“No more important challenge faces us today than how to deal with our differences” this statement by Ury could not be more relevant than to Zimbabwe today. Often than not we try to resolve our differences through coercive force when we could simply talk to one another. Margaret Atwood says “War is what happens when language fails”.
Since the beginning of the year the country has seen a rise in street demonstrations. From formerly silent churches to innocent high school students. People are angered by the government’s inadequate response to their social and economic challenges. Frustration can be heard from the pulpit right through to various social media platforms. Voices are being raised against a government that refuses to listen to its citizenry. As the economy continues to deteriorate, perhaps slide back to the 2008 levels it is important for the government to abandon its arrogant attitude and engage the people in a constructive discourse. Together we can solve some of our challenges if not we can at least clear some of our differences.
Stop insulting citizens, just engage them
Two weeks ago, I read Nathaniel Manheru arguing eloquently in favour of the national pledge in the Herald. Viciously chastising the church and its leaders for questioning and criticising the powers that be. Then a few days later, Joram Nyathi in his wisdom or lack thereof pounded even heavier on the citizens who had remonstrated their displeasure at the government’s recent pronouncements by marching in the streets of Harare. Powerless as these ordinary citizens may presently seem, they have a constitutional right to reject laws and policies they do not want. Even those policies that may actually be good for them. What I find ironical is that people have to demonstrate to demand an ear from their government, the very government that pretends to be of the people and for the people. The two gentlemen could not understand why people reacted in the manner they did. Their arrogance can only be the doing of power. Beyoncé sang drunk in love but I say these gentlemen are drunk in power.
Now looking at the arguments put forward by Manheru and Nyathi in favour of that pledge one could see that they could have easily convinced people to support their policy. But no, they prefer confrontation to consultation, chastising to dialoguing. Manheru being a senior civil servant ought to know that it is the responsibility of the government to explain its policies; to allay people’s fears, to answer questions people may have and above all to rally people behind its programmes. Just after independence a majority of rural schools and clinics were built by their respective communities with the aid of government and donor funding. That was only possible because communities were consulted, educated and thus they took ownership of these government programmes.
The Zanu PF way
Instead of building on these early successes by instituting consensus building mechanisms in their drafting and implementation of their policies they chose confrontation. Looking at a few policy pronouncements recently made by the government, one can see that the executive needs re-education and re-orientation. Dokora of the national pledge fame, not long ago announced the banning of Scripture Union in public schools. Now this does not make sense to my liberal mind. Joining Scripture Union has never been mandatory, its members join voluntarily. If students want to participate in this student organisation they should. They too have a constitutional right to the freedoms of association and of religion.
As if that was not enough an attack on the Christian population in our country, the overzealous minister came up again banning the renting of school properties to churches. This again without having consulted anyone. Without even offering compensation for the lost revenue to the affected schools. When people begin to speak out, to organise themselves to demonstrate against such behaviour from government it is not rebellion but an act of patriotism. There is no need to remind the government it should know that this is our country too. Speaking out on any government issue is our right not a privilege.
However, expecting to be consulted by Zanu PF would be expecting too much. How can they consult relevant stake holders and ordinary citizens when Ministers do not even consult one another? Even on a matter of national importance like the indigenisation policy. A mere junior Minister is found criticising the Finance Minister and the Reserve Bank Governor in public. Why couldn’t they iron out their differences in private and come out in the public with one position. If they could not agree why not consult with their principal and go out in the public with one position. With such high profile contradictions within the government in the public domain, how do they expect the populace and investors alike to have confidence in their government and its policies? In these instances, one gets the feeling that some ministers are more interested to be in the news than to actually achieve any real objectives.
Early debate in parliament over the indigenisation policy proved that with good leadership the nation could have easily come to a consensus. We all agreed on the need for indigenisation we only differed on how it was to be implemented. Simple logic demanded from us not to adopt a blanket policy to cover all the sectors of the economy. But instead of talking to one another Zanu PF chose to talk over everyone else. The indigenisation policy which was supposed to transfer wealth from a few privileged non indigenous people to the native citizenry has only managed to benefit a few privileged, highly corrupt Zanu PF elites.
