Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Perception and Pessimism: Zimbabwe’s 2019 Projected State (Not Private) Capital Budget.


By Takura Zhangazha*

There are questions that a number of those that are perceived by family, friends and acquaintances as well informed or knowledgeable have to occasionally answer.  On matters that at basics are about national political, economic and social issues.  All as they emerge in convivial and now regularly partisan discourse.

Key conversations or questions that emerge are generally the same.  And they are somewhat like this: 

‘Do you think the economy will improve with these guys (Zanu Pf) in charge?’

“What do you think the international community (read as global north governments) will say about their policies?’

‘Will investors (also read as global private capital, as long as it is not Chinese) come to a country like ours and create jobs?”

And finally the big one,  Will we (still)  get access to United States dollars and what will happen to the bond notes in our bank accounts/ that we had saved/ that we hope to get?’

These are questions that thanks to the personal experiences of many during the hyper-inflationary period of the first decade of the 2000s, cut across class, geographical location and generational perspectives on what is or was better. 

I generally have no straightforward answers to the first three questions.  On the fourth, I tend to pause a bit and make a statement that brings great opprobrium.  This being the broad and patently unpopular assertion that we do not own the United States dollar (US$). 

Nor do we trust the bond notes brought about by the Zanu Pf government. 

But we most certainly need our own monetary currency as it reflects our global economic value. In competition to how others perceive the same. Somehow. 

Even if a majority still do not trust the economic, let alone monetary policy intentions of Mnangagwa’s five year tenure government (for now). 

It is against such political and very public skepticism that the current Minister of Finance, Professor Mthuli Ncube is presenting his projected state (not private) capital budget for 2019. 

And obviously the media, elite/educated/wannabe middle class (by way of lifestyle) will be closely watching his presentation before Parliament on Thursday 22 November 2018. (Keeping in mind trickle down not only consciousness but also assumptions of materialism)

Not to also mention the crass opportunists, who will, in keeping with the mantra of the ‘ease of doing business’ take thorough advantage of those who do not even begin to understand what the concept means.  Ideologically and technically.  So long they get a triple dollar and dime on the return of investment that comes with taking a gamble on things that they never intended to understand. Let alone support (that’s contemporary global capitalism, in Africa, for you)

The government of Zimbabwe is (happily) aware of this.  Hence its Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP, 2018-2020) that seeks among other things to ‘ring-fence’ private capital.  Not only as a precursor to its 2019 national budget presentation before Parliament but also as a performance measurement guarantee to its more important  ‘client’,  private global capital. 

Hence a week before the budget is presented, Mnangagwa argues in a local weekly, that there is a financial ‘cost’ to negative reporting on the Zimbabwean situation.  This is a perspective I personally disagree with but I will respectfully leave to experts on media freedom and assumptions of its democratic ‘cost’ to those that know better on the same matter to argue it out with the state/government.

While the latter remains Mnangagwa’s highly politicized opinion, it is not enough to either limit free expression on his planned investment policies let alone the capacity of his government to deliver on his electoral policies.

 Even where he argues, as he recently did in the Financial Times of the United Kingdom, that his economic reform trajectory is Thatcherite and therefore correct.  All without application to domestic economic context and organic leftist linkages to a liberation struggle/movement in which he claims he played a significant political role in or at least justified as a reason why he took over the helm of the ruling Zanu Pf party.  All as dramatically as he did in November 2017.

What we know is that the Zimbabwean government intends on a private sector led economy in its annual budget for 2019. Almost like a second version, in a generation, of a World Bank/ International Monetary Fund (IMF), Breton Woods supported and ‘sponsored’ economic structural adjustment programme (ESAP).  Or as some unionists and occasional economist refer to it, ‘ESAP 2.0’.

At the fault of sounding repetitive (in previous personal blogs) we have been here before.  As individuals and as a country.  It all came to naught.  Instead of getting jobs, we lost them.  Instead of getting more affordable health, education, transport and/or other welfare support, we lost it. What we will however most certainly get is a 3-tier commodity pricing system. In 3 different 'currencies'. (If you haven't already experienced the same, wait a bit.) 

