Saturday, 15 June 2019

Africa in Global Cold War 2.0: A Return to Struggle Consciousness


By Takura Zhangazha*

The British daily, the Guardian recently published a story on how Russia has new plans to exert its influence across the African content.  All in return for the usual imperial desires such as natural resources, geo-political military strategic positioning and of course loyal allies. 

I do not think the story made any headlines in African newspapers.  Not least because it had a tone of the ‘Russians are coming’ or as of old, the ‘red peril is coming’.  For many Africans, the Russians have always been here.  So it’s nothing particularly new or scary.  We are used to imperial interests on our continent.  We also fought against colonialism, with the aid, wait for it, of the Russians! But at that that time they preferred to be called the Soviets. 

But now they (Russians) have changed.  They are no longer Soviets or socialists.  Like their historical rival, the United States of America (USA), they are cut throat capitalist.  Not only domestically but also in their foreign policy objectives and intentions.  The only difference is that they are not too hung up on ‘human rights’ in their relations with Africa (or any other continent for that matter). 

While they repeatedly argue that they do not interfere in the domestic affairs of African countries, and in particular their allies, the report by the Guardian indicates otherwise.  And the same is true for all global superpowers.

As academics have already noted, there is a new scramble for Africa under the ideological ambit of neoliberalism and global capitalism- one academic, Slavok Zizek has gone so far as to call it a new ‘global apartheid’. 

This revival of neo-colonial interest in Africa by global superpowers is playing out increasingly as of the historical Cold War.  There is the West and there is the East.  All wanting essentially the same things from the African continent and its divided states. It’s a combination of the ‘usual suspects’ or objects of desire-  mineral wealth/natural resources, markets for their many businesses, land (yes quite literally, one German cabinet minister recently suggested that African states should allow developed countries to own land and develop it for African economies to improve!)

It should be relatively easy to assume that Africans know the global superpowers are here and have ratcheted up their interests on the continent.  Especially post Gaddafi in the disaster that is Libya and its mineral wealth and geo-strategic positioning. 

Knowing and thinking about it at the same time are however not the same thing.  In the relatively recent anti-colonial past as Africans, we were much more discerning of the interests of the then two global superpowers, USA and USSR. We were also very good at understanding the major colonial states’ (France, United Kingdom, Portugal) interests and countering them in order to become free of the yoke of repression by racism and economic exploitation.

Regrettably this consciousness has all ebbed now.  Not just because liberation and anti-colonial struggles ended but also because the rapacious nature of global capitalism in the aftermath of the Cold War left us, as Africans, more vulnerable to our own weaknesses than we anticipated.  We lost our bearings in wanting to be similar in lifestyle to the global north that our leaders became not only willing appendages for global superpowers, but also chose the path of corruption and long dree stays in power to the detriment of contextual, people centered and democratic African political economies. 

Even in the contemporary we remain faced with the serious challenge of an African leadership that sees limited value in itself without recognition from the leaders of global superpowers and global capital.  Hence from southern, eastern, western and northern Africa the mantra of free trade, markets and the ‘ease of doing business’ is the same.  All, in most cases, to impress again, global political superpowers (Russia, China, USA, Europe) and their attendant global capitalism. 

It is easy to argue that we are between a rock and a hard place.  But that might only be as a result of a lack of concerted trying and the false assumption that our contemporary African leaders hold that global capitalism is the panacea for each and every problem that we have.  When in reality it is the fundamental ideological cause for a majority of problems that we encounter regularly. 

Structuring a way forward out of our conundrum is no doubt difficult.  We initially tried it with the changing of the OAU to being the African Union. It was a brave attempt at modernising a liberation struggle organization.  The complexity however remains that it is now viewed largely as less organic and still steeped in divisions that are orchestrated again by global superpowers.

Where the Leninist question what is to be done is asked it can only be answered with historical nuance. We need to learn that there is indeed a re-emerging regressive view of Africa (and Africans) by some of the leaders of the global superpowers.  One that is shared by an increasing number of their citizens. 

Hence the antipathy toward African migrants and strict visa regimes for would be African visitors.   We probably need to work on our own African consciousness to believe more in the fact that being African does not require affirmation by global superpowers and their citizens. 

We will need to be more assertive of our own being as Africans.  All the while embracing progressive values that contest racism, neoliberalism and its attendant global capitalism.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

On Trying to Be Better at Being Zimbabwean: Eight (8) Brief Points


By Takura Zhangazha*


I always try and do my best to avoid any accusations of being self-righteous.  I do however also  always try to learn, in part, from how I grew up.  The formal and informal education I received to try and construct a better understanding of my own specific personal settings as well as those shared in the communities and schools and country I was fortunate to have grown up in.   

