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Rally figures conceal more than they reveal

ARTHUR Mutambara, president of one faction of the MDC, addressed a rally at Manchester on April 30.

It is interesting to note that different Zimbabwean online newspapers focused on different aspects of the rally.

Some people chose to focus more on the number of the

attendees than the issues that were addressed at the rally, while others preferred to focus on the substance. The readers always have the privilege of reading and judging for themselves.

It is worrying to observe that the concern with the number of people attending rallies or meetings is becoming an obsession.

My concern is that some people are becoming more concerned about counting the people than focusing on the issues being addressed, which leaves one wondering whether the battle in the opposition is about the quality or quantity of change.

It is tempting to get the impression that, instead of concentrating on the issues being addressed at these rallies and meetings, some people are busy counting the people who attend.

It is important to realise that statistics often conceal more than they reveal. For instance, the people who come to rallies are not always supporters.

Of the people who attend rallies, you are never sure how many will agree with you or  decide to stick with you. But it is important to be given the chance to share your views.

In our African tradition, people do not tell you point blank, but the truth of the matter is that the majority of Zimbabweans are not particularly amused by a fragmented opposition.

No faction should claim people at a rally for they attend for different reasons. Parties should instead be more concerned about whether people actually get their message.

I know the tired argument about democracy being a game of numbers, and it is precisely that understanding or over-emphasis which feeds into this obsession with numbers.

Democracy has more ingredients than just numbers. It is also a culture of respect and tolerance, equal opportunities, battle of ideas and observance of the rules of engagement.

A report on NewZimbabwe.com put the figure at the Mutambara rally at 400 people, with the Zimbabwejournalists.com website putting it at 500 people.

Then we had a report from zimdaily.com claiming that there were just 35 people.

The dispute about numbers makes a mockery of what is important to the people of Zimbabwe: the actual message and ideas of the change agenda.

Dr Alex Magaisa rightly argued that being obsessed with being in the majority tends to create a problem of perception or misconception.

You could be in the minority on one issue or at some point without being even aware of it. Being in the minority does not always mean being wrong.

In fact, people’s views or perceptions do change and we are all engaged in the discourse of what is happening in Zimbabwe either passively or actively.

It will be interesting to hear Mutambara’s ideas for Zimbabwe at his rallies. So much has been said about the robotics professor and it is time for those in London to meet him.

One thing is clear about this rally already: it will be a two-way meeting, judging by the talk in some parts of London.

People will not only be listening and asking questions, they will also be expressing views from the diaspora, and hopefully the organisers will prepare a segment for robust engagement.

Once again, more important will be the ideas discussed and not the number of attendees.
Msekiwa Makwanya,

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