Are Zimbabweans ready for democracy?
31 May 2018
Zimbabweans are expected go to the polls in July 2018. However, what is clear for whoever comes into power is that reforms are not only necessary, but also urgent for moving the nation forward.
While it is encouraging to note that there seems to be agreement across the political divide that Zimbabwe needs to start practicing real democracy, the question is whether as a society we ready for true democracy?
Democracy is a system of governance where citizens exercise power directly or elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body, such as a parliament. Democracy is also known as ‘the rule of the majority.’
In a democracy, leaders or representatives of political parties are given equal opportunities to be elected through a free and fair process.
Discourses around democracy have varied in the political parties. In its over 18 years of existence, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has prided itself as being a party founded on democratic principles, and whose main objective is to turn Zimbabwe into a ‘true’ democracy. On the other hand, the ruling ZANU PF party claims that Zimbabwe is a democracy; and that since independence it has governed the country democratically.
Free and fair electoral process
The fact that elections are held periodically can be interpreted as democratic practice. However, when considered against, the participation and promotion of women to ensure that they are a part of this very important national process, it is clear that women play a subordinate role.
After many disputed elections that were marred by beatings, killings and abductions of political activists, it is clear to me that our politics is not only toxic but also anti-women.
It is not only national elections that are mired in controversy.
Over the years it has become clear that even at local or community level elections for Student Representative Councils (SRCs) in universities and committees for housing cooperatives, churches and even sports bodies will more often than not invite controversy. If Zimbabweans cannot conduct free, fair and transparent in their small interest communities, we cannot claim to be ready for free and fair national elections. For us to exercise justice and fairness at national level, we need to adjust our attitudes and create gender just and fair communities in our small spaces.
A disturbing trend within the realm of democracy in Zimbabwe is that there is little room for gender justice within political parties. A quick analysis of the primary elections in the country’s two main political parties, Zanu PF and the MDC-T bears testimony to the fact that within the Zimbabwean context, rights differs for men and women.
Clearly at political party level, women are relegated to peripheral roles of cheering as the men take the front seats in the making of policy and representation. The parties have become cultic as they concentrate all power on one center. Even in our daily lives, group decision-making is limited. There is always a single man calling the shots – chair, president, pastor or prophet. Where effort is made to elect a representative council or committee, women are bequeathed ceremonial roles and surrender power to one male turning the whole system into a dictatorship.
Making it work as a unit
A united, just and fair citizenry that acknowledges the importance of gender equality is what Zimbabwe needs at this juncture.
As a country, we should be at a point where there is no questioning of women’s rights to participate as equals and also hold leaders accountable the same way men do. But we are not! We need to organise ourselves and mobilise each other to make demands for leadership that is truly representative of our interests as a people.
Women within political party structures must come to fore and demand the creation of systems that firstly recognise their existence and nurture them for office within the structures and at a national level.
As we trudge towards the historic 2018 elections, we must remember that true democracy begins with us. The leaders that we elect at national level are simply a reflection of the kind of people that we are as a society. We need serious attitude adjustment if we are to enjoy the fruits of true democracy.
Itai Nyamawuya is a passionate writer, blogger and social media enthusiast. He is also a Gender Focal Person for Magamba Network. He is a design engineer by training.
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