The lessons learnt from these experiences have been important in my own specific political, economic and social consciousness.  But what is more significant is the fact that I and others in my own migratory peculiar circumstances  need to perpetually understand the fact that we all live(d) in a collective polity called Zimbabwe and take into account the lessons that we were taught by our parents (particularly our mothers), brothers, sisters, community members and teachers.   Our lived lives were not rumours but realities that still inform our national consciousness (for) now. 

Depending on the period in which you grew up in country, Zimbabwe,  post 2000s ,  the lessons learnt may not always have been the same.  Especially because of contextual and time bound experiences.  But there are some common value threads that will run through them to help with a collective national progressive consciousness despite the different struggles (personal and collective)  a majority of us have had to endure. 

But even beyond that, is the fact that we are here and in the now.  And there are now emerging newer traumatic and/or enlightening experiences.  The greater number of which relate to a lack of individual as well as (separately) collective, rural and urban economic well-being in a globalized age of  the global north's highly unpopular austerity.

Our perspectives as are now widely shared on the internet are also increasingly about (hedonistic) individualism and its now compulsive commodity consumerism/fetishism that sometimes put us in a place where we think more in the short than in the long term or deliberately choose to not see whats coming. 

Or in tragic circumstances, we seek to escape by any means, materially, from situations in which we cannot have similar lifestyles to what we would have liked on the internet/social media and our mobile phones.  Even if this may not be via direct experience but as told or shared by family, friends, online acquaintances/celebrities in the global or national cities and/or the greater part of the Diaspora.   

And because we should be free to experience what we prefer, this, all in in some sort of order.  Especially where we can do so in a political and economic framework in which we are guaranteed basic human rights.  Or where we do so with an organic understanding that whatever slights occurred in the past, we must be able to, while seeking justice, think more of the future than the past. 

Taking all of the above into account there are specific key points that I am deliberately choosing to share with colleagues and comrades online about what it would possibly and 'in the secular/non-religious' it would  mean to attempt at being a better Zimbabwean. All in the hope that younger Zimbabwean cdes may understand that we are always the progressive sum total of our past experiences, our organic understanding of the present and our equally organic envisioning of a better future for Zimbabwe.  Even if we are not always the ones that literally and physically inherit the same said future.   

So here are some basic thought points on how you or your friend or anyone else can consider as to how to try and be better at being Zimbabwean:

1.       It is Not Always About You as an Individual:  Whatever happens in your life in Zimbabwe it is not always that you must make it a completely personal experience.  It is always a shared one even if you do not know with immediacy anyone else in the same tragic or happy circumstance.  Even if you do not want it to be a shared one.  We must always have empathy for the next Zimbabwean. With or without the money or access to political or economic privilege.  We need to always think about what happens next door in our rural and urban living spaces.  Not in a competitive sense but in more a collaborative and solidarity sense.  Or to put it even more simply, even if you eventually decide to have, for example, a pre-paid water meter, I will still give you not just glass of water if you and your children are  not only thirsty, but require gallons of the same for uses that keep you and your family healthy.  While at the same time being part of the push-back at the inhumane privatization of as natural a resource such as H-2-0.  Basically, solidarity always matters. Same goes with public health, transport, education, energy and welfare. 

2.       Ideas Really Do Matter:  Thinking is sort of hard now in Zimbabwe.  We tend to go with the flow, as given by some religious prophecies and proclamations from the mainstream media. Or even behavior modifying social media platforms.  Whatever is put out on global satellite broadcast media appears to be enough for this side of the world. Almost like an immediate validation in its negativity (the Russians are out to get us already!) Or as given by particular experts primed to persuade a specific type of politically important audience.  With the incorrect assumption that we, in Zimbabwe (and probably Africa) do not take time out to think, examine emerging trends, perspectives or intellectual ideas from a contextually informed perspective.  Almost like we have to play catch up in intellectual thought as in the period of our struggles against colonialism.  Always remember that universal and contextual ideas matter (go ahead, Google: Amilcar Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere, Bessie Head - in no particular order).   As in the past, thinking through what ‘austerity’ and ‘neoliberalism’ means really matters. Including that all important question 'what is ideology?'  And also understanding what is the ‘ease of doing business’  from a non-partisan but fully regionally and global perspective.  Try and read more outside of whatever would be deemed your academic syllabus (Disclaimer: if you do, not my fault)

