Throughout the course of Zimbabwean independence history, the Shona tribe and/ or ethnic Shona people have been a privileged population group, that is to say they have enjoyed special treatment, rights and an elevated social status in comparison to group outsiders. Ethnic Shona people dominate all facets of Zimbabwean life and their voices and opinions are valued more heavily in society. The systematic discrimination silences all marginalised groups, and the direct consequence of that has been the growing mistrust in the system and gross political apathy in Matabeleland.
What is political apathy?
Political apathy is best understood as the general lack of interest and indifference towards politics among citizens or a section of the population; it represents citizen ambivalence, lack of engagement and lack of motivation for participating in political activities.
Distrust in the system
People in Matabeleland have reservations over the real influence of their votes; they have questions over whether or not their votes are counted. On the basis of simple population size, Matabeleland citizens do not believe they can influence political outcomes. On many matters of political significance, it is not uncommon to hear this statement from Matabeleland nationals, ‘They will sort it out over there in Harare (Mashonaland)!’
Perhaps the deepest problem lies in the basic nature of the political system; this is the duopoly system in which people do not vote for specific policies but the candidates imposed to the public by the two major parties.
Ably protected by the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system, the system pits two polarised political ideologies with no middle ground, and little to no room for compromise. This forces voters to make decisions in a stark win-or-lose format, where a commitment to one party literally transfers to a commitment to all of its principles, even if one only agrees with snippets.
In this case where compromise and centre ground command no political space, voting becomes less about making a difference on specific issues and more about keeping a certain party in power. The undesirable outcome is voters’ resignation with the preservation of the status quo and this resignation leads to apathy.
Fear of ZANU PF
Another factor of significance is the fear that people of Matabeleland have of the emotionally erratic and tribalist ZANU PF party. In Matabeleland Gukurahundi saves as the ZANU PF marker, and the failure to deal with that grime episode to public satisfaction has left lasting fear in the hearts of many in the population. This, to a large degree, explains ZANU PF’s seemingly ‘irrational’ political dominance in Matabeleland; people fear being seen to be opposing ZANU PF so they would rather somebody else voted the party out of power.
Lack of Variety in Candidates
ZANU PF and the MDC Alliance which are both Mashonaland dominated organisations dominate the politics of Zimbabwe. The FPTP voting system effectively shuts the door to a third competitor, voters typically have to choose between candidates from the two major parties. Unlike in the late 1990s when clear economic and systemic political issues differentiated the parties and divided the voters, nowadays people see little difference between ZANU PF and the MDC Alliance. This has led to voter apathy because, for many people in Matabeleland, neither the MDC Alliance nor ZANU PF option reflects their beliefs.
Lack of Trust in Government
Many Mthwakazi nationals long lost faith in government and do not trust the Mashonaland dominated government to make the changes they feel are needed hence do not see the point in voting or being involved. Overt cases of exclusion of Matabeleland citizens in academic and economic activities that seem to benefit Mashonaland or people with ethnic Shona names and those from wealthy backgrounds have left citizens feeling frustrated and helpless.
The role of the media
We cannot ignore the role played by the media in influencing public opinion. Media houses do not just disseminate information, they interpret, filter and make decisions on the volume to be availed to the public, and how. In Zimbabwe the government is at the centre of that process that dictates our access or restriction to access to information.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) remains the widely accessible broadcaster in Zimbabwe and shapes our worldview. Arguably, the ZBC is an extension of ZANU PF governments’ communications department. Material content largely demotivates Mthwakazi public participation in politics because anything pro-Mthwakazi is denied space and all we have access to has little to no relevance to our lives.
The dangers of political apathy
Here I am addressing both the privileged ethnic Shona people, the wealthy, men, the educated and the marginalised communities of Matabeleland and the Midlands, the uneducated, women, and the poor. While people have the right to choose not to participate in political matters, they need to own their responsibilities too.
We need to understand that the choices we make affect many other people; perhaps with a better knowledge of who our decisions affected and how, we would make different political choices.
It is easy for the privileged to become apathetic toward social justice or political issues because they are not on the receiving end of the status quo. However, when the marginalised adopt an unplanned and goalless apathetic stance they give free licence to the bullies in government to expand their torture cells. We must understand that abusers thrive from the ignorance of the abused. High level of political apathy in Mthwakazi represents a serious problem for our future. Apathy is leading to stagnation in the political and economic development of the region. Instead of apathy, Mthwakazi must fight a good fight, it is not about victory today but laying foundations for the next generations. Access and support the efforts of genuine pro-Mthwakazi programmes, organisations and their initiatives.