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‘We’ve reached deepest depth of a crisis’

Zimbabwe has reached the deepest depth of a crisis, which is a culmination of unresolved political and economic problems, Briggs Bomba, the convenor of the Zimbabwe Citizens Manifesto has said.

Bomba (BB) told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor that the failure to resolve the economic and political crises was fuelling the polarisation in the country.

He said dialogue involving all segments of society were the only way out of the Zimbabwe crisis that has dragged on for decades. Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: I am going to start by a quote off a statement that you made some time ago, which I thought is profound.

It begins, “We remind all political actors that the majority of the citizens yearn for peace and progress and have an urgent demand on the leaders to show leadership at the socio-economic level to alleviate the socio-economic suffering of Zimbabweans, instead of the endless political bickering.” What made you make that powerful statement?

BB: Thank you for reminding me of that. I made that statement on the occasion when we facilitated and hosted the former United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan’s visit to Zimbabwe.

It was actually 10 days before the elections in 2018 and we were hosting what we called the National Citizens Convention.

In our view, Zimbabwe has reached the deepest depth of a crisis.

If you go back to the 1990’s you could have described our crisis as having been an economic crisis.

You look at the demands, they were very economic in nature and people needed salaries increased, taxes reduced and such.

In the 2000s post the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, you could describe the crisis as political.

It had a lot to do with civil liberties and the right of people to organise, march, fairness of the electoral processes and things like that.

But because we have had these two crisis unresolved for a very long time, they fester like a wound into a social crisis, which is where we are now.

A social crisis is what I described as the deepest depth of a crisis because it means you go beyond the economics.

You go beyond the political and you are now talking about polarisation.

You are now talking about division and you are now talking about collapse of dreams.

You are now talking about inability to believe and hope in a better future.

You are now talking about individualism. You are now talking about atomisation; you are talking about the ripping apart of the very fabric, social fabric of society.

Those who listen to Thomas Mapfumo, in my view I believe that is what he meant when he sang, “Nyika yenyu iya yamaichemera, hona yaita mamvemve.”

So, you are talking about a fabric that is ripping into “mamvemve,” so to speak and that is where we are.

The reason why we made that statement was to say that when you are at that level of a crisis as a country, the repository of solutions lies beyond the political parties, lies beyond the matrix of a political power struggle.

In fact you cannot come out of this situation if you are fixated with political power because that can only serve the purpose of exacerbating the polarisation and division.

TN: And you are talking about endless political bickering?

BB: It exacerbates the bickering. So, what we were saying is that we needed to think beyond political power. We need to think at the level of where the citizens are. Where the citizens are very basic, developmental, survival and livelihood questions.

TN: And what you are saying Briggs is that the political players are not addressing those issues that you have highlighted just now.

BB: I think that by definition, they are positioned more to think about the political power question whereas as citizens we are saying let’s think about the people.

You know in the past I am sure you have heard phrases that said “people centred solutions.”

It means moving away from thinking about who should be our next leader to thinking about what future do we want as a country, what livelihoods do we want as citizens, what rights, space and what voice?

So we are suggesting a complete reframing or restructuring of the Zimbabwe political question or Zimbabwe national question in general.

To move from thinking about the leaders and start thinking about the people.

TN: Take us through that process leading to the formation of the Citizens’ Manifesto.

BB: It goes back to 2016. In 2016 that was a time when we had an outbreak of social protests if we are to put it that way.

We had protests that were expressing themselves in the sense of what people did not want.

So, people were saying that we do not want bond notes. We do not want police on the streets.

We do not want all of these things and we started facilitating a conversation then that said it wasn’t sufficient to talk about what we do not want.

Our historical task as a generation was to actually define what we want and talk about what we want.

So, we facilitated those conversations, gathered , by the end of 2016 what was called the National People’s Convention where we asked what do people want as a people.

Can we build a consensus of the future that we want as citizens?

TN: Before we get to the future that we want, who constitutes the Citizens Manifesto?

BB: The best way to look at it is that we just came out of a National Citizens Convention that was co-convened with 23 civic formations in the country.

TN: Do you mind naming some of them?

BB: I can name some of them, you know it included some of your Zimbabwe National Students Union and National Association of Youth Organisations.

It included groups like Magamba Network, Zimbabwe Alliance, ZCTU, Zimbabwe Council of churches, the Viset which is the Vendor Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation, Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association as well as Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association.

So, you had a lot of prominent and known civil society formations, including women’s groups like your Women’s Academy for Political Leadership and Excellence, Zimbabwe Coalition of Debt and Development.

TN: So, this is a broad church?

BB: It is a broad platform.

TN: And you are convinced that it gives you a mandate to speak on behalf of the citizens?

BB: We are convinced that it gives us a mandate to speak on behalf of the citizens, not because of the groups I have mentioned but because of how the process since 2016 has evolved.

It has evolved as a process that creates space for completely unaffiliated citizens to show up and have a voice.

TN: Is it non-partisan?

