Text Size

Political Participation in Zimbabwe

Political Participation in Zimbabwe



This book is AFCAST’s contribution to finding a solution to the Zimbabwean political crisis. It is based on a one-year research and advocacy initiative on the nature and levels of political participation in Zimbabwe. The project, which was supported by funds from the German Development Fund, institutional support from MISEREOR, and a small fund from CAFOD, brought together individuals, organizations and institutions working on the issue of political participation in Zimbabwe for conversation, reflection and strategic planning. Those who came together included members of committees of the Catholic Commissions for Justice and Peace (CCJP) in Zimbabwe, together with social partners from other churches and from Zimbabwean civil society generally.

These strategic partners were selected for their work in various areas related to political participation understood in its widest sense. We understood politics to refer to the activities and efforts to create, maintain and expand space for the growth and fulfilment of all of God’s creation, which includes humans, animals, flora and fauna and the rest of the environment. Participants in this project included practitioners and organizations working for the expansion of legal, social and cultural space for the participation of Zimbabweans in structures, processes and institutions that affect their lives.

Participation is a central value of the social teaching of the Catholic Church. It is linked to growth, for people grow physically, intellectually, socially and economically by participating in the activities of their communities and societies. Participation through work or labour is more than just a way of making a living: it is participation and collaboration with God in continuing creation. Hence, to be shut out from participation is to be shut out from life, growth and fulfilment and from collaborating with God in the process of creation. We worked from the assumption that no one has a right to shut out other people from collaborating with God in making the world a better, more just and more peaceful place.

Following the Pastoral Cycle, these partners came together to share their experiences and to reflect on how they could improve their practice and their various responses to the challenges in Zimbabwe. AFCAST facilitated this coming together to ‘think in community’ and to share and reflect in solidarity. This process was planned to help partners record their experiences in articles that would be brought together as a book to be used for further reflection and for lobbying and advocacy work. AFCAST relied on its past experiences of organizing workshops on topical issues and of publishing the proceedings of the workshops in the form of booklets.

This book is the end product of a process that we think is important in itself. In many ways the process was an effort to implement the values of the social teachings. Apart from focusing on participation as a moral and theological value, the book-project process encouraged participants to realize their social nature by working in community in search of the common good in Zimbabwe. We also made a deliberate effort to encourage and give space to marginalized voices in the spirit of the principle of subsidiarity and the ‘option for the poor’.

The process itself was an opportunity for AFCAST to share, popularize, contextualize and dialogue on the values of the social teachings. We offered the Pastoral Cycle as part of the guidelines that could be used by researchers to collect data and gather and reflect on their experiences. We offered the values of the social teachings as a moral framework within which to understand, analyse and assess the nature and levels of political participation in Zimbabwe. We think that when the process we went through in this project is done properly its intrinsic value can be realized even when a book is not produced in the end. However, we offer this process for replication and improvement by others.


The African Forum for Catholic Social Teaching (AFCAST)

AFCAST is a regional forum or ‘thinkwell’ for eastern and southern Africa of Catholic experts on the social teaching of the Catholic Church. It was formed by committed Catholics who recognized the depth, richness and relevance of the social teachings to the African situation, yet those teachings continued to be ‘the best-kept secret’. AFCAST was also formed at a time when many African governments were being challenged to be more democratic and to stop the brutality against their own citizens.

In Rhodesia and then Zimbabwe, as in other parts of Africa, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace was formed, with encouragement from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, for the purposes of ‘transforming social realities with the power of the Gospel’.1 However, many African governments treated commissions for justice and peace as political opposition. Sometimes, members of those commissions who were not properly formed acted like other human-rights activists without understanding the faith basis of their actions. AFCAST was therefore formed partly to contribute to a clarification of the faith basis of the Church’s social and political work. It has a vision of a more just, peaceful and humane African society that is guided by principles of Catholic social teaching and where Gospel values are promoted and respected.

We take seriously the declaration by the 1971 World Synod of Catholic Bishops that, ‘Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.’ 2


The book project on political participation involved inviting forty potential participants to research and write about their experiences. While respecting their own traditions and approaches, we included background information and research and writing guidelines as part of the invitation. We explained the time scale and emphasized that the research should be based on the experiences of the respective organizations and individuals working on the various aspects of the issue of participation. Participants who made commitments to the research and writing embarked on the work immediately. They did so using the guidelines provided and communicating with the AFCAST Co-ordinating Office for support.

Participants were then invited to an orientation workshop, which was held on 17 January 2008 at the Holiday Inn, Harare. The workshop helped to clarify the process and allowed those who had started writing articles to compare notes with their colleagues. A few of the participants made presentations of their work in progress and benefited from comments, suggestions and criticisms from fellow participants. After the workshop, participants then continued to finalize their articles. A few new participants were invited to join the project to fill gaps in the areas of study. AFCAST facilitated the publication of articles capturing people’s experiences of the nature and levels of participation.


Research guidelines

Writers were to reflect on what political participation means from their experiences. They were to look at the nature and levels of participation in their area and suggest various ways of enhancing political participation in their various dioceses, sectors or constituencies. AFCAST recommended that the research follow the steps of the Pastoral Cycle: Insertion, Analysis, Theological Reflection, Pastoral Planning or Response. These stages helped to guide what to include and what to regard as important. While up to forty strategic partners were invited to participate in this project, we aimed to publish at least twenty articles in the planned book.

