Zim politics: Passion in voters is key

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AS a journalism student from a Canadian university, it is not often that I get the opportunity to cover an African election from the ground.

CARLOS VIEIRA

I have been fortunate to have been afforded a unique and rewarding experience working on attachment at the Zimbabwe Independent for the past two months, and in this capacity have enjoyed a prolonged peek at Zimbabwe’s elections.

What I observed is a passion for politics I had never experienced before. The sheer numbers with which people mobilised and the fervour of their discussions took me by surprise. Canadian voters are an apathetic lot, at least for the most part.

Yes, we like to gripe and complain about government just as much as the next country but, except for a few party posters placed here and there, we tend to keep our support under wraps, away for dinner table discussions.

The singing, chanting, dancing and marching that I saw on the streets of Zimbabwe were distinctly foreign, like the red dirt staining my shoes.

Comparing politics between countries can be a dangerous game. In many cases it is tantamount to comparing apples and oranges, and contrasting Canada and Zimbabwe risks running perilously close to doing just that.

Similarities between the two nations’ politics seem to go no further than sharing a common history as members of the British Commonwealth and at one point sharing the same system of government.

Whereas Canada still uses a British style parliamentary democracy, Zimbabwe has long since adopted a presidential system. By virtue of using these two political systems there are inherent differences in the way Canadians and Zimbabweans view politics.

In Canada’s parliamentary democracy, emphasis is placed on the political party while the individual leader matters less. However, in Zimbabwe’s presidential system, the emphasis shifts to the individual and a sort of personality cult ensues.

Canadian political posters will have “Vote the Conservative Party” over a blue background, or “Vote the Liberal Party” over a red one, but a poster of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s face would be unheard of. This is a far cry from Zimbabwean streets lined with thousands of posters with smiling faces of President Robert Mugabe or former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The image of an individual in Zimbabwean politics reigns supreme. Tsvangirai’s party bears his name and Mugabe’s face has become so synonymous with Zanu PF that the two have become indistinguishable or inseparable.

While these differences are wrought by the systems, passion is passion wherever you find yourself. And from what I experienced in the build-up to the elections, Zimbabwe has it in abundance.

When I walked into Sakubva Stadium in Mutare to cover an MDC-T rally in mid-July, I was met by the thunderous roar of 20 000 screaming supporters and the high-pitched din of their vuvuzelas.

People were climbing walls and electrical transformers to get a better view.

It was a display of such abandon to emotions; such passion in Canada would have been reserved for one thing: a game of ice hockey.

I have seen far too many sparsely attended rallies in Canada that the thought of seeing a similar scene at a political event back home is unimaginable.

Most rallies in Canada are attended by a smattering of older ladies who sit quietly in their plastic chairs in their local region halls and clap politely for their candidate as he or she takes to the stage for a muted speech.

Put these same older ladies in their seats at an ice hockey game and they will tear apart anyone who gets in their way.

And therein lies a strange dichotomy.

Zimbabweans, who have had the same leader for 33 years with seemingly little chance for change and who, from many accounts, have been casting pre-determined ballots, remain impassioned about the politics of their country, while Canadians, who have one of the most open political systems in the world, barely show up to vote.

When I walked through the streets of Mbare on election day I saw thousands of Zimbabweans brave the elements and queue up for hours just to cast their vote, regardless of their lack of confidence in the system.

There were women with babies on their backs, senior citizens who needed help to stand and some parents taking their sons to vote for the first time. They were all there, peacefully waiting their turn.
I am convinced that if the majority of Canadians had to queue in the cold for hours to vote, they would simply not leave their homes and would prefer to forgo their basic human right to appoint their leaders in favour of a comfortable chair at home.

Here, conversations about the elections were ubiquitous. Indeed, it was not easy to talk about anything else.
Regardless of the outcome, contrived or otherwise, passion in voters is important.

One day that passion will be needed to mobilise and vote again and Zimbabweans will not have to look for it. They know exactly where it is; within each one of them.

Viera is a student from Carlton University School of Journalism in Ottawa, Canada.

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