San Documentation—Hopes For Civic Participation Alive

The San community has long been alienated from basic social and economic development initiatives due to the lack of documentation. Now, ahead of elections, this could change.

A recent announcement by the government that about 3000 undocumented San people in the Tsholotsho area will be issued birth certificates and national identification cards have brought excitement within the civic society movement. There had been years of sustained lobbying for documentation of the San without much success.

The Registrar General’s office embarked on the documentation exercise beginning 13 September. The government said it had removed all the bottlenecks inhibiting easy access to national documents, such as asking applicants to bring witnesses.

Davy Ndlovu, the Programmes Manager for Tsoro-O-Tso San, a development trust that fosters the rights of the Khoisan tribe, told The Citizen Bulletin that the initial focus had been more on developmental discourse.

“We are pushing for their inclusion and participation in politics simply because a lot of decisions in the country are political, and if you exclude yourself from participating, you play second fiddle all the time,” says Ndlovu. He said they would lobby the community “that shy away and easily give up” to embrace the documentation process.

However, political parties are angling to seize the opportunity to lure eligible voting groups within their ranks ahead of the 2023 national elections. The San Community members are now eligible to register to vote and say on local governance issues with IDs.

“You always say you want to be councillors, but you could not register to contest elections due to lack of IDs,” said Chief Siphoso at the launch of the documentation process in August. “This is your chance to get identity documents so that you can contest the elections and also register to vote. We want everyone to have obtained their ID by the time the mobile registration teams leave here,” said the chief.

Ndlovu added: “As a community, we are also thinking of maximising the opportunity to get IDs because once they have IDs and birth certificates, the voting process will at some stage come to an end, but they would have accessed the much-needed documents. We encourage the community to participate in the rollout programme.”

Descent Collins Bhajila, a seasoned activist, warned that political players might struggle to gain attraction with the San Community if their messaging does not respond to the needs of the San.

“Political parties and civic organisations can tap into the eligible voting age group, particularly within the San Community if they programme their issues that respond to the needs and aspirations of the San Community of Zimbabwe,” he told The Citizen Bulletin.

“It is important these institutions establish programmes that take them to the doors steps of the San people and then get to understand what the San people want so that they can have their programmes that respond to issues of the San.”

By so doing, according to Bhajila, “younger San people are likely to find more reasons to participate in political issues and civic spaces if there is an understanding that these political parties, CSOs have interest in matters of survival, growth and development of the San community.”

Khumbulani Maphosa, Coordinator of Matabeleland Institute of Human Rights (MIHR), says the documentation of the San Community should not be viewed as a political move but also a human right.

“Let’s not look at political participation of the community as partisan politics. It is a human right. It helps people to exercise their rights,” Maphosa says.

Maphosa added that if politicians know that if they mess up, they won’t be voted for, they tend to be disciplined, which entrenches accountability.

However, the MIHR coordinator was cautious of the immediate full political participation of community members. “The San community tend to exclude itself from many issues and as a result are living a life of social exclusion, they easily give up on many issues. For instance, if there is a drought relief programme and are told that only those with National Identity documents will benefit, they give up.”

He added that during elections if a candidate is not one of them, they fold hands. “Therefore, we are pushing for their inclusion and participation in politics simply because a lot of decisions in the country are political, and if you exclude yourself from participating, you play second fiddle all the time.”

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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