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Why was ZAPU revived instead of forming a new party?

There have been comments from some people formerly associated with ZAPU and even some who have never belonged to or liked the organization, to the effect that those who have revived the party should have chosen another name. A common argument advanced for this is that the legendary ZAPU leader Dr. Joshua Nkomo took the party into the then-ruling ZANU-PF under the so-called Unity Accord of 1987, and that this decision cannot be reversed after his death.

This argument implies that the party President owned the organization and tied its members permanently to a decision he was forced by circumstances to take (with others but by no means all the party members). The founder of ZAPU did not own the party just like its current leaders do not own the organization either.  Those who were members of ZAPU before 1987 and those interested in continuing the party’s unique tradition have a right to organize around its vision of a truly democratic independent state.

Is ZAPU a tribal party?

Definitely not! This question is mischievous because ZAPU has a national outlook, with its leaders and membership drawn from different parts of the country. From its formation in 1961 ZAPU was led by the illustrious nationalist and father of Zimbabwean nationalism, Dr. Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo. Some ambitious and unscrupulous elements in the leadership tried to associate him with his birth place, Matebeleland, so that they could imply the need for a “Shona” leadership. This reactionary use of ethnic identity failed because today Dr. Nkomo is widely acclaimed as “Father Zimbabwe” by the whole country. Today there are similar attempts to associate Dr. Dumiso Dabengwa with his roots in Matebeleland in order to suggest that his leadership of ZAPU after it pulled out of ZANU-PF makes it a “tribal” party for his home area. Matebeleland has a right and track record to produce national leaders like any other part of the country.

The unique experience of a genocidal campaign against civilians in Ndebele-speaking parts of the country has made many people in the regions to align with opposition groups against ZANU-PF. One result of this is that these areas have been regarded as “vote baskets” which populist leaders have at times taken for granted and given extravagant promises that they have no machinery to meet. ZAPU’s unwavering commitment to devolution of power seeks to empower all regions of the country to take charge of their development needs, to change centre-periphery relationships and marginalization of some areas. Naturally, those that have experienced most marginalization will tend to put this higher in their political priorities although the issue has resonance in many other parts of the country.

Why ZAPU now?

After over two decades it is easy to forget and difficult to appreciate the circumstances under which the” Unity Accord” of 1987 in which Dr. Joshua Nkomo led ZAPU to join the ruling ZANU-PF, one of the most painful choices of his long career in politics. The single most important reason for him and his colleagues to take the decision was to stop the wanton killing of civilians in Matebeleland and the Ndebele-speaking parts of the Midlands province mainly by the North-Korean trained Fifth Brigade of the army. The genocidal killings were vaguely justified by allegations and assumptions that the killing zones were bastions of ZAPU support and a haven for anti-government “dissidents”.  While it was “swallowed” inside ZANU-PF as the consequence of the 1987 accord, some of ZAPU’s leaders pushed for progressive policies and to neutralize repressive tendencies in the post-1980 state. However, the limits to change and the mismanagement of development, worse after the death of Dr. Nkomo, caused frustration among ZAPU members who then approached Vice-President Joseph Msika to propose de-linking from ZANU-PF. The ZAPU vision for a democratic Zimbabwe is clearly conveyed in the party’s manifesto for the 1980 elections, which links its development agenda and its foundation in the struggle for independence, progress and human dignity. It is time to protect and project ZAPU’s share of history and the party’s distinctive relationship to the people.

It should also be noted that ZAPU members have played key roles over the years in efforts to broaden democratic space by participating in the formation of the defunct Forum Party of Zimbabwe, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Kusile-Mavambo-Dawn (KMD).

Is the revival of ZAPU now going to divide the opposition vote and help ZANU-PF?