The following are the research guidelines based on the Pastoral Cycle which were given to participants:
INSERTION: This is the listening stage. Indicate what is happening with regard to political participation in your diocese, your local constituency, or sector. As you gather the information of what is happening, pay special attention to both objective facts and subjective feelings – i.e. what is happening and how people are feeling about what is happening with regard to political participation in your constituency.
SOCIAL ANALYSIS: This is the stage at which you explain why what is happening is happening in the way it is. The following are some of the aspects that will help you make a good social analysis:
History of Political Participation – trace the development of political participation in your sector or organization. In your account of the history, clearly indicate the way political participation has been understood as distinct from how you or your organization or your sector understands it. In doing so, answer the following questions as much as you can:
• What is the most significant history of this issue of political participation?
• What is the most important structural influence shaping this issue?
• What are the most important values shaping this issue?
• What conclusions can we draw about the root causes of the nature and levels of political participation in your sector/organization?
The Nature of Political Participation – what form of politics characterizes your sector? (e.g. is it local governance, party politics, community organization, civil society mobilization, labour organization, ethnic contestation, peace-building, mobilization around some political/social/economic issue, etc.? What are the different ways in which people have been participating politically.
Levels of Participation – assess the levels of political participation indicating whether the levels are satisfactory, good, excellent or poor, very poor or non-existent. Explain and justify your assessment. Also bring out clearly the following:
• Factors encouraging participation
• Obstacles to political participation
THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION: This stage is directly relevant to those participants from faith-based organizations and sectors. It understands the meaning of the situation in the light of the Gospel values or from a faith perspective. For those participants who are not faith-based, they can discuss the meaning of the situation in the light of community values or norms, human rights perspective, or in the light of democratic values.
PASTORAL RESPONSE: This is the stage at which possible responses to the nature and levels of political participation are discussed. Critical to this discussion are the following factors:
• Existing efforts to encourage political participation.
• Strategies to enhance greater political participation at present and in the future. In your strategies identify WHAT can be done? WHO can do it? WHEN can it be done? HOW can it be done? In suggesting possible pro-active responses, include as much as possible discussion on immediate responses, middle-term responses and long-term responses or strategies.
The articles in the book cover a fairly wide range of areas concerned with participation. They range from those dealing with party politics and legal provisions for political participation, to fundamental issues to do with participation

in politics, the economy and culture of women, the youth, children, the disabled and the poor. It is not surprising that most articles pay special attention to party politics, given the political crisis in the country. The biggest concern seems to emanate from how the liberation movements that led the struggle for political independence joined together to obfuscate the distinction between the institutions of the state, government and political parties. The result has been that, although Zimbabwean citizens were supposed to actively and openly discuss, dialogue, compete and participate in decision-making, a few citizens began to usurp that political power. National institutions, processes and organizations began more and more to be used for party political and sometimes private interests. With this narrowing of the national political space and political imagination came the politicization (in the narrow sense of the term) of normal cultural activities in areas such as the arts, sport, business, citizen education, local governance, housing, the education of children and the choosing of leaders. This reductionist approach to politics, which demanded strict allegiance to one political party, resulted in the criminalization of many legitimate political, economic
and cultural activities.

The use of the legal system to change definitions of what is national, patriotic and legitimate has been one of the most traumatic experiences of the last ten years. One of the most dramatic of these legal constructions has been the change, in 2004, of the Citizenship Act, which resulted in many black and white Zimbabweans being told that they were no longer Zimbabweans. The most publicized of them were the changes in the laws affecting ownership of land and other properties.

Many of the articles in this book tackle these issues from the point of view of the law, justice, democracy, human rights, environmental governance and Catholic social teaching. They assess the political system from the points of view of local and national governance – from academic and grassroots perspectives. Kudzai Matereke and Daniel Molokele give perspectives from the diaspora.
Several articles were written by or commissioned by committees of the CCJP in Zimbabwe, and help to give a sense of the Church’s legitimate work in this area. Bishop Kadenge’s interview and Jonah Gokova’s article are contributions from Christians from outside the Catholic Church but highly appreciative of the tradition of Catholic social teaching. Isaac Mumpande gives insights into the struggles of some ethnic groups who have challenged and helped to change Zimbabwe language policy to allow greater participation of minorities in national culture and development.
Most articles identify areas that can be used to expand and strengthen political participation in Zimbabwe. The establishment of the multi-party inclusive government, agreed to on 15 September 2008, has opened up more space to allow the reconstruction and expansion of the national social and political imagination. The limits of the logic of reductionist and exclusivist politics have now clearly been exposed. This is the time for all Zimbabweans to make an effort to participate fully in the reconstruction of national institutions, processes and organizations. The rebuilding of a truly national nation-state is critical. This is why national visioning, the constitution-making process, national healing and reconciliation, and the reconstruction of national institutions are essential for Zimbabwe’s social and political transformation. But these processes will not deliver their expected results if full participation of all people is not guaranteed.

This book will, it is hoped, help in facilitating critical reflection on how we proceed. Catholic social teaching is wisdom accumulated from many experiences over long periods of time. AFCAST, through the work in this book, and the work of the Church and its social partners generally, re-emphasizes the relevance of Catholic social teaching to our present challenges. It reminds Zimbabwean political players of ‘the Church’s vocation to be present in the heart of the world by proclaiming the Good News to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and joy to the afflicted’.3

David Kaulemu