Wednesday, 20 July 2016

We Need To Talk About Class and Consciousness in Zimbabwe

By Takura Zhangazha*

We have stopped talking about ‘class’ in Zimbabwe.  Yet ironically our national and very real political contestations have generally been motivated by the ‘politics of the belly’  and/or  the state of the economy. Instead  our conversations have revolved around governance and patriotic history in their polar opposite dimensions. 

The results of which have yielded not only an inclusive government and an incremental constitution but also a very neo-liberal (free market) economic framework.  The latter, never mind the ‘nationalism’ of the ruling establishment, remains our default modus operandi. And its its results are self evident with the primary one being the individualization of our society, the withdrawal of the sate form looking after the basic needs of its people and a political economy that coughs when global capital sneezes.

We also have pundits that with relative ease support this framework, save for in the dimension of governance.  Not least because discussing ‘class’ relations in Zimbabwe is frowned upon as trying to take the country back to socialism (where it never was). In this, there is the envy of  other countries economic liberalism  than there is greater reflection on our own economic (and political) contextual needs and aspirations. In short, we like the bigger picture scenario more than we want to discuss the underbelly (warts and all) of our national political economy.  We want the immediate and not the long term.  So we hop from one immediate issue to the next and leave behind us a trail of disempowered and disillusioned citizens who wait for the next big hassle.

Where we decide to unpack our national underbelly we will find that we should be talking about class, classes and their attendant consciousness.  Within themselves and in their perception of not only governance but national being.  And contrary to general perceptions or intentions to underplay their existence we do have classes in Zimbabwe.

The most dominant being the comprador bourgeoisie. These are those that are closely linked to the state/ruling establishment and feed off it for tenders, contracts and commercial favours. It is a largely corrupt and self serving stratum that relies on the use of state sanctioned violence and cosmetic/inorganic democratic processes to stay at the top. It neither produces goods and services nor does it function in consideration of other classes save for its own preservation.  It espouses nationalism in order to give itself a veneer of popular legitimacy while auctioning off state assets to the highest bidder. 

Immediately following this we have the comprador middle class.   It is comprised of those that work largely for the ruling establishment and its offshoot companies or private businesses that continually curry the state’s favour. It is also very atomized/individualistic and keen on consumerism/materialism.  It is not a harbinger of new ideas and innovation because its reliance on the patronage of the comprador bourgeoisie limits its capacity to think beyond its belly.  It plays the mediation role of demonstrating to lower classes what their aspirations should be, so long they follow the rules.  In rare cases, where its interests are threatened, it will team up with private businesses/ capital to demonstrate its anger at the way the state is being run only to return to its seat once its needs are met. 

The third strata, in Zimbabwe’s case, is that of the urban based  working people.  Here we cannot refer to a working class because the outright Marxian term no longer applies.  This class is comprised of civil servants (including teachers), NGO workers, informal traders, the few but still formally employed by private business  and our tertiary level students.  It is the most active in the economy, moving from one end to the other in order to make ends meet.  It is also highly religious,  not easily moved to outright political action and is pliant in the face of state sanctioned violence.  It has no singular characteristic and is constantly in flux. 

It can take up political causes in so far as they further its livelihood objectives and do not hurt what it generally perceives to be the primary unit of society i.e family.  In this regard, it will unionise, form associations and if need  be utilize temporary mass action to further its interests or to resist sudden changes to the political and economic system.

Fourthly there is the perennially most important strata of Zimbabwean society, namely the peasants or communal farmer. While worn down by age and migration, this class for now remains the game changing one in our society.  Largely by way of numbers but also in relation to conservatism and susceptibility to violence (of any nature). It is also the causus belli/ reason  of many causes be they nationalism, fast track land reform programmes or democratic change (Mai Ezra from Dotito, anyone?) It is the harbinger of incremental change and conservatism.  It is malleable to what the urban says, only if its preservation is guaranteed.  It however is, in the age of state capitalism (bio-agriculture, rapid urbanization, mining concessions)  as led by the comprador bourgeoisie, a dying class in Zimbabwe.

The final stratum which cannot be ignored by way of our own contextual historical process, is the intelligentsia. These are the thought leaders who represent various ideologies and purposefully act to make thei ideas the most prominent.  In our country’s case, our intellectuals are sadly less ideological because they tend to behave as though the proposition by American thinker, Francis Fukuyama is final.  That is why they nonchalantly believe that we have reached the end of history in relation to ideological contestation.  And accept neo-liberalism as the panacea to Zimbabwe’s ills.

There are a few (and getting fewer) that believe in being organic intellectuals, not only in the Gramscian or Cabral sense, but also in relation to our particular Zimbabwean context. If you ask me, thats where you will find me. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Friday, 8 July 2016

July 6 Stay Away: Enter WhatsApp+ Mediating Zimbabwe’s New Consciousness

By Takura Zhangazha*
There are a number of causes and actors for the mass action that occurred in Zimbabwe on Wednesday 6 July 2016.  Some reasons being more immediate than others, and some actors being more key than others, but all contributing at varying levels to the national strike/shutdown (whatever you prefer to call it.)