BB: Non-partisan, just coming up from a community. So, if you are in Mutoko, you know Youth Initiative for Community Development in Mutoko, these are all part of the process.

These are all collectives that are active in their communities and are advancing issues that add up into the collective vision that we want as a country.

So, you have progressive citizens being a part of this process. When we met as the National Citizens Convention we had businesspersons, prominent business people.

I am talking of people like Nigel Chanakira, people like Shingi Munyeza being in the process for the full two days, contributing very important inputs into this vision of the future that we want as citizens.

We had the church represented, you know I am talking about people like Reverend Cele, the Ecumenical Leadership Forum being there and speaking again to this vision that we want.

So, I want to be very careful to say that it is actually not about civil society organisations that you can have a name recognition about, it is really about citizens.

The work that has happened since 2016 includes just going to communities where they do not have any civic organisations but they have issues that bring them together and you engage on that level and they were part of this process.

You had teachers’ unions and various formations. It’s the largest convergence in the country of civic voices.

TN: I was struck by your Zimbabwe social fabric, which is done by Gateway Zimbabwe, and the analysis of where we are, our national psyche. I walked away feeling depressed in terms of who we are at the present moment. Do you want to explain what you found out from that process?

BB: Thank you for bringing that up. What we are advancing on the Gateway Zimbabwe Platform, I happen to serve as the strategic lead for that process, was to say that let’s not go for easy answers.

I think that those who have followed Amilcar Cabral, there is a famous saying where he says, “Tell no lies, Claim no easy victories.”

So, we are saying can we take a systemic look at understanding where we are and how we got to where we are and when we look at it from that perspective, you start to see that from the map that you saw, the biggest challenge that we have is a question of power that is unchecked and power that is abusive.

So, we have gotten the equation of citizens and leaders wrong.

We have vested so much power into leadership and pretty much deprived the citizenry of power and that creates a condition where that power can be abusive and can be held without accountability.

TN: When you say we, who are you referring to?

BB: I am referring to us as citizens at a certain level.

TN: We have let this happen?

BB: Because when you look at where we are, a big part of it is the question of citizenship itself.

How we understand citizenship, how we practice citizenship.

Particularly the question of citizenship responsibility. So I will give you an example.

We have a very strange practice when we look at our electoral processes where we vote on the basis of promises and not on the basis of a record.

So, all I need to do to be voted a councillor or a Member of Parliament in my constituency is to go to a print shop, print a glossy poster, make 30 promises that say, “I will, I will, I will,” and I could be 55 years old and people are going to vote for me on that.

Take a nice photo and put it out there.

The communities that are voting this way are communities where there are people with a record in terms of civic duty, responsibility and service.

They are people who are mentoring kids when they have finished their Ordinary Levels, who have a long break before they start their Advanced Levels.

There are people who have a record of providing support of patching our path.

TN: So why are we not going for people with that record?

BB: You know when we need to organise security in our neighbourhoods and when we need to do various things.

So, there are people who have got a record. But when it comes to the election, the political party will tell you that we have deployed so and so to be the candidate for councillor for this community, to be the candidate for an MP in this community and these are people with no traceable records and so they come with promises.

So, I am saying that it is a matter of citizenry, responsibility and duty to say when we go out to vote next time, we are going to check for that record and we are not going to listen to promises and we are going to vote for those who have a record of service and civic duty in our communities.

TN: What I have also found interesting in the map that you produced is the sense of wounded-ness, anger, powerlessness. Do you want to address those issues?

BB: This is huge because when you have a protracted economic crisis as we have had in this country, I am old enough to remember the economic protests of the 90’s, those questions have never been decisively resolved.

When you have a political crisis as protracted and unresolved as you have had in this country, as I said earlier, it festers into a wound and that wound manifests trauma.

If you have had situations that we have had in this country of conflict including violent conflict and we have never had space for people to address them, situations of a dehumanisation in a sense when you cannot provide for you family, you cannot attain your dreams, it manifests trauma and trauma has a way of creating that sense of resignation and hopelessness that you cannot actually even dream of a better tomorrow, you cannot even be hopeful.

Look at our streets, if you just drive from here to the central business district (CBD), you will find young people hanging at the back of those Kombis and they will ride all the way from the CBD to Chitungwiza.

A few of them have fallen and have died but there is a next person ready to do that.

You will not get young people in that behaviour if they believed in a better tomorrow, if they were not in a traumatic space or if they were not hopeless.

So, we are saying that the collective impact of us failing to resolve our political question, us failing to resolve these economic questions is untold trauma of these citizens.

TN: Over four decades.

BB: It stretches at least four decades.

TN: It even goes back to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

BB: It goes even before and it is very important because we happen to have a very compacted sense of history, which I think is very unhealthy.

You know if you speak to the Chinese, they will be telling you about General Tsar of over 3 000 years ago and the voyages that they took so let us not be shy to make reference to what happened in the 70’s, 60’s, 50’s, and 40’s and even the late 1800’s.o

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