Tips to navigate Zimbabwe’s rough political terrain
Politics is boring, divisive and chaotic however in Zimbabwe everything is politics, honest social conversations can easily degenerate into politics, our day today language is codes in partisan political terms and the us vs them mentality is entrenched in our psyche.
Admittedly Zimbabwe is politically polarised like never before, on social media as well as in our communities we have created echo chambers where we feel so comfortable and in agreement with one another, when a dissenting voice appear we crash it before it even gets louder.
We support things just because of the person who did it not the substance, we condemn actions of “others” without even looking at their intentions and we defend the indefensible with little or no regard to facts. Polarisation is toxic for our collective society, or breaks down the accountability architecture of our society because those who support a certain institution will defend it irregardless of facts and those against only see evil.
To transcend above partisan political polarization we need certain skills and tactics, to bring back rationality and objectivity in our politics and social lives.
Here are some notes on how one can navigate the rough and polarised Zimbabwean political terrain.
1. Know the basics
We can start from we can all agree, politics has direct effects on our day to day lives.
Whether we like it or not, government plays a huge role in our daily lives, ranging from the amount of tax one pays to the things they are allowed or not allowed to do.
Knowing that the politics and particularly the government has direct effects on our lives we then need to take the time to understand how the government works? Who has which responsibilities and how do they come to the decisions they make? Dr Alex Magaisa wrote some basics of how the Zimbabwean state is structured and that can be helpful in this initial stage.
Knowing how the government is structured will help one understand who is responsible for what and what to expect from who and when for example the Auditor-General is required to produce audit reports by June the 30th each year, knowing this will enable you to demand it when it’s late, read it when it’s ready and utilise it as you should.
2. Follow the media
Zimbabwean media is polarised, on the other side we have state media and on the other we have independent media.
Reading one source of news will leave you with inadequate Infomation, and may continue to reinforce ideas you already have. Reading news from multiple sources will help you understand the story in full and pasa judgements from an informed position that someone who relies on one source.
3. Improve contact with perceived opponents
The academic “contact hypothesis” suggests that getting to know each other can reduce prejudice between groups. And this is because often times we have certain preconceived ideas about others which are not always true, and four you to understand others you need to have contact with them.
The common perceptions in Zimbabwe are that ruling party supporters are not smart and those who are smart are looters, ruling party supporters see sellouts and paid activists in the opposition community which after some close contact one can see that it’s not always that straight foward. I follow some brilliant ZANU PF supporters and some not so smart opposition supporters online and from my experience that has helped me to understand some of the arguments made by both side in a more objective way.
4. Understand that change is a process
In politics we often approach conversations with an intention to change others’ views at best and at worst we approach conversations accusing others of ignorance of lack of knowledge.
Winning hearts and minds remains the goal however learn to listen what others had to say without criticising, deliver your views without accusing others of ignorance and not to push people to perfection in one straw. If your arguments are sound, they will definitely pull people to your side without you making loud statements to persuade.
Most importantly when confronted with hard facts and know knowledge even if it is the opposite of what you believed before, it is necessary to self introspect and chance your beliefs according to new found knowledge. Holding on to unjustified Infomation will disadvantage you in most conversations and may hurt your credibility as a key member of the society.
5. Remember that terminology matters
Zimbabwe’s toxic political environment has introduced us to some name calling, Scarfmore Tongombeya, Varakashi and Varashiki, Paid Twitter, Jecha brigade, toddlers and Thiglus. All these names were designed to hurt, to provoke and demácrate spaces of influence.
When talking to people especially of a different view, consider your terminology and your tone. Often times when one addresses you in a way you don’t like, you end up not listening but preparing to return the bitter favour.
6. Politics is not the solution
All this polarisation and toxicity can be ended by just a few structural reforms however political will to drive that change is lacking that is why I advise people to look for solutions beyond politics.
We can all agree that politics is the problem, the way it is conducted, the way it is viewed and the way it is not held accountable. The solution cannot be found in politics alone, churches and other religious institutions, business ventures and educational institutions can be places to forge new alliances and raise above the day to day politics which continues to cause headaches.
These are the times when you look for an adult in the room to calm things down only to see that your the adult in the room. We don’t have to wait for politicians at the national level to bridge the divide, we have to bridge the divide, maybe we can fix the country from the bottom up.