Mthuli Ncube in his budget presentation (as definitely approved by Cabinet)  needs to understand that history is not as abstract as his principal(s) would have us believe.  Nor is the 'free market' , as contemporarily given, a panacea to Zimbabwe’s challenges. 

He should argue better on behalf of a people entered political economy.  But then again, we may not be able to say it as easily as we should, Mnangagwa’s government while having won a disputed electoral victory in July 2018, does not espouse people centered economic policy reform.  Nor does it intend to.  It is firmly pro-business/private capital and does not worry about the questions we have attempt to answer, badly so, when we are assumed to be people in the know of the goings on in our country, Zimbabwe.

So back to the same queries I and probably you as a reader (in your assumed expertise) of this blog occasionally have to respond to in real-time or online. 

“Will this government with its tenure of five years be able to deliver on the economic expectations of a majority of Zimbabweans?”

 My basic answer is, “No it will not’.  Not with its current neo-liberal economic model that panders to private capital by selling off state capital at limited socio-economic justice return to the people of Zimbabwe.  Or at least not without its own authentic, trusted national currency of exchange.
But as will be the case with (Finance Minister) Ncube’s ‘state capital’ budgetary statement of intent, the ‘political state’ is persuaded it can get away with a proverbial ‘murder’. Warts and all.  And regrettably,  on behalf of private capital. But then again, you hear what you prefer to hear, see what you prefer to see,  touch what you prefer to touch and speak what keeps your limited capital 'safe'. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

One Year After Mugabe: A Revolution Still not Televised


By Takura Zhangazha*

On 15 November 2017, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s longest serving ruler was confined to his private residence in the affluent suburb of Borrowdale in Harare, Zimbabwe.  This, while armed soldiers took control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation's (ZBC) headquarters major stations and patrolled the streets of the capital city.  

In what was self-evidently a 'coup-de-tat' but euphemistically referred to as a 'military assisted transition', the country had entered into a period of potential serious political instability.  All instigated by succession and factional battles in the ruling Zanu Pf party at the end of which an emboldened Mnangagwa faction and its military actors took a risk that Mugabe (and his wife) never thought possible.  Also one that SADC probably thought would never happen.  At least not in Zimbabwe. 

By 18 November 2017 the military and ruling party members were exhorting Zimbabweans to march on the streets.  And by 19-20 November 2017, march/gather in Harare, they did.  

The ruling Zanu Pf party, for the first time without Mugabe readily available to lead it, took advantage of the popular support and called for a central committee meeting that resolved to remove him from power.  And where he would refuse they also undertook to use the constitutional option of an unprecedented Parliamentary impeachment.  

In the meantime, the military was negotiating with its would be commander in chief (at least legally)  to resign.  

Mugabe refused.  

And again Zanu Pf functionaries aligned to Mnangagwa threatened mass action and impeachment.  Mnangagwa himself also issued a statement calling on the president to resign promising his now arch rival protection.  

As it turns out, it was only when Parliament had started impeachment proceedings at a local hotel that Mugabe’s resignation letter arrived.  What were rather contrived and real celebration were seen occurring on the streets of Harare with the military's permission. 

But perhaps more significantly in what remained of the ruling party as seen when Mnangagwa became president thereafter. Not only via his party but also a very public swearing in ceremony attended not only by the then chair of SADC but more importantly by the main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. 

Less than six months on from these events those behind the removal of Mugabe’s ouster managed to perform another shocking political feat.  They won a general election even as the opposition decried the results as not being truly reflective of the will of the people. Opposition marches were held and tragically lives were lost (the subject of former South Africa president Kgalema Montlante’s Commission of Inquiry as appointed by Mnangagwa.) 

The international observers that were present noted electoral discrepancies but the most important ones fell short of rejecting the electoral outcome.  The constitutional court's judgement finalized the matter with a unanimous ruling in favour of Mnangagwa thus paving the way for him to serve as president for the next five years. 

Many Zimbabweans, especially those sympathetic to the opposition or with an intense dislike of the ruling party have refused to accept this political reality.  Those of the other factions of the ruling party either known as the ‘Generation 40’ (Mugabe)  or ‘weevil’ (former Vice President Mujuru) factions have remained not only bitter on social media but also actively supporting anyone who opposes the current ruling establishment.

