HomeAnalysisThe fallacy of mob politics!

The fallacy of mob politics!

Sharon Hofisi
I FOCUS on the fallacy of mob (chaunga) politics to show how the politics of numbers has created a climate of hate speech, tragic violence and populist politics as usual in Zimbabwe.

My simple argument is that political parties must urgently craft nuanced political manifestos, not as an alternative solution to only end violence but also as a vehicle to foster a sustainable culture of tolerant politics in Zimbabwe.

In order to resolve the ordinary citizen’s expectation of responsible political clubs in Zimbabwe, I discuss party manifestos as the grammar of responsible governance.

Taken together, the manifesto, political declarations and the “our-party’s-people-factor” constitute serious and responsible politics in Zimbabwe at the moment.

Politicians should think about, and enjoy the politics of numbers responsibly. Manifestos represent something tangible, which the ordinary citizen bodies or ordinary citizens themselves can faithfully deliberate and analyse.

Lack of nuanced manifestos only cements the idea that Zimbabwe has of late been a platform where politics of treating citizens as subjects and perpetuation of the idea of ruling the repositories of governmental or political power are endemic problems.

Citizens are perpetually thankful to those who roam the corridors of power because there is no programme of action to help them end executive interference in council management; ensure meaningful constituency development funds are allocated; or ensure that civil society and community organisations are not bossed by district administrators or traditional leaders.

The March by-election is an opportunity for political parties to simplify their approach to devolution of power and local exploitation of resources across Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces. Such manifestos should be clear on how the poorest districts or richest districts are going to uplift the livelihoods of the local people. Sadly, a chorus of what party A has not been doing is still being used to woo the crowds to hear what party B will do if it remains in power or gets elected into government.

Hate speech, feelings of fear, hatred and “ideas poverty” as well as inter-party violence continue to stain Zimbabwe’s respect for political rights.

Ordinary citizens have for long been used as chess boards for political moves for many years. The politicians have been sleeping on citizens for a long time because of a lack of responsible citizenry. Many go home hungry after enduring the sun’s menace at some rally. They have no access to a living wage (separate from minimum wage) because one political party talks endemically about sanctions while the other talks about what Western friends will do when they assume office.

Whether it is about the repetitiousness of the sanctions argument (Ian Smith had them and Southern Rhodesia still went well economically as all those who talk about economy during Smith tell us) or the ecstatic confidence of how some Western friends will introduce a turnaround strategy (as some always boast), ordinary citizens simply need decent food on the table.

Chaunga politics is mere paper or soul talk without serious or candid talk about social and economic rights to food and clean water; healthcare (albeit politicians connived in 2013 and did not include right to health in the Constitution); and right to education.

The manifestos must inform the voting citizen how each political party is approaching the issues of transparency in council budgets; active involvement of residents in budgets consultative forums; rolling out of devolution funds; baseline collaborative studies with resident associations; and when will metropolitan mayors be given real executive powers as contemplated by the Constitution?

What are political parties doing for the youths, women and elderly population in terms of developing their active participation in physical activity, exercise and mental support services?

We want to know how political parties are prioritising youth and female participation and representation in all aspects of council and parliamentary governance.

What is the level of women and youths participation in leadership roles? Linked to this is the relevance of vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, persons with disabilities and the emerging adults (single mothers and parents).

Vulnerable groups can only emancipate and empower themselves if they get resources from government and firms that faithfully commit to responsible social investment.

This obligates firms to design corporate social responsibility (CSR) visions that honestly invest in areas that align well with their firms’ core functions and sustainable development goals (SDGs).

These are serious social development issues that are being taken for granted in Zimbabwe and sadly political parties are still sticking their discourses to “social welfare” and not social development. While the Department of Social Welfare has now been transformed into the Department of Social Development, political parties must lead the way in showing the electorate how they are embracing the developmental approach to social empowerment in terms of job creation, ending tax holidays for non-citizens; addressing issues of black tax; and ensuring that philanthropic CSR is immediately ended in Zimbabwe.

