From citizen movement to political party

As the relevance of protest has grown in Mthwakazi while PF ZAPU’s functional political influence has faded and MDC’s policy credibility and relevance to Mthwakazi has been questioned in recent years, citizen movements have become more important to Mthwakazi’s political landscape.   

It would be useful to differentiate between a citizen movement and a political party. Diani (1992) defines citizen movements as ‘networks of informal interactions between a plurality of individuals, groups, and/or organizations, engaged in a political or cultural conflict, on the basis of a shared collective identity’.

On the other hand, Downs (1957) (cited in Hofmeister and Grabow, 2011) defines a political party as “… a team of men (sic) seeking to control the governing apparatus by gaining office in a duly constituted election” while Sartori (n.d) cited by Hofmeister and Grabow (2011) asserts that a political party is “…any political group identified by an official label that presents at elections, and is capable of placing through election, candidates for public office.”

What we can decipher from the three definitions above is that what distinguishes citizen movements from parties is that they are informal loosely organised grouping of people who may have different ideologies but happen to share a specific interest at the time while parties are formally organised and structured and members would, on the main, hold similar or related philosophical or ideological position.

Contrary to parties, citizen movements only raise issues of interest for the attention of government, they do not seek to take control of the governing apparatus or participate in elections to seek public mandate.

Although different, there is no doubt with proper checks and balance in place, the two entities can and have worked hand-in-hand for the wider political benefit in some countries. We will explore this notion later in the article.

In recent years we have seen an increase of targeted action by Mthwakazi citizens (collection of groups and individuals) against unjust action, in particular the tribally driven state and main political parties’ agenda that has overseen open and unprecedented perpetuation of discriminatory behaviour against Ndebele speaking locals. The effect of these protests has been debatable.

Lest our words be misinterpreted, we do not seek to trivialise the human sacrifices involved in the direct-action tactics, by Mthwakazi citizens, that are instrumental to raising the profile of Mthwakazi issues, we must recognise too that targeting individual companies and academic centres only affects institutions which are relatively peripheral both to the Zimbabwean socio-economic and political order and to the fundamental conditions of Mthwakazi people’s lives. 

Continuing from the point raised in the last paragraph, we recognise that in spite of the bravery of our Mthwakazi men and women who protest against discrimination we have yet to see the socio-political foundations of tribalism in Zimbabwe being destroyed. Written laws of the country portray a progressive picture of equality and equity but the political rulers (ZANU PF and the MDC) remain resolute that in spite of what the interpretation of the letter of the law says, the elaborate socio-political structure of tribal discrimination is preserved.

What is evident is that changing legislation from the peripheries of parliamentary politics is an improbable task in the current Zimbabwean system. There is therefore, to be an understanding that citizen movements alone will take us only this far, but not far enough; we will need to break in to rock the core of Zimbabwean politics.

By now, our citizen movements would be aware that contesting for the right to pass legislation from inside parliament, rather than influencing the process from outside requires different skill sets, knowledge and resources from members/ supporters and leaders.

Something needs to change and that is not to say protests are irrelevant or ineffective, but that citizen movements will need to adapt and reconstitute themselves for their agenda to be sustained. There are two options to consider: (a) citizen movements transforming into competitive political parties, or (b) citizen movements giving a new boost to existing political parties.

As previously stated, the skill sets required to run a movement and those required for a political party are different. Our political parties and movements will need to be creative to ensure mutual benefit is sustained. The political party to continue to benefit from the resourcefulness of the movement that is a lot closer to the ordinary man and woman, and the movement having its agenda pushed into the core main politics through party’s parliamentary representation.

Maintaining a healthy balance of expectations between a party and movement is not easy; conflict is inevitable but the potential and real tensions can be managed or minimised by the party taking a proactive and progressive internal design set up that will achieve and sustain a positive collaboration between the party and the movement. The party’s organisational set-up, its internal decision-making procedures, policies, and outreach methods and tools.

For a healthy coexistence, political parties and their movements need to be like-minded and well-coordinated. That healthy mutual relationship would be maintained only through policy coherence, discipline, the movement supporters voting for its political arm in elections and the movement being able to mobilise support when called upon by the political arm.

We are up against a heartless and cunning regime, nobody will give us power, and we need to be resourceful to grab it. It does not make political sense that our citizen movement supporters are voting for Zimbabwe nationalist parties, pro-Mthwakazi political parties need to find a way of working with some, if not all of these movements. To succeed, organisations and individuals will have to be prepared to temporarily suspend some of their interests for national interest.


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