Whatever their feelings, hindsight now favours those who are in power.  The future not so much so.  This is because the ruling Zanu Pf establishment owes so much to so many global players.  The latter being those that are close to private capital in its local and global economic and political parameters. 
For local and relatively powerless ordinary Zimbabweans who never really had a direct influence on not only the coup-not- a-coup events of November 2017 but the complicated dynamics of the 2018 general election, there’s a general tragedy of expectations.  

Assumptions that the departure of Mugabe would lead to some sort of better change, ill-defined as it was when people marched the streets in support of the ‘coup-de-tat’ or the July 2018 elections, have come to naught.  What has emerged and broadly spoken for, is a sense of not only de-ja-vu but more significantly a return to an ephemeral national consciousness that waits for elite driven political events to occur first. All before intentions and questions are asked about those that would seek political power are addressed or answered. 

There are however four specific realities that Zimbabwe is faced with going forward.  

The first being that the ruling Zanu Pf party is in power, for the umpteenth time and  for another politically controversial five years. And in its exercise of power, its primary target is performance legitimacy.  Not necessarily with the people of Zimbabwe but more significantly with private global capital.  All with the aim of being seen to return to international legitimacy via the West, East and the Global South.

Secondly, the fact that there is a loose coalition of the opposition which is never going to proffer an ideological let alone issue based alternative to the ruling establishment leaves a lot to ponder.  

Save for a shallow populism, again seeking endorsement, like Zanu Pf, from global capital and its political backers in the global north. All in the vainglorious hope that time (age), economic collapse and a potentially distrusting global capital will spur them on to an electoral victory in the next elections in 2023, the opposition remains hapless. And all mixed with what can only be described as ephemeral religious political fervor akin to ‘waiting for Godot’, to quote Samuel Beckett.

Thirdly and as a direct result of the above immediately mentioned two factors, is the reality that the Mnangagwa government has no intention of being people centered let alone behave in any way that would be harmful to business (private capital).  As long as the latter forgets (and possibly forgives) their previous transgressions when they were under the tutelage of a radically nationalist but unfocused Mugabe.  Zanu Pf is intent on ensuring it courts back big business.  Therefore, its understanding of what it calls a new dispensation is effectively neo-liberal. 

So when people argue that this is in reality not a new dispensation, they misconstrue the new to be more political than it is economic. Or they misread the assumption of the new residing in the political as opposed to the pro-business economic policies that will be announced next week in the projected national budget for 2019.  ‘Liberal politics’ will be benevolently permitted but it is ‘liberal economics’ (free market) that will be the supreme priority.

Being ‘open for business’ will not translate to being open to organic challenges for state power.  And with the support of private global capital and its local offshoots, so long they both get want they want. That is, profit or as politely put, ‘returns on investment’. Fourthly (and finally) is the question that emerges from a 'between a rock and a hard place'.  Is there an alternative? There always is. Given the internal contradictions of neoliberalism and the emergence of a progressive global and local left.  With or without Zimbabwe’s faltered, faulty not so  new dispensation. If it ever was one. But alternatives will always remain in vogue. As Gill Scott Heron once sang, 'the revolution will not be televised. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his own personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Muzarabani's 'Black Gold', No Rush + Capital Wagging State's Tail


 By Takura Zhangazha*

The government of Zimbabwe held a press conference at which the president initially announced that a private company Invictus had made oil and gas discoveries in Muzarabani district.  No more that  a day after the presser, the company whose representatives had been at the press conference issued a statement refuting an actual discovery of oil and gas contrary to what the mainstream state controlled media had published.. It stated that it was only doing an exploration of oil and gas in Muzarabani.  The government later on, through the minister of Mines, Wilson Chitando, also retracted any claims at ‘discovery’ and emphasized the issue of exploration.

Social media while not quite going apoplectic over these awkward statements from the government and its new oil exploration partner, did query the veracity of the claims.  As well as raise issues about the integrity of the company. 

A couple of friends of mine were delighted at the changed news that there was no oil or gas discovery.  Or at least the tentative possibility that the ruling Zanu Pf party would not be able, in the immediate, to profit politically from it. 

