By Owen Dhliwayo
Zimbabwe is highly religious society dominated by the Christian faith, African Tradition Religion (ATR) and to a lesser extent Islam. Religion has given meaning and purpose to life as well as reinforcing social unity and stability. At the same time, religion has proven itself in serving as an agent of social control of behaviour and most importantly, motivates people to work for positive social change.
On the other hand, the country has a punitive culture of intolerance as demonstrated by Zanu PF’s gross appeal to divergent political views. Our society is highly polarised due to the contestation of state power.
The recently disseminated MPOI/Afrobarometer Survey results indicated that more Zimbabweans invest trust among their religious leaders than in their elected leaders, the military or the police.
Elected leaders are synonymous with inconsistent policies at the top and little imaginative direction at any level as dictated by politics, which in turn results in increased poverty. These leaders exude power, authority and influence but they lack the capacity to check the decadence which has overtaken our society. Therefore, they exerted little moral force and the scope of their influence is relatively insignificant to the day to day lives of our society.
As politicians lose their credibility, the positions of religious leaders correspondingly increased. This can be attributed to the fact that our society has come to the realisation that rhetoric is easier to command than respect and substance.
In our society, religious differences have never been the cause for dividing citizens to the level that political leaders have caused polarisation in various communities. The state has developed a political character that is devoid of any conscience and compassion.
The sentiments expressed by respondents in the Afrobarometer survey is a reflection of the desire by the society to bring the sacred into the realm of politics and national discourse rather than confine it to personal and private areas of their lives. Thus, religion is asserting itself as a force that no politician will safely ignore as it is now an essential part of our modern political scene and will certainly play an important role in the 2023 elections.
In our reading of the survey results, it is crucial that our society tries to understand what type of beliefs these results mean, how and for what reasons it has developed into such a manner within our broader political culture. A myriad policies and political beliefs seem contrary to religion.
Our society is troubled by the social injustice and inequality that appear to be built into the current body politic, depending as it did on subjugating rural voter who has never had a chance to benefit from the political set up. The respondents are basically reiterating the view that virtue of compassion is crucial to the development of communities, and an ability to see sacredness in every single human being. In the same manner, our society desire a willingness to take practical care of the most vulnerable members of society, which elected leaders seem not to take seriously.
Since 1980, Zimbabwe evolved into a different type of society based on power retention at all costs and has intensified feelings of deep insecurity among the citizens. Political violence has become a common feature in the body politic especially in the year 2000, 2002, 2008 and 2018. The outstanding feature was an extremely high rate of violence against civilians. There have been numerous reports pointing to the complicit of state force or political militias attacking unarmed civilians. Again, the police have been routinely accused of ensuring that Zanu PF perpetrators were not arrested and prosecuted for violence.
Hence, the low levels of trust for the elected leaders, the military and police.
On the socio – economic front, ordinary Zimbabweans are still to come to terms with the new dispensation’s ideology of a market driven economy. The biggest hurdle appears to be the unpredictable price hikes that constantly ravage the Zimbabwean economy. The majority of Zimbabweans are in the low – income bracket, and is the ones that tend to be injured by inflationary pressure on the economy as their incomes do not rise proportionately with the general price level.
The monetary authorities through Statutory Instrument 142 of 2019 banned the multi – currency system that was introduced in 2009. This policy pronouncement precipitated a currency crisis. The currency crisis does not augur well with the growth path that the government hopes to take since there is no financial deepening in our economy. Financial deepening offers opportunities for diversification in the economy, and this encourages a greater flow of savings from low-risk activities to the higher-risk sectors.
The survey results are in itself a product and fruition of years of socio – economic and political evolution beginning in the struggle for national independence. Religion is pivotal to the spiritual development of any society.