Public influence on policy shows no sign of growing

Core to the functional feature of a political system is who runs things or rather who does the system permit to run things because this determines the shape, capability and responsiveness, that is, the ability of institutions to facilitate desired actions in a timely manner. The consistent feature of the four decades of independent Zimbabwe politics has been its deprivation and marginalisation of Matabeleland communities of power and a homely environment that with a bit of effort the country could make possible. This is a result of the state actively trying to manage rather than empower Matabeleland, and of legislatures becoming less reflective of popular opinion because of the inherent corruption and fear in politics.

Image Courtesy News24. Mthwakazi people demonstrate against economic and political marginalisation in Zimbabwe

Over the years Matabeles have raised valid concerns about the capacity or lack thereof and unwillingness of the state to change things so that politics does not reflect a fictitious national by bypassing local interests. In a majoritarian democracy, national will favour certain population groups, in Zimbabwe national will always mean Shona culture and interests prevail as Shona people constitute the largest population group in the country. It is however, our conviction that the aim of constitutional democracy must be to protect the rights of the minority and avoid the tyranny of the majority.

Zimbabwean politicians have all the tools at their disposal to review the constitution and bring forth necessary reforms to the system so that both the majority interests and minority interests are adequately protected. The question will always be: are there enough principled politicians among us willing to do the right thing over the popular one?

We have followed with great concern the diminishing ability of the state, and of mainstream politics at large, to translate popular views into public policy. For instance, Zimbabwe’s mainstream legislators have dithered when it has come to implementing decentralisation policies and move away from a currently centralised governance system. We believe this is a result of both the worrying on-going ZANU PF policy of turning Shona creed to law and a lack of public influence in shaping politics to reflect interests of communities across the country.

Another significant factor worth identifying as pivotal in the political decisions within Matabeleland is the Gukurahundi atrocities-generated fear; fear has led to a politics of appeasement among Matabeleland legislators who are afraid to express true public sentiment in fear of being controversial or upsetting their bosses in Harare. To maintain good relations with their bosses, they have often chosen to follow the national agenda at the expense of local politics.

Predictably, the local issues focused politics gap left by mainstream politics has been occupied by some competent pro-Matabeleland groups. And in equally predictable fashion these movements are often conveniently dismissed by mainstream politicians and their allies as troublemakers, tribal entities bent on dividing the country. The president recently made veiled threats to life of members of such groups suggesting by advocating for an independent Mthwakazi state, “You’ll be looking to shorten your life. You must walk a path that prolongs your life.”

Given the historical context, Mnangagwa’s threats to life must be taken serious but people will not be put off, even the so-called irresistible force of ZANU PF’s brutality and media propaganda machine will breakdown on the immoveable object of Matabele patriotism and our collective desire for freedom and liberty.   

Killing opponents is one thing and perhaps the easiest, but killing an idea is another. Conflict can and should be handled constructively; instead of throwing tantrums and making irresponsible threats to kill citizens who hold a different view to his and projecting his gangster mentality, the president needs to display a full repertoire of his leadership skills; he must at least try and understand people’s grievances before making judgement.

There needs to be an appreciation that we can be different and united at the same time if we choose to create a nation where we can celebrate our diversity and debate our differences maturely without fracturing communities.

The importance of how people relate with formal institutions, laws and other provisions set up to govern them and which are meant to assist the public to be major stakeholders in their immediate communities and country cannot be overemphasised. The questions the state and political parties need to ask and answer are: What do people see when they look at our public policy? Do they see themselves and their communities or political party leaders, the wealthy and elite?

Governments that have run out of ideas rely on brute force to silence victims. We will not be intimidated, we will do whatever it takes to be free. We want our children and grandchildren to learn from us that the brute force of an aggressor counts for nothing against the moral force of a nation determined to be free. Let it be known that the public policy is not a reflection of our being. For many reasons the Matabeleland public has no influence in public policy, and what is popular among our communities does not always make it to the lawmakers and if it does, it is often suppressed by the majoritarian principle. We are concerned that Matabeleland legislators do not reflect public interest but their party interests. We cannot be continually forced to adapt to a system whose design is deliberately meant to marginalise us. The Zimbabwean system and institutions in place do not allow us to shape our social, economic and political environment to reflect our needs and identity.  

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