For the most part the general public did not trust the announcement.  Not least because of their mistrust of how government handled the Marange diamond fields where allegations remain about not only looting and self aggrandizement of politically connected individuals but also the violence that accompanied the extractive process.

Investment analysts were also quick to comment about how such projects should be handled by government.   They cited for example the fact that the Invictus outfit was looking for investors via its stock exchange listing and therefore was trying to stall the competition over its competitive find in Muzarabani.  

Or alternatively that the government should have kept the deal under wraps, at least for a while. In the interests of the company (stalling competition or questions of transparency) and preventing what would be a black gold rush in the long neglected valley. They preferred that the the company issue its own statements and then government enter the fray.

The reality of the mater is that both government and the private investor messed up their public relations on the matter.   But this ‘messing up’ is obviously done with purpose.  I would not know whether it was deliberate to have a whole president announcing an initial confirmation of oil and gas in Muzarabani.  But it would be clear that the end effect still favours government and the primary investor/ owner of the special oil exploration permit. 

The fact that it is now in the public domain, means that there is a serious possibility that there shall be fracking of the basin by 2020. And therefore that the scientifically arrived at assumption of probability that there is oil and gas is not a prophecy or a rumour.  The only catch is that, in relation to the investor and less so government, is it profitably feasible in terms of the current global petroleum markets and standards?

It is a question I do not have an answer to.  But I certainly perceive that where capital wags the governments investment policy tail (refuting a presidents press statement and getting a confirmation retraction), then the caution points to control as opposed to clarity. 

Further,  the exploration exercise/confirmation, as it begins now and is projected to be finalized in 2020, the fracking exercises that will be undertaken there will have serious consequences for the environment and the local population that relies on the valley for their livelihoods. So what better way to keep environmental activists at bay than to claim no oil discovery but just exploration?  

What is clear is that there is a definite escalation of oil and gas exploration that is going to happen in Muzarabani that will change its land use and attendant political economy. While this suits the ruling party's narrative of bringing investors into the country as per electoral promise, it is the model or framework that should get all Zimbabweans worried. 

The government is utilising a neo-liberal economic model in order to garner the confidence of international capital. And this includes turning a blind eye to the environmental effects of onshore oil drilling as well as protecting private capital while selling state capital simultaneously.    Hence the over enthusiasm and quick fire press conference on the purported discovery and exploration of oil and gas.  All in order to demonstrate either the ‘ease of doing business’ or to prove to a domestic political audience that the government is working closely with global capital.  Especially via companies that are linked to the Sydney (Australia) Stock Exchange.

We can politicise the exploration (and likely 'discovery') of oil as much as we want but there is certainty to capital's intentions.  And governments willingness to play ball, even ifit appear to be in sixes and sevens.  We should ask for greater transparency and accountability of all of the exploration that is intended with a full scale environmental impact assessment and guarantee of the protection of livelihoods of the people in Muzarabani and surrounding environs.  Even before the 'discovery' is eventually made.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Friday, 2 November 2018

Media Strategy for Zimbabwe: Strategic Issues Going forward.


 A presentation to the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, 2018 Annual Media Stakeholders Conference
02 November 2018, Sapes Trust , Harare, Zimbabwe.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Colleagues, cdes and friends,

I have been asked to discuss, albeit briefly, strategic issues of the media in Zimbabwe, going forward.  I am not sure how far forward we should look.  But I would assume that so long we look forward, it helps. 

And perhaps that has been the primary fault of the media sector, an inability to perceive or even try to predict what the future may look like.  Not only in terms of the issues that I understand were discussed yesterday, for example the new interface or even competition between social media platforms and the mainstream media.  Or the debate around how public broadcasting, in both its national and community broadcasting sense, has to have its definitive parameters redrawn.  As well as how journalists welfare and unionism impacts on their professional an ethical conduct against the backdrop of allegations of media capture, editorial control and neo-liberal assumptions of the media as profitable business. 

But what is in vogue for many media stakeholders is a specific political reality of a newly elected government that has said it is ‘open for business’.  The primary assumption being that it is also open for the business of discussing the media, and its primary concerns. Or at least what the media and media stakeholders expect from government. 