The particular difference with this one day mass stayaway was that it was not quite like the ones some of us would remember from the late 1990s which were organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).  This one, though heavily involving the teachers unions and the civil service associations, did not require mobilization as of old. There were few public meetings, fewer physical paraphernalia such as fliers to be distributed on the streets and no ‘boots on the ground’ door to door campaigns.

A key question that then emerges is so what could have motivated so many to act in unison at the same time, even though for various reasons.  The easy answer for unionists would be that it was the issue of unpaid salaries for teachers and civil servants that made a majority of urban citizens stay at home.  Political, social media and civil society activists  would argue it was the intention to send a clear political message to the current government that citizens are tired of its incompetence amidst non-ending corruption scandals.  Others, still would argue that it was the fear of the unknown consequences of going to work that ensured the stay at home and wait it out strategy.

In all of these explanations there shall also be claims made by the various activists, especially the teachers unions and the civil service associations, the activists/social media activists (#ThisFlag, #Tajamuka, Occupy Africa Unity Square) of having provided the determinative leadership of the stay away. Or at least as to having been the most listened to by the majority of citizens that chose to stay at home.  For this, there is no one final answer, and it will always be contested terrain until the next planned, unplanned, coincidental mass action.  The contests however do not take away the full political import of the stay away.

But there is the one actor that, until the day of the mass action itself, was not viewed as a standalone factor.  This player is the internet and its offshoot social media platforms. Especially the Whatsapp application which was used by all actors and players in their calls for strikes, protests and stay-aways.  Not only because it was briefly shut down (neither government nor the mobile phone companies have taken the blame), but also because the very act of shutting it down, for the same period, became the major talking point on other platforms such as twitter and facebook.  Not that the strike itself was not important. But the medium also became the message. 

It was knowing about the strike via our mobile phones that became even more important.  The medium/technology we were using to communicate became not only key but also fundamental to how we perceived or understood not only the strike/stay away but also our roles in it.  All of this based on the fact of the speed with which the medium i.e the internet/Whatsapp/ mobile telephony allowed us to relay or receive messages, and how close, personal and beyond government control it is.  We determined what we wanted to read and what we wanted to believe on this social media platform as individuals, as groups and by default as people with access to this one aspect of the internet.

This to the extent that even where in some cases exaggerated/dishonest stories were received or relayed on the platform, a good number of Zimbabweans chose, quite literally, to believe these stories in aid of what they wanted the strike either to become, or to continue as. And mainly in either video or pictorial format especially when posting about something burning or equally dramatic.

More significantly was the fact that in the build up to what was initially a civil servants planned strike, the various incidences that occurred at the Beitbridge border post, at Africa Unity Square, at Rainbow Towers Hotel, in Chitungwiza had all been varyingly posted on social media. On Whatsapp they were posted and re-posted to various ‘groups’ thus extending the reach of the information/knowledge about sometimes unrelated events/actions.  In the process, Whatsapp replaced what would have been routine/ regular mobilization strategies of bigger meetings and mainstream media campaign strategies.  The Whatsapp groups became the small town meetings and gathering points. And here I mean all sorts of groups, from those related to churches, families, sports, social clubs, informal traders, formal companies and human rights/civil society organizations.

The particular significance of this is that the mobilization strategies of old are not always going to be as effective. And that the existence of social media, where it is an integral part of combining evidently direct causes such as those relating to late payment of salaries, will always find credence particularly because of the speed at which information can be shared and above all, owned and believed in order to be minimally acted upon by millions of citizens at a time. That on its own, is a potential revolution waiting to happen.   Hence someone wanted it shut down. Even if temporarily.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Debating the Changing Writing, Cultural Intellectualism in Zim



 By Takura Zhangazha*

Last week the inaugural ‘The Write Affair’ discussion forum was held in Harare at the Zimbabwe German Society.  The topic for discussion, the State of Writing in Zimbabwe, was ably handled by the discussion panel that included renowned Zimbabwean poet Chirikure Chirikure, novelists Virginia Phiri and Robert Mukondiwa, new media editor/journalist Stephanie Kapfunde and journalist Percy Zvomuya.  The audience was comprised largely of young creative artists (writers, musicians, poets, visual artists, playwrights, new media writers).

In the discussions that ensued it was apparent that the state of writing in the country was not where the majority of participants wanted it to be.  Of the many issues that emerged from the discussion, I flagged out at least four that are key to addressing the discouraging state of writing and cultural intellectualism in the country. 

