Active Citizenship and Constitutionalism in Zimbabwe


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.


Active Citizenship

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.


Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director



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‘Chivanhu’ in Zimbabwean Society


Firstly, ‘Chivanhu’ can be defined as the ancient spiritual and traditional practices of the Shona people.

These practices include ancestral worship, divination, witchcraft, traditional rituals and acknowledgement of holy places and shrines, to name a few.

Interestingly, the 2012 Zimbabwe census says that Zimbabwe is predominately a Christian country, as some 85% of the population claims to be Christian.

However, after digging deeper, I concur with the view that most Zimbabweans who claim to be Christian actually did not “resign from the African religion, nor did they abandon African culture completely; they have maintained dual membership.”

Traditional Beliefs in Africa

Now, until I read a report from the Washington based Pew Research Centre, I underestimated the extent and impact of traditional religious belief in Africa.

I mean, who knew that in some African countries “half or more of the population believes that sacrifices to ancestors or spirits can protect them from harm?”

Furthermore, did you know that “roughly a quarter or more of the population in 11 [African] countries say they believe in the protective power of juju (charms or amulets), shrines and other sacred objects?”

In addition, did you know that “upwards of one-in-five people in every [African] country say they believe in the evil eye [that is]… the ability of certain people to cast malevolent curses or spells?”

Now, let us zone in on Zimbabwe.

According to reports, recently, a ‘traditional healer’ from Muzarabani appeared in court in Harare.

Apparently, he stood accused of “robbing a prostitute [that] he was contracted to help ‘attract more clients.’”

It appears she welcomed the “healer” into her home to conduct ‘rituals,’ but things went south and he stole about USD1500 from her.

Elsewhere, in Masvingo, reports allege, “a 68-year-old man has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for raping his 3-year-old granddaughter on the instructions of a traditional ‘healer.’”

Apparently, the man told the court “that he raped the minor after a local traditional healer told him to bed a minor if he wanted to be rich.”

Also, in July 2015, “a 71-year-old Highfield traditional healer allegedly raped a 17 year old girl who was sent to him for a ‘cleansing’ ceremony by her family.”

Apparently, “the girl was told to engage in sex with at least nine men as part of the cleansing process.”

Rational Belief vs. Irrational Belief

This information got me thinking.

A famous German social theorist once said, “Magical and religious forces, and the ethical ideas based upon them, have… always been among the most important formative influences on the conduct of life.”

In simple terms, this means that our religious ideas and beliefs directly influence our social behavior.

So, for example, because of belief, certain tribes in East Africa continue to perform female genital mutilation as a traditionally prescribed means of controlling female libido.

Yet, my question is, how do we distinguish between rational belief and irrational belief?

In other words, how do we distinguish between ‘good faith’ and ‘bad faith’ when it comes to Chivanhu?

Personally, as a man who has several female family members and friends, it bothers me to think that there are people out there who can actually rationalize abuse, rape and pedophilia under the context of Chivanhu. Clearly, that is bad faith.

The problem, perhaps, is that Chivanhu, unlike other religious teachings, (take Christianity and Islam for instance) is not codified.

This means it does not have its teachings compiled into a single text like the Bible.

As a result, believers in Chivanhu have to rely upon unreliable and unrecorded oral history as well as dubious traditional healers for guidance.

That is not an easy thought to digest when one considers the aforementioned reports of traditional ‘healers’ who rob prostitutes and rape teenagers.

Perhaps that is why Zimbabwe appears to be a conflicted country.

On the one hand, we flaunt our Christianity and claim to have one of the most literate and educated societies in Africa.

On the other hand, we have a propensity for ‘voodoo economics’ which are best characterized by images of politicians considering whether Chivanhu can supernaturally extract diesel from a rock.

I suggest that someday, someone should rationalize Chivanhu, by summarizing all its teachings, laws and rituals into a singular text that its own believers and practitioners can be held accountable to.

A "Chivanhu" vendor displays his wares in Harare Central
Pictured: a “Chivanhu” vendor displays his wares in Harare Central


Section 19(c) of the Zimbabwean constitution emphasizes that the state must adopt policies and measures that protect children from abuse, while section 81(e) obligates the Zimbabwean state to protect children, (that is people under 18 years of age) from sexual exploitation or any form of abuse.

Of particular concern to me in these days, is the frequency of reports of abuse of infants and minor girls under the pretext of Chivanhu.

While the constitution also allows freedom of religion, perhaps it is appropriate for the state to smoke out rogue “healers” and formulate and propagate a code of conduct for Chivanhu practitioners.

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director


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