Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Rain and Zimbabwe's 2018 Harmonised Elections

By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s rainy seasons always signify anxious moments for its ruling establishment(s).  This is because when the heavens open up (generously), it is considered, across many of the country's sub-cultures, that the ancestors and Mwari, Unkulunkulu (God) has blessed the land and its people.  Not because of expected regular geographical (scientific patterns) as to the regularity of rainfall but more significantly because the land and its people have deserved the blessing.  By way of the deeds of its political leaders in congruence with those that represent deities and the ancestors that were once affectionately referred to as spirit mediums.  Even those that are now prominent Christian or other minority religion leaders understand the significance of a bountiful harvest as a result of plenty of rains across the country. 

And in most cases, the link between good political and religious leadership where the rains fall abundantly for a bumper national harvest between November and February of the next year, is always celebrated.  It is a sign of not only provident blessing but more significantly approval by the ancestors and God (in his various forms), at the direction of both the political and social morality of the land and its people. 

Where it does not rain adequately across the entirety  of the country, questions as to why emerge across the political and religious spectrum.   Spirit mediums and in the now, Christian religious leaders/prophets are consulted  to find cause, meaning  and effect. 

Not only by way of the immediate but because this was the way of our ancestors before the onset of colonialism.  A point that does not need to be laboured.  Rituals involving the king, chief, subjects, spirit mediums and beer were always held to determine the potential of the rainy season and to try to predict its eventual outcome.  Sometimes the warnings would be stark and could only be remedied if the ruler or his people changed their ways (one of the reasons why marriage ceremonies in November are mythical taboo).

So the 2017-2018 rainy season is one that will cause a significant amount of worry for the 'newish' establishment as led by President Mnangagwa and his 'military-political' establishment.  Technically because the country needs a good harvest to improve its economic fortunes.  More significantly because upon Mnangagwa’s assumption of power, he claimed not only the good fortune of the rains of the 2016-2017 season but the ability to ensure that the best was gotten out of it through the national ‘command agriculture’ programme. 

The rains fell mightily well that 2016-17 season.  And the government augmented the opening up/ deluge of the (natural) heavens with inputs and technical support that was popularly supported.  This led to former President Mugabe government’s  claim to the success of 'Command Agriculture' and the 'Presidential Inputs Scheme' despite the vilification of the fast track land reform programme.  As well as, at that time ‘against sanctions’. 

Due to rampant Zanu Pf factionalism (G-40 vs Lacoste) the sole claim to the success of the 2016-17 agricultural season was always going to be publicly disputed.  Until the eventual ‘victors’ of that succession battle on 15 November 2017.  And in this victory it has already become clear that they are persuaded that command agriculture's assumed success had been on the basis of it having been led by the military. 

The fact that the November 2017 military intervention was referred to as ‘Operation Restore Legacy’ (ORL) of the liberation struggle, makes rain become even more important.  Not only because of its own centrality in determining the cause of the loss of land and resultant droughts or rinderpest, locust attacks but because it was always a key reference point that transcended the first and second Chimurengas’.  Both of whose legacies are now ostensibly under 'restoration' via Mnangagwa’s takeover of the ruling Zanu Pf party (as a former long duree liberation movement).

In this, the former liberation struggle fighters that are now in charge of the state are all too aware of what any potential drought would mean to their political prospects for the 2018 harmonised elections.  They have already claimed success for the bumper harvests of the 2016-17 harvest as a result of their intervention. And they would want to ride that crescent of assumed agricultural success almost as a ritualistic coming to their own process of national leadership without Mugabe at the helm.   

But if the rains do not fall as anticipated (not by way of modern scientific calculations) or at least in similar fashion to the previous season, their ‘restore legacy’ intentions will face a crisis of historical, cultural and popular political legitimacy. 

Not that they are lost for options such as a ‘command drought relief’ programme, if they can raise the money, but more importantly in order to defy the possible myth that Mugabe ‘went with the rain’.  An issue that may become even more problematic if the spirit mediums, that they are so familiar with from the liberation struggle, decide that a wrong was done to the ancestors.  And that they might be to blame for it because of their ‘intervention’.

What is clear is that the assumption of their potential and likely 2018 election victory on the basis of their ability to ‘command’ a bounty harvest in the 2017-18 agricultural season  is not as simple as anticipated. 