3.       Always Strive to Share Knowledge in the Public Interest.  Expertise and knowledge can always be copyrighted.  And in any event a lot of comrades hold on to try and ensure that for example a popular online perspective is patented (somewhere, somewhere while waiting for a vacuous intellectual property fight)’ the key issue is that even if you need the copyright, the personal attention, do so in the public interest of sharing knowledge to advance democratic ideas and values in Zimbabwean and other societies. (as idealistic as that sounds)

4.       Technology Now Matters but, Regrettably Technology is Not Enough: The mobile phone is the new medium of democratic consciousness.  Except that it desperately always, always, requires ‘content’.  In particular, content that leads to a questioning of what is seen as the ‘norm’ or the ‘unchallengeable’.  That is its own supremacy i.e Google, Facebook, Instagram and in our own national context Whatsapp.  Always query what the medium brings to you in the morning.  Is it another populist or false/fake message or is it of realistic and critical utilitarian value when it beeps on your phone to show ‘notifications’ before or in your bathroom chores. 

5.       Understand the Global Political Economy: To borrow from journalism’s lexicon, always know who owns what, when, how and why? It helps clear up the picture as to why certain things happen the way they do. For example, how is fuel distributed in Zimbabwe? Or alternatively wheat? Not in an intellectual way but in the pragmatic sense.  By the time you get to a pub conversation, the knowledge is shared not on the basis of populism but pragmatism. 

6.       Always Remember to  Struggle for Racial and Gender Equality: Zimbabwe’s struggles for national independence did not occur in an ‘equality vacuum’.  Books on the equality of women during the struggle have been written and historically captured in narratives of Mbuya Nehanda and Cde Freedom Nyamubaya’s collection of poems such as ‘On the Road Again’.  Including the racial ambiguities of Dambudzo Marechera’s ‘ The House of Hunger’ or  ‘The Black Insider’.  All pointing to a necessity to embrace racial and gender equality in the then struggle of liberation and human equality that occur every day across the globe.  It is not semantics.  We are all equal.  Even if in the global north now occasionally demonstrates ambiguity over migrants or the global south accepts offers of payments to stem the flow of migrants, we have to insist, in common struggle that we are all equal. 

7.       The Environment Matters : In University postgraduate school we had to read a book titled ‘ The Lie of the Land, Challenging Received Wisdom on the African Environment’ as a departure point to perceptions on how Africans are perceived to perpetually contribute to negatively affect the natural environment.  It turns out in 2019 we, as Africans, contribute less than 1% in damaging the environment as opposed to those in the global north.  In our national context, and to be a better Zimbabwean, always understand that judgment calls from the global north do not mean we are the worst. Nor would we prefer to be the ‘Frankensteins’ of the global environment. We may eventually end up being at the forefront of protecting it (the World), warts and all. 

8.       Democracy and Good Governance Remain Relevant:   We may have found ourselves in a position where we are ostracized for either being Western influenced or not understanding our own history but the fundamentals are increasingly in place.  To govern a state legitimately there is need for the observation of human rights and democratic governance.  Even if you claim to have fought a liberation struggle against colonialism.   The reality of the matter is that there is now a regional, continental and global understanding of the same.  We just need to make it a popularly understood knowledge of the same.  In our context.  In our regions. On our continent.  And as always, with the future in mind. It will work for organic progressives. It may not for others.  

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

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Africa in the Age of Surveillance Capitalism and Neo-Imperialism

By Takura Zhangazha*

One of my first lectures in graduate school was on how ‘enlightenment era’ Europe imagined and mapped Africa.  And some of the first maps were silent about the interior save for pyramids to the north, elephants on coasts and an unknown ‘darkness’ in the centre.  All accompanied by myths of demons and subhuman creatures as dominating the same centre.  It was a rather awkward lecture on how expanding empires and then emerging mercantile capitalists viewed our continent at that time. The maps were to change with newer details being provided by explorers and missionaries.  A bit more detail about rivers, gorillas, giraffes, lions and the ‘natives’.  

In the contemporary I occasionally wince at what would be the historically familiar language of conquest when global superpowers (empires) talk about taking ‘man’ to Mars by 2023. But as far as we know there are no Martians yet.  If there are I would grimly try and tell them about what’s coming.

