Thursday, 27 April 2017

Zimbabwe @37 Past Present and the Future:

Zimbabwe @37 Past Present and the Future: Bringing Back People Centered Meaning to National Freedom. 

A presentation to the Mass Public Opinion Institute Public Seminar,

27 April 2017, New Ambassador Hotel Harare
By Takura Zhangazha*

The perennial question that always emerges every year we commemorate Zimbabwe’s independence has always been ‘what is the meaning of independence’.  Some, such as those in the former liberation movement and now long ruling Zanu PF party are always the quickest to answer. In fact they also hog the limelight of independence by way of being in charge of commemorative state occasions and making reference to having been the only ones who made ultimate sacrifices during the liberation struggle.

The main opposition parties take a different and radical approach that has as its primary refrain how independence and freedom have been betrayed or short-changed by the ruling establishment. 

 This is not only as politically expected from opposition political parties but also because they have had direct experiences of sthe tate apparatus being used to persecute and prosecute them before, during and after elections.  Furthermore they speak more broadly for a significant portion of the Zimbabwean population when they raise issue with the country having had not only one ruling party but also one president for the last 37 years. 

In both cases of the ruling and opposition parties, there is a deep level of politicisation of the meaning of independence.  The ruling party seeks to claim it as its own while the opposition parties refer to commemorative events held across the country as more akin to celebrating betrayal.

These approaches, one would hazard to argue, come with the nature of our deeply polarised national political terrain.  This however should not make either of them acceptable where and when we discuss our national independence as we are doing here. 

And this is a similar trap that civil society organisations occasionally fall into.  That is to view national independence through the prisms of political parties of their choice.  Or alternatively to not make too many comments or statements that relate to national independence.

I think that for ordinary Zimbabweans, apart form anticipating watching iconic musicians such as Alick Macheso strut their stuff either in the national stadium or as is broadcast live on state television. 

What is rare however in recent commemorations is for extensive debate
on the meaning of national independence beyond the fact of the defeat of settler colonialism by way of painful liberation war and subsequent negotiations that finalised its terms and conditions.

A primary question that used to be asked back in the 80s was the nature of the state that Zimbabwean independence had wrought.   Academics ,depending on their ideological hue analysed the state as a socialist or liberal (free market included) one.  The debate was largely one that followed the global trajectories of the cold war (the liberal west versus the communist east).  This also trickled down to party activists, functionaries,  and even musicians. 

One of the most inspiring musicians that emerged from this key question was the legendary Solomon Skhuza who apart from his other hit songs, produced a song that subtly attacked the neo-liberal Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) that was implemented in 1990.

By the time the latter’s full impact of unemployment,  reduction of social services via state privatisation was felt, we were caught in a conundrum of viewing national independence through partisan political lines.  This was, as alluded to earlier, largely because it was increasingly a politicised event and memory. 

 The emergent opposition parties chose to present it as increasingly illegitimate to celebrate independence under a Zanu PF government.   While in turn the ruling party also felt that there was no way it would allow those that it patronisingly referred to as 'sellouts' to even be in charge of Independence Day commemorations. 

Meanwhile the end of the cold war had also brought with it attempts at defining African nation states through a universal liberal paradigm that puts free market economics as the core of developmental and democratic progress.  And in the majority of cases very few political parties, civil society organisations and activists have questioned this. 

We have sought a universalism that we have not contextually thought about largely because that is the dominant global media’s deliberate discourse and hegemonic intention.

As a result, national independence becomes more an event than it is a perpetual meaningful reflection on the part of political actors, CSO activists and ordinary Zimbabweans.

I am persuaded that we must return to a contextual appreciation of what our own liberation, even if 37 years ago to date, means and the state that it sought to truly engender.

My view is that national liberation and therefore national independence, essentially sought to create a contextual and welfarist social democratic state.  As informed not only by the causes of social and economic justice that continually informed liberation movements and the majority population’s actions. 

We must ask ourselves the key question about national independence which is ‘what sort of state do we want’ before we ask ourselves what sort of leader do we think would be suitable’.  It is an ideological question more than it is about trying to find meaning only through the actions of our current crop of political parties and main actors. 

