Active Citizenship and Constitutionalism in Zimbabwe
Recently in cyberspace, a variety of politically and socially related contributions have been made by various Zimbabwean activists in the forms of online video posts, blogs, and interviews.
One of the most notable activists is Acie Lumumba, who has released a series of videos online criticizing allegedly corrupt officials in the Zimbabwean government.
Another activist who has caught the attention of Zimbabweans all over the world is Evan Mawarire who is the originator of #ThisFlag campaign.
Evan Mawarire, who is now popularly known as the “flag pastor”, has released a series of online videos bemoaning the socio-economic circumstances currently experienced by ordinary Zimbabweans.
As a means of expressing socioeconomic frustrations, Mawarire has urged Zimbabweans to carry the Zimbabwean flag as they go about their daily business.
Many Zimbabweans have heeded that call, and as I write this, the “flag pastor” has thousands of followers on different social media platforms.
Now this recent display of online activism interests me for two reasons.
Firstly, because the Harare based Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) wrote in a 2015 publication that “Zimbabwean citizens show very low levels of participation, and very high levels of fear about participation.”
Yet, clearly, the high levels of online activism that Zimbabwe has seen recently shows that RAU did not take social media as a form of participation into account when they reached that conclusion.
Secondly, I find it interesting that some politicians have called these online activists all sorts of politically incorrect names like “puppets” and “funded by the west,” and this demonstrates that Zimbabwe still does not distinguish between political activism and Active Citizenship, which I will discuss here.
Imagine yourself at a wedding that has over five hundred guests.
Without doubt, such a large group will comprise people of diverse professions, socioeconomic classes, races, different ages, and even diverse political views.
If a fire happened to break out in the kitchen while you were enjoying the reception, you would probably make an announcement in attempt to ensure that everyone in attendance realised the situation and the right direction to safety.
Such an announcement would be for all the guests and not only those who share your political standpoint. This is an analogy of Active Citizenship.
In fact, Active Citizenship in simple terms refers to citizens actively performing roles on behalf of their neighborhoods, communities and even the country as a whole.
Active Citizenship is not the same as political activism.
While Active Citizenship refers to individuals performing roles on behalf of the wider community despite differences in political views, political activism points to individuals performing roles for the benefit of a political party.
Political activism therefore, excludes members of other political parities based upon their political affiliation.
For instance, the ZANU-PF Youth League million-man march planned for May 25 2016 is an example of political activism, and not Active Citizenship.
Now, when I consider Acie Lumumba and Evan Mawarire and the content of their videos, I do not get an impression of political activism.
Instead, all I see is young people of dissimilar political persuasions airing their views on issues that currently affect all Zimbabweans.
Let’s ask ourselves some questions. Firstly, is corruption a problem in Zimbabwe? Yes it is. It is a problem for every citizen.
Furthermore, are the socioeconomic circumstances that Zimbabweans are facing favorable? The answer is no, they are not. That is true across the board of political affiliation.
In real terms, we as Zimbabweans have over the years failed to distinguish between Active Citizenship and political activism.
I mean consider it; filling up potholes in your street should not be the responsibility of a single political party. Citizens in that street can come together, despite political differences and fix the road for the benefit of the neighbourhood.
In addition, forming a neighbourhood watch group to mitigate crime is not the responsibility of any one party.
It is the responsibility of all members of the community who are suffering from an increase in crime.
Again, collecting donations on behalf of less privileged citizens is not only the responsibility of the ministry in charge of social welfare. All citizens, despite political differences, are able to come together and do the same.
Recently it was revealed that 200 Zimbabwean women were trafficked to Kuwait.
Those are women of varying ages, geographical backgrounds, and political persuasions.
If someone wakes up tomorrow and makes an online video denouncing the trafficking of those women, then that can only be seen to be Active Citizenship, since human trafficking affects all our citizens.
In that light, I think there is nothing wrong with Acie Lumumba and Evan Mawarire’s online posts, because they are speaking about issues that affect all Zimbabweans, despite political affiliation. That is Active Citizenship.
Speaking in South Africa recently former president Thabo Mbeki insisted that “The constitution must be a daily document that helps us to act to build the kind of…[nation] which the constitution spells out and that is what I think might save us from wrong things that governments do….”
Basically, former president Thabo Mbeki was saying that citizens must keep the government accountable to the constitution.
It is important to keep in mind that Chapter two of our constitution, obliges our state to pursue (among other things) good governance, national development, empowerment and employment creation, shelter and food security for all Zimbabwean citizens.
At the end of the day, the reason behind Active Citizenship is the promotion of these constitutional rights.
This means that these online videos, posts and campaigns that we have been seeing should be perceived as expressions of frustration coming from citizens who wish to see the fulfillment of their constitutional rights.
If we recall, in recent history the one thing that Zimbabweans agreed to nearly unanimously is the constitution of the republic.
In fact, in March 2013 Zimbabwe held a constitutional referendum, which saw about 95% of voters voting in favour of our current constitution.
Essentially, this means that almost all Zimbabweans across race, gender, tribal, and party lines agreed that the state would be limited by the constitution, and that citizens would be governed according to the constitution.
Therefore, whenever there is an outcry from citizens as we are seeing on social media today, it is the duty of the state to check whether those citizens are acting within their constitutional rights, and whether the state itself is fulfilling its constitutional mandate and to act accordingly.
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