A friend also recently gave me a book as a gift. I could not put it down until I finished reading it in about two weeks.  The title of the book is ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.  The Fight for a Human Future at the Frontier of Power.’ In it, the author, Shoshana Zuboff, makes reference to a practice that was at the heart of colonial conquest called the ‘requirimiento’ or the Spanish Monarchial Edict of 1513.  It turns out that upon arriving in a foreign land, Spanish conquerors were required to read this edict to ‘natives’ informing them that they were now vassals of the king.  This is despite the fact that the natives neither understood the language in which the edict was read nor assumed that the visitors had intentions of vanquish. Zuboff calls it ‘conquest by declaration’. 

The colonial reference in the book is in order for us to have an easier understanding of the contemporary fact of ‘surveillance capitalism.  The latter being defined as ‘ a new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction and sales.’  Or ‘A rogue mutation of capitalism marked by concentrations of wealth, knowledge and power unprecedented in human history’.  All this being done via our increasingly ubiquitous use of the internet and mobile telephony. 

I mention this book because it defines an important epoch in the global political economy via the internet, its elite private company owners (Google, Facebook, Microsoft) who are not just providing services for global connectivity.  In particular its intention to enhance behavioral modification as well as to construct specific certainties to human behavior.  Or an acquisition of ‘total information’ for the purposes of surveillance capitalism which ‘replaces mystery with certainty’. 

Africa does not feature much in the book except where it refers to ‘surveillance as a service’ (SaaS) and how our online or mobile telephony behvaiour (texts, messages, contact lists) helped in making ‘unbanked’ people to qualify for loans.  It turns out most of us Africans have no problem with ‘sharing personal details for much needed (loan) funds’. 

I have quoted at length from the book I got as a gift from a friend because it is highly relevant to how we as Africans think and imagine of ourselves in an increasingly interconnected by the internet (and the behemoth companies that enable access),  global world. 

My primary fear as an African is whether or not our behavior is not being engineered, predicted with certainty in almost a similar fashion as the colonial old.  And I will give an example of whence my fear stems from.  Some five years ago, I attended a Global Cyber Security Conference in the Hague, Netherlands via a sponsored scholarship.  I chose to listen in on a session that included the then chief executive of Microsoft in Europe whose name I cannot recall (though he did mention that had also served in the first Obama administration.)

He had mentioned the Augustinian ‘city state’ with reference to the expansion of the internet in Africa and how his company does not quite view the continent by way of state borders but cities.  Of particular interest for companies such as Microsoft  were the markets of largely populated cities such as Lagos, Cairo, Algiers, Addis Ababa, Kinshasa, Nairobi and Johannesburg.  And how to find ways of introducing the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) to such cities. 

I asked a question during the plenary as to whether the intention for companies such as Microsoft was that ‘we all become the same?’  That is we all become city dwellers with similar behavior from Cape to Cairo.  The response I got was, as expected, diplomatic and evasive. 

With hindsight I now realise that that it is the probable intention of those that mine our personal data on the internet in order not only to know our private data enmasse but to also potentially modify our behavior (especially in the cities) with a increasing degree of predictability and certainty. 

This is however not just Africa’s problem.  It’s an emerging reality in the global north especially after the scandal revealed by whistleblower Chris Wylie on Cambridge Analytica’s role with the United Kingdom’s referendum on the Europeans Union amongst other emerging examples. 

The only difference is that Africa is unchartered and unmonitored territory in relation to privacy and behavioural modification.  Indeed, there were reports of again Cambridge Analytica trying to influence Kenyan, Nigerian and Tunisian elections but continentally we are not sure where we are placed in this now global surveillance capitalism.  What we do know is that social media is an increasingly integral part of how we, particularly young and urban Africans, think, feel and act about our quite literal existential circumstances.   Sometimes genuinely but more often based on the 'emotional contagion' effect anticipated by those that create and control algorithms at Facebook, Apple and Google. 

We will be told of the ‘inevitabilism’ of the internet and its appendant social media applications and how we must embrace the global north’s pre-determined future as Africans.  We don’t control the internet nor its surveillance capitalists.  While our governments occasionally shut it down in times of political trouble, they too are forever beholden to its capitalist intentions. 

Because again and again we , as in the colonial past, are required to listen to the ‘requirimiento’. Without understanding the language let alone the intentions of those that would conquer us.  Happy Africa Day cdes!
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Zupco Jokes, Economic Class and Hedonistic Individualism in Zimbabwe.



