Main Actors, Demystifying the Politics and “Voices from Below” – A Citizens Perspective on Dialogue in Zimbabwe

Introduction and Background

The Alliance of Community Based Organisations (ACBOs or the Alliance) is a consortium platform for networking, peer learning and institutional capacity strengthening of member organizations. It endeavours to devise common strategies for collaboration in enhancing community development work.Furthermore, the Alliance seeks to contribute to the unlocking of democratic space in Zimbabwe and increase the participation of marginalised grassroots communities in shaping and informing the overall democratic transition in Zimbabwe favourably to their interests and those of their communities. The Alliance is currently constituted of 14 community-based organisations working across 29 districts spread across 8 provinces in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has been embroiled in socio-economic and political crisis that has persisted for some time now, dating back at least to the turn of the millennium. However, even before the post-2000 crisis, there have been various epochs before that have witnessed conflict of varying forms. The early years of independence witnessed such political conflict that resulted in what is widely regarded as a genocide in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces. Further political conflict was fuelled by the worsening economic and social conditions largely resulting from the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), which accentuated dissent and in response the state became increasingly authoritarian.Various conjunctural events at the turn of the millennium precipitated and accentuated this crisis, epitomised by a failing economy, which in turn led to increasing social and political conflict. This increasingly pushed to the bring a restless citizenry in its attempt to make ends meet on the backdrop of an ever-deteriorating economy. While the genesis and drivers of the crisis remain contested, heightened political conflict has often deteriorated into open conflict, with numerous deaths,injuries and destruction of property afflicting communities at different epochs. This has resulted in arrested economic, social and political development which has kept the country’s development indicators in the negative. In most instances, such conflict has usually been resolved through dialogue, though a culture of impunity and selective application of the law seems to be also prevalent, hence, further retarding social, economic and political harmony.

Yet, for all the many conflicts that the country has witnessed, dialogue has always been proffered as key to resolving such conflict. As the country currently faces a debilitating crisis, various key individuals and institutions have implored Zimbabweans to find room for dialogue to resolving the crisis. The new ructions in the ruling party’s youth league, have also led to the calls for Dialogue between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa of the opposition MDCA. Towards the end of 2019, former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, initiated a process to bring the MDCA and ZANU PF into talks. Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube in his autobiography, “Quiet Flows The Zambezi River”, bemoans the lost opportunity during the November 2017 Transition, where Emerson Mnangagwa leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) and Morgan Tsvangirayi, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) could have joined hands to work towards a new trajectory. The Speaker of Parliament of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Council of Churches, private sector leaders, various civil society actors, regional and international bodies among many others have called for dialogue between Zimbabwe’s leadership to resolve the long standing economic and political crisis facing the country. From these calls, a clear consensus emerges that dialogue is the only way to resolve Zimbabwe’s political impasse. However, all these approaches point to a negotiated elite settlement. A further gaze into history shows, there has never been a dialogue process centred on citizens and their perspectives to dialogue as informed by the material conditions under which they subsist in times of crisis. The forms and nature of dialogue that have taken place before, have usually been limited to the major political actors,‘the elite’;largely,excluding the general citizenry, for whom such dialogue is ostensibly held to assist.

It is against this background that the ACBOs commissioned this research to seek to understand citizens’ views on such a topic of national importance. Most importantly, is to also seek to understand from the citizens how the much talked about dialogue can better be directed to sustainably address the myriad issues affecting their communities and the country. Many questions abound on this issue of dialogue: who shall convene the dialogue? Who should be at the table? What issues should they dialogue on? And what are the sought outcomes? Is there scope for citizen participation in such dialogue? As a network of community-based organisations rooted in the often excluded and marginalised communities, it was in the interests of the ACBOs to profile the voices from the communities that we work in, in an attempt to answering these key questions on dialogue.

It is out of a reading of these “voices from below” and Zimbabwe’s history of dialogue that the Alliance proffers a contribution to this national issue;and profiling and amplifying these “voices from below”, very often excluded from such key national processes.

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Source: Alliance of Community Based Organisations (ACBOs)