Expanding citizen participation is required to save democracy and Matabeleland

Less citizen participation in democracy reduces effective functioning of government because the representative nature is lost in decisions taken by government. It is becoming obvious that representative democracy is failing in Zimbabwe. We are of the view that less citizen participation – a direct result of the inadequate representative democracy – in political decision making is betraying democracy and impacting Matabeleland badly; the decline in voting turnout in the region in recent years is obvious and a very troubling trend.

We have a problem of a cult of ignorance in Zimbabwe and there has always been. A strain of anti-inclusivism has been a constant thread winding its way through the political, social and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that ethnic Shona people are the sole owners of the Zimbabwe state and Shona creed must dictate state law, and the rest adapt to that.

Democracy in Zimbabwe has always been equal to voting and respecting the majority – nothing more, and nothing less. It is democracy in word but not practice; democracy as framed by ZANU PF has its ideological location in order while ignoring justice, and equality in restraint and servitude. The protection of minorities from the tyranny of the majority has never been on the agenda thus Matabeleland finds itself suffering Mashonaland ignorance. Under the current system, voting in Zimbabwe is equivalent to slaves choosing a ‘better’ master, and the minority awaiting confirmation of who their next master as dictated by the majority tribe would be.

Although we have raised concerns about the unfairness of the process, the focus has mainly been the total vote count not the entire system. We have not bothered about who votes and how many vote yet these factors do matter. Who participates in votes has a direct bearing on who holds power in local and national government and how power is distributed across society.

Inequality of citizen participation is a massive problem, but conveniently ignored by those in power. There is a problem of the social status participation gap that sees the educated and socially influential engaging more than their counterparts from a low social status background. The outcome is the over-representation of certain social groups and classes over others in decision-making positions, and this has a negative effect in resource allocation, thus general imbalance in development and an air of disaffection.

Reclaiming and reframing our socio-political space to achieve a better balance in citizen participation begins at the point where we cut off ties with mainstream Zimbabwe politics. Mainstream Zimbabwe politics is notorious for its obsession with the appropriation of political power and control of citizens, and total disregard for liberty and empowerment. We believe we are all better off where power is transferred back to the citizenry to manifest as liberty and freedom.

We welcome the growing recognition that self-governance is the only path to freedom for Matabeleland, and independence is a process not an event and it will begin by wrestling, not surrendering more power to Mashonaland. The idea and call for a Matabeleland political coalition is fundamental in the efforts to take control of our affairs; our people need to align, as a matter of principle, with local political parties because this is the only way local power can be protected and used effectively to protect local interest. It is obvious to all that mainstream politics in Zimbabwe is a reflection and representation of Mashonaland interest, and its only interest in Matabeleland is the appropriation of power and management of the territory.

Matabeleland’s capacity to self-govern is not in dispute, but it may sink through the mutiny of its residents choosing to stand and watch from the terraces; fighting for power is not a spectator sport, it is a participatory activity, if we do not participate it ceases being a fight.

Democracy is the path we are charting for this and generations to come. It will be essential for the stability of democracy in Matabeleland that we promote and reactivate social democracy; in the absence of social democracy, the stability and sustenance of political democracy is threatened. Let us re-establish a social space that is safe, upholds principles of equality, liberty, human rights and respect for all.

For ignorance to vacate any given space, deliberate efforts must be taken to make it uncomfortable; it must be set on date with wisdom. We need an open society with a free flow of information to empower citizens; we must create a space that extends safety and confidence to both boys and girls, men and women; a humble setting where the poorly educated and the well-educated sit as equals at the same table; the experienced and the inexperienced exchange their world perspective; the materially lacking and those with an abundance are given equal audience for the betterment of the nation – information sharing is a key feature for democracy.  

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