Development Opinions Politics

Need for a different political culture in Zimbabwe: Green Paper

By Rev Dr. Kenneth Mtata
I am writing this as a GREEN PAPER to provoke debate. If you are allergic to debate, do not proceed beyond this point!
Zimbabwe has been stuck in binary political conditioning where citizens are forced to think only in terms of black and white, good and bad, in or out. Such a political model has no modalities to deal with complex problems and cannot create conditions for different views to coexist.
It is one main reason Zimbabwe is stuck in paralysis 40 years after independence. It is a political culture shaped by our history of political formation, or what political scientists would call path dependence—where origins tend to influence future trajectory. This intolerant culture of binary political thinking goes back to the foundations of our political history where blacks were fighting whites. There we learned our black and white thinking, even though by then there were whites who disagreed with the oppressive white government.
Our founding fathers saw the dangers of such political culture and tried different means of healing it without success. The binary political model has had a tendency to create internal binary thinking where any form of critique was quickly labelled ‘sell-out’ thereby stifling any form of internal democracy.
The current binary politics represented by the MDC and the ZANU-PF and their offshoot sects are a case in point. From the liberation struggle, there were always elements that resisted any efforts towards convergence be it ZIPA, Dare, or Patriotic Front. In the process, many people lost their lives and through fear this homogenous political vision fossilized.
This political culture was accurately manifest in its vision of a one-party state espoused by ZANU-PF at independence. It is for this reason that the Gukurahundi was unleashed. Even the Unity Accord of 1987 was never a true convergence process but a way to swallow alternative political voices and form a homogenous political monolith.
The emergence of the MDC promised a different culture due to its founding consultative model. But it took no time to resemble the ZANU-PF traits it sought to undo. It quickly presented a democratic vision which was only orthodox if it got a nod from its founding charismatic leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai who had an equally charismatic counterpart in Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF.
In the two political culture there has been no room for meaningful debate. Despotism got institutionalized. For example, in ZANU-PF as all decisions would follow the opinion of the leader whose totalitarian powers lied in his right to appoint and disappoint the governing structure of the party, the politburo.
The same has been true in the MDC and its splinter groups. The reason the MDC has continued to splinter, apart from infiltration, is the absence of an intolerant culture and lack of internal democracy and debate. Like ZANU-PF it has followed the charismatic leadership model with no institutional restrain.
This cultic DNA avers due process. It follows the law of the jungle, the survival of the fittest. It is for this reason that the transition from Morgan Tsvangirai was so messy just as it was from Robert Mugabe. The two dominant political parties anotamba bhora rembabvu. You do not need to be a serious thinker to be part of this political game. You just need to be courageous. You must be able to pride yourself for either having ‘died for this country’ or having credentials of being beaten and maimed in ‘fighting the regime’.
This political culture has certain traits that must die if we are going to have a political culture that instills national unity, justice, and prosperity for all Zimbabweans.
It must move beyond: (a) only charisma or military mighty  as the basis of power (one center of power—Chamisa chete chete or ED Pfee),
(b) Enemy mentality (where everyone who disagrees with the leader is an enemy),
(c) Patronage (chef mentality that creates access to financial and power resources),
(d) Mythicization and Superstition (where there is an exaggeration of the role of divine or ancestral powers as the basis for national direction),
(e) Overly dependence on external connections or rather control (where there is an over-dependence on western or eastern influence on national direction),
(f) Violence (where violence is unleashed against those considered disagreeable to the leader like the Vanguard in MDC and green bombers and other state machinery in ZANU-PF),
(g) Ethnisization and regionalization (working with an ethnic model is deciding power arrangements instead of merit—currently in both MDC and ZANU-PF a Ndebele seems does not qualify to be president since the days of Joshua Nkomo or Gibson Sibanda),
(h) Corruption (MDC corruption during GNU and the current MDC corrupt councilors and the whole ZANU-PF cartel economy),
(i) Personal moral bankruptcy (where leaders do not take their marriages seriously but divorce or have small houses—no leadership by example). This is just to name a few.
The question is how we can free Zimbabwe politics from this binary hegemony? Can it be corrected? How do we build a different political culture based on
(a) institutions that are stronger than individuals,
(b) respectful debate and tolerance of different views without quick labels,
(c) remove uChef and resort to collective leadership and decision-making,
(d) freedom of religion and worship separate not exalted above logical thinking and scientific reasoning,
(e) the maximization of local human and financial resources with the external actors serving only as accompanying partners and not directing the course of the nation,
(f) non-violence both in words and deeds—stop the use of slogans such as Pasi na nhingi or Mavoko mudenga Hezvoko bwa!,
(g) respect for ethnic identity but allowing everyone to compete for power on merit,
(h) strong accountability systems where no one is economically advantaged or disadvantaged due to political proximity or lack of, (i) commitment to personal morality such as being truthful in public and private life,
(j) willingness to build alliances with political competitors for the sake of the nation—where politics is viewed as a competition but towards the same vision.
I know that this sounds too good to be possible—even naïve. But we deserve this. This current politics is not working.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende