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A new kind of politics

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I have had a small privilege of living in, and closely observing the politics of a number of countries outside Zimbabwe. It is that exposure that brings me to my present reflections on Zimbabwean politics. Having been born and bred in Zimbabwe, where politicians are literally worshipped and elevated to  levels of sanctimony and divinity, l was pleasantly surprised to observe that in some jurisdictions politicians are treated as (and actually behave like) ordinary people. I believe Zimbabwe needs a new kind of politics. I present this appeal to MDC to bring a breath of fresh air on the national political scene and break free of ZANU-PF politics that have characterized Zimbabwe for the past three decades. The following could points for MDC leaders to reflect on:

Political leaders must be accessible to the people. In order to effectively represent the people, the leader must ensure that people have clear ways of reaching him or her with their problems. The culture we had become accustomed to in the past 30 years is of leaders who only become visible and accessible during election time but quickly vanish once they have gotten the vote. MDC leaders must take care not to make this mistake of taking the electorate for granted. Some political leaders make the common mistake of thinking that forever pretending to be busy enhances one’s importance in the eyes of the community and that accessibility makes one too common. Of what use is a leader who is not available to deal with the problems and concerns of the electorate?

A belief widely held is that perhaps the quickest way to riches is via politics. Instead of serving the people, the preoccupation is accumulation of wealth through abuse of political office. In 2005, the then ZANU-PF provincial Chairman for Mashonaland West, Philip Chiyangwa is reported to have said, “Do you want to get rich? Then join ZANU-PF.” For many MDC leaders, due to the obvious vulnerability arising from rather unfortunate financial circumstances, keeping on the high ground may prove to be a challenge of note. It is encouraging and worth celebrating, if true, that MDC Senator David Coltart did not accept the government ministerial Mercedes Benz car offered to him. To refuse the conventional ‘symbol of power’ is indeed a symbol of principle. It sends a powerful message that one is not in a position of leadership for the financial benefits that may come with it. Our political leaders are urged to learn the virtues of a simple life of selfless service to truth and justice.

MDC leaders have a challenge to demonstrate that it is possible to be a politician and an honest person at the same time. After decades of being taken for granted, being lied to and a litany of broken promises, the people of Zimbabwe, l believe, are looking for honest political leaders who deliver on their promises. Politics is not about making promises that one cannot deliver; it is about being honest, truthful and frank about the situation. An anecdote is often told of a politician who believed that politics was all about making promises, no matter how irrelevant to the circumstances. At one rally the politician promised to build a bridge for the community. When it was pointed out that there is no river in the area he went on to promise to build a river first! In the same vein of keep promises, l ought to mention it here that there is a tendency in Zimbabwe for people generally and political leaders particularly, not to value time. Almost invariably, my meetings with political leaders in Zimbabwe tend to be well after time of appointment. And yet this does not seem to bother them. This attitude of not placing value on time at present permeates most government departments. People wait for hours to be served, not because there is a reason for the delay, but simply because people have become accustomed to that casual approach to work and time.

For those who learnt their politics at the feet of ZANU-PF, humility is anathema. For them the mark of leadership is arrogance and aloofness. Without humility it is impossible to accept criticism as a legitimate and essential aspect of democracy. Within ZANU-PF no criticism is tolerated. Those who sought to criticize the leadership soon discovered that there was a high price to pay. Edgar Tekere, Eddison Zvobgo, Dzikamai Mavhaire and Jonathan Moyo are but examples of people victimized merely for criticizing ZANU-PF. The war mentality that views criticism as betrayal must be eradicated. We must feel free to openly disagree and criticize our political leaders without feeling that we have instantly become enemies or that we need to look over the shoulder all the time as a result. Many of those still practicing the politics of yesteryear have become completely cut off from the people and have, as a result, lost the common touch. I remember, at the height of the cholera crisis, l engaged in animated debate with a colleague over whether President Robert Mugabe, ensconced at State House, really had any idea what ordinary people were going through in their daily lives. We wait to find out if our erstwhile colleagues in MDC will keep the communication lines open to listen and engage. Some political leaders have perfected the art of pretense; of listening without really listening. Such an art has no place when leaders see it is as their duty to genuinely engage with the people. Only when politicians begin to genuinely listen to the electorate can they begin to look beyond their personal interests to those of the community at large.

Political leaders ought always to use the kind of language that promotes national healing and nation building. Surely we have had enough of the kind of venomous verbiage that Nathaniel Manheru spewed and splattered every Saturday. Even political slogans of chanting, ‘Down with so and so!’ should be a thing of the past.

The MDC must quickly move to enhance genuine participation of women in reconstruction, national healing and nation building and move away from the ZANU-PF approach of mere tokenism. If one considers ZANU-PF’s national heroes as a measure of participation in national political life, one would note that of the 75 people today buried at the National Heroes Acre Shrine, only 4 are women (Sally Mugabe, Julia Zvobgo, Ruth Chinamano and Mama MaFuyana Nkomo). And all these 4 women are there primarily as spouses. There is need to alter the political terrain and environment and make it conducive for women’s unfettered participation. One way of achieving this is to physical political violence as well as use of violent and uncouth language in politics. Women need not be thick-skinned first before they can venture into political life. It must not be a calling with a high price to pay for women simply because they are women.

If our leaders hold dear to all these values then in no time the whole nation will be seized with this new attitude fueled by the fervent pursuit of a new kind of politics. Like ripples, the waves of goodwill will gently spread to every nook and cranny of the country. To my mind, this of change of mindset, among other things, may be just the needed catalyst to prompt Zimbabwe, like the legendary phoenix, to rise from the ashes to become yet again the paradise of Africa.

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