By Takura Zhangazha*

They can be a bit of a laugh, if you are on social media, the political-economic goings on in Zimbabwe.  They should not (strictly speaking) be.  But on social media they are and humour/satire is definitely a good thing.  Even if just for personal or collective catharsis.    Especially if it’s all about events that occur in the immediate. Or those that are ephemeral in their recurrence.   The recent fuel price increase (in local RTGS currency) and the announced expansion of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) bus services for urban rural public transport.    

It was an announcement that sent Zimbabwean social media into apoplectic frenzy. Even the infamous choice of words by vice president Chiwenga at the recent Zimbabwe International Trade Fair  (ZITF) in a speech where he is reported to have said, and I am paraphrasing here, ‘it will work, it will not work’ in one sentence has been invoked to the greater extent be derisive of the announcement.  

And its all fair game.  Laughter, satire and angst are necessary elements for free expression and its cornerstone role in creating a culture of democracy in society.

The same elements also serve as indicators of what could be symptoms of what is ailing a society.   In our case and in light of the liberalization of fuel prices and expansion of ZUPCO services, the actual ailment is the political economy, class and hedonistic individualism in the country.

I will start with the political economy that Mnangagwa’s government is trying to construct.  While there may be varying labels given to it, it is clearly a pro-business, pro-(global) free market ideological framework of political economy.  Hence the clear prioritization of ‘organised’ private capital.  I mention ‘organised capital ’ largely because that is what this government is hoping it will satisfy with its latest monetary policy maneuvers. And true to form, in the media reports that have followed the changes to the fuel interbank exchange rate, private and relatively big/organized capital is not complaining. 

Nor are bus owners that are contributing to the Zupco fleet.  I am not sure about the owners of the smaller and less organized private kombis but it would be safe to surmise that they are probably not happy.  But government is not too concerned about the latter because they are not quite ‘organised capital’ .  In fact they are viewed with political suspicion as to their motives during industrial actions such as stay-aways and demonstrations. 

In turning to issue of class and class consciousness (if any), the evident increase in the use of the cheaper Zupco buses by the public is evidence of a pressing social and economic need.  That is affordable public transport by the urban formal and informal worker.  Never mind the discomfort or the inability of Zupco to meet the overwhelming public demand, the response is reflective of that least talked about component of our society, economic class differentiation and expectation. For the poorer working class high density suburb residents it is a question of dealing with what is affordable at a given moment.  They may not be a in a position to question the sustainability of the Zupco project but will most certainly put two and two together to realise its utilitarian value. For now.  Never mind the opinion of those that have cars or can afford other modes of urban transportation.
Speaking of private cars as current modes of urban transportation also helps us to arrive at the third aspect of our societal ailment which is what Zizek refers to as ‘hedonistic individualism’.  Or to put it more plainly, a narcissistic form of individualism that does not take into account any forms of a public interest collective.  

Or as some synonyms to hedonism help make it more clearer, ‘self-gratification; lack of self restraint, immoderation, overindulgence, overconsumption, excess, extravagance.’ 

In this individual anger which has a collective dimension to it only by way of quantitative measurement makes us long for lifestyles that do not reflect our economic and political realities.  Both individually and collectively.  What then becomes an issue is how to avoid having to be the one that gets on a Zupco or a kombi in the first place.  Because that would be a sure sign of ‘poverty’ in the eyes of many.  And not just material poverty but lifestyle poverty which in turn leads to assumptions of being individually unsuccessful in life. 

The irony of it all  is that the Mnangagwa government is not too much concerned with the public service role of the expanded Zupco bus services or talking the bad effects of its neoliberal economic policy framework.  Instead they anticipate resistance in one form or the other and all their actions are mitigatory measures intended to serve organized capital while keeping the masses at bay.  And even more striking is their very class oriented approach to the political economy by tacitly seeking to bring ‘order’ by reinstating social class to goods and services.  For example the rise in fuel costs means that depending on your income you will eventually opt for public transport- a development that a good number of young urban Zimbabweans may find to be a sign of individual failure. 

We can still laugh our tear ducts dry about Zupco and compare a bus ride to the price of an egg.  It is indeed very funny.  But it is in the final analysis an indicator of the fact that we are fast losing out on the value of the public in public services.  Not that the government intends to restore public services as a public good in the best public interest. Far from it. The intention is to reduce the influence of private urban transport's influence on demonstrations or stay aways.    But that we cannot bring ourselves to value public goods and services that are for the many and not the few is our primary public challenge. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)



Wednesday, 8 May 2019

ED’s New Establishment Project: An Attempt at Elitist Permanence.