What I would definitely agree with is that the media stakeholders conference, judging by the statements of the relatively new Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services (MIPBS) Monica Mutsvangwa, should not look a gift horse in the mouth given the assumption that she/government means well.
But just to give a key reminder that media stakeholders have been here before.  That is, a situation where government promises reforms, extends their implementation period and then claims success over its own ineptitude or lack of political will to implement what it has consultatively promised. 
That is why at the back of media stakeholders minds we are still whispering about the Information and Media Public inquiry (IMPI) recommendations ( as numerous as they were). 

But in an Alpha Media Holdings Conversations (AMH) facebook live discussion I participated in with co-panelists Mr. Nyarota , Ms Patience Zirima and the deputy minister of MPIBS, Honourable Energy Mutodi, I mentioned that we cannot revert to past narratives of how government interacts with the press.  Mainstream or emergent in the form of new social media motivated platforms of access to information. 

Strategically considered, Zimbabwe’s media in all it various facets (mainstream, social, mediums/technological, legal) must begin to chart a new path in the best public democratic interest.  The latter being defined largely as a media that does not flinch from being more robust, self correcting, technologically savvy and democratically conscious of its role in furthering Zimbabwe’s democratic values and principles.

 In the context of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe’s work, this would require a contextual reinvigoration of its annual media strategy to not only suit our technological times but also expand the democratic value proposition of freedom of expression and access to information. 
The broad thematic arenas of MAZ have been media policy an reforms, media plurality and diversity (and its sub themes of alternative media, freedom of expression, independent mainstream media , sustainable community media , public service media),  media professionalism and ethics and finally safe, equitable and enabling environments for journalists. 

In our national context these thematic focus areas remain relevant not only by way of reference but more significantly in reality.  We still do not have, as cited by stakeholders here present adequate media policy reforms.  Nor do we have media plurality and diversity.  Let alone media professionalism and ethics nor an equitable and enabling environment for journalists and media workers.

On the basis of the above, there is therefore no need to reinvent the wheel.  It basically means we still have to address these primary challenges as enunciated in the MAZ Media Strategy Framework for Zimbabwe. 

The key question is do we use the same methods for the same problems?  The easy answer would be indeed we should. 

The caution however is the speed at which we arrive at our envisioned destination.  Whereas we have been cognizant of the opportunities that come with an incremental change template to the media environment, we have lost sight to the fact that the media is increasingly losing its democratic value proposition in the best public interest.  And that the Zimbabwean public may still perceive the media more as an elitist institution that serves the interests of those in power (be it in politics, business and religion) more than it may be focused on playing its independent and critical democratic role.
Hence the public in part has turned to social media platforms to seek their own version of the truth or to confirm the news that they would prefer to hear.

It is in this context that media stakeholders must undertake some strategic changes to their approach to Zimbabwe’s media reform agenda.

Top of these strategic reconsiderations is to understand the media from a political economy perspective.  That is to initially emphasise its organic political reason for its existence which remains to enable and enhance freedom of expression and access to information in the democratic public interest.  And this from an entirely holistic perspective (print, broadcast, social media, medium- technology).

In this same framework to then strategically look at how the media must be sustained in order to achieve its overarching political and economic objective.  This is the economic side of the media.  While I am aware that MIPBS has already announced its broad ‘media as business’ policy intentions, we must be cautious in arguing for a solely profit motivated mainstream and new media strategic framework.  This sort of framework leads to multi-media ownership as is the case now in Zimbabwe with the larger media companies beginning to monopolise the sector’s various media formats (radio, print, television, new media).  And this includes telecommunications companies that are also entering the broadcasting fray via the internet or provision of the mediums (data and fibre optic) without due consideration to issues of costs and its impact on public access.

These economic considerations should be also undertaken with a democratic understanding of the still important role of the public media.  And how to get the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation out of the clutches of a partisan editorial policy and the profit motivated intentions by government of putting it out to dry against better equipped and soon to be licensed private broadcasters. 
We have already seen this encroachment into the public service community broadcasting sphere where the licensing of commercial private local radio stations has quite literally taken over the significant strides that some community radio stations had made.  We need only look at what happened to Radio Dialogue in Bulawayo and the awkward takeover of its actual studio space by SkyzMetro FM.