Mnangagwa’s government  will need a significant 'plan b’ in the event that the ‘dura’s’/ silos are not full.  This will include a populist harnessing of spirit mediums, traditional leaders, the Christian clergy in order to demystify the perception of a drought having been caused by the ancestors and God not being in their favor.  This will also require ensuring the media does not depart from their ‘restore legacy’ narrative to the establishment's electoral detriment by putting out a narrative that reverts more to natural science than it does the mythical ‘blessings ‘ of the ancestors and via them, God.

In simpler parlance and from a political perspective, rain and its harvest(s) will matter in 2018.

Not least because the major political stronghold of the ruling party has been the rural / agricultural vote.  But also because without resort to political violence it must seek to ensure that its support base is satisfied to work for a legitimate electoral victory.  

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Zim Churches' Risky Lack of Caution on Political Loyalties

 By Takura Zhangazha*

These are probably awkward times for Zimbabwe’s ‘African Pentecostal/Apostolic’ church leaders.  Only a couple of months ago some of them were fawning before the former first lady and her cohorts and praying for the long life and rule of her husband. On new year’s eve some of them organised a national prayer meeting with the new president and his wife in Bulawayo that was broadcast live on state television. 

While the president was different, the script was the same.  A lot of praise and endorsement for the new president and significant recognition of the first lady.  And the old habit that will probably never die, declaring electoral support for the president in the now much more imminent harmonised election of this year.

Throw in a couple of quips about the fact that most African churches pray in the open and require governments intervention to allocate them ‘stands’ and the script is complete in praise and worship. 
In other media stories there is as expected, positive prophecies about the new president and how he will, with the help of God and the intervention of the self styled prophet, lead the country to greater things or prosperity.  All in the space of a year (2018). 

The orthodox churches have been a little bit quieter on the praise front.  Though one of their clergy and specifically from the Catholic church, Fr Mukonori was instrumental in the negotiations to get  ‘confined’ Mugabe to resign. 
Others, through the Zimbabwe Council of Churches helped organise a National People’s Convention of civil society organisations to set out a list of demands to the ‘new’ government. 
What is evident in all of the above cited actions of the churches, whatever their hue (African, orthodox, Pentecostal) have some sort of stake in our national politics. And they also have both an affinity and proximity to political power.  Especially to those that would yield it.
And this is not an historically new thing in Zimbabwe or the world. What must however be considered is the extent to which the role of the church contributes to further democratisation of our society or comprises it.

And this is a key consideration because our society while it has always been religious via the (still) dominant orthodox churches, it is also keenly pursuing a modern (and popular) Pentecostalism.  And religion tends to affect political perception in one way or the other. 
Prior to the coup/military intervention a majority of church leaders (not sure about their followers) actively positioned their churches to be aligned to the ruling establishment.  The possible reasons for this are many but would largely relate to seeking access to state sanctioned privileges (land, avoiding the taxman, or the law).

In the ‘new era’ this is least likely to change. And for historical reasons.  The church and the state have always had a quid pro quo relationship in establishing a mutually beneficial hegemony/dominance.  A rapture with this arrangement occurred during the liberation struggle but was restored with independence.  And has not really been significantly challenged or changed ever since.

The church looks for the state and the state finds the church.   Even in a period of reinvention such as national independence.

But the coup/military intervention on behalf of the ruling party startled the church.  It meant a realignment with the new dominant political power over the state.  And true to fashion the church is currying familiar favours from the establishment. A pure case of seeking survival or at least to be left to continue with its oft times lucrative religiosity. 

The dilemma with this this is that the church will avoid speaking truth to power with very few exceptions.  And in the process lose any claims it may make to political morality on behalf of its followers or in the name of democracy itself. 

In the process it negatively impacts a ‘necessary critical national consciousness’. One in which political views and debate is deliberately overwhelmed by superstitious narratives of prophesy and biblical quotes.  All in order to give a veneer of religiosity to a rapacious neo-liberalism/ millennial capitalism  where the politically connected (church leaders included) get wealthier at the expense of the religious poor. 

Where we have freedom of worship guaranteed in the constitution of Zimbabwe, we must also be aware of the importance of not looking at it in isolation from broader democratic values and principles.  Even in the aftermath of a military intervention/coup.  
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (tkura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Zim's 2017: A Political Year that Will Not End Soon (Not for Democratic Reasons)

By Takura Zhangazha*

There are many ways to review Zimbabwe’s  political year that became 2017. Whichever way one tries to look at it, it’s a given that it was seismic and borderline catastrophic.   The military intervention/ coup or as officially described ‘Operation Restore Legacy’  was the most significant event that never had to happen.  At least politically speaking. 

