Editor’s Memo: Political tolerance keystone to democracy

Faith Zaba

LAST month, I was asked to facilitate a training on political communication. Participants on the programme included youth leaders from Zanu PF, Citizens Coalition for Change, student leaders, young intellectuals, social justice and development activists.

Honestly, I did not know what to expect. I was very apprehensive about the training sessions.But to my pleasant surprise, I had two of the best days of my life.In between sessions, they would break into song and dance.

I was impressed by their level of debate and intellect.What impressed me most was the level of respect they demonstrated for each other.This is critical to ease political polarisation in a country which for decades has been deeply divided along partisan lines.

Decades of political polarisation in Zimbabwe have become a cancer that is fast tearing apart rural and urban communities.

To understand why we are such a bitterly divided nation, we need to understand our political history.

The country has been stuck in this destructive vicious circle for many years. Almost every election in Zimbabwe since 1980 has been marred by political violence, both intra and inter-party.

It was refreshing to be in a room with a group of young people from different political parties and organisations, where each respected the other’s views without the toxicity drowning Zimbabwe’s politics.

Party leaders from across the political divide have a lot to learn from these young men and women.

If this was a glimpse of what the future holds – I am hopeful.

With elections beckoning, Zimbabwe must promote respect for life, equal rights, freedom of expression, freedom of association, tolerance and greater understanding between different political parties.

Violence is primitive and hate speech polarises the nation and incites hostility, discrimination and violence.

There is need for a mind-set shift in the way journalists report on elections, political parties package their messaging and campaigns.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is currently running a voter registration campaign.

But the need for political parties to woo people to register to vote is not just telling them to do so.

They must make them believe that it is worth it.The job of political parties is to sell the vision – be it the future or alternative.There is a greater need to sell a vision that appeals to millions of young people so that they are encouraged to vote.

As the late constitutional lawyer, Alex Magaisa wrote in one his Big Saturday Read editions: “The political story is aspirational. It represents the set of values, beliefs and policies of a political party. It is part of the myth-making exercise that forms the pith of every organisation that seeks to harness the support of citizens”.

The challenge for political parties is to weave a political story that appeals to the imagination of not only traditional supporters but millions of undecided voters.

In this year’s election campaigns, political parties need to convince the electorate, including new young voters and millions of unemployed people, why they should vote for them.

Zimbabweans are generally tired of the political rhetoric and empty promises syndrome.

This year journalists have a greater responsibility.They must not parrot populist rhetoric used by politicians and political parties.And they must not promote false narratives.

Journalists should not become megaphones or stenographers of political candidates’ speeches.

Political parties’ challenge is packaging their messaging – state what their policies are without ambiguity. Let this year’s election campaign be about issues.

As Journalists, we must present issues as subjects of serious debate and always ask critical questions like how the parties propose to achieve what they are promising the electorate.

But most importantly, journalists must be guided by generally accepted principles, such as telling the truth, being independent, striving for impartiality, minimising harm and being accountable.

Zimbabweans across the political divide must shy away from the retrogressive and negative culture of political violence and hate speech.

We must learn from the group of young leaders - we need to foster tolerance, as it allows everyone to work and live together.

Tolerance breeds unity and national development.

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