HARARE – The country’s current crop of leadership is thriving on the fact that the people they lead are ill-informed of their rights enshrined in the Constitution, Election Resource Centre (ERC) executive director Tawanda Chimhini has said.
Chimhini, whose organisation has been conducting road shows in rural communities since 2014 said over the years they have met stiff resistance from some district administrators, provincial and national leaders who are against community meetings.
“We have had this problem where leaders, especially district administrators do not want communities to meet and discuss their own issues.
“There is a crop of leaders, not all them, that are afraid of their own people — the people who voted them into power.
“We have the police still insisting that communities have to notify them before they meet, but there is no such law because every citizen has his or her freedom of assembly. And we wonder which law they are using in stopping communities in engaging their leaders,” said Chimhini.
The ERC executive director spoke on the sidelines of Global Day of Citizen Action celebrations held at Karuru Township in Hurungwe over the weekend which was facilitated by his organisation and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association.
Chimhini said it was sad that some leaders still feel that they are the gatekeepers and no one else can challenge them.
“You find leaders like MPs, chiefs or even headmen who do not want communities to meet when they are not there, but we are saying communities can engage on their own even without the local leadership.
Ironically, Chimhini noted that “most times when communities meet the missing link is the absence of leadership”.
“They are never there for the people who voted for them only to appear at election time. And we are saying communities should go ahead and engage so as to find solutions to their problems.”
Chimhini said it is disturbing that in Zimbabwe there is constant conflict between leadership and citizens.
“Communities have a lot of issues to discuss with their leaders. Responsible leaders should be able to listen to the people who voted them into power — they should make time for them.”
He said young people today are fighting for their political space and the freedom to speak.
“Even the war veterans went to war as young boys and girls because they wanted political freedom, they wanted to speak freely and vote freely.
“So they took up arms to fight for those rights and it is sad that even after they won that fight, Zimbabweans are today still fighting to get those same rights. And we are there to fight for those rights until we get them.
“We expect a Zimbabwe where democracy and governance issues are discussed openly, and young people have a responsibility to see to it that their kids in future are able to freely speak in an environment devoid of fear and intimidation.”
Since 2014, the ERC has been working with communities on issues to do with democracy and governance and mobilising public participation.
“Since then we have realised that a lot of people do not feel fully engaged, so we have created spaces for communities to meet their leaders, be they councillors or legislators.
“We have since seen a trend in which some leaders engage and some do not engage at all, but we are urging leaders to continuously engage voters even in-between elections — the conversations have to go on.”
Chimhini added that democracy and elections do not stop because an election has been held.
“The voter is the employer and when a leader is chosen he or she is expected to deliver and in the process work closely with the people who voted him into power.
“The voter should not only be important when it is time for elections and as an organisation with the collaboration of others like ZimRights we continuously remind citizens and even politicians that there is even more work after elections.”
“We need a cyclic approach to elections and we are happy with community initiatives to keep the conversations alive through clusters of like-minded organisations like ZimRights who have representatives throughout the country. Leadership begins to listen if the voices get louder.”
He said they only visit communities when invited. “We just do not get into communities; the communities actually invite us because they have their priorities. .. we identify areas they need capacity building and we then train them in mobilisation and community engagement.”
“There is a misconception by others that we are ‘opposition’ — we are apolitical.
“We are just there to create space for citizen participation and making sure that their democratic and freedom rights are respected.
He said they were urging communities to put together their own manifestos and not wait for those from political parties.
“Elections should be about priorities and not political parties — that is why we have political violence during elections because the vote is not based on community issues but political parties.
“We need to break that barrier and have political parties market their policies.”