What Zimbabweans need to do to move forward!

What Zimbabweans need to do to move forward!

The 2013 Constitution provides for the devolution of government powers and responsibilities.  But slow implementation has deepened feelings of ethnic and regional alienation. Residents of Matabeleland can justifiably claim that a Shona-controlled ZANU-PF government has dragged its feet in implementing devolution. To the extent that local governance can allow for the representation of minority and opposition interests, devolution can potentially dilute the winner-take-all character of the country’s politics and contribute to national healing. But to be effective, provincial and metropolitan councils will need adequate resources and political autonomy. It would also help if more than a bare majority of citizens (51%) could learn to trust local government councils.

In the 2018 elections, many chiefs and headmen continued to play overtly partisan roles by spreading ruling-party messages and mobilizing their subjects to vote obediently for incumbents. Yet, according to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, traditional leaders must not “act in a partisan manner (or) further the interests of any political party or cause.”  As it happens, ordinary Zimbabweans agree: In July 2018, 65% wanted these leaders to remain non-partisan. To level the electoral playing field in Zimbabwe, steps are required to sever the patronage ties between ruling party and traditional authorities and to limit the latter to their conventional functions as custodians of customary law.

But who will take on such tasks? Much depends on whether an array of independent commissions can be activated and adequately resourced. For example:

  • The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) still has work to do to build public confidence in its independence; as 2018 elections approached, fewer than half of all citizens trusted the ZEC (46%)  or thought that the ZEC was aneutral body (47%).
  • The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has begun to play a constructive role in investigating human-rights abuses and promoting tolerance. But between one-third and one-half of Zimbabweans haven’t heard enough about the ZHRC to know whether it is trustworthy (39%) or whether it was adequately prepared for the 2018 elections (56%).
  • Finally, the current mandate of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) is too restricted to “promote national healing, unity and cohesion in Zimbabwe (and) to bring about national reconciliation by encouraging people to tell the truth about the past”. For example, the lifespan of the commission should not be limited to 10 years, as is currently the case under the 2013 Constitution. The NPRC’s powers must also be greatly expanded in order to meet popular demand: Consistently over time, about two out of three Zimbabweans (70% in 2018) consider that those responsible for past political abuses must be held accountable, including through legal prosecution, rather than being excused with an amnesty.

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