Young idealist walks the talk

Shepherd Chidhakwa is one of the very few people who broke ranks with the partisan Zimbabwean security forces to try and play a role in the democratization of the country.

Shepherd Chidhakwa: Those in diaspora must get involved.
Shepherd Chidhakwa: Those in diaspora must get involved.

He actively participated in nation-building since leaving the national army in 2001, after only three years of service. But it was after his migration to South Africa five years ago that the Gokwe-born man decided to take the bull by the horns – founding and leading the Democracy Advocacy Initiative. This seeks to galvanise the efforts of those who pursue proper democracy, economic freedom, social cohesion and national unity.

“When I arrived here, it was very difficult for me to adjust and I had to do part-time jobs, some of them menial ones that paid slave wages. My life was a daily battle for survival. However, I saved the little that I was getting to fund my Political Science degree with the university of South Africa,” he told The Zimbabwean in a recent interview.

The objectives of the DAI are to mobilise Zimbabweans into active citizenship, to advocate democracy and raise the rights literacy level in the populace with a particular focus on rural communities, to advance clean governance, social justice, peace and social cohesion.

“We also promote community participation in the national decision-making process, social and economic development and the eradication of discrimination in all spheres of life, including health, employment, religion, colour, creed and political orientation. We seek progressive constitutional and political reform in Zimbabwe and to generally provide a platform for discourse on social, political, economic and environmental issues.”

Already, the organisation has deployed its officers in rural areas back home, where they monitor the political situation and record issues of ongoing political violence. Where they can, they discourage the villager-on-villager attacks that have torn several communities apart since 2000, when President Robert Mugabe’s political intolerance reached unprecedented levels after a strong challenge from the MDC.

With so many non-governmental organizations already fighting for the same cause, why did Chidhakwa feel the need to form his own?

“I realised the need to plug the void in democracy advocacy linked directly with empowerment programmes, particularly in the rural communities,” explained the 34-year-old.

“To ensure active participation in our discussion programmes, we created an interactive Facebook page to chat discourse on clean governance, transparency, accountability and other critical facets that deepen democracy beyond its mere electoral form – an appreciation of how critical it is to always get input from the people so as not to fly blind.”

Zimbabwe is torn apart politically. Does he believe that this can be turned around – and who should do that?

“This can be done. I believe it is the duty of every progressive Zimbabwean to build bridges across divides planted by the insular, self-interested political elite. If we all do what we can to dissipate fear and insidious apathy, we would have laid a firm foundation to march to the sound of a different drum of tomorrow. We can chip away at the naked dissonance between Zimbabwe’s founding principles of equal opportunity and equitable wealth distribution and the obscene amassing of wealth by a politically connected few in the sea of poverty that obtains today,” explained Chidhakwa.

As someone living outside the country, but still attached to his homeland, he had this advice for his fellows in the diaspora:

“We must not only talk about the need for social and political change in our country, but to strive to be the change. The land of our birth is now the home of our sorrow and we need to join hands to realise a better Zimbabwe for all. It starts with you and me.”

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