It put the nation at high risk of direct intervention (militarily so) by SADC and as a result thereof, greater political instability and uncertainty. 

But so far, they pulled it off to what turned out initially to be popular support which has now become more or less popular acceptance.  

With hindsight it never had to happen.  And the military would never have had to leave their barracks in order to solve what was an internal and political ruling Zanu Pf party succession battle.  But it happened under former president Mugabe’s ‘confined’ watch and with some self confessed orchestration by his former deputy and now president Mnangagwa (he claimed he was in perpetual contact with the ZDF commanders during his exile). 

In the run-up to this major and unprecedented military intervention/coup, Zimbabweans had been subjected to rallies and the playing out of Zanu pf’s succession politics on state television and the mainstream media.

There had also been widespread public outcry against the state of the national economy though protests as driven by social media motivated movements had declined.  The extractive role of the state (via the pernicious actions of the Zimbabwe Republic Police), allegations of massive corruption  and the precarious nature of social service provision however remained a sore spot.  

These issues dominated social media conversations alongside Zanu Pf succession politics satire and derogation.

The official opposition was hamstrung by its own internal succession dilemmas’  and the self -inflicted but complex challenges of building a coalition to oppose Mugabe or what they considered a would be ‘weaker’ successor  in the scheduled 2018 elections. They, as with everyone else save for those in the Zanu Pf elite loop, did not anticipate a direct intervention by the ZDF on behalf of Zanu PF. 

What is clear as the year 2017 is considered  in retrospect is that the events of November did not occur in strict isolation.  Even if they were motivated by immediate causes such as the firing of then vice president Mnangagwa and the reported targeting of then commander of the ZDF, General Chiwenga.   A combination of the lack of popularity of the then Zanu Pf leader, Mugabe and his wife together with a national economy that was/is bleak, an ever ambiguous and undemocratic constitution  together with a lackadaisical political opposition and a politically hamstrung media created the optimum conditions for what we now know as ‘Operation Restore Legacy’.

But the effects of the latter are not going to disappear with the turn of the year.  They are here to stay for the long term.  These being the  militarization of our national politics in a more direct manner  in the name of the ‘legacy’ of the liberation struggle hence we now have those that are senior war veterans (in the literal sense) occupying top echelons of government.  And also why there are statements by presidential advisor and war veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa that Zanu Pf will also use the ZDF in the 2018 electoral campaign, a statement that he later denied.   But the import to the same subtly betrays the intent of the ruling party at winning the election by all means at its disposal. At the moment the strongest of these is the overtly military-political complex that it has become. 

The only rider here is that there is a public perception that ‘any change’ from Mugabe (as president of the country) is good.  So a lot of Zimbabweans may not see the undemocratic  undercurrents of this 'new' regime.  Or they may not be allowed to.  It has no major democratic reforms on its cards.  Its claim to legitimacy apart from the post ‘Operation Restore Legacy’  constitutional provisions it utilized to get Mnangagwa into power is that of promising a better performing national economy.  

They are going to pull out all stops to appear to make this work, including rejuvenating the propaganda around any of their economic policies but also more significantly giving the impression of a ‘progressive’  neo-liberal economic outlook to court foreign direct investment.  It may work in the short term for electoral politics but austerity always has serious political ramifications for small economies like Zimbabwe’s.  And we have the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) of the late 1980s and 1990s as history’s instructive lesson to draw from. 

But they are going to try it anyway and ensure that there is limited national opposition to their policies in a number of ways.   First and perhaps most important to the new’ establishment is to dominate the national political narrative through what they hope will be an internationally accepted (at least by SADC and the African Union) 2018 election.  In the process their envisaged electoral victory will make any question of their legitimacy significantly undisputed and as a raison d’etre for continuing with a neo-liberal Zimbabwean national economy. 

But that also requires that the ruling establishment ‘manufactures consent’ hence the media and its offshoots are going to be key.  State and private media will be under severe pressure to carry the narrative of ‘progressive change’, never mind the de-unionisation of workers, the benevolent (as opposed to actual observance)  attitude toward human rights and seeking long duree Zanu Pf leadership of the country’s government(s). 