Philanthropic CSR has been practised by companies that make a mockery of social investment by investing in areas that are not part of their core business.

This is detrimental to responsible social investment and should be stopped forthwith if the generality of citizens is to be effectively empowered in exchange of the exploitation of their local resources.

It is sad how local resources such as the Epworth pool can soon be a no-go area for locals. We have seen companies that are in mining funding projects that are not linked to their core business; something that makes Zimbabwe’s approach to CSR motif laughable.

A company that is into mining must align its CSR investments to mining issues that develop ordinary people. A scholarship or sponsorship in soccer is still philanthropic but not responsible CSR.

This is something where environmental governance tools should see organisations such as Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, Parliament or the Environmental Management Agency taking a lead, all through a nuanced political manifesto.

Alternatively, mining firms can establish a mining school that aligns with any other mining company’s core functions. Surely, Zimbabwe stands at the crossroads.

I might become tempted to argue that chaunga politics has been the biggest let-down in Zimbabwe’s constitutional moments. Time is spent on amassing people while governance and democratisation aspects immensely suffer.

Perhaps I may also succumb to a temptation to put the cart before the horse when dealing with new political parties like the Citizen Coalition for Change. But they launched their party knowing fully well that the first to the fourth estate (government to the media) and all other ordinary citizens would only see their people-oriented vision in their manifesto.

So all political parties must be diagonally accountable and must release their provisional manifestos before the 2022 by-elections. This way we can glean from their manifestos what they can offer in the long term.

The March elections should not be a matter of fulfilling the constitutional obligations that if someone dies in office or is recalled by their political party then a president calls for by-elections.

Admittedly, the 90 days required by the Constitution expired long ago owing to some supervening impossibility occasioned by Covid-19 and its variants.

So what am I saying? Let me simply say reference to chaunga is a false hope that only serves to symbolise transactional power. What is the fallacy in chaunga politics?

We hear (we were not born) how large numbers gauged the success of black independence in 1980. Frequently we hear statements like “so and so has repeated the 1980 independence celebrations”.

Fine, that is the way politics is done! And perhaps that is how some people will try to justify their votes under “didn’t you see our supporters?”

What is the problem or false hope in that? Let us hope that in a month’s time after the announcement of the results of the parliamentary and council votes, that the ordinary citizens (perhaps even some of us) will look back and identify that this was an election where we agreed that the basic needs and lived incomes of ordinary citizens are necessary and it was here that the process to respect decent living in Zimbabwe began.

In order to celebrate significant gains that benefit the ordinary citizen, there is need to focus beyond elites and sub-elites we usually call our representatives at council or constituency levels.

This by-election helps Zimbabwe to build a good governance report that responds to the needs of both the rural and urban electorate.

While other resident associations have come up with statements on what they expect from the by-election, the political parties have largely focused on scoring political victories.

The problem is that an infinite focus on political party victories arises: it is simply a matter of what do ordinary citizens gain after drawing huge crowds to attend political rallies.

This means that all attempts to make political parties accountable to their supporters and the large electorate are replaced by “politainment” (used here to refer to politicking entertainment) at such rallies.

This is of no use in Zimbabwe’s democratisation process.  In fact, here is the paradox, familiar to us, in which a notion of “owning” the people is divided into “indications” of political power and a political party’s potential to win the harmonised elections in Zimbabwe and nothing else.

From the events at rallies, politics should be done in a way that genuinely furthers and balances societal interests and political needs.

Alternatively, there is a need to reframe the chaunga approach in a manner that allows for socially responsible political consultants to work with political parties in documenting the real needs of the rural and urban people in Zimbabwe.

This should be done in synthetic fashion and can only be found from nuanced political manifestos.

  • Hofisi is a deep thinker and introduced the ‘thinking without the box’ model of transformative justice in his doctoral thesis.

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