Creating more operationally effective institutions is fundamental to the progress of the Matabeleland political space; progress to us means building more effective political parties that would reverse and eradicate the influence and negative impact of mainstream Zimbabwe politics in the region. There is irrefutable evidence in that mainstream politics in Zimbabwe has failed Matabeleland society, and there is steady shift towards Matabeleland focused politics and parties. However, care must be taken to avoid flooding the region with mediocre or ineffective political parties that will not only fail to alter the political space but most certainly increase disillusion with politics among the Matabeleland public.
Matabeleland fully appreciates the relationship between social interests, political interests and political parties, and the critical role played by political parties; they form a cornerstone of our democratic society. Thus, we have long articulated our concerns that mainstream Zimbabwe politics does not reflect the Matabeleland society; when we argue that mainstream politics is rigidly founded on Shona bias and ZANU PF elite doctrine of managing as opposed to empowering Matabeleland, we are conveniently dismissed as tribalists.
We are far from being tribalists when we demand basic human rights, freedom, and liberty as a people; such an accusation is nothing, but a political smokescreen, a mischaracterisation purposed to perpetuate an ethnic Shona hegemony in Matabeleland; we cannot be accused of being tribalists for demanding a transparent, accountable, and inclusive political space.
For interest’s sake, what is wrong with us expecting political parties to aggregate the interests of the Matabeleland public, articulate them by way of policy options and provide structures for public political participation? It is not typical tribalism but reasonable to expect political parties’ manifestos to be a true reflection of our society or to come as close as possible to our interests.
After all, as argued by David Broder, democracy requires an institution that will sort out, weigh, and as much as possible, reconcile the myriad of conflicting demands of individuals, interest groups, communities, and regions; organise them for the contest of public office; and then serve as a link between the constituencies and the people chosen to govern. As Broder aptly puts it, “When the parties fill their mission well, they tend to serve both a unifying and a clarifying function for the country”.
ZANU PF and mainstream opposition have failed to fill their mission well. In Zimbabwe mainstream politics political parties are insular and unyielding in their policies; they are intently exclusive and will choose when an invitation is extended for public political participation; political parties seem to view representing public interests as secondary to what is their primary goal of winning or maintaining political power; they concentrate their energy on getting the public to vote for them, and political and/ or tribal polarisation play an important, though unfortunate, role in that political space.
Disturbingly, the many political parties that have come to being in Matabeleland who claim to represent public interest have adopted the same insularity and ideological rigidity of mainstream Zimbabwe politics. Their lack of appeal and growth comes not as a shock to some of us; people are no longer satisfied with mere marginal roles and being subjects of political institutions; we expect political parties to be inclusive and respectful of their public mandate.
Responsiveness to public needs is essential for political parties to grow, develop, and transform. ‘If we cannot see our reflection in your policies, we cannot subordinate our personal interests for your party’s interests’ is our new slogan to political engagement.
Political parties need to demonstrate a high degree of internal democracy, grassroots outreach, open accountability, and greater public representation; they must demonstrate their core values, democratic principles in their processes, how vulnerable population groups are protected, their decision-making process, and genuine opportunities for active public participation.
We do appreciate the importance of data security and confidentiality and accept that due to the nature of their operations, parties may need to keep some information confidential to avoid harming their operations, but that need should be reasonable and due diligence must be taken to discourage the party leadership from abusing that right to withhold essential information to members and the public.
Effective political parties are fundamental in building political capital in Matabeleland and making mainstream near obsolete in the region. Strong and effective political parties can only come to fruition when the political elite in the region start to take the public seriously, respect the public’s capacity to understand their needs and to find solutions enough to review the vertical and horizontal political power distribution. We expect political parties to deepen and expand their democratic values and practices and make internal reforms to enhance their capacity to operate in a professional, transparent, and peaceful manner.