By Takura Zhangazha*

When President Mnangagwa made overtures for ‘national dialogue’ to his political rivals in the 2018 harmonized elections, it was understandably viewed as some sort of political grandstanding.  Not least because the mainstream MDC-Alliance opposition, has not participated in the same while holding out for its own terms to be accepted. Even though of late it has been making overtures of reconsidering its overall position as reported in the mainstream media.  
   
The opposition political leaders that have been part of the national dialogue have now agreed, in tandem with Mnangagwa, that their outfit is to be called the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) whose programmatic intentions are to be publicly launched on 17 May 2019, according to media reports. 

Mnangagwa however has not stopped there.  He has also decided to get some special advisors through what he has called a Presidential Advisory Council  (PAC).  This is comprised of what have been referred to as prominent and successful Zimbabweans largely drawn from the private sector to advise and assist the president ‘in formulating key economic policies and strategies that advance Vision 2030.’  The latter being one that sees Zimbabwe being a ‘middle income’ country/economy by the same year. 

Beyond PAC and POLAD, Mnangagwa has also engaged big players in private capital (not just its associations) on not just price increases but also by actively encouraging and promoting private-public partnerships in line with his neo-liberal economic policy dubbed ‘ease of doing business’.
While the media has remained slightly elusive, government has also sought to engage it from a business interest angle to ensure that while a few editors and journalists of mainstream media platforms may not support him, the media owners are in step with the intentions of government.  Not only by way of a broad pro-business economic policy but also the caveat of opportunities for media ownership expansion into either radio, television, digital and print media subsidiaries. 

I have cited these four distinct categories of political parties (POLAD), PAC, private capital and the media because Mnangagwa’s engagement of all of them points to one hidden but probably anticipated creation of what can be called an ‘establishment’ (and not a new dispensation).  That is, a set of permanent political actors that will symbiotically work together to maintain their preferred status quo that benefits them mutually.

I also first learnt of this term from the excellent book by British journalist and activist, Owen Jones, titled, ‘The Establishment and How They Get Away with It’.  For Jones the establishment is comprised of powerful groups that need to protect their position and manage democracy to ensure it does not threaten their interests.  In doing this they are guided largely by the ideological precepts of neoliberal capitalism. 

While Mnangagwa’s intentions at establishment are not so nuanced, it is apparent that it would be one that is founded on the key ideological common ground of neoliberalism, i.e the ease of doing business while assuaging international expectations at the observation of human rights. 
The general unsaid objective is to give each of these players a place at the table of the state.  Not just in way of electorally determined government, but more how to be recognised as having a right to be seated at the table.  The point is however not to upset the apple cart.  Or quite literally overturn or smash the dinner plates through an understanding of a shared neoliberal functional framework and specific rules thereto under the aegis of the ‘ease of doing business’. 

Some might argue that I am seeing conspiracy theories here.  The truth of the matter is that this is a basic reading between the lines of political events as they unfold.  And yes, there is a new emerging political/economic establishment in Zimbabwe.  It has Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu Pf (and the security services) as the power broker, opposition political party leaders as appeasable ceremonial players, private capital/business owners as beneficiaries of a ‘market motivated’ political benevolence and the media as purveyors of the establishment’s interests to the public. 

The intention is to create not just a new hegemony (dominant political, economic and cultural system) but also an ideologically permanent one.  That is, they intend to create a political system in which all other options are off the table except for neoliberalism, an ideological system that requires elite cohesion (inclusive of opposition political parties, all of which, you guessed right, are neoliberal, even if they don’t know it). 

The key question that should be answered is, ‘Will it work?’  It probably will not and by default. But what is certain is that Mnangagwa is definitively going to go all out and try through using largely the carrot and occasionally the stick method. That is why even more than ever, there is an urgent need for an alternative ideological trajectory in Zimbabwe.  For now that alternative  is non-dogmatic,  contextual democratic socialism.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)




Monday, 29 April 2019

Zim Workers Day 2019: Re-Linking the Idea of State with Working People


By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s biggest labour federation the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has given the theme for  the 2019  Workers Day commemorations as ‘We are at a Crossroads! Unite, Fight  Neo-liberalism and Austerity.’

This is a radical theme to say the least.  It is also directly ideological in that it immediately challenges the free market economic reform policy trajectory of Mnangagwa’s government.  Even if by assertion of intent. 

