Where ‘s the party?

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This week I was asked a question that haunted me for days, and I suspect will continue to haunt me for months. I was asked who I will vote for in the coming general elections.

Opinion: Thembe Khumalo

The question haunts me not because I understand that “my vote is my secret”, but because even I don’t know what my secret is! I genuinely have no idea where I could possibly put my X and feel that I had done the right thing.

After the election in 2013, I wrote a piece titled Yesterday I cried (https://www.newsday.co.zw/2013/08/02/local-drummeryesterday-i-cried/) I don’t know if I will be voting in the next election. But if I do vote, I don’t want to go home and compose a version called Yesterday I cried again!

When my children were very young, they seemed to spend a lot of time debating what they would become when they grew up. Apparently the delights of being a ballerina compare so favourably with the fulfillment of being a veterinary surgeon, that this can create a real career choice dilemma; not to mention that the allure of being an actress and the excitement of being an astronaut, or the sheer pleasure of being a hairdresser will cause a real quandary for a girl who is gifted.

Eventually I had to tell them the truth: “The thing you will become has not yet been invented.” They looked at me with big round eyes and puzzled faces. I sighed.

Today, I feel a bit like I am in the same position as them: the party I will vote for in 2018 has not yet been invented. I can only hope to God that someone will invent it soon.

In South Africa, a lobby group composed of political parties, civil society organisations, labour unions and religious groups was launched this week. Called the Freedom Movement, the group says it aims to remove President Jacob Zuma, protect the Constitution and restore power to the people of South Africa and protect their freedom. These are tall orders. Perhaps they too couldn’t decide which group could best effect this mammoth task, so they decided to invent one.

But what if no one invents the party I should vote for? If I cannot find someone to believe in, then what will I do? If, out of the more than 20 political parties currently registered, I cannot find one that I can place my vote and my voice behind, then what will I do?
The idea that I could just opt out of voting altogether seems wrong somehow. Contribution is one of my foundational personal values, and it is difficult to achieve contribution without participation.

Voting is not a reqirement, but it is a responsibility.

A vote is not just for the candidate, but also for the system. For the idea that individual votes and voices count for something; that what people think and believe and desire fro their leadership matters. The one man one vote system may not be the most effective and efficient way to choose leaders, particularly in the African cultural context, but it is the way that is available to us according to our Constitution.

In theory voting means a peaceful and orderly transition of power. I realise that for many Zimbabweans of voting age, this is a theory that has never been tested, but if we don’t vote, we will never know. If we vote, at least the possibility is birthed.

Perhaps you are one of the six million or so Zimbabweans, who are eligible to vote. Perhaps you care about the outcome of the elections.
If you do not vote, you close the door on opportunity.

In case you are an inventor of political movements, here is my wish list for qualities I will be looking for in political candidates. In fact it goes beyond political candidates to leaders in general.

I will vote for a candidate I respect. This seems so basic that it is hardly worth mentioning. I want to be lead by a man or woman who lives a high fidelity life — authentic to their proclaimed beliefs and consistent in their practice of those beliefs.

I will vote for a candidate who will be accountable. Elected officials must understand that they have been sent by someone to achieve something. They need to report back to those who sent them to say what progress they are making in the execution of that task. We have been so accustomed to abuse that we forget that we have rights.

I will vote for a servant leader. You now may start to think I am a naive, but I am continuously shocked at how many people in positions of power and I don’t mean political power necessarily. For instance, as my parents have grown older I find myself regularly having to remind them: “This person works for you. You pay his salary. You can ask him anything you want.”

But they are reluctant to question anything someone in authority says. They feel vulnerable and disempowered. It is exactly why servant leadership is so important. I want to vote for a leader who recognises that he is there to serve and not to be served, that any privilege he may acquire by virtue of his or her position is a debt to the people he leads; that the real power rests, not with him or her, but with the people who placed him in that position.

I will vote for a candidate with balls. I don’t mean that the candidate must be male. I mean that he or she must have demonstrable courage; be willing to stand against opposing opinion, aggressive rhetoric and antagonistic action. The leader with balls will have to be willing to risk his or her life for the people of Zimbabwe. As any hot-headed Ndebele woman will tell you, it is imperative for a leader to have “umgogodla”!

I will vote for a candidate who inspires me. You may wonder why this is important. As a Zimbabwean citizen, I am tired and jaded. I am weary of pouring energy, time, attention and money into a country that has become a graveyard of dreams. I don’t want to leave, and yet I don’t want to stay. I want someone to give me a reason to believe.

Finally, I only want to vote if my vote is going to matter. I need to believe that the process is real, that the system is sound, that the votes will count and be counted.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

Thembe Khumalo is a brand-builder, storyteller and social entrepreneur. Find out more on www.thembekhumalo.com or follow her social media accounts @thembekhumalo

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