OPINION | Nzvahwa: A Vision for Community-Centered Leadership

By Douglas Mutepaire

Imagine a political system where leaders don’t merely govern from a distance but live alongside the very people they represent. This vision lies at the heart of “Nzvahwa”, an indigenous social-political philosophy that champions local leadership.

Nzvahwa asserts that leaders deeply rooted in their communities are uniquely positioned to serve and uplift those communities. Nzvahwa transcends the common-sense responsiveness we expect during re-election campaigns. It goes further, suggesting that a leader’s accountability extends beyond the next election. Instead, they bear responsibility for the long-term well-being of their home turf. This shared destiny binds their success to the community’s prosperity.

The central question Nzvahwa addresses is whether representatives should hail from the areas they serve. While there’s currently no residency requirement for MPs, Nzvahwa argues for the inherent value of local leadership. Why? Because local representatives inherently grasp the pulse of their community—their needs, challenges, and aspirations. They walk the same streets, breathe the same air, and understand the intricacies that outsiders might miss. Nzvahwa insists that candidates respond to community needs because they are deeply invested in the well-being of their neighbours—even if doing so comes at a political cost.

During campaigns, these local leaders aren’t mere political figures seeking votes. They’re neighbours, friends, and fellow community members. Their approachability and responsiveness extend beyond election season; they persist throughout their term. When a constituent shares a concern, it’s not just a vote-seeking gesture—it’s a genuine commitment to improving lives. Lazarus Dokora, in one of his campaign messages, embodied the essence of Nzvahwa: “Abiyangu huyai titekaire pabodzi.” This rallying cry invites us to walk and work together for the betterment of the community. It’s more than a slogan; it’s a call to action—a reminder that our destinies are intertwined. When leaders live among us, their commitment isn’t fleeting; it’s enduring.

However, Nzvahwa is not without its critics. Some argue that localness alone does not guarantee effective representation and responsiveness. Competence, they contend, should be the primary criterion for candidacy, allowing any citizen to contest in their chosen constituency. Moreover, concerns arise that localness could be politicized, excluding competent candidates from participating in governance simply because they are labelled as ‘outsiders’.  In a party-centric system, where voters align with political ideologies rather than individual candidates, parties can easily impose their preferred nominees.

Yet, despite these valid reservations, Nzvahwa remains a crucial social-political philosophy. Nzvahwa needn’t be rigid dogma. It’s a guiding principle—a reminder that local representation, when combined with qualifications and a dedication to public service, can transform governance. Imagine a Parliament where MPs prioritize community well-being over political survival. By embracing the politics of care, Nzvahwa fosters a leadership ethos deeply rooted in the well-being of the community. Nzvahwa offers more than a philosophy; it becomes the bedrock of an accountable democracy—one where leaders don’t just govern but actively develop the places they call home.

The Faces of Representation in Rushinga

For decades, the choice of Member of Parliament (MP) in the Rushinga Constituency has been a source of contention.  The historical practice of imposing outsiders on the electorate raises concerns about fairness and true representation. In the early years of independence, loyalty to the party seemed to be the primary qualification for an MP in Rushinga.  This approach often resulted in a disconnect between the representatives and the needs of the people they were supposed to serve. James Makamba, the first MP for Rushinga, hailed from Mt Darwin. Paddington Zvorwadza followed, from Shamva. Joyce Mujuru, Elliot Mujana, and Y. Patel—all from Mt Darwin—joined the roster. Rushinga seemed caught in a cycle of borrowed figures, lacking its political champions and local voices. This historical trend sparked a growing desire for a resident MP who understood the challenges faced by the community.

The story of representation in the Rushinga Constituency offers a fascinating lens into the concept of Nzvahwa.  When Sandra Machirori, a resident, became MP, it was a turning point. The electorate, for the first time, had a representative who wasn’t an outsider. This shift exposed the flaws of the previous system, where imposed candidates lacked a genuine connection to the community’s needs. However, Machirori’s case also highlights a potential pitfall of Nzvahwa. Simply being a local doesn’t guarantee effective representation.  Machirori’s tenure did not fully embody the principles of Nzvahwa, which emphasizes not just local presence, but also listening to the people.

Lazarus Dokora, the next MP, exemplified this challenge.  While Dokora’s legacy includes achievements like building schools, his approach often drew criticism. In the context of education reforms, there existed a noticeable disconnect between the actions taken and the level of community engagement. Now consider Tendai Nyabani, often ridiculed in the national media, Nyabani’s simplicity may be his strength. He resonates with the constituency precisely because of his approachability and sensitivity. While his tenure hasn’t been without its challenges, his focus on responsiveness embodies another aspect of Nzvahwa. Sandwiched between Dokora and Nyabani’s tenures, Wonder Mashange’s brief time as MP serves as a cautionary tale.  His fading memory underscores the perils of local representation caught in the crossfire of national political agendas.  Mashange’s story exemplifies the challenges of Nzvahwa when local priorities clash with national party politics. The ideal Nzvahwa would combine the strengths of Dokora and Nyabani.  Dokora’s commitment to development, coupled with Nyabani’s focus on listening and responsiveness, would create a truly effective representative for Rushinga. The convergence of Dokora’s and Nyabani’s cases perfectly embodies Nzvahwa—a complex interplay of policy, community engagement, and genuine representation.

The tale of the Rushinga Constituency reveals profound insights into the essence of Nzvahwa. Beyond mere local representation, Nzvahwa embodies a leader’s intimate grasp of the community, their empathetic listening, and unwavering commitment to addressing local needs. The quintessential Nzvahwa leader isn’t just from the community; they are woven into its fabric – a tireless advocate for its dreams and a vital bridge between local realities and national decision-making. As Zimbabwe grapples with the quest for effective representation, Nzvahwa emerges as a potent framework, empowering communities to shape their destinies. Through authentic connections between leaders and their constituents, Nzvahwa illuminates the path toward a more responsive and accountable democracy.

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Douglas Mutepaire, a passionate educationist with extensive experience, was born in 1960 in the Rushinga district. He began his teaching journey as a temporary teacher in 1980, eventually earning a diploma in primary education from Masvingo Teachers College in 2001. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Education from the University of Zimbabwe and heads Makachi Primary School in the Rushinga district. Throughout his career, he has held teaching and leadership roles at schools such as Kasenzi, Katoni, Runwa, Nyamatikiti, Rusambo, and Katakura primary schools.