The Speaker of Parliament, Advocate Jacob Mudenda touched on a potentially controversial matter on Friday while addressing academics at the Midlands State University when he suggested the introduction of minimum educational qualifications for anyone seeking election as councillor or MP.
Any Zimbabwean citizen who is a registered voter and is 18 years and older can contest for election in terms of the constitution, but Adv Mudenda suggested an amendment to the supreme law to make it mandatory that any candidate for the position of councillor or MP must have a minimum of five Ordinary Level passes.
Zambia has a similar provision, he said. Nigeria also does, and possibly a few other African countries. Two years ago India was involved in a huge national debate on whether it made sense to impose minimum educational qualifications for those aspiring for election into public office.
Adv Mudenda said his suggestion was informed by his observation that some of our law makers struggle grasping issues, thus often fail to make informed suggestions consistent with their legislative and oversight roles.
“Vanotatarika (they struggle),” he said of uneducated legislators, “and if the trend carries on, we might have to amend the Constitution and make it mandatory that for one to contest as a councillor or MP, one must have a minimum of an Ordinary Level certificate. You know if a professor is in charge of a portfolio committee, his academic or professional background makes it easy for us in Parliament. Intellectuals, professors we are going into 2018 and we want you in Parliament so that you make an intellectual difference. Our Constitution is bambazonke; it’s a problem in terms of comprehension of Parliament business. 2018 is coming so come and join us and inject new blood into our Parliament business. That’s what we want not this current situation. Right now you only need to be above 18 years to be a registered voter and a citizen. Zambia changed their constitution and one has to have an ‘O’ level certificate to stand as a councillor or MP and we want that in Zimbabwe. Varikutatarika (they are struggling) in Parliament and you know what it means.”
As Speaker of the National Assembly, Adv Mudenda is speaking from a vantage position so his view is worth noting. However, we are also mindful of the audience he was addressing – academics at a university.
We know that imposing educational qualifications for political eligibility, like property qualification, is a subject that angers a few, particularly those who experienced how colonial governments used both to disenfranchise blacks. Coming up with these requirements was a way to block blacks from seeking public office as most of them were uneducated and so poor they could not accumulate any wealth to buy the prescribed property. Consequently they could not contest for positions of councillor or MP.
Also, blacks had no right to vote, only the minority whites did as well as Indians and Coloureds.
Therefore, one man one vote was the rallying cry. The word “man,” we must make it clear, did not mean males only but both men and women.
When the former colonies attained freedom they promptly introduced universal suffrage, so every adult Zimbabwean citizen had the right to vote. They also removed hindrances to political eligibility, so anyone could contest for election as long as they were adult Zimbabwean citizens who were registered as voters.
We don’t think it is desirable for us to change that position and come up with an unnecessarily exclusive arrangement. Experience has taught us that the best politicians are not necessarily the educated ones. We need to understand that political delivery is a multifaceted effort and Adv Mudenda will agree with us on that. We need councils and parliaments of people who are adept at comprehending complex issues and articulating them at an advanced level.
Those with five “O” Level passes and better will do this for us.
However, we also need those who deliver even if they lack a formal education. We don’t know if Buhera South MP, Cde Joseph Chinotimba has five “O” Level passes, but he is certainly an able politician who must not be prevented from representing his people in the House simply because of some restrictive educational requirement. He might lack superior formal education but he makes up for that with his charisma, hard work and immense grassroots ability.
There are many more like him in local politics.
Conversely, we have a number of MPs who are educated and by far exceed the qualifications Adv suggested, but are woefully poor in delivery at constituency level. Some tend to be aloof, removed from their electors thinking they are smarter. They have failed to deliver tangible development in their constituencies although they are sharper in debates in the House and in discharging other legislative functions that need brain.
The point we seek to advance is that while formal education is important, it must not be used as a tool to extinguish the right of some adult Zimbabwean citizens who are registered as voters to hold elected office. We are also not saying an education is not important. It is, but people have different strengths and weaknesses. Our politics can only develop when its citizens participate in it in an inclusive environment.
It is up to the people to decide who they want to represent them whether the person is a professor, engineer or an uneducated villager, showing their decisions through democratic elections.