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Mthwakazi on representative and direct democracy

Secrecy ought not be the foundation of our standard political system; a culture of secrecy is a weapon for conspiracy and saves as an invaluable shield for politicians and the elite from public scrutiny; secrecy stands in direct conflict with our democratic aspirations that demand openness.

We respect and acknowledge the need for data protection but that should not mean unreasonable and unjustified total blockage of information flow from the state and the privileged political elite to the public. The only way of stopping such operations as Gukurahundi is denying secrecy to political thuggery. There needs to be a balance between providing reasonable and justifiable privacy to individuals and protecting legal state operations from undue attack by our enemies.

Withholding information from the public is not the best way of advertising the Mthwakazi empowerment agenda; Mthwakazi organisations need to be honest; optimise the available communication tools to explain themselves to the public they hope to lead into the future. Transparency will not damage a good cause but protect it from abuse by selfish leadership.

Evidence suggests that preaching Mthwakazi utopia with scant or no details is no longer a sustainable or even sufficient political narrative that attracts public support. We require an educated electorate, and that means political organisations and individuals have a responsibility to arm the electorate with high quality information for them to understand our politics and in turn make choices based on knowledge, not just emotional attachment.

Let us create an environment in which excellency is expected of everyone, and everyone is comfortable with high expectations of excellency laid upon their shoulders. Individuals are expected to read, equip themselves for democratic challenges; we need a competent electorate, and being adequately informed is a democratic duty, just as it is a democratic right to cast your vote. We must be able to make informed decisions or else our democratic dream is dead.

If we want to equip the public to free themselves, they must be given the opportunity to understand what is expected of them. Defining ‘democracy’ will be a good start; in its simplistic terms, democracy is a political system whereby power is ‘for the people and by the people’. This means people have a duty to participate in the governing of their country at various levels and in various ways.

There are two basic classes of democracy, indirect (also known as representative democracy) and direct democracy. In practice, countries will combine the two systems in varying degrees. It is not the aim of this article to critically appraise these two forms of democracy but to highlight some major aspects of them for electorate basic education.

Indirect democracy, which best describes Zimbabwe’s current political system, is when people elect government officials to make decisions on their behalf. For example, in a general election in Zimbabwe, people vote for their member of parliament (MP) to represent them in parliament. The agreements and laws drawn by parliament are taken to be representative of public interests.

What is now evident is that the Mthwakazi public is disillusioned with Zimbabwe’s form of representative democracy. Zimbabwe’s democracy allows the few to appropriate power from the public and the public has little to no power of rejecting bad policies during an individual’s term of office; damaging decisions can only be turned by politicians when they become bad for them; if not the public has to endure till the next scheduled election.

No wonder the Mthwakazi people have very little enthusiasm in registering to vote; interest in politics is on a steep cliff because elected leaders have not delivered. Without safeguards to protect the electorate against abuse and misuse of power, the government has often been willing to subvert public interest to pursue populist and/ or elitist policies. The recent purchase of expensive cars for chiefs without consulting the public bears testimony to State arrogance. Politicians are out of touch with realities on the ground.

Direct democracy is a system whereby all adult citizens have the right to participate in the governing of their country. For example, in a referendum, the whole population gets a vote and then their decision is directly implemented.

Switzerland is the best example of a state with an effective direct democracy system. While the Swiss elect representatives as in a typical representative democracy, the Swiss system entitles citizens to put almost every law decided by their representatives to a general vote – should they want to.

For this to happen, members of the public need to gather 50,000 signatures (approximately one per cent of the electorate) within 100 days of the publication of a new law. It is significant to note that in only 4% of cases, such referendum is triggered; this is arguably down to the high level of legitimacy enjoyed by the parliamentary process. Elected lawmakers are under no illusion of the amount of public scrutiny their work is under, and so maintain high standard of practice.

A comprehensive Swiss system of checks and balances gives citizens the right to propose almost any constitutional amendment they wish, provided the amendment does not violate international law or human rights. To put forward such an initiative, citizens need to gather a minimum of 100,000 signatures within 18 months.

In a true direct democracy, the basic aspects of the system are controlled by the citizens of the country, who have the last word on all constitutional changes – even those proposed by the government and parliament – as well as most international treaties.

A political narrative that promotes blanket secrecy on matters of policy formulation and state operational issues cannot sustain the growth of a pro-Mthwakazi agenda, and it leaves organisations vulnerable to systemic dictatorship. We can only gain genuine political traction through an open system that allows for public scrutiny at every level.


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