I LOVE watching South Africans in action!
One thing I admire about these people is that they do not brook nonsense from their leaders.
Granted, the country appears on a downward spiral — eerily similar to what we have witnessed in our own Zimbabwe — but the citizenry can never be faulted for not trying.
Over the past week alone, I have seen (on their news channels) ordinary South Africans protesting over poor service delivery in their respective communities, with the issue of water provision being primary.
In fact, during my stint in our southern neighbouring country, my first job was with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that assisted people in less privileged societies.
This provided me a front row opportunity to study how South Africans in the grassroots operated.
As a matter of fact, I found myself at the centre of one or two of these protests by virtue of my work.
As much as I stayed in Crowthorne (Midrand), when there was mass action in the nearby Olievenhoutbosch settlement (in Centurion), in which our NGO operated, we were invited to be part of the crisis meetings to deal with the situation.
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These were meant to address the grievances raised, calm tempers down and engage relevant authorities.
Those involved in the meetings were community leaders, members of business organisations, NGOs operating in the area, religious leaders, law enforcement (Saps) representatives and of course relevant authorities (whether local, provincial or national government).
In so doing — as much as there could have been deep and even anger-filled disgruntlement from the community — with frank and honest discussions, solutions were usually found.
Thereafter, the demonstrations were called off — after the conditions agreed upon during the meetings had been fulfilled.
At the end of the day, whatever grievances the people previously harboured were resolved, and life became a bit better than before.
I do not want to over-glorify the success rate of this approach — since there were, indeed, a handful of times that the community and authorities failed to find each other.
However, from my own personal experience, success was more likely than failure.
In other words, if citizenry come together for a common purpose largely yield positive results.
Nonetheless, there is something those with an eye for detail may have already spotted in this narrative.
In all these protests and mass actions — as communities demanded their rights — there was a glaring absence of political parties.
This was not by coincidence but by design.
The communities in South Africa understood that politics and politicians by their nature were divisive.
The main objective of any political party or politician is the attainment and retention of power — with the subsequent trappings of access to resources and social status.
It is never about the ordinary people.
The only reason political parties and politicians come to the citizens is for their support and votes.
This is on account of a condition that comes with democracy — which demands those seeking power to get the public vote.
That is the only reason they come pretending as if they care for us and desire only the best for our wellbeing.
It is all a huge big sham.
If there was another way of achieving their ambitions without going through the people, they would never come anywhere near us!
Besides, if their motives were purely for the upliftment of our standards of living, why would they resort to fighting for power?
Why hate and fight each other merely for an opportunity to serve one’s people?
It is never about us. That is the brutal truth. So, let us not be so gullible.
As such, in their quest for political power, the modus operandi of any politician is to sow seeds of division.
This is done in the hope of attracting supporters to their side while painting rivals as terrible individuals.
As a result, communities are divided along partisan lines — meaning that they can never pull together for a noble cause.
In actual fact, political parties and politicians will whip up emotions, usually taking advantage of legitimate grievances.
Yet, this is never done for the benefit of the ordinary citizens, but simply for political mileage and scoring cheap points.
In most cases, the community loses at the end, since divided people seldom succeed in pursuing their demands.
Going back to the South African example, if these communities had allowed politicians to be involved, the mass action would have been reduced to a mere political campaign.
Furthermore, half of the community would have distanced themselves from the demonstrations — on account of not wanting to be associated with those seeking the downfall of their political leaders.
For that reason, there was never any political sloganeering or grandstanding during the mass actions.
No one went about chanting for or against any particular political party or leader.
These were genuinely organic community initiatives.
People from all political parties, and even those not aligned to any, stood together for a cause.
Let us not forget that when a crisis hits a country or community, it does not discriminate on the grounds of one’s political leanings.
That is exactly what we witness here in Zimbabwe.
Whether we are struggling because of a failing national economy or deplorable service delivery in urban areas, no ordinary citizen is spared.
It does not matter if these national challenges are attributable to the ruling Zanu PF party or to our local authorities run by the opposition.
We are all adversely affected — irrespective of political party affiliation.
Therefore, it makes no sense for us to allow political parties and politicians to hijack our grievances.
This will only serve to divide us.
In the end, with a divided voice, we become weak people who can easily be overpowered and manipulated by those in authority.
As long as we want to confront the seemingly unending crises we are facing through partisan lenses, we will forever be losers.
Surely, why would devout Zanu PF supporters join a mass action calling for the fall of a national government presided over by their party and leaders?
On the other hand, it is illogical for opposition loyalists to participate in demonstrations against local authorities led by their parties?
That is how we are so easily manipulated by those in power — as the ruling party blames the opposition, and in turn, the opposition faults the ruling party.
In all this, the ordinary citizens are the biggest losers.
Zimbabweans have become weak and lethargic — even in the middle of untold suffering — due to placing our hope for salvation in political parties and politicians.
Nothing can be as naïve as such distorted thinking.
It will never work.
Zimbabweans have to take a leaf out of the South Africans.
People in those communities will never wait, with arms folded, for their political leaders to call for protests.
Not only will that call never come — but, as already highlighted, the community will end up divided and ineffective.
That is why salvation for Zimbabweans will never come.
We have surrendered our own lives and livelihoods to our political parties and leaders.
We wait for them to take or call for action while we merely sit back and watch as our lives are ruthlessly ruined.
At any rate, these political leaders are not suffering as we are — and, therefore, do not see the urgency of such action.
In fact, they first have to consider the dangers such mass action pose to themselves.
There is no way someone whose agenda is to attain power will place his life, safety and freedom in jeopardy.
That would be contrary to his ultimate objective of reaching the highest office on the land in one piece.
Why take such a risk?
While, in all this, our already dismal plight continues to worsen.
The onus is upon us as the suffering people of Zimbabwe to stand up for ourselves.
As I have mentioned in numerous previous writings, we do not even need to go to the streets — where our lives are in danger.
Not everything requires street protests.
We can simply stay in our homes for a specific period — bringing the entire nation to a standstill until our demands are heeded by those in authority.
At the local level, we can also protest against poor service delivery — where some urban areas have gone for months or years without potable water.
Let us not allow anyone with their own agenda to meddle in our cause.
We are the ones enduring unimaginable poverty and lack — so why should we abdicate the responsibility for our own lives to someone else?
Besides, these politicians will only divide us and as a result, weaken us.
Unless and until we change how we do things in Zimbabwe, there will never be any hope for us.
- Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author and speaker. He writes here in his personal capacity.