I am a complete advocate of a contextual welfarist social democratic state.  One in which everyone gets a fair start, is not denied social services, is allowed to be innovative, enjoys their complete civil liberties and lives and acts for posterity.  That to me, will bring back an organic meaning of national independence.
*Takura Zhangazha presents/writes here in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Cde Mbalula. Self-Righteousness Does Not Make South Africa Exceptional.

By Takura Zhangazha*

South Africa's new minister of police Fikile Mbalula  appears to have approached his new assignment with reckless enthusiasm.  He was very recently quoted as having said that his country's immediate neighbours, Zimbabwe, has some of its  ex-army personnel that are responsible for a number of serious crimes being committed in South Africa.  He should have ended there but didn't.  He went on to extol Zimbabweans for being well educated and working very well in his country's kitchens.

 Writing as a Zimbabwean based in Harare, (just in case you think I am a migrant graduate kitchen ‘help’) the statements attributed to him were not only xenophobic in populist intent but also indicative of a fellow African who has allowed the modicum of the (newish) power that he has to get to his head.  And in the process, in Trump like fashion, feed into a raw populism that has made many a black South African forget that their primary challenges are not with fellow Africans but with 'capital' and the 'waBenzi'.

 And it would be helpful for Cde Mbalula not to speak like a comrade who has ‘arrived’ while forgetting not only the journey but those that helped along the way.  

To state the obvious, it is imprudent for a contemporary South African politician to spout language that  denigrates fellow Africans as being the source of not only criminal activities in South Africa but also beneficiaries of  kitchen employment while holding doctorates. It reflects and regrettably so an 'apartheid' mentality that always sought to infer the 'other' to be not only a primitive native but also a servant.   Even in a liberated South Africa.

I mention a ‘liberated’ South Africa because that is what we, the other Africans, understand it to be.   That is, one that values not only human freedom, human rights, the rule of law, economic empowerment and Pan African solidarity as cornerstones of a democratic and forward looking (South) African future.

The statements attributed to Mbalula where he refers to Zimbabweans as being not only criminals but more damagingly ‘educated kitchen workers’ are against what we as Southern Africans and Africans in general, consider an organic and post liberation progressive Pan Africanism.

But it may be understandable to some that Mbalula is in a relatively new position and may have chosen to play to a reactionary populist gallery that in the regrettable spirit of  US president Donald Trump assumes a specific regional exceptionalism to South Africa. 

That is all well and good.  It is the sovereign right of some (politically) privileged South Africans to assume that they are not part of Africa.  We, as general Africans,  know that we are African.  

Borrowing from that epic speech from South African revolutionary and founding African Union (AU) Chairperson, President Thabo Mbeki, I certainly know that I am an African beyond not only the negative effects of colonialism but more importantly beyond the division of Africans in order to perpetuate what another African revolutionary Kwame Nkrumah derisively referred to as the bifurcation (division) of the African continent in order to serve neo-colonialism as the last stage of imperialism. 

 As Zimbabweans on the receiving end of the SA police minister's xenophobic remarks, we know we can take it on the chin. We would however be worried if his views reflect those of his principals in South Africa's cabinet and the ruling African National Congress (ANC).  

There are Zimbabweans that ably work in kitchens and restaurants, they also ably work in your country’s schools, universities, NGO and corporate sectors. I am one of them. Even if by default.  It does not make me identify less with them. Instead it strengthens my own Pan-African social democratic agenda. Beyond the Limpopo and all the way to the Nile (blue, white and opening its mouthwaters in the Mediterranean to mainland Europe)

I am firmly persuaded Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Samora Machel, Agostino Neto are turning in their graves in chagrin at what Mbalula's statements imply about regional and international liberatory solidarity of oppressed peoples.  We must not use the language of exclusion and denigration against those that we must help. Self righteousness does not help Cde Mbalula, South Africa or Zimbabwe.  We are all in this together.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (  

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Debating Zim Journalism's Assumed 'Golden Era' vs. Its Contemporary Challenges

