Matabeleland politics and the value of a good debate

The thought-policing Zimbabwean state has turned the Matabeleland political space into a predictable, paranoid and mundane territory. Zimbabwe has quite effectively instilled (at times by ruthless means) mental numbness, passivity and general compliance among the Matabele population by continually limiting the spectrum of acceptable political opinion.

A pervasive sense of fear remains at the heart of Matabeleland’s restricted political participation and the highly compromised quality of political debate in the territory.

Information sharing is essential for Matabeleland’s socio-political liberty which explains Zimbabwe’s unhealthy interest in controlling information flow across the region. However, an even bigger threat to Matabeleland’s liberty is the normalisation of self-censorship among our politicians. This has unfortunately been vital in retaining and expanding Zimbabwe’s local grip. Far from assisting ZANU PF narrow the spectrum of acceptable opinion, Matabeleland needs to expand the spectrum and engage in vigorous political debate without undue self-restraint.

We have to begin by acknowledging that the best decisions are the result of honest debate, not consensus or compromise. Historically, many of Matabeleland’s traditional politicians have pursued Zimbabwean politics as opposed to Matabeleland politics and found themselves protecting some awful reasoning just because they feared being in the minority. Anyone denying (see below) that the fifth Brigade was an ethnic Shona rogue army division specifically created to purge Matabeles for being Matabeles is devoid of reality. Present day politics has to be prepared to challenge lies even though that may, for a while, leave us in the minority.

The long-term base of a better Matabeleland will be an open civilised debate; we must neither be driven by ulterior motives nor by the desire for point scoring nor the mere protection of egos but by the truth. Let us not see persecution whenever we are contradicted; we need to extend our patience and broaden the spectrum of acceptable opinion within our political debate. The subject matter has to be more extensive and more significantly, reduce the victimhood narrative to focus on setting up robust support systems that will empower our people.

An informed Matabeleland is what we all need lest we misconstrue ignorance for perspective. It is not the exceptional use of language but objectivity that should always win the day; political debates are not impressions but arguments and leadership is about solving problems and not simply conducting hypothetical debates. Indeed a distinction has to be made between constructive debate and turning our region into a debating club.

ZANU PF’s perceived exclusive right to dictate the spectrum of acceptable political opinion must be challenged; we need to guard against being complicit in supporting some reckless reasoning. Instead of practicing self-censorship which invariably favours ZANU PF, we have to expand and improve the quality of our internal political debate. Matabeleland has to learn to hold a vigorous debate without necessarily fracturing itself.

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