As I outlined earlier, in relation to the actual MAZ strategy the focus areas of stakeholders remain key.  They however tend to lose sight of the bigger picture where and when stakeholders either act in silos or compete for their sectoral interest either with government or international partners. 
What is strategically required is a greater unity of purpose and shared understanding of the urgency of an organic political economy approach to media reforms in Zimbabwe.  One which understands that the current government’s economic policy of being open for business should not translate to media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information being sacrificed at the altar of media for private profit model.
Thank you very much and all the best.
*Takura Zhangazha spoke here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

ED's Business Dance, Masiyiwa's Compliance

By Takura Zhangazha*

President Mnangagwa recently held a consultative meeting with Zimbabwe’s business sector.  This, against the backdrop of a national economic crisis largely caused by a new monetary policy that sent commodity prices and informal exchange rates on a wild spin.  Reports on the outcomes of the meeting have not had much detail.  It however turns out that government and business came to some sort of mutual agreement about keeping commodity prices at what they would consider to be realistic levels. And also agreeing on business being more circumspect when requesting foreign currency from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. 

The latter policy pointing to a government that is potentially acting to bail out business by distributing foreign currency  in the vain hope that private capital will eventually have a modicum of ethics to not profiteer from the assistance. We would all be well advised to learn from the 2008 global
financial crisis and the bailing out of big banks by governments/reserve banks in the global north and wince at how that has turned out in reality. 

In the same week, the majority shareholder of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, Strive Masiyiwa gave his strongest approval yet of the economic policies of Mnangagwa’s  government.  Insisting that he is of the view that the government should be given a chance, he also to the surprise of some opposition activists, called for sanctions on Zimbabwe to be removed. 

In both examples cited, government and business are clearly intent on becoming good bedfellows.  And they agree on certain fundamentals that should be adhered to in relation to economic reform.  With the key agreement being that free market economics are supreme beyond dispute.  And that whatever government does, even if temporary, should be with the clear intention at allowing the ‘ease of doing business.’ Or alternatively, prioritizing the needs of private capital (both domestic and global). 

And for both government and private capital this means only one thing: austerity. The latter basically being a term that refers to the cutting of government expenditure and allowing the free market and private capital to be the primary factors of economic policy.  Never mind the fact that most governments in the global north who have implemented this type of economic policy are increasing skeptical of it (for example the United Kingdom's prime minister Theresa May recently pledged to end austerity, while Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is popularly calling for the return of the welfare state and reigning in of private capital).

But this appears not to be a cautionary tale for Mnangagwa or private business.  Instead they appear to be firmly persuaded that the neo-liberal mantra of ‘no pain, no gain’ is the only course of action they can take to gain the favor of the ‘market’. 

Of course they will not readily explain to whose pain they are referring to.  For the avoidance of doubt, it is most certainly not their own pain. Physically or emotionally.  From our own domestic experience of the early 1990s version of ‘austerity’ that we came to know as the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). And for all the pain we suffered, we still remained jobless and lacked access to basic social services.  Even if we blamed the politics of Mugabe’s long duree rule, the fundamentals were very clear around the fact that Zimbabwe was no longer anywhere near being the welfare state that it was in the first ten years of independence. And those who benefitted the most were the ones with links to private local and global capital as well as the ruling party.  (Remember all those celebrity businessmen who were part of indigenisation outfits, buying fancy cars, paying workers in shoes? Some of them are now very rich politicians and football administrators).

But even if government claims that this is a different path, the framework speaks a different language. It's  Transitional Stabilisation Program (TSP)  to be fortified when the 2019 national budget is presented to Parliament later on this month, is framed as private sector led economic growth.  That means private capital and its intentions are governments number one priority.  With the hope that trickle down benefits (for example, cheaper labour) will suffice to retain a modicum of political stability. 