This means they will also keep the opposition in safe check, including the possibility of co-option into their neo-liberal project.  In this they warmly welcomed the initial support of the opposition for their ‘Operation Restore Legacy’ and will work to ensure that the opposition continues to support it as a fundamental point of political departure that can only be attributed to themselves or where its denigrated, they will remind the same opposition of having initially supported it.  Both in its occurrence but more significantly in its meaning (‘give the new government a chance’).

So 2017 is a year that is going to stay with us for a while.  Even to the point of making 2018 of limited significance without thinking of its ‘predecessor’ year.  And also 2023 as its probable most significant political future year.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Countering a Stalling of Media Freedom in a Post-Mugabe Era

By Takura Zhangazha*

Where it concerns freedom of expression in Zimbabwe’s ‘new era’, there are a number of urgent matters that need to be placed on the table.  Not only by government officials (even though there is a current political vacancy in the relevant ministry).   At the same time, the ministry exists and has its current permanent secretary and spokesperson for President Mnangagwa, Mr. George Charamba. 

In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, Charamba, as presidential spokesperson explained his perspective(s) on media stories concerning the new cabinet and wait for it, toward the end, his evidently strong views on any immediate calls for (democratic) media reform.  His key reaction to calls for the same was as follows (to quote at length),

The only problem that I have is that the agitation for media reforms is prompted by transient calculations of elections due in six or seven months. I am not an elected officer, I am a bureaucrat and my reflex is to build a law that endures, a law that competently encompasses a sector...
“I cannot proceed on the basis of transient calculations. The state of Zimbabwe subsists ad infinitum and the state is much more than institutions that make it. There are seismic changes happening in the media sector. It is futile hurrying to write a law which will prove perishable only the morning after.”

It is not difficult to discern a number of issues that emerge from these statements.

The first being that the permanent secretary in the Orwellian  ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services is not keen on any quick or far reaching media reforms before the 2018 harmonised elections.  Even if he is only a bureaucrat who, it turns out was the author of a discontinued controversial but far reaching weekly column in The Herald daily newspaper, ‘The Other Side with Nathaniel Manheru ( remember that ominous statement ‘chine vene vacho chinhu ichi’), and therefore probably has a great deal of political influence in what has been referred to as Zimbabwe’s ‘new era’. 

So his statements as  the senior civil servant in the ministry responsible for the media should be taken very seriously.  Not in order to massage his ‘policy making’ ego or gate-keeping role for Mnangagwa’s government (he is also the official presidential spokesperson). 

Instead it should be in order to advance media freedom, diversity and the cornerstone democratic rights of every Zimbabwean to freedom of expression, conscience and access to information. All in sections 60, 61 and 62 of the constitution respectively. 
But in the aftermath of the ‘military/war veteran intervention on behalf of Zanu Pf ’ and the intention to control the mediums of access to information as announced by now minister of foreign affairs and more recently retired Lieutenant General Sibusiso Moyo when he 'asked' all journalists and media houses to ‘report responsibly’ there is an urgency to re-position the media and media freedom as a fundamental public concern of the Mnangagwa's political era.

This is despite the fact that it was an instruction issued at the height of ‘Operation Restore Legacy’ which was recently announced as having ended.  It is an instruction that probably and with great trepidation remains at the back of the mind of many a journalist and media owner including those at the helm of state owned/controlled entities such as the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) or the Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (Zimpapers). 

In this sense it would appear that the media and what it puts out must be kept in stasis as directed by those at the helm of the ‘new era’. Or be allowed to function in the regulation of old that has always been underpinned by an approach of 'benevolence' toward the media.

That means that an attempt at wholesale democratic media reform would be anathema to the current ruling military-political establishment.  There is still an unfortunate need, on their part, of a retention of controlling the national conversation or narrative via the media and its social media offshoots.  (They polished up on their Gramsci).

Such a control includes stalling any anticipated media reform(s) and ensuring that a dominant popular 'any change is good' or 'give the new leaders a chance' narrative is placed in the public domain.  The latter would include ensuring that the broader public is persuaded that the ‘military intervention’ is not viewed in a negative light and that it presents the changes that occurred in the ruling party as not only a change for the better, but the only change that was and is currently a better, if not a ‘best’ option. 