The first was the reference made to the lack of a reading culture in the country.  Not that people are not reading to pass examinations. More in the context of what one panelist questioned anecdotally as how can we expect new better writing if you have potential/new writers who do not read? This was backed up by another colleague who insisted that writing also requires research and hard work. 

References were also made to the post independence years where not only the mainstream media but also schools and state sponsored cultural institutions insisted on a culture of reading beyond the syllabus and thus contributed in varying ways to new literary and artistic perspectives on our society.

The second aspect that I found to be key was the relation between writers and the publishing industry. Or put in another way, writing and livelihoods/profit. In this, it was apparent that the publishing industry is not only diminished but functioning under difficult circumstances. The writers also do not trust the industry and have embarked on a strategy of self-publishing their own work.  Both in order to avoid censorship or to also seek recognition by publishers outside of the country who may be more professional. 

The third aspect that was inevitably going to emerge was the discussion on the relationship between the internet/new media and literature. The one view was that the arrival of the internet was a good thing for writing in Zimbabwe.  The other was that there is a difference between what appears on social media/internet and literature. Suffice to say, there is an ongoing interaction between traditional literature and emerging forms of expression.  Though a tweet or Facebook post is definitely not a book and vice versa.  More importantly was the unanswered question of whether in both cases, the medium may eventually affect the message, form and meaning of writing. 

A fourth reflection point was the issue of writing in its generic creative form.  That is writing that goes beyond literature in the form of song-writing and script writing or even painting.  This was the element of the holistic cultural dimension of writing and its importance to Zimbabwe’s variegated but collective creative imagination. It is a dimension that is often overlooked but literature has always been linked to other spheres of the creative arts such as songs, traditional music, dancehall music, film, radio and television. 

This symbiotic link should be re-examined and where possible re-established within a democratic framework that is fair to all in the creative industry. 

A final emerging issue from the discussion was the need for cross generational exchange of writing knowledge and experience between older and younger/emerging writers and creative artists. This salient point remains a cornerstone to continuing with the diverse tradition of Zimbabwean writing and creativity that transcended not only politics, but also language and genres. 
 
In all of these key issues, what also emerged was the issue of the way forward for writing in Zimbabwe.  The easier recommendation was that there be more meetings to discuss various issues affecting the writing element of the creative arts industry.  The harder recommendation was on the need to structure the way forward around actions that also link up with other stakeholders in order to restore the dignity, pride, belief and hope to Zimbabwean literature and cultural intellectualism. 
While the urgency of the latter cannot be disputed, it will always emerge from concerted but free discussions by writers in literature and other cultural spheres of our society. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Zim's Economic Woes. Beyond Anger and In Search of 'Base and Superstructure'



By Takura Zhangazha*
 
Discussing the national economic situation in Zimbabwe is a highly political exercise.  There is always the one main actor or cause of the dire situation, namely government.  Reasons, arguments are either around the fact that no country is going to help us as long as the current president is in office or the allegation that the entirety of government is corrupt.  The politics continues further with arguments about how the ‘economy cannot be rigged’ or how the market will eventually force either a collapse or resignation of government. 

Enter the bond notes and debate goes from loud to near apoplectic for reasons that have been explained in many a column since their introduction was announced.  When there are revelations of alleged corrupt activities/tenders/ at parastatals or in government, the debate, though not as apoplectic, hones back to politics and the politically connected elite. 

There are however no big demonstrations against the corruption, for now, save for those organised by the mainstream opposition MDCT against bond notes.  

Smaller actions such as that of activists staging sit/sleep ins at Africa Unity Square or protesting at the Rainbow Towers hotel against Vice President Mphoko’s long duree hotel stay have made waves on social media and the internet. 

All of these actions are a clear sign at a simmering popular anger about the state of the economy. Or at least at specific issues related to the economy. Even if that anger has not translated into more effective action that forces the government to rectify its policies.
What we have however not been doing is to analyse our national economy more holistically. Both in ideological and performance measurement terms. 

Those of us from the left have been trying to review the economy from what we would call its realistic prism.  Ever since government announced that its economic priority is ‘the ease of doing business’ it has become clearer that ours is a free market economy. Largely by default but also by way of announced policy intention.

Its primary characteristic is outsourcing state functions to private entities and ensuring that primary social services, such as health, education are privatised. It also follows the dictates of th World Bank/IMF with regards to monetary policies (including the quantiative easing that is the bond note introduction) and tends to be highly dependent on their expertise of how the economy should be run.   Furthermore it is an economy in which the emergence/rise religious fervor, gambling and individualism are actively encouraged.

 As a result it comes with all the signs of social breakdown and the emergence of personality/celebrity style politics.  Money and patronage become the functional cornerstone of politics. And while we rail against imperialism and the sort, we remain highly reliant on foreign aid in times of natural disasters such as the current drought we are experiencing. 

