Zimbabwe has for a long time been a polarized nation, a situation which has seen the country fail to move forward in unity to achieve its goals and aspirations.
Political contestations have usually resulted in hateful divisions among the populace, stalling economic progress in the process as citizens expend their energies on trivia at the expense of building the nation.
Lack of shared national vision
According to the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) programmes team leader Dr Tinashe Gumbo, the problem of polarization in Zimbabwe emanates from the lack of a shared national common vision.
“Zimbabwe’s polarization is also caused by the fact that we don’t have any shared National Vison that we share as a nation. It is unlike in other countries where even when a new leader comes, we know that he will build on what was happening as that will be pushing towards the achievement of a national vision. But for Zimbabwe this vision is lacking, this common vision is lacking,” he said.
He said the several visions promulgated by the government such as Vision 2020, Vision 2030 and others lacked the input of the grassroots thus, failed to unite the people around a common purpose.
“While we have many visions like Vision 2030 and so on, we have others who buy the idea, but we still have others who say this is your idea, it’s not my vision, hence polarization continues because we don’t have a shared vision that brings us together,” he said.
Gumbo said polarization in Zimbabwe was not a new thing as it has been happening over the years as the country has remained divided and fragmented.
“Zimbabwe has been a polarized nation and this is actually explained not by the current developments alone but it is explained by the historical and the contemporary situation in our context. Zimbabwe has remained a fragmented society along political lines, its either you belong to this political party or that political party. Zimbabwe has been polarized or fragmented along tribal lines. It’s either you are Ndebele or Shona or any other and all this has been happening over the years,” he said.
He said there were also past hates that still lingered in the minds of the people which promoted polarization, fragmentation and divisions among Zimbabweans.
Generational gap also another factor
Gumbo said while polarization was usually more pronounced on the political arena, it actually took different dimensions.
He noted that the generational gap between the youths and the elder generation had also contributed to polarization and mistrust between the young and the old.
“It’s either you belong to the youth generation or to the older generation; and you will see that our youths if you were to ask them today, what is the problem; they will argue to say that it is because of this older generation that has ruined our lives. It is because of this older generation that continues to refer to the past without taking us forward, which is failing to pass on the button of leadership to youthful leaders,”
“…but if you ask the older generation, they will argue to say that these youths are actually trying to bring back colonialism or imperialism. We don’t know where they want to take this country so as a result we need to guard against whatever efforts they are making. It is our duty to ensure the youths are actually tamed, “he said.
Gender imbalances, he said, also contributed to polarization along gender lines in Zimbabwe.
“Women are not being given the opportunity to lead politically, economically and socially hence polarization has remained along gender lines.
Because of political developments that have happened in the past, the Zimbabwean society has remained fragmented.
“Zimbabwe is also polarized because of the political happenings that happened sometime back. Political violence that took place during the years even before MDC was formed but also after MDC was formed we saw violence being perpetrated by many political actors from both the ruling and opposition political parties and this has further polarized our nation,” Dr Gumbo said.
He added; “This is why Zimbabwe has remained polarized, hence even the language being used today, we talk of Kurakasha, kudira jecha, which if one leader is to say we are moving this side, one will say we are not moving that side. If one says Zimbabwe is open for business, you are sure there is another one who says Zimbabwe is not open for business. Polarisation has remained a major issue and it is affecting even churches, families, communities even at national level. It has affected all our levels of society,”
Dr Gumbo said it was the belief of churches that comprehensive and inclusive dialogue; one which involves churches, CSO’s, government and political parties, was the only way to deal with polarization in the country.
“We expect our grassroots to be involved in issues, we expect CSO’S, government to promote the development of agendas at the very local level. At the moment because of polarization people on the ground are fearful, they are not confident, they don’t even know they have the power to develop an agenda to bring unity amongst Zimbabweans,” he said.
He said stakeholders should ensure that they mobilize and coordinate the grassroots for development of agendas which would be taken to the “organized society level” which in taken would be taken to the next stage which is the organized society so that together society is able to see the problem of polarization from the same perspective.
“Together they are able to gather around the problem definition and the resolution of polarization so that together with other peace institutions like the NPRC we are able to see this thing from the same angle. Then we package that particular agenda into something to be taken to the political actors’ level where implementation is taking place. That’s where you see the political parties, government, legislators so that we have consensus around the problem of polarization and agree to resolve it,” he said.
Ordinary people not polarized
However, South Africa based Political Analyst Kudzai Mutisi blamed politicians for the polarization in the country, saying ordinary people were not polarized as they lived together in harmony every day.
“The perceived polarization comes from politicians and their surrogate activists, particularly on social media. They speak inflammatory language and want to create a sense of “crisis”….it is a political strategy particularly by the opposition. In short, polarization in Zimbabwe is perceived not really lived,” he said.
He said the biggest risk of polarization and intolerance was that it led to political violence and a toxic social and business environment which hampered development as the country would be deemed a high risk investment destination.
“Political differences should not harm national interests; but in Zimbabwe political differences are harming national interests in many ways. We have an opposition that believes it can only win power if the ruling party fails and thus end up supporting external forces that harm the country’s economy,” he said.
Mutisi said government should simply deliver, saying it was the best way to promote peace.
“If the country’s economy is doing well, there will be less friction amongst the population and those trying to cause divisions will not have much of an audience,” he said.
He said CSOs must stick to their mandates instead of dabbling in politics in violation of their mandates, noting once perceived to be politically biased, they could never be effective in promoting social cohesion.
“As for political parties, they should all start by acknowledging that politics is a contest of ideas not hate. Politicians should also learn to accept defeat when they lose and desist from using inflammatory language. Ordinary people take a cue from political leadership. It is important that those leaders preach and practice tolerance all the time,” he said.
Media only mirrors politics of the day
MISA-Zimbabwe Director Tabani Moyo said the media and social media did not in any way entrench polarization as they only mirrored the politics of the day.
“It is not media that is entrenching polarization. The politicians account for the national polarization; what the media and social media does is to reflect these structural challenges which are straight in our faces,” he said.
The solution, he said, lied in the politicians disembarking from their high horses of entitlement and shape a politics that was responsive rather than zero in on politics of exclusion and intolerance to divergent views.
“That is the first step towards surgical reconstruction of Zimbabwe and all its facets of life will reflect this new approach,” he said.
The media has been roundly condemned for partisan reportage, with independent media houses accused of a bias towards opposition CCC and State media accused of propping up the ruling ZANU PF.