The new marriage of business and government is therefore a state-private capital contract made for the elite.  And Mnangagwa probably knows this only too well. His primary guarantee to capital is that he will provide the necessary political cover for capital's profit motivated forays.  This cover will include suppressing unionism and direct popular opposition to his economic policies by social movements. (He is rather lucky that the opposition agrees with his economic template.  In fact it occasionally claims it as its own.)  Mnangagwa intends to try and reinvent the Zimbabwean state.  Almost as a private corporation that houses other private corporations for a profit.  In return, capital simply needs to do what it does.  That is to worship at the altar of the free market and neo-liberalism no matter the economic rights concerns of a poor majority in the country.   The only catch is that capital, like global international politics, only knows permanent interests and has no permanent friends. A matter that Masiyiwa is also probably all too familiar with. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Monday, 29 October 2018

Religion Has Limits in the Secular World, Mr. Magaya (and Others)


By Takura Zhangazha*

One would be forgiven for thinking that Zimbabwe is caught up in some sort of national religious frenzy.  Pastors, prophets, politicians-come-pastors-messiahs, business people are regularly making reference to God or Jesus in relation to what should essentially be secular spheres of our national social life.  It should have all reached its fever pitch by the time we held elections that had two religion motivated campaign themes. Namely ‘Voice of the People is the Voice of God’ (Zanu Pf) and ‘Gods in it’ (MDC Alliance). 

It turns out that a good number of clergy persons were thinking beyond the electoral period and looking at consolidating their stay on the national stage.  And commenting on what are secular issues.  Or issues that are fundamentally beyond their religious purview. 

Two recent incidents come to mind.  Firstly some pastors have been commenting on the state of the economy and what they perceive to be political or economic solutions  to current problems come to mind.  Apart from again calling for a transitional authority or government of national unity (whose calls were rejected by the incumbent government), through to other relatively abstract comments about how the government must move to cushion the poor.  This is all well and good.  And their opinion is to be respected.  So long it does not appear to be an attempt at messianic tendencies via articles of faith over what are essentially structural aspects of our country’s political economy.  With or Without Gods intervention (I will come back to this point later).

The second and perhaps most astounding attempt by the clergy into the realm of the secular was this weekends unsubstantiated claim by Mr. Walter Magaya (also referred to as a prophet) that he has discovered/found the cure for HIV/Aids.  And by doing so challenged any doubters to come and do the relevant scientific tests after the event/announcement. 

We now all know that these clergy men have a similar template across the continent (via TV’s and congregations with ‘overflows’’) to try and combine mysticism and dramatic public performances (almost like secular magicians) to persuade those that are desperate as a result of poverty or a wanton desire for the material that they indeed are ‘prophets’ of sorts. 

This recent statement on HIV/Aids and a cure is one too many.  Such attempts by religious and in some cases political leaders to claim such powers for cures have ended in national health disasters and the needless loss of life. Anyone remember former Gambian president Yaya Jammeh and his ridiculous but more significantly tragic attempt at the same. Closer to home there was one Burombo who also claimed the same.   

Prophets and clergy men who make such claims to their thousands of supporters must be brought to public account.  And they must be told of the limits to which they can go with claiming the superstitious as being superior to contemporary modern science.  Even if the latter has challenges of access, affordability for a majority poor of our country’s citizens in this age of neoliberalism.

Bu there are other more important factors to consider about the role of religion in contemporary Zimbabwean (and African) societies.  Knowing full well that any attempt to reign in pastors and their followers will lead to them claiming persecution, it is important that secular Zimbabwean society begins to be much more apparent in everyday national consciousness.

Not in order to act as direct rivals or new ‘cultist’ movements to those that are obtaining and retaining a hold on the national political, social and economic psyche, limited but expanding as it is among young Zimbabweans.  And some of these issues are now being dealt with in courts of law especially where they concern expected returns on ‘tithes’ or ‘seeding’.

The secular simply has to hold fort against these alarming levels of superstition and religiosity in our country.  Not that there is any need for anyone to undermine the right of all Zimbabweans to assemble as well as their freedom to worship, but there are such things as shouting fire in a crowded hall that may lead to a tragic stampede.  Or as was the case in the recent past, members of some apostolic churches refusing their children early medical treatment in the name of one god, prophet or the other.

