabeleland nationalists must focus on creating space for civilian-led democratic institutions and processes that will encourage increased participation by civilians in various levels of governance.
Currently the Matabeleland nationalists’ agenda does not only lack publicity but also suffers from a profound lack of direction and foresight. The experience of the Zimbabwean independence journey of 34 years informs us that territorial independence alone does not automatically translate into personal liberties. Matabeleland political parties need to clarify how different from Zimbabwe their envisioned ‘independent’ Matabeleland would be. The often expressed but unhelpful threat to expel ethnic Shona people from the region is neither a socioeconomic nor a political development policy but bigotry.
Historically, Matabeleland is an autonomous region but, a socially exclusive territory it has never been; absence of rights for any one population group in the region is a threat to the freedoms of all. Nationalist organisations must be left in no doubt that all citizens of Matabeleland deserve equal protection by the laws of the land. If we are demanding rights for ourselves, we have to be ready to accord the same rights to others.
The future for Matabeleland – either autonomous or within a unitary Zimbabwe – lies in significant direct democracy. People need to feel in control of the systems and institutions meant to govern their lives. Zimbabwean authorities and Matabeleland nationalists should build strong democratic institutions and processes that would support true devolution of power and allow the general public a more active role in setting the local political agenda and more significantly, in determining the final decisions.