Polarization and apathy: twin evils

Zimbabwe is trapped in a perennial governance crisis that is kept going by the twin evils of extreme political polarization and widespread apathy. Polarization and apathy are also the biggest stumbling blocks to finding a lasting solution to the various challenges confronting Zimbabwe today.

‘Polarization is characterized by, on one hand, an extremely violent and intolerant group, and an unarmed, but vocal group of rights and political activists on the other.
‘Polarization is characterized by, on one hand, an extremely violent and intolerant group, and an unarmed, but vocal group of rights and political activists on the other.

When all issues of national importance are framed in political terms – or are viewed through coloured political lenses – it is unlikely that an objective analysis of the problems or possible solutions will emerge. Matters of social and economic development, education, road safety, health facilities and food security all play second fiddle to political considerations in our highly polarized political environment.

For instance, acknowledging a national typhoid outbreak where Harare alone has recorded more than 500 cases becomes an intrinsically political process where information is given or withheld depending on what perceived political gain or damage such information may bring. At the height of the food crisis in 2008, very senior government officials refused to seek international food aid timeously because it was viewed as politically improper, and that to receive aid without asking for it infringed on the country’s sovereign right to ask for support.

Polarization holds Zimbabwe captive – no progress is possible for us because of the extreme divisions in the country. The dysfunctional inclusive government’s dramatic failure to institute democratic reforms is a direct product of an extremely polarized environment. This has given rise to the second evil of apathy – widespread disinterest among Zimbabweans in matters to do with their livelihoods and development. It seems the extreme polarization has pushed people to retreat into their individual shells in the hope that ‘minding their own business’ will save them from being victimized.

Because polarization is characterized by, on one hand, an extremely violent and intolerant group that has the de facto backing of state power, and an unarmed, but vocal group of rights and political activists on the other, this has led to the creating of a large group of indifferent spectators. This group rapidly adapts to whatever difficult circumstances come as a result of bad governance and mismanagement of national resources.

Digging shallow wells

When there is a water crisis, instead of taking issue with government officials, they would rather dig shallow wells to get water, or, sink boreholes. When there are electricity cuts, clearly associated corruption and poor management, the solution is rather to buy electric generators for those who can, or fetch firewood for cooking and heating.

The devastating impact of polarization and apathy is to prolong suffering, prolong the life of a regime on its last legs, and keep Zimbabwe in a state of crisis. At the moment there is virtually no movement forward in Zimbabwe, there is no serious reflection about development issues – or emerging issues such as the climate change summit – COP17 taking place in Durban, South Africa. Instead, focus is rushing headlong into an ill-prepared-for election with both sides of the political divide staring at each other – looking to see who blinks first.

Forcing a win

Predictably, due to extreme polarization, the timing of the next elections has nothing to do with the country’s preparedness to hold a genuinely free and fair election, but everything to do with Zanu (PF)’s sense of preparedness to force a win. For them this should be possible because the leadership of the security forces who control the state machinery of violence is behind Zanu (PF). There is more disposable income courtesy of the un-quantified and un-accounted for Marange diamond revenue, the indigenization policy will likely benefit a number of party cronies and the extremely polarized and partisan state media remains behind Zanu (PF). As elections approach, state-owned media will most likely be reduced to a Zanu (PF) mouth piece, openly campaigning for the party while demonizing the MDC-T the main challenger to Zanu (PF).

All it takes for Zimbabwe to achieve significant, positive democratic change is for people to fight the twin evils of polarization and apathy by choosing to actively participate in programmes that deliver change. It is difficult to fight apathy in the face of real fear. A way to address the risk of violence or some other danger is to actively participate in the democratization project without being public about it. There is need for stronger support, including financial support, to those individuals or groups that stand for democracy, human rights respect and development for all Zimbabweans. There is need to expose and shame those that stand for an unacceptable status quo.

Now is the time for Zimbabweans to stand up and be counted when it comes to denouncing divisive politics that hold us back from achieving our full potential. For us to move out of this cyclic mode of self-destruction and stagnancy, we need direct support from out neighbours in the form of SADC to push us out of this pit. To keep the effects of extreme polarization at bay, and to neutralize the fear that feeds apathy, it is necessary that when Zimbabwe goes for the next elections, a SADC peace-keeping force be on the ground to reassure all that the world is watching.

Post published in: Politics

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