Zimbabweans have a right to freedom of association, not just the right to belong to any party of their choice but also to form parties and offer political choices to the electorate. The ZANU-PF drive for a one-party-state and muzzling of political competition since independence has naturally focused political opposition on the target of getting rid of the “ruling party” from power, without much attention to the system(s) and strategies that have allowed this political predator to retain control and subvert democracy and good governance. After the inevitable implosion of the ZANU PF concoction, we do not expect or wish for return to a one-party-state regime of whatever complexion. The revival of ZAPU should therefore be welcomed for strengthening the forces fighting for genuine change and defense of political space. In terms of unity of oppressed masses, ZAPU has a clear history during the liberation war and after, of unity attempts that have not worked because of those who benefit from a tribal agenda. ZAPU will thus now resolutely maintain its identity and founding principles as a defender and champion of human rights and basic freedoms that informed its prosecution of the liberation struggle and vision of an independent Zimbabwe. This does not preclude alliances with like-minded parties and pressure groups that could be entertained on specific issues but without closing room for the flowering of political persuasions and peaceful alternatives from which voters can choose.

Those who fear the ZAPU revival have complained that it will divide the “opposition vote” and allow ZANU-PF to gain the largest number of votes in elections. This argument assumes a finite “opposition” voter base and that ZAPU can only appeal to registered voters from that “pool”. It overlooks the fact that the parties that are partners in the current Government of National Unity (GNU) were elected by a minority of Zimbabweans because only about 30% of potential voters are registered, while the turnout in recent elections was also low in many areas, for various reasons. ZAPU will encourage its supporters to register and participate in elections, believing that overcoming voter apathy will make for a more representative Voters’ Roll and better reflection of popular choices.

Is devolution of power in Zimbabwe not a way of separating people on tribal lines?

Devolution is constitutionally entrenched decentralization, so that authority and capacity is not given and taken at the whim of some remote center of power, the national capital city, in this case Harare. Devolution entails distribution of power such that other tiers of government below the state (provinces to be precise) can make meaningful decisions on the priorities and means of their implementation without reference to some remote authority. Such decisions include the power to make relevant laws and regulations and the mechanisms to ensure compliance with and enforcement of those decisions in the framework of state-wide guiding principles and common goals.

As a general rule, the tendency is that when you concentrate power in the centre the periphery usually suffers deprivation.  In our case Mutare, Masvingo, Gweru, Bulawayo and the provinces they are located in have suffered at the hands of too powerful a center, Harare and its immediate provinces. New investment and relocation of industries gravitate to where decisions and vibrant markets reside, leading to growth of ghost towns and skewed provincial development. Such “marginalization” of outlying areas can be exacerbated if cronyism, nepotism and discrimination become pervasive factors in determining access to employment and facilitation of self-employment, as well as access to and control of local resources.  
ZAPU has proposed that the country should have devolution of power based on five provinces: Mashonaland, Manicaland, Masvingo, Matebeleland and Midlands. These provinces make sense in that they largely coincide with elements of pre-colonial history, natural eco-regions, cultural realities and economic viability. The fear that devolution will introduce “tribalism” is due partly to a hangover from colonial prejudice and denigration of identities below the territorial government and its “national” ideological superstructure. The trivialization of our languages, traditions and nationalities alternated with colonial “divide and rule” strategies that exaggerated and exploited differences. Therefore concentration of state power at the center is not the same thing as national unity. Indeed there are many regimes around the world that have managed to retain control without legitimate claims to national cohesion and national unity.

The colonial state of Rhodesia was based on keeping political and economic power exclusively in the hands of people of European origin, giving authority (indirect rule) and reducing that capacity (through central control) as they saw fit. ZAPU was formed to unite the politically oppressed, economically exploited, culturally denigrated and statutorily discriminated and repressed majority of the people to fight for a democratic order with equal rights for all. This “unity in diversity” was based on common interest and tangible goals of a free society. The fight for freedom and independence was not an end in itself. It was definitely not to retain a repressive state order but to bring responsive and accessible government. Given our post-independence experience, it is clear that these founding principles can only be achieved through devolution of power to the provinces.

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