Paul Themba Nyathi
AS a former freedom fighter and teacher, I often wonder what sort of Zimbabwe we are leaving for the next generation. What does the future hold? Is it brighter than it was when I was at the front of the class?
I fear not.
Our democracy is in tatters. Human rights abuses abound. Our economy is on its knees — and is getting worse. We do not even have our own currency.
We cannot just sit by and watch. As older (and presumably wiser) citizens, it is time we focused firmly on shaping a new nation, a country that can proudly call itself a democracy again, that embraces human rights and shuns corruption rather than embracing it — and where the sun shines brightly on our young people.
We have to turn our country into a place with a future, particularly for our young compatriots. If we do not, they may join the five-million or more Zimbabweans who already form the diaspora, scattered all over the world because of what is happening in their home country.
We have to start talking, now, about how to turn our nation back from the brink and how to begin shaping a new Zimbabwe.
The role of Africa
It may be controversial to say this but I firmly believe there is a role for a number of multi-lateral fora in making a structured dialogue process happen inside Zimbabwe — in particular, the structures of Sadc and the Africa Union (AU).
Almost all the countries that make up these multilateral forums have themselves waged war against colonialism and won. Many of them also have experience in negotiated settlements and can share their learning.
There are challenges, of course —not least of which is what I can only describe as arrogance on behalf of the Zimbabwean government. We have this “know-it-all” posture that is dismissive of other struggles and borders on extreme nationalism.
Some of our public representatives act as if the region owes us a favour because of the role we played in overthrowing colonialism. There is exceptionalism about our history, which informs our posture towards our neighbours and which can be extremely unhelpful.
This results, for example, in a certain sterility in Sadc discussions, which has to be overcome.
Members of Sadc have learnt lessons of their own during their own recent histories and it is in their interests to suggest and nudge any credible process of dialogue that may be taking place.
The same applies with the AU. Zimbabwe’s problems are not unique to Zimbabwe or to Sadc. Many other AU members have gone through the turmoil we are experiencing and have somehow managed to turn things around.
We must all humble ourselves and learn.
But the reality is that, so far, we have not. Zimbabwe’s representatives can be exasperating to deal with. Sadc representatives say that our “leaders” feel the region owes them because of Zimbabwe’s historic pride of having won a colonial war, opening the way for other liberation movements.
We need solidarity now, as we had in the 1970s and 1980s, not arrogance. We need true pan-Africanism, as we had in the 1970s and 1980s, not exceptionalism.
Our neighbours and the multi-lateral forums that we participate in will have to come to terms with Zimbabwe’s public arrogance and find persuasive arguments that reinforce the importance of a credible national dialogue process.
Is it possible? We have to make it possible. We have to initiate meaningful dialogue inside and outside Zimbabwe.
We have to get everyone involved — our neighbours and the multi-lateral forums outside the country as well as power blocs inside the country.
One thing is very clear: we need to begin meaningful dialogues between the key constituencies inside Zimbabwe.
It is encouraging that some sectors in business are beginning to recognise this, as are constituencies such as the churches and other civic society formations.
But in my view, the real dialogue that needs to take place is the one between the two principals that have built up political capital over time: Zanu PF and MDC Alliance.
We need genuine dialogue between these two political formations if we are to truly resolve the challenges we face. This requires a pact, an agreement on a common future, and a determination to work together to get there.
Granted, the political parties alone cannot solve all the problems we face. Ideally, we should have as broad a tent as possible that serves as a home for all those committed to dialogue. All sectors of society should be involved: firstly, to ensure its credibility, but secondly — and more importantly — to ensure its success.
But it has to start with the politicians.
I write this knowing that we already have a number of parallel processes going on in our country. For every initiative that is set up, there is an attempt by the ruling party to either mirror or co-opt it. That does not make it easy to identify “credible” or “legitimate” initiatives.
But that does not mean we should not try.
There is undoubtedly a role for young Zimbabweans in all this and we should be investing a lot of energy and intellectual capital to ensure young people have their voices heard and are organisationally strong.
We should start by acknowledging that we have not invested enough time in moving people towards an inclusive and democratic culture.
There must be constant reminders of the true meaning of our Constitution, of constitutionalism and the importance of the rule of law.
We have to act quickly and the voices and aspirations of young people must come through clearly as we begin to dialogue our way out of the mess and shaping a new future.
After all, the future is their inheritance and our legacy.
Let us not disappoint the youth of Zimbabwe. Let us begin focusing now on a future with meaning. Let it be a call to action for Zanu PF, the MDC-Alliance, Sadc, the AU and anyone else who has the real interests of Zimbabwe at heart.
Paul Themba Nyathi is the Executive Director of Masakhaneni Project Trust, a peace-building organisation in Matabeleland South.