If we are to predict the future, we must be prepared to have the power to shape the future. The good thing is that we all have power to transform the political landscape of Matabeleland, the bad thing is not everyone knows they have got it. To use power effectively we first have to know we have it. People must appreciate power is not locked away in state institutions, it is stored in each one of us, and it is only our silence that strengthens authorities to confidently take it away and lock us out via various pieces of legislation that sets up conditions on how power should be used by citizens, at the end of it what we actually see is how restricted access to power is to the ordinary man and woman.
Citizens have a responsibility to themselves to uncover their potential and use the political power they already own. Decades under the ZANU PF regime have taught us that merely getting ‘our people’ in office is not the solution to our problems. State capture by the elite should be the target of progressives’ ire. Let us take a step away from the cosmetic reforms that only focus on the electoral process. Political participation must mean more than joining formal political organisations and voting. A strong, radically democratic reform will demand more effective citizen oversight and participation; we need genuine inclusivity within the politics of power.
Transformative politics needs more than good policy. It needs creative proposals for how to reclaim power from wealthy elites and the military, and sustain it; we need to work at the best ways of sharing power across society so that every citizen does not only feel but is genuinely included in what is happening in their community.
How do citizens lose power?
There are various means through which ordinary citizens lose their power and influence in their own communities, silence is one, but the most common way people give away their power is by thinking they do not have any. We need to stop surrendering our power to those we think have it and those who pretend they alone deserve to weld it. We can mandate people to use our power, but we must never surrender it to them. Those using public power must not be allowed the illusion that the power they have is theirs and can be used any which way, but it must be made clear to all leaders that they are expected to act in the interest of the owners of the power (the public), and a failure to do so has dire consequences.
Perhaps the most significant weakness of Matabeleland’s political space is the lower number of people motivated enough to take the responsibility to address local socio-political challenges. Many opt for safety and hide behind the national politics banner.
Evidence indicates local issues will not be addressed under the national banner. Yet what we are seeing is that our people build viable political organisations with excellent local focus only to readily surrender leadership to anyone who rolls in from Mashonaland because of the now longstanding narrative that the removal of ZANU PF is the only potent tool for change.
It is crystal clear to many of us in Matabeleland that the solution to power distribution disparities does not just lie in the removal of ZANU PF from government but detoxification of the political system at play — the politics that accords second class citizenship to ethnic Ndebele people while elevating Shona creed into law. We know, through Mugabe and Mnangagwa behaviours, the dangers of trusting an individual with a lot of power. Our decisions on how much power is accorded politicians and how much is left in the hands of the public would be essential.
Breaking military stranglehold on power
The biggest challenge of post-colonial politics in Africa is that the countries have been turned into private property of liberation movements who have themselves been usurped by their military wings. States are effectively run by the army, not civilians. We need to reform the relationship between the military and the civilian authority such that the military leadership is subordinate to civilian authority. There needs to be constitutional provisions that allow our country a strong disciplined professional army to defend us from external enemies and defend the constitution of the country not individual interests and not threaten civilian authority. Unless invited to help, a professional army will know its place to be the barracks, and leave internal security duties to the police.
Democracy is our dream, however, democracy without effective citizen participation is nothing but tokenism; we are concerned about the domination of government institutions by unaccountable technocrats and the wealthy elites; centralised power has derailed Matabeleland’s political, social and economic development aspirations and overseen ordinary citizen suffering, thus political inequality needs to be confronted by all progressives. A broader defence of the integrity of democracy is a crucial part of Matabeleland’s politics. We have witnessed the damage that trusting a few people with power inflicts on institutions and the masses. It is in our experience of the Zimbabwean system and institutions that we propose the federal system with significantly devolved powers. We believe locals will always have an urge and deeper emotional connection with local problems and solutions thereof than an isolated technocrat will ever be.