THOUGH it is already a common occurrence that the people only matter to politicians during elections, that truth has not been rightly validated as has happened over the past two months.
When government announced lockdown measures to mitigate against the possibility of a Covid-19 outbreak in Zimbabwe, the decisiveness, albeit abrupt and unsubstantiated by any public health data, was commendable.
At the same time, by effecting a total lockdown, government inadvertently shut down a majority of Zimbabweans’ livelihoods, leaving millions of people each unto their own means.
In the context of ravaging food insecurity that can leave many starving (if this is not happening already) and a deteriorating economic outlook, the protection mechanisms promised by government at the outset of the lockdown would have been a welcome reprieve, were they to materialise sooner rather than later.
It is hard to tell when things will normalise and it is even harder to anticipate whether the informal sector will be able to pick up from pre-Covid levels.
What is clear through all this is that ordinary Zimbabweans have been left on their own, with neither social protection nor voice in matters of national interest, regardless of their vulnerabilities or potential contribution to the much-needed solutions to the country’s challenges.
Take the creative industry as an illustrative example, the lockdown, has helped elaborate the ingenuity of content creators and the explosive potential of collaborations among practitioners in that sector.
Online livestreams have gradually grown in quantity and quality, demonstrating how private citizens can turn sombre circumstances into potentially cohesive national moments.
Ingenuity and appearance of autonomy should not lead to complacency on the part of the government. However, the fact remains that many artists survive on a hand-to-mouth basis and they, like many other Zimbabweans, were just about recovering from the perennial “January disease”.
Musicians, thespians, dancers, visual artists, depend on live audiences or visitors to exhibitions. They depend on venues that in turn depend on their entertainment to court patrons, without whom their livelihoods are at stake.
Lockdown and social distancing measures cut the chain links sending a ripple effect across the interconnected industries. The absence of strategic interventions has immediate and long-term effects on Zimbabwe’s small businesses and the broader informal sector, a domain of many, if not the majority of Zimbabweans.
The political arena has especially been the most instructive. Public office bearers have done very little to cushion ordinary citizens from the far-reaching economic and social implications of Covid-19.
The most they have done, other than the near-authoritarian imposition and enforcement of the lockdown measures, are the drive-by photo-ops, countless press conferences speaking down on the people. Whatever happened to “the voice of the people is the voice of God”?
Nearly two years after the 2018 election, the “new dispensation” appears to be struggling to find its footing. Presently, Zanu PF performance is like an academically-challenged bully who got another kid to do their homework, but is now struggling to read own handwriting.
As in the past, the party’s 2018 election manifesto was glossily-packaged and high-sounding with promises of a revived economy, jobs, quality healthcare, better education and a thriving society.
There is no evidence, at the moment that this journey has begun. If anything, we may have taken a wild turn into a world of grotesque corruption, cronyism and never-seen-before levels of intolerance to criticism and dissenting views. While we are still waiting for promises from the previous campaigns, politicians are already plotting the next two election cycles.
The devastating part of this comedy of errors is that the alternative is yet to demonstrate its worth. The lockdown period has presented the MDC-Alliance with an existential challenge — trying to maintain relevance under a “locked down” environment with adversaries seeking the last and final blow, so to speak.
Since the MDCs power tussles, we have not heard much from the party except for social media screenshots of meeting minutes and occasional press releases. Empowered by the Supreme Court ruling, the other MDC, MDC-T, has regained a life-line and running a victory lap celebrating their pedantic constitutionalism and vision of democracy.
However, their version of democracy appears to be devoid of the demos. Little effort has been made to engage “the people” or bring their voices onto the table.
Most of the efforts between the two MDCs have been confined to elites’ fights within elite arenas — recalling of elected representatives, absconding parliament, in-the-media debates, court cases, office space tag of war, etc.
In politics and in the economy, the people have been pushed to the peripheries. On social media, people are at each other’s throat, just but one of many symptoms of a hyper fragmented society characterised by polarised discourse, short-termism, surviving for the moment, and a generally discordant and atomised civil society.
It seems politics of expediency has become so much in vogue that it is no longer necessary to try and hide it.
Those who are “eating” are doing so on the centre-stage of the public theatre, with the rest of the citizens jostling for crumps on the edges of the audience arena while simultaneously fantasising of the day they will get a turn at the feeding trough. The political parties seem to be going on without the people.
Chitanana researches digital media, communication technologies and political engagement at University of Technology Sydney, Australia. He writes in his personal capacity:
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