This is essentially where we are as a country. And one would be forgiven for thinking or stating that’s a little too much to put on one plate. Or that this is the preserve of economists and intellectuals.
On the contrary this should be everyone’s debate and analysis. At least until a clear alternative that can be democratically applied to our context is widely accepted.  

What the period of the inclusive government indicated was that the free market/neo-liberal economic template adopted by both Zanu Pf and the MDCs, can temporarily lead to a bubble that once again has burst in the context of the cash crisis, the increase in poverty and the failure fo the state to provide affordable social services to the majority of its citizens.  

And what we have also seen is a tragic failure to articulate a comprehensive and holistic alternative by those that are in pursuit of political office.  

Its not as if there are no alternatives. Both at home and abroad there have been various attempts to find a contextual social democratic approach to our national economy. This is where the combination of retention of the state in basic social service provision occurs in tandem with observation of an open, transparent and democratic culture that takes greater priority over the market.  In this, innovation and wealth will not be predicated on corruption as is the case today. Instead it will be based on at least everyone being given a fair start and a fairer life as a Zimbabwean.  

It’s a debate that we should be having.  But where we allow it to appear in pockets, our anger will reflect more an intention to address symptoms as opposed to the actual ailment.  
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.ocm)

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Second Act, Scene 2, Zim War Vets in Zanu Pf Succession Politics



By Takura Zhangazha*

Recent media reports in the last week indicate that President Mugabe continues to have key differences with one of his key pillars of support, the veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war.  He has accused them, in part at least, of seeking to function outside of their mandate within the ruling Zanu Pf party. 

Especially where and when statements officially  attributed to them indicated that they support one of the current vice presidents, Emerson Mnangagwa,  as their chosen successor to their party's leadership.   

The president also made what I consider to be regrettable references to that most tragic period of Zimbabwean post independence history that has now come to be commonly referred to as the Gukurahundi It was a period in which thousands of civilians in the southern parts of our country lost their lives in a civil  war that remains officially unexplained.  

The statements attributed to the president have not come out of thin air with regard to the factionalism that is within the ruling party. They occur against a backdrop in which the war veterans have had their current chairman removed not only from cabinet but also from any roles within the party.  This after their demonstration was crushed by the police as well as after an indaba they had with their patron, Mugabe, who appears to not be on their side.  

And its all about succession in the ruling party for sure.  On that, the mainstream Zimbabwean and global media is correct.  Even if they spin it a little bit.  There, as is said in British parlance, no smoke without fire.  From the dismissal of the former Vice President Mujuru through to that of their current chairperson, Chris Mutsvangwa from government, theirs’ remains a struggle for influence based on what they consider their historical contribution to the liberation struggle and by dint of the same, retention of key pillars of state power.  

It is also a narrative that suits the interests of war veterans, particularly those that were part of  the phase where and when the struggle became most militarized.  This majority  batch of comrades feel they have not been given enough recognition for what they consider their efforts in not only fighting for liberation but also for protecting and keeping the ruling party in power in post independent Zimbabwe.

Even if they were given the War Victims Compensation Fund which was to be riddled with allegations of corruption and cronyism, they still feel they have a stake in the politics of the country and in direct relation to the ruling party, its nationalist discourse and its claim to not only  liberation struggle history but also its victory.  This is despite the fact that they have varied definitions of what complete victory has meant and continues to mean.Or even what their roles in civilian politics should be.

What is important to note is that the war veterans are rallying together in order to follow their own understanding of sequential acquisition of power within a state they virulently claim to have finally established.  

From a personal perspective, I am persuaded that they tend to exhibit a characteristic of entitlement to the state.
It is therefore least likely they will  be open minded about succession in the ruling party.  They have what can be considered as a sequential approach to leadership recognition or succession.  They look at the history of their party and argue that it is now time for at least someone who was at the war-front to get closer to assuming political power.   It is their historical expectation.   By way of their own perceived and real sacrifices for the liberation of the country.  

In this they were never going to be selfless.  Even though it is few of their ilk that have benefited from state largesse.  The greater majority still, even after the fast track land reform program do not have access to basic humanitarian needs let alone post war palliative care.  

The only catch with the still living war veterans is that they are in no way desperate.  Instead they appear determined and are intent on holding their own.  They will fight, at least metaphorically, their own corner.  And in so far as they have retained a continued control of levers of state security, a few ministries in government and the greater part of the ruling party’s political campaign machinery (by way of  political cultural habit), they still seek to claim greater control. Especially if you place controversial electoral victories since 2000 into the equation.  

The sad truth to it all is that their own nationalist and liberation struggle legacies may be lost in the midst of their cutthroat ambition for state power.  It is their own sons and daughters, myself included, who will without a doubt ask more questions than they can democratically give answers. Moreso given the fact that democracy and the liberation struggle will always be historically intertwined.   Even if they wanted to wish democracy away.  
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)