That is why where the mainstream media will not play ball, there has been (and will be) the pursuit of popular alternative avenues such as social media influencers. And also the creation of platforms that will rise to hegemonic popularity such as the military-political ‘change of consciousness’ artistes as exemplified via music bands/songs  that place the military at the centre of not only popular musical entertainment but also public acceptance of the establishment's version of  ‘political change’. 

In this the probable intention of Mnangagwa’s government, complicated as it is by its own military political complex, is to give the impression of a liberal media environment without changing the same’s  repressive legal frameworks.  Not at least until after it has retained power via what will inevitably be a highly disputed but not as contested election in 2018. And if it does retain power, it is least likely to be persuaded to urgently review its media policies. 

Hence the significance of Mr. Charamba’s perspective (as a powerful bureaucrat) on the limited possibilities of media reforms prior to the elections.  On the face of it, government is keen to allow international media players to be in the country to report on its political/electoral processes.  But structurally it has no intention to do so holistically in relation to local media.   

So there will be no new era of free expression in and of itself.  Except when one is talking about the economy and reflecting what would be a ‘national will/acceptance’ of the status quo as led by the military-political complex that is Zanu Pf. 

What Charamba does in his interview statements is to throw down the gauntlet on stalling media reform and thus presenting a direct challenge to Zimbabwe’s media stakeholders.  Be they media  freedom activists, non-governmental organisations, state or private media companies. And he also does this at the general public in relation to the extent that media freedom is a popular issue or one that Zimbabweans may not be as concerned about as they should.   

If they are going to contradict his opinion and policy making influence, they had better do so with strong democratic values, principles, technical knowledge and policy alternatives of/for a democratic, de-criminalised media in Zimbabwe.  And its not going to be easy.   
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Budget, Congress, Election: Zanu Pf's Firm Intention on Perpetual Power/Hegemony

By Takura Zhangazha*

When newly re-appointed Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa presented the projected Zimbabwe government budget for 2018 he did not mince his words.  Paramount in the intentions of government is the embrace of (neo) liberal economics of the free market with a  dash of state capitalism also known as 'command economy'(intervention).

It was a budget statement that was received with cautious optimism by those in ‘big business’ and skepticism by those in small ones.  For the rest of the public the sentiment is either one of give them a chance to do what they want and see if things improve. Or just downright nonchalance until something actually changes.  Either way, the ruling Zanu Pf party is well aware of the key challenge of meeting the standard requirement of ‘performance legitimacy’.  Both for its supporters and in part in order to win a scheduled harmonised election in 2018.    

When the military coup/ intervention  occurred on Wednesday 15 November 2017, there was a clear message from its progenitors.  It was an act of the guerrilla wing of a former liberation movement (though they may still think it still is).  A wing that strongly believes it has a stake in a post independence political arrangement as long as it is alive.  And for as long as it could pass on what it has since referred to as 'Operation Restore Legacy' to a subsequent generation of young Zimbabweans who would value the same, it is in this for the long haul.

Not only via pushing an appreciation of our national liberation war history and understanding of this military-political complex but also by way of political patronage, a strategy that had been tried by former president Mugabe's acolytes who had called themselves Generation 40.

The political processes that immediately followed the coup or military intervention no doubt made it a ruling party problem to resolve as it occurred.  The Sunday 19 November 2017 Zanu Pf central committee meeting that ushered in a new party leader and set the course for his 'interim presidency' put paid to any calls for a transitional or unity  government in the short term.

The complexity that has however emerged is that of retention of power in the long term.  On this the ruling party is going for broke in the wake of its momentous, even popular but evidently undemocratic change of leadership (events/actions).

But the ruling party has a plan. And its a pretty intricate if not disarming one.  It has announced a (neo-liberal economic development plan (never mind its insistence on a Robert Mugabe's ZimAsset economic blueprint).  Its promise is to implement the latter better and with a full throttle of macro-economic reforms that are palatable to investor interests.  And these include former Rhodesian capital's interests (if the statements from the special advisor of the 'new' president, Christopher Mutsvangwa are anything to go by.

The strategy is probably three pronged.  First is to get the  economy rejuvenated via a (neo) liberal approach the national economy.  That would mean promising to get the government's game up to scratch with global trends vis-a-vis the free market through pursuing privatization of the state and in order to maintain performance legitimacy through outsourcing the role of the state in keeping with IMF intentions of a not only reduced civil service but also a redundant one.

