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Is having many small political parties helping the Mthwakazi cause?

Political capacity is not a one and done deal, it is a variable process not pegged in one position. It is therefore, not a surprise that Matabeleland’s political landscape is presently showing greater signs of shifting, and if we are to endure, we must be proactive; our political interventions must reflect our understanding of the changes taking place as closely as is humanely possible.

The days of PF ZAPU being the major political representative of Mthwakazi are long gone, that status quo effectively collapsed in 1987, and the idea of the waning influence of ZANU PF and the MDC-T within the Mthwakazi space are not a dream anymore but a reality that we must believe in and ensure we work even harder to diminish any perceived authority of these parties within Mthwakazi. Let us clearly talk the talk and walk the path leading away from these institutions that do not serve our interests.

The internet and the related social media have opened new routes and their influence has significantly altered the way our political space operates; it has lowered the barriers to forming new groups, and people are taking full advantage of that. We are seeing our people successfully avoid unnecessary traditional political norms and values that have facilitated the blind protection of formal traditional organisations without question, to boldly discussing subjects which a decade ago were no go zones.

Undoubtedly, this is viewed by some as cause for celebration, and often rightly so. A longer menu of political organisations means more choice and that our citizens can vote for parties that more closely match their beliefs. This can only be good news, and may arguably increase political engagement. Evidence suggests that countries with proportional-representation systems, and which tend to have more political parties, have higher voter turnout than first-past-the-post countries that tend to have fewer political parties.

Let us also be honest to point the loopholes of multiplicity of political organisations within our political space; the excessive fragmentation of political parties within Mthwakazi does present drawbacks. As parties subdivide, the Mthwakazi political space becomes harder to control. Arguably, a coalition of small parties is not obviously more representative than one big-tent party. Big parties are also coalitions of interests and ideologies, but they are usually more disciplined than looser groups, and so more likely to get things done.

The existence of too many parties holding pro-Mthwakazi views is turning out to be rather politically disruptive. We are spending more time arguing amongst ourselves than making sense and progress. It is taking longer, if not impossible, to make decisions thereby distracting politicians from carrying out their parliamentary mandate. Stand-offs risk leaving our political space without viable political institutions or operations for longer periods as political parties jostle for control. The risk we run into is that citizens may have more choices from the pro-Mthwakazi agenda when they vote, but then spend periods under the rule of undesirable Zimbabwe leaning parties—not at all a clear gain in democracy.

The several pro-Mthwakazi agenda political parties render our political space too competitive and incoherent by seizing control of the policy areas they care about while neglecting some equally important areas, e.g. the revival of the Ndebele monarchy has been the major political intervention of a few groups in the last few years. Even more worrying, we have far-right parties that major in targeting ethnic Shona people for verbal abuse.

There is also an argument that splintering of organisations can also foster graft. Some politicians arguably form new parties to access funding from the unsuspecting private international institutions, and then make some ridiculous demands to join coalitions in Mthwakazi. Far from increasing real choice, multiplying parties can allow politicians to hide the fact that what matters is patronage. At times it is very difficult to tell the difference between some organisations as that may only be as small as one supporting participation in all elections in Zimbabwe while the other rejects participation in some and another rejects any participation in Zimbabwean conducted elections.

Opening our political space to all the talent available is important for our progress. We will ensure ability and not tribe or race or social class or gender dictates what role people play in the region. Our objective is not only to constrict the space available for Zimbabwe orientated organisations but to ensure all decisions about us come from us.


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