The reservations of some pro-Mthwakazi parties over the benefits of participating in elections can best be understood from the fact Zimbabwe has been conducting elections since 1980 yet it is still not democratic. During the same period, Matabeles have been participating in elections but they are no less oppressed today than they were during the colonial regime.
Zimbabwe saves as an excellent example of the fact that elections are only as effective as the political systems within which they are conducted, they are not a barometer for democracy. Free elections of despots do not abolish despotism or free the oppressed.
We argue from our Zimbabwean experience that elections are as useful as the user; in Zimbabwe ethnic and tribal identity and not policy determines who wins elections. Elections have been nothing less than an opportunity for the ethnic Shona majority population to accept or even demand on everybody’s behalf (without consent, of course!) the masses’ own enslavement.
While I do understand the moral argument for non-participation in Zimbabwean elections by Mthwakazi communities, I do not quite comprehend the effective short and long-term benefits of that action, after all elections affect everyone including those who do not show up.
Redirecting election focus is a viable option that deserves a chance. For years we have focused on removing ZANU PF from power, it is now clear that is not a solution as the mere removal of ZANU PF from power will not translate to systemic changes. The major problem is our lack of political influence locally. To address that we need to redirect campaigns to local issues and away from national politics.
Those political groups who participate in elections have made it clear they do not envisage removing the Mashonaland backed parties from government but their target is promoting public political participation in local matters and the denial of political influence in Mthwakazi to Zimbabwean major parties.
To argue that it is impossible to take control of our political space via elections when all you mean is that you cannot be bothered to try is being disingenuous. Difficult it is, impossible it is not. To attempt to justify an ideological position against the participation in elections on the apparent failure by ZAPU to influence politics in Matabeleland despite controlling the whole territory in the early 1980s is a disingenuous argument, if not opportunism.
Things need to be put into their rightful context, ZAPU had more support in Matabeleland but it was a Zimbabwean not a Matabeleland party; its goals were not identical to the goals of the current pro-Mthwakazi groups; the politics of the time was not conducive to democracy as ZANU PF pushed for a one-party state and the international community was on its side to an extent that state perpetuated human rights abuses in Matabeleland were ignored.
Furthermore, we need to appreciate the efforts of members of parliament like the late Sidney Malunga and Welshman Mabhena who stood resolutely for their constituencies under very difficult conditions. It can be argued that having pro-Mthwakazi MPs of Malunga and Mabhena’s calibre will help give us that vital international voice in a vastly changed political world that is no longer sympathetic to ZANU PF.
The argument made by those who object to participation in elections needs to be accompanied by a credible alternative strategy. Organisations need to present a publicly sellable ideology and not hide behind the need for secrecy. If your strategy is inaccessible how do people make informed decisions about you?
We cannot afford the risk of surrendering authority to politicians. Evidence from our Zimbabwean political circumstances illustrates that when influential individuals or groups are allowed the comfort to trivialise issues and say anything without any fact-checking, it increases the improbability for society to think intelligently about challenging issues.
We appreciate that violent resistance proponents cannot discuss their plans in public, but surely their political strategy goes beyond military trenches and must be comprehensively discussed. Young men and women cannot be expected to enrol for military training and commit to fighting without in-depth political briefing.
Decisions with a bearing on people’s lives cannot be left in the hands of secretive and unaccountable organisations. We need to understand their risk assessment methods and outcomes and how they intend to minimise the human, economic and physical loss that we know from evidence in South Sudan, Yemen, Libya, etc. will be inflicted.
Times have changed, we have the benefit of hindsight, while armed groups can effectively depose governments, they tend not to have the appetite to change beyond making cosmetic personnel alterations, and leaving systems intact. Masses’ expectation is a total commitment to revamp systems and institutions to foster an environment of freedom, liberty, inclusivity, safety and security.
With that in mind, we demand that whosoever wants to represent us must earn our mandate first. All groups must bring forth their proposals for public scrutiny before they do anything in our name. People came before political organisations, politicians must serve people, not the other way around.
In the absence of an accessible alternative strategy, it makes it difficult to objectively critic or understand the motive of those opposed to participating in elections. Nothing is off the table, an armed revolution may be an option among many, but not the only one as some will have us believe.