Zimbabwe may generally be described as a highly religious country, at least by a majority’s adherence to Christianity in one form or the other.  And churches in their variegated denominations are powerful institutions of social cohesion and stability.  But they must remember that while they, like the rest of civil society can influence state policies, they should not over reach their mark by claiming all and sundry as theirs.  Or originating from their prophecies and other superstitious claims.  It is the Zimbabwean state that has a social contract with all the people of Zimbabwe for their health and safety. God's or religious interventions via their 'representatives' prophetic or otherwise should be reminded that the secular world, for now, best serves the democratic public interest.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Monday, 15 October 2018

Media for Profit vs Its Democratic Value in Zimbabwe

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Three things occurred in Zimbabwe’s mainstream media environment that are directly related but will help us understand the sector much better.  From how it views and values itself, its own understanding of how the public should receive/respect it and how those that own the media view their roles vis-à-vis their profit motive.  

The first occurrence was the doubling of the prices of newspapers under the Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) stable. This was in the midst of the phenomenal currency exchange rate wherein the country was undergoing public panic commodity buying and hoarding the same ostensibly to retain some value to their earnings. 

The increase in the AMH stable newspaper prices was quite bold in media terms.  They were the only media house to immediately do so (I am sure the other major stables shall follow suit at some point).  It was an inadvertent statement of self-value and a probable confidence that their readers would understand the decision and still fork out at least two dollars (in bond notes).  

Either because their journalistic work is worth every cent/dollar or because their reading public would empathize with them in difficult economic circumstances.  Or, which is more likely, the owners of AMH view their entity in strict market terms wherein whatever prices are on the market they need to ensure they recover the costs of their production and retain their profit margins.  Whatever their actual reason, it is likely that as a private company they were and are entitled to do so.

It should however have ended there.  The new deputy minister of  information, publicity and broadcasting services (IPBS) Energy Mutodi however took umbrage at the decision to increase the copy price by AMH.  Using Twitter, he ‘instructed’ AMH to revert back to the previous prices for its newspapers.  The chairman of AMH, Trevor Ncube responded in the negative and went on to imply that the burning of his newspapers soon after their twitter tirade could possibly be linked to the deputy minister. 

The social media fallout between the two was to get slightly more dramatic if not altogether awkward.  The two held a meeting at the IPBS offices under the watch of Minister Monica Mutsvangwa.  And it is now reported that they have buried the hatchet. Add to this the minister’s statement that Zimbabwe is ‘open for media business’ and we all have an idea why they have done the proverbial burial.

What these dramatic incidents point to is a precarious positioning of the media under Mnangagwa’s government.  This is in at least two respects.  Firstly that for the government its ‘image’ appears to be everything and the media (private or state owned/controlled) is a key cog in helping do public relations for it.  Hence the general outcry and immediate action by the ministry over the spat between the two newfound brothers on twitter.  And that in itself may not be a bad thing on the face of it.  But it runs the serious risk of bringing the private media closer to the ruling establishment in the name of not only choreographed conviviality but also under the problematic ease of doing business mantra.  And this becomes a framework where the public might not quite know what now motivates editorial policies or the actions of media proprietors. That is whether it is the profit motive or an independent and democratic pursuit of the public interest. 

Secondly, where we have such a rapport between media owners and government, we need to cautiously examine the overall democratic importance of the media in our country.  This rapport as it turns out is predicated on ensuring the licensing of already existent media houses (which were largely print and radio) into what would be considered media oligarchies (Rupert Murdoch and Australia anyone?)  across various platforms (television, print, radio and online broadcasting).  While at the same time not paying attention to the necessity of diverse media ownership as an important element of greater freedom of expression and access to information in the democratic public interest. 

But this appears to be more a moot point given the newfound camaraderie of Mutodi, Ncube and associates. What obtains in reality is the likelihood that the media and its owners may no longer be as keen on free expression in it true public interest role.  Instead,for them, profit may in the final analysis, not only be king but a god.   It appears that the media and it's owners cannot surpass the opportunity to be somewhat embedded within the state and its neo-liberal narrative in return for potential favours that come with being controversial but not true to the democratic role of the fourth estate.  But then again, who really cares? The standards have been set a bit too low to warrant democratic query.  Much to the detriment of free expression and access to information by the many. Not the privileged (and rotating) few.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)