The Governor of the Reserve, I am told by people who know him that he is well meaning. But his recent behaviour has not done him any favours. His rush to announce the introduction of bond notes was shambolic. What use is it to hold consultations after the policy has been announced. It thus does not come as a shock when credible business leaders say that the RBZ measures are only addressing symptoms rather the real deep macro-economic problems. Why not consult business leaders and representatives of workers in order to find solutions to our monetary challenges? For what it is worth the Governor should already know that no one trusts the Central Bank. Trust can only be cultivated by open engagement with the relevant stakeholders. Talking to one another might not solve all our challenges but I am more than sure as evidenced by the days during our GNU that we can do so much together.
Mugabe has been a bad example for his ministers
This Zanu PF behaviour really reminds me of Mr Mhinda my high school deputy headmaster. I never saw him beat anyone caught misbehaving but he would only say, “I can see your parents through you” which he simply paraphrased many times to just “through you”. He meant he could tell the character of our parents though our behaviour, takatukisa vabereki shuwa nemimwe misikanzwa yataiita kuchikoro uku. It obviously did not change many of the student’s behaviours but it was indeed a strong insult.
Today I am happy to express my disgust at Zanu PF using that very same expression. Through his ministers we can see Mugabe. We can how arrogantly he has run his government since Independence. How he sees himself as king and we his subjects. What he says may go unchallenged, in the politburo or central committee meetings but we cannot accept the same when it comes to Zimbabwe. Mugabe must realise that Zimbabwe does not owe him anything if ever there was any debt we owed him, we have already repaid him a million times over.
The Opposition are not saints in this regard either
If the opposition thinks that this problem is only existent in Zanu PF, then Tsvangirai’s debacle on the expulsion of the Harare Mayor Ben Manyenyeni exposed this folly. The MDC-T executive rushed to make a press announcement without having first consulted the councillors who run the city council affairs. It is not surprising therefore that before nightfall, the party directive had been disobeyed by the acting Mayor. This small incident must be a lesson in the future, to never disregard other key stakeholders that we might regard as less important.
The failure of MDC Renewal and Ncube’s MDC to unite speaks loudly of this failure to talk to one another. Although supporters from both parties all agreed on the need for unification, without any debate or consultation with the grassroots supporters the unification was called off by the party elites. Neither an apology nor an explanation was offered. As if that was not enough the MDC Renewal then went on to split. The fact that the MDC Renewal was itself a splinter was forgotten. As the saying goes ego is the only requirement to destroy any relationship. Mangoma and Biti could not put aside their own personal egos for the greater good of the movement they had started.
As the saying goes leave two Zimbabweans on the moon and they will form three political parties. There is a real problem in the Zimbabwean body politic that needs urgent addressing. We need to accommodate one another despite our political differences. A contestation of ideas does not make us enemies. We must be able to coexist with our political differences, more so when our political differences are cosmetic rather than fundamental.
The failure to talk through our differences does not only exist in politics but exists in every fibre of our society. This is why we have high rates of domestic violence, two adults failing to resolve their differences amicably. I only talked of politics because of my own personal interest in politics but as a nation we must improve on how we resolve our differences. When we consult, we must learn to listen not just to listen but to listen to understand the other person’s point of view. We must always strive to build consensus and ensure we implement win-win solutions. This is how national cohesion is build which will in turn provide a platform for national ownership of government programmes. We have politicised many non-political issues for too long making it harder to find common ground. In the end Zimbabwe has been the loser.
But not all hope is lost the youths are beginning to find their voice, speaking truth to power from across political lines. We might be affiliated to different political parties but we are Zimbabweans before we are party members. Cash and food shortages knows no party membership. We must come together as Zimbabweans and solve these our challenges. The opposition parties are beginning to talk to each other. There is a shift happening, people have realised that no one is going to come and save Zimbabwe but ourselves. During the Unity Government, Zanu PF used to blame the opposition for impeding the economic recovery. Now having a majority in parliament they must admit and accept that they have failed to turn things around. As a matter of urgency they must invite other political parties, together we might be able to avert this impending crisis.
But it must be known with or without Zanu PF, the train is moving towards a new and a better Zimbabwe.