The second is ensuring a return to political legitimacy and validation of domestic political processes via the long (worn)  tradition of the party extraordinary congresses and confirming a presidential candidate in the year preceding elections.  All in order that the party and its leadership must demonstrate a popular claim to power.  At least internally to the party faithful and significantly to a  SADC dominated by former liberation movement governments.

However to effect such an electoral victory in what are tricky and probably ephemeral popular circumstances following the 'military intervention' there shall be a (literally) national blitz of  'command agriculture'  as a means of retaining populist support via patronage and attempts at popular legitimacy. 

The third and perhaps most 'dangerous to democracy' element is what will occur after securing an electoral 'victory' in the 2018 harmonized elections.  A new five year term will no doubt give Emerson Mnangagwa the time and opportunity to consolidate what would be a political hold on power as supported by the military-political complex that is the ruling party.

In this there shall be concerted attempts to drown/crowd out opposition voices through dominating the national narrative with economic plans set in neo-liberal frameworks.

Adherence to democratic values such as human rights, public accountability and social service delivery shall be done through the prism of retention of power via performance legitimacy.  All with the intention of limiting opportunities for the mainstream or new opposition to regain a national popularity similar to that of the 1990s and the first decade of the millennium .  And for this I am certain Zanu Pf apparatchiks have closely studied and drawn lessons from their Russian Chinese and probably Angolan, Egyptian and Ethiopian political-military counterparts.

As for the opposition, they are well advised to crosscheck the thoughts of Antonio Gramsci (Selections from the Prison Notebooks) and Amilcar Cabral (Collected Speeches and Writings) even before they dust off Fanon's 'Wretched of the Earth'.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Echoes from Goree: Resisting a Contemporary African Slave Trade

By Takura Zhangazha*

Visiting Goree Island in Senegal did not turn out to be as eerie as I had initially anticipated.  And I wasn’t going to have an Obama picturesque moment of looking austerely toward the open Atlantic ocean.  Or trying to find the deepest of meaning from it.  But approaching the island on the hourly ferry from the coastal city of Dakar, past the ocean freight tankers, and in the midst of relaxed Goree island residents, there was always going to be a significant pause for thought, pained emotion and a sense of liberation.  

Thought in the realization that you were approaching a symbol of global inhumanity and injustice as led by the capitalism of human flesh in the 16th through to the 19th century.

Pain at what the island now means in contemporary African historical and political consciousness. Liberation in the sense that for you to even be able to visit this island, emblematic as it is of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in which millions of African lives were lost or forcibly displaced, it means that as Africans we conquered the evil that it was. 

Not just by way of the religious Abolitionist Movement but by way of our struggles against mercantile capitalism, colonialism and neo-colonialism. 

In this regard, a visit to Goree Island, at least a first one for me, is a rite of African passage. Especially as one recalls the haemorrhagic human and economic effect of the Atlantic slave trade on the African west coast.  (The same is true for the Arab Slave trade on the  East African coast though to lesser recorded impact). 

Meeting with African bloggers and thinkers on the island was without doubt a reclamation of the spirit of liberation.  Amid serious discourse as to the state of freedom of expression on the continent, the tour of the island was always going to be a grim reminder of Africa’s peripheral placement in global economics and the commodification of the human body.  Both historically and in the contemporary.

I mention contemporary because during the week of our visit to the island, the BBC broke a story about a ‘new’ slave trade in Libya.  It is a story that outlines the auctioning of black African migrants from countries in or close to the Sahel region such as Ethiopia, Gambia, Sudan, Mali and Nigeria.  And the debate has been raging as to who is to blame for this contemporary trade in African bodies. A recent Al Jazeera programme ‘The Stream’ showed the glaring differences of opinion on the matter.  

Commentary has ranged from blaming African governments for not creating economic environments where their citizens chose to stay as opposed to attempting the dangerous journey to Europe via Libya.  Other opinion points to the fact of the liberal intervention in Libya by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) that has led to porous borders and political instability in the Sahel. 

All of these arguments validated as they may be by their propagators, do not take away the tragic fact of the dehumanisation of the African body. Not only by way of its commodification but also the clear historical inference of what can be done to it via the memory of the slave trade.
And its not just the memory of us Africans as former victims but also the memory of those that would be the perpetrators.  

The latter seeking to reinforce what should be a perception of the past, that is the wrong assumption that black Africans can be traded like animals.  Such a throwback represents the worst of contemporary race relations between Africans in the north and those south of the Sahara. At the same time, given the fact that those that are being subjected to this inhuman and degrading treatment are intending to travel to where they are not wanted, the Global North cannot escape complicity in the current state of affairs. 