While we wait to hear in their May Day and after addresses what the leaders of ZCTU will outline as an alternative, it is however an important departure point.

Not that there has been no previous outline of alternatives from labour or human rights civil society.  There are a couple that come to mind.  These are for example the 1999 resolutions of the  ‘National Working People’s Convention’ which apart from tasking ZCTU to form a working peoples party, also outlined social democratic values as the panacea to resolving the country’s economic challenges.  There is also the Zimbabwe People’s Charter which distinctly sought to give a holistic and ideological outline of how the country should be governed on the basis of democratic more leftist ideological values.

These are but a few examples and there are others, though these may have been less political-economic in outlook.  Or would have confirmed neo-liberalism and austerity in the same way as is being pursued by the current government.  Or with a specific focus on seeking a change of personalities/implementers of the same free market ideological template in order to suit the interests of global financialised capital.  Or follow post-cold war assumptions of an ‘end of history’ and falsely believe that capitalism as being beyond defeat by the working class and poor.

But this is not to say that capitalism as represented in the contemporary by globalized neoliberalism is down on its knees in anticipation of annihilation.   On the contrary, it is sometimes when it appears at its weakest that it turns around and reinvents itself. The global financial crises of 2008 being a case in point.  Either with false populism or with the direct use of force (in a majority of cases- ditto the re-emergence of political roles for the military via coups-no-coups).  Even if theoretically we would still be wont to argue in Marxian terms that it remains confronted by its own contradictions. 

So when the ZCTU boldly asks the people of Zimbabwe to unite against austerity, it is not a simple matter.  It is a serious indictment on the broad economic policies being undertaken by the government. 

As however is often the riposte from our social and mainstream media commentariat, there will be and already are derisive comments about how Zimbabwe no longer has a ’working class’ let alone the industry to sustain it.  These would be fair comments only if we did not know the ideological context from which they were coming from.  Those that would argue as such are in most cases active sympathizers of free market economic policies and would prefer in most cases a return to the past of either a minority run economy  or the disastrous years of economic structural adjustment (ESAP). The latter in our contemporary case being what we can now safely refer to as 'ESAP 2.0' thanks to government's commitment to austerity.

This is probably what they would rather prefer instead of learning from the past and re-imagining working peoples centered national political economy.

And for the purposes of clarity, it is important for us to understand what it means to be a worker in Zimbabwe, the socio-economic (hegemonic) challenges that workers are faced with, and how to strive continuously to overcome these same said obstacles.

To begin with the first, being a worker in Zimbabwe is to be part of what ZCTU has already described as the ‘working peoples of Zimbabwe'. And this relates largely to class- namely a working class that now includes not just the formally employed and unionized worker, civil servants’ associations/unions, but also the peasant farmer, the farm worker and those that are regarded to be in informal trade as ‘vendors’.  

But in defining workers as broadly as outlined above, it is also significant to understand that at each turn the free market and its advocates in the form of state actors and private capital have also been working hard to weaken the ability of working people to organize themselves either in the form of strong unions and associations.  Or at least for working people to be able to believe in the importance and utility of collective action and above all collective solidarity. 

This is where the second point in relation to the socio-economic challenges faced by the working people of Zimbabwe is significant.  In this, increasingly high levels of individualism and a diminishing understanding of the common public good beyond one’s own pocket has meant acts and understanding of solidarity have not only become infrequent but are also expected only to be undertaken by private capital. And only in the most extreme of cases such as natural or man-made disasters.

This is also despite what should be the political-economic reality that it is the primary responsibility of the state to look after its citizens.  

And this immediately points to another socio-economic challenge faced by workers. That of being essentially left on their own.  Where the state is supposed to be the guarantor and provider of social services, again, it has outsourced this to the private sector and shows no sign of changing tact. This is at the heart of neoliberalism and austerity. An intention to almost do away with the state save for in pretense at regular elections/ democracy and retaining control of state violence/force (security services).  All the while leaving workers salaries to be determined by the ‘market’ together with prices of other basic commodities that are essential but unaffordable to workers’ livelihoods. 

The final consideration is how to ensure that this new call to challenge austerity and neoliberalism by ZCTU is not lost to populism.  An immediate strategy would be for the working people of Zimbabwe to define the alternative as clearly and in as apeople centered a way as possible.  Not in a dogmatic way where we insist in an ideologically puritanist framework but a contextual one that takes into account historical workers struggle events , documents/declarations but also steers clear of the abstract rationalizing of poverty that comes with neoliberalism.  

