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Pay attention to who your leaders idolise

You can cut through the tension in Matabeleland’s political environment. What we are facing is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate political development and the people’s ever-growing need for a better life. This is a critical stage in our political development and we need to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities.

Politics in Matabeleland must begin with the solution of the leader-follower contradiction by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so much that both are simultaneously leaders and followers. The Matabeleland movement leadership is confused by an electorate that keeps transferring its power to ZANU PF despite the proven failings of the party, the electorate is confused by the ideological inconsistencies of the movement’s leadership.

Debate must be the cornerstone of our political interaction. People should debate; they should not be afraid to talk and should listen to others’ thoughts and how they make decisions; an exchange of ideas and opinions is imperative to our politics. Pay attention to what our political leaders idolise for some insight to their ideological location and what power means to them as well as how, given the chance, they may use it.

Events far away from home are reshaping our views of the Matabeleland movement leaderships’ political inclinations. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given us a glimpse of what some Mthwakazi movement leaders believe. We are seeing palpable idolisation of Vladimir Putin and Russia, an anti-West typhoon and a Western glorification.

Photo credit: EPA/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE via BBC (2022). A rally in support of Ukraine was held in front of Georgia’s Parliament building in Tbilisi

The Putin idolisation poses disturbing comparisons for the public that, for over four decades, has been exposed to an identical regime in Zimbabwe. If leaders who aspire to ‘liberate’ us see anything adorable in how Putin uses power and exerts his authority over his people, we are in deeper trouble than we already are.

We are not wrong to ask of what benefit to us will be any Mthwakazi leadership that admires the current Russian regime. Why look to Russia and Putin when we already have ZANU PF and Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe? In Mnangagwa is a leader who embraces violence, who thrives on instilling public fear, a leader who is at his best making death threats to citizens, a leader unperturbed by human suffering, the disappearance of political opponents, etc. Likewise, Putin threatens and imprisons civilians for espousing views outside the official line, poisons and imprisons political opponents.

Before I am accused of being brainwashed by Western propaganda, I would argue that objectivity is not the preserve of the Putin regime legion of followers. The assumption that any subscription to Western ideologies is a sign of intellectual deficiency and/ or political naivety while consorting with Russia and Putin’s message is the definition of intelligence, independence of thought and political maturity is dangerous simplification. We are all subject to our biases and life experiences, and our judgement will never be entirely free from those.

In my choosing the Western model I have not surrendered my critical mind to the West, and I am not saying I believe the West is perfect, but that on balance I believe it suits my needs better than the Putin-led Russia will ever do. There are of course many examples of Western ideological problems, inadequacies, and failures, and the negative impact of its interference, but the same is true of Russia, China and others.

Each era has its own false nostalgia, for the previous African generation, it was the USSR, but did the public fully appreciate what form that regime took and what adopting the model would mean to their liberties? For our generation the Russian style cannot be our aspiration, but democracy plants a better political seed for the future.

With all its flaws, I believe the Western template of government system is closer to what freedom meant for those before us who heroically fought against colonialism; they dreamt of a government of the people by the people. The Western systems in their various forms fall well within the standard that many in Matabeleland expect from a government in a civil society. We have had dictatorship imposed upon us and we are where we are today, not a better place by any stretch of imagination.

The Western imperialist past and its impact cannot be forgotten, this is a dark history and will continue being so. Imperialist past aside, the current Western template offers a better base on which to build a better Mthwakazi system that can provide genuine protection for citizens from abuse of power by those entrusted with leadership roles.

I am absolutely opposed to a political regime that controls public minds and behaviour, infantilises the electorate and/ or deliberately isolates and marginalises citizens due to their identity. This is a total contradiction of what a free society is all about. The purpose of government is to protect individual liberty, safety and the security of all individuals, not the interests of government. We do not need a system that targets (for abuse), isolates and marginalises specific population groups from corridors of power for whatever reason.

For our leaders to come up with solutions that work for all, they need a full understanding of public concerns, and they need to spend quality time with the electorate and pay attention to the people and talk to them and listen to them, the bold political statements made on social media are just but nothing without the backing of the public.

Clearly the Mthwakazi public’s concern is the systemic bias that concentrates power in ethnic Shona people’s hands and its appropriation by the elite while marginalising ethnic minorities and the ordinary citizens.

To masquerade as champions of change while embracing dictatorship is a conflict of interest that risks damaging the reputation of the Matabeleland movement politics. How does one idolise foreign dictators yet claiming to be against the local regime for being a dictatorship? We are paying attention, our leaders must illustrate how the Western template is our problem, and Russia the solution.


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