Christopher Farai Charamba Political Writer
Polarisation has for a long time been the default state of the political landscape in Zimbabwe.
A single opinion would leave one boxed with a particular party, usually ZANU-PF or MDC-T.
Support land reform or mention the detrimental effect of sanctions and you are accused by those of dissimilar views of being an agent or accomplice of the regime.
Complain about corruption and bad governance and you find yourself labelled a regime change sympathiser and/or unpatriotic.
For a number of years and at different periods, elections a prime example, the environment would become toxic and in some places violent. Fervent fanatics of political parties would trade debate for force as a means to silence and intimidate their rivals.
Physical and verbal abuse were dished out to those considered other and this only served to widen the division between the two sides.
With the proliferation of social media users and the role Internet-based platforms play in daily communication, group chats, comment pages and other online sites have become a battleground for those who disagree with each other’s political views.
Insults are traded and threats are issued. The veil of anonymity online emboldens those who disagree with each other, leading to ad hominem attacks.
Such negative politics has not only been reserved for those of different political parties, but a feature of intra-political conflict as well.
Pointing to the acrimony between the Lacoste and G40 factions or rancour between pro-Chamisa and pro-Khupe camps illustrates how those within the same house can turn on each other oft with detrimental effects to one side.
One will not be alarmist to suggest that this is an insurmountable crisis in the political landscape.
There are a number of spaces where members of different parties are cordial and jovial with each other, disagreeing only on politics, but civil enough to share meat from the same bowl.
This shows that there is a manner in which politics can be conducted sans animosity. For Zimbabwe to progress and develop, it is important that the political culture be the first to change.
Politics permeates multiple spheres of everyday life and one’s views should not be used as a weapon against them.
Changing the culture will require the will to do so, from those in leadership all the way to those at the grassroots.
Leaders of political parties know and should acknowledge their members take cues from their words and actions.
As such, these leaders must be careful of the language they use in public and private, while addressing their constituents.
Violence begets violence, is the saying, and so if the language used in public platforms against political rivals is insulting, degrading and violent, supporters will pick up on this and dish out much of the same to any opponents they come across.
While the two major political parties claim to have a zero tolerance to violence, their track record in dealing with issues brought forward leaves a lot to be desired.
When cases arise, it is imperative that parties take these seriously, investigate and mete out whatever justice is deserved in line with their rules and regulations.
Should the matter, need be, serious in nature, then the parties should report the perpetrators to the police and let the law take its course.
Until those that commit these acts suffer serious consequences, there will be no deterrent and the problem will persist.
In some instances, it might be that perpetrators are rewarded for their vile acts and therefore incentivised to be violent. This is why the will to rid the environment of such a culture is important.
In sport, there is a common maxim, “play the ball, not the man”.
Applied to politics, it means that the focus should be on the issues and not the persons and personalities.
A common feature of Zimbabwean politics to its great detriment has been the cult of the personality. Individuals are viewed as bigger than the party or the issues and everything is centred around them.
One of the negative effects of this is that during political discussions, the merits of the argument are neglected and attention is centred around the persons in the debate.
The recent interaction between Deputy Finance Minister Terrence Mukupe and Tendai Biti on Star FM is a prime illustration of this.
Zimbabweans pride themselves on being educated and erudite.
If that is the case, then the level of political debate needs to be elevated.
People need to look at the issues and argue them objectively without resorting to insulting those with a different ideological position to theirs.
In line with this, there is also need for a more objective media. Among the different roles of the media is the responsibility to keep the citizenry adequately and reliably informed.
Scholars have argued that media tells people not only what to think, but what they should be thinking about the information they have received.
A biased media environment can, therefore, contribute to the creation of a polarised political space.
As Zimbabwe approaches the July elections, it is the time for a different political culture to emerge.
The major political parties have new principals at the helm and the country finds itself in a new dispensation.
With this should follow a new political culture centred on tolerance and robust debate that serves to develop and not destroy the country.