And these new frameworks as informed by history and the present, need to reach out to young workers and Zimbabweans to understand the democratic value of having a people-centered state that gives everyone a fair, equitable chance and start in life. Despite their parents or other forms of inherited wealth. All with a firm understanding that in the final analysis we are all equal in the state and before the state. A state that should be founded as it was at national independence on social democracy at minimal ideological correctness and at best organic democratic-socialist national consciousness. All of which were betrayed by a revolution that, as Andre Astrow wrote, lost its way. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)



Thursday, 18 April 2019

Zimbabwe @39: A Return to the Source and a Liberatory State.



By Takura Zhangazha*

The number of years since our national independence may increase but its historic meaning is never lost.  And that is as it should be.  No matter one’s political or religious views, our national independence, coming as it did after years of revolutionary struggle is definitive, liberatory and organic to our national consciousness. 

That the person who became the first Prime Minister of the republic, Robert Mugabe,  was violently ousted by the still ruling Zanu Pf party does not make independence any less significant.  It never belonged to him nor to his party.  Independence will always belong to the people of Zimbabwe in their diversity and in their progressive political consciousness. 

And the people have been through a lot.  From Gukurahundi, through to Economic Structural Adjustment (ESAP), repression of opposition politics, a populist fast track land reform programme (FTLRP)  and a sanitized military coup, Zimbabweans remain exemplary on the African continent.  Specifically in relation to their ability to still try and etch out an organic path to economic and political freedom.  All the while retaining a peculiar consciousness of history and our generic struggles against repression.  From the periods of colonialism, through to the attempts at a one party state and further attempts at suppressing a workers movement led opposition. 

In the 39 years we have been somewhat free of settler colonialism we have almost seen it all.  Our national responses to the calamities that have befallen us could have led to worse situations but they did not.  We did not go to war.  We did not ask for liberal intervention from a benevolent but rapaciously predatory West.  Indeed we lost lives needlessly under Zanu Pf’s rule and watch for political reasons.  We also lost livelihoods at the behest of the neoliberal direction of the same ruling Zanu Pf party.

In some instances we have been referred to as ‘resilient’ for expedient, comparative and convenient journalistic purposes.   What is more reflective of our reality is that we suffer but we continue.  Not necessarily on a revolutionary path but taking all lessons learnt to heart.  By default we are no longer as organically political but we seek new ways to better our existence.  Most times with great impatience and less with an understanding of posterity as a political function and value.  And regrettably sometimes we seek more political saviours than we seek pragmatism in dealing with our contemporary  challenges.

What is probably required is the Cabralist concept of a ‘return to thesource’ of national consciousness in relation to our independence.  Not in a dogmatic manner but more to understand what those that came before us, those that waged liberation struggles in one form or the other intended for our country to become.  And how to link the same with contemporary developments not only in Southern Africa but also the African continent and eventually the world.

This essentially entails that we reflect more ideologically on our current national state of affairs outside of the populist personality hue that was bequeathed us by Robert Mugabe and his ruling party.
So, for example, we should query the role of the state in relation to its ability and capacity to deliver social welfare of its citizens regardless of class, race or ethnicity.   This entails a review of how the state engages global (colonial) capital in order to better the lives of the people.  The current template being used by the Zanu Pf government is a negation of the anticipated liberatory role of the state mainly because it seeks to make the state subservient to global (colonial) capital and the global (colonial) free market. 

Moreover we should work toward a state that guarantees equality not just on the basis of civil rights, but economic ones.  And these economic rights are not just the rights to jobs and a narcissist individual culture of consumption.  Instead these should be economic rights to access health, water, transport, education and general social welfare support. 

Even more importantly is the perpetual question of ‘generational praxis.’ It is one that cannot be solved via ‘schools of ideology’ or religious political proclamations.  We need to ensure that we pass on the knowledge of struggle to younger generations not as dictat but as an organic understanding of our history.  In this, we need to understand that dogma no longer works.  Young Zimbabweans want solutions that they not only understand but consider directly relevant to their personal and collective experiences.  So passing on struggle knowledge is not a lesson in history, it is a lesson in the past, present and future. A lesson that ensures that despite the conformity that is sought by social media, we do not lose ourselves in a global community that largely still ‘others’ Africans.
Indeed it has been 39 years of national independence. The passage of time and occurrence of negative events does not however take away from the significance of national liberation.  Warts and all.  Again, we suffer, but we continue. Consciously.
Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogpsot.com)