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This article participates on the following special index pages:
Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
Zimbabwe Briefing - Issue 120
in Zimbabwe Coalition (SA Regional Office)
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Civil Society in the post 2013 election landscape in Zimbabwe
As human needs
do not remain in a conformist state, and evolve depending on how
they are shaped by new socio-economic, political and spiritual realities,
so must be the role and definition of institutions meant to address
these needs. Civil society is one such institution. The definition
of what civil society is and what it encompasses is changing. This
change is in response to such evolutions as; the shifting geo-political
power from the traditional global powers to emerging ones, the advanced
and central role being played by technology, the growing criticality
of social engagement as a source of sustainable development, depleted
and streamlined funding models, restricted operational space due
to political pressure. All these changes pose new challenges for
civil society while also creating new opportunities (World Economic
Forum, 2013). Civil society, the world over, must urgently transform
to adapt to this new reality and therefore remain relevant.
this adaptation is even more urgent, given how the country’s
politics has attempted to construct near orthodoxy that excludes
or rescinds parallel processes meant to enhance governance accountability.
The post 2013 election period is defining, as it has wilted the
semblance of intra-accountability within the political party sector,
which to some extent existed in the period of the Government
of National Unity and over the lifetime of the Global
Political Agreement (GPA). The Zanu-PF majority in parliament
and the return to a single-party government creates gaps which civil
society must seriously consider not only filling, but doing so effectively.
The major issues
of focus for Zimbabwean civil society must be based on reclaiming
or rebuilding its constituency and mandate, which will enhance institutional
and sectoral credibility, as well as developing strategic engagement
and mandate through a citizenry focussed Civil Society
meant to capture the embryonic nature of civil society have been
posited. Foley and Edwards (1996) define civil society as primarily
to promote establishment of democratic polity through citizen mobilisation
based on the association of this citizenry component. Alexander
(2006) outlines civil society as the realm within which social interactions,
at both individual and group levels, are construed into a resultant
action on issues of concern. Civil society construction is also
measured by its capacity to compose associational life, as the basis
for its down-stream and up-stream actions (Keane, 2009). The common
strand in the definitions outlined above invest their emphasis on
the citizenry as the basis and justification for civil society existence.
These definitions premise their derivative understanding of civil
society on its representativeness of the citizenry and mandate derived
from the same. Civil society is no longer seen as an instrument
but rather as existential lifeblood of what the citizens are and
what they are about. It is no longer simply a channel for grievance
transmission but a principal platform for resolving community and
national challenges (Canadian Foundation for the Americas, 2006).
civil society, one of its historical “Achilles’ tendon”
has been issues of mandate and constituency. The post-independence
political ensemble, which was inherited from the colonial period,
has exclusively divided the citizenry into political segments. In
the colonial period, citizens were merely identified as being in
support of the Rhodesian regime or against it. Further on after
independence, citizens are defined as merely for or against Zanu-PF.
This has totally distorted the citizenry characterisation by assuming
it must only exist within defined political party space, thereby
heavily politicising society (Machakanja, 2010). This assumes the
citizenry cannot exist out-side of political party confines, doing
so is seen as misnomer or at worst a declaration of war against
is space within which citizens must face no such discrimination.
One of the temptations that has befallen many of Zimbabwe’s
civil society organisations has been the unwise surrendering of
their leveraged societal positions for preference of being contained
in this contentious political space, and therefore be proxies of
political parties. That is a reductionist approach to what civil
society is all about and what it must be (Act Alliance, 2011).
In order to
recreate and realign itself, civil society must redesign its constituency
and also depoliticize its functional identity. The foremost consideration
for civil society in Zimbabwe must be to begin by “reaching
out” to the citizenry. The disconnect between many of the
civil society organisations and the citizenry, which can be blamed
on a conflation of reasons including the nature of the country’s
politics and surrendered ground by civil society, must be addressed.
There is a need to bridge the mislaid relationship between citizens
and civil society, and others like Sogge etal (2011) have also raised
concerns around the socio-cultural link between the two domains.
This can be initiated through civil society’s concerted efforts
to re-establish its structures to include baseline grassroots community
Even if it’s
not about such structural redesign, there must be efforts to prioritise
the community-based approach in civil society functions and operations.
There are some civil society organisations that have already been
operating through effective and functional community-based approaches
and structures, these models must be utilised as the prototype able
to recapture civil society back to where it belongs; amongst the
citizenry. The pragmatism of a community-based approach will always
attract resistance and disdain from the politics that has always
fed its felony appetite from civil society’s broad disconnect
with the citizens. That must be expected, and is the reason behind
some of Zanu-PF’s Ministers of State for Provincial Affairs’
insistence that civil society and NGOs must work through their offices
in reaching out to citizens, rather than do it independently.
The battle will
be for the “heart and soul” of the citizen between politicians
and civil society. It is a battle civil society must be ready to
engage in. In doing so, the credibility of civil society must rest
on identifying more with the citizenry than any political entity
or party, a feat that has been elusive in the past.
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