The new found anti-immigrant groups and parties of the industrialised world perpetuate not only inherently racist attitudes toward people of colour but even more significantly cloud over the global injustice that was the slave trade.  A trade that in part led their countries to arrive at the state of development that they so jealously guard.

Leaving Goree Island was equally a moment of reflection as had been arriving.  Knowing that this was not the only slave outpost island on the west or even the east coasts of the continent but also that here has been a muted but ever existent sentiment and call for reparations gives one hope of redress for an historical injustice.  Knowing too that there are still contemporary actors that want to pursue this trade in Libya (and elsewhere) means the struggle against slavery is not over. Both by way of its real occurrence as well as racist perceptions of black bodies and black people. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 


Monday, 20 November 2017

Zim's Political Reality Check + Zanu Pf’s Internal Transition

By Takura Zhangazha*

There is one good thing that is now emerging from the current political crisis in Zimbabwe.  This is that the lead role in seeking to resolve the impasse has now been taken over by the politicians.  At least by way of pronouncements, rallies and internal ruling Zanu Pf party meetings.
The broad popular support for the army in the last week, as seen via Saturday 18 November 2017 marches in Harare and Bulawayo turned what was initially a feared presence of the army on the streets to a popular one.  At least for now.  

Subsequent appearances of President Mugabe at a graduation ceremony and on national television (where he disappointed many by not resigning in public) has further entrenched the political option out of this current national crisis.

This is an important consideration primarily because the problem of succession has largely been one that resides in the ruling Zanu Pf party.  That it got out of hand is entirely their fault and they have a national and historical obligation to return the country to full civilian rule.

The latter process they have already begun with their appointment of Emmerson Mnangagwa as the interim President and First Secretary of Zanu Pf to replace Mugabe.  Interestingly they have also announced their new interim leader will also be their candidate for the 2018 harmonised elections (if accepted by their Congress. )

So a return to 'normalcy' essentially points to a retention of political power by Zanu Pf under the leadership of Mnangagwa. 

And to do this, they will not need the opposition to partner them whether be it through a national transitional authority or any other similar arrangement.  They will make overtures to it, but not integrate it into influential positions either in government or in electoral processes. They will listen to the oppositions suggestions but not always be inclined to pursue them.

So the step by step process , and as agreed by their Central Committee, would be to get Mnangagwa to finish off Mugabe’s term, hold their scheduled congress as planned in early December, and begin in earnest to campaign for elections in 2018.  

There are very limited options for the opposition here.  They may simply have to buckle up and get back to campaigning with a renewed vigour and vigilance that speaks more to people centered politics.  At the moment, their public popularity cannot exceed that of the ruling establishment and those who if they finally succeed, are at the front of seeking  the departure of Mugabe.

Opposition leaders therefore need to stop being ambivalent and pursue electoral politics with greater diligence and vigour or else they will be defeated in 2018. And resoundingly so. They need to re-coagulate their support bases, conclude their alliance talks and avoid easy co-optation into ruling party processes that they do not have equal say on. 

Where mainstream Zimbabwean civil society is concerned, they are best placed remaining true to democratic value and principles. Even where it seems at odds with a popular support for the army’s ‘intervention’.     

Furthermore, civil society needs to be aware of the economic blueprint of the Mnangagwa government.  It is likely to be one which puts business and private capital a the core of its economic policies.  This is moreso as confirmed by ZNLWVA chairman Chris Mutsvangwa in a press conference he held last week.  And as indicated when Mnangagwa was still vice president under Mugabe when he spearheaded the ‘ease of doing business’ policy cluster.

CSOs and social movements should push back against this planned neo-liberal economic model and place on the table people centered social democratic economic policies.   These policies should clearly outline the progressive welfarist role that the state should play in the provision of education, water, infrastructure development and affordable, accessible health care for all among other services. 

Indeed while it is early days, the likelihood of a determined and ‘new’ Zanu Pf leadership’s concerted efforts to prove their critics wrong but without necessarily sharing their newly acquired power, are high.  

There may be opportunities to glean from this state of affairs but essentially these will be subject to the benevolence of Zanu Pf.  SADC’s role is still critical but we may have passed a phase where it will directly intervene and seek means to reverse internal political processes as they are now occurring.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)