By Takura Zhangazha*

There have been some interesting assertions about the state or quality of contemporary Zimbabwean journalism in recent weeks.  The chief executive officer of Alpha Media Holdings (AMH), Vincent Kahiya was recently quoted as having said that the golden era of journalism is now gone at a recent Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) conference .  Not more than two weeks later, Member of Parliament and respected journalist Kindness Paradza at a meeting organised by the Information for Development Trust (IDT), also made mention of journalism’s ‘golden era’ no longer being there.
In both cases there was a bit of a flurry of debate on social media, particularly Facebook, about what exactly constituted the ‘golden era’ of journalism in Zimbabwe. In the debate that ensued currently practising journalists came to their own defence while others sort of concurred with the arguable point of journalism having had a 'golden era'
That debate, regrettably has since fizzled out.  And I think its mainly because it had/ has a slightly self-righteous tone from senior journalists.  But also because as with all things on social media, they never las that long. People move on to the next thing as quickly as they arrived at the last one. 
It’s however a debate that would still need to be pursued not least because of journalism and the media’s importance to the state of our democracy. 

If  ever there was a 'golden era' of journalism in Zimbabwe it would likely relate to how the profession was in fact a publicly respected one.  And also to how it essentially paid very well together with attractive benefits (housing, medical aid, pensions) and long term contracts.   Where we consider the livelihoods of contemporary journalists, the story is almost the exact opposite.  The salaries are low and when they come, they are erratic.  Pensions, loans, and medical aid are not guaranteed, if none existent at all and contracts have become subject to the infamous three month notice (the latter has been used rather liberally be media owners).  And here I am not talking about freelance journalists.  Their plight is far worse.

So on the score of what journalists earn alone, the golden era of journalism is effectively over.  Not least because of the disdain media owners have for the profession and also the fact that social media has revolutionised the way people receive and impart information. And of course the fact that there are many more qualified journalists coming from other institutions other than the initial Division of Mass Communications at the Harare polytechnic.  This has made employment much more competitive (euphemism for difficult) and in the process also less secure. 

But the reference to a golden era of journalism was also made with some reference to the quality of the journalism that is present. And as alluded to earlier in this blog, one gets a sense that inference is being made to how yesteryear journalism may have been more professional than its contemporary form.  Both by way of how stories are not only written/covered but also why they are written/covered.    

There’s no doubt motivations for writing /covering stories were and are always going to be different between say for example the journalist of the late 80s/early 90s and those that are practising after the turn of the century. Mainly because the operational environments are markedly different and that in contemporary times, especially with thanks (or no thanks) to the internet and social media, news is faster and more competitive.  Its essentially less about ethics and values and more about numbers and the profits they bring in. 

This means contemporary Zimbabwean journalists are under greater pressure to produce news faster and in a way that brings in more readers/sales, viewers, greater internet reach (click-baiting) and social media impact. 

The consumer of news has also changed significantly.  In the 80s and 90s the consumer would invariably be some sort of ideologue (ruling party or opposition supporter) who would want to arrive at what they perceive as truth through their trusted newspaper or broadcasting station (these would have invariably been either the Herald, ZBC for sympathisers of the ruling party or Moto Magazine, Financial Gazette and the Zimbabwe Independent for opposition sympathisers and all of the above for the ‘neutrals’). 

Contemporary consumers of news don’t much care for facts a much as they should largely because of their newfound ability to find ‘news’ sources outside of the mainstream media using the increasingly influential social media.  The contemporary media owner and journalist has therefore had to contend with this sort of news consumer and in most cases has contentiously decided to go with the flow  and in some cases not much care for the ethical or public interest element of news gathering in pursuit of profit.  This is not to say previous media owners and journalists did not pursue profit, its just that they were not so brazen about it and also functioned with a greater interest in a standardised professional journalism. 

To conclude therefore, the journalist of yesteryear will refer to their era in the media trenches as having been of better service to the Zimbabwean public.  And for the obvious reason that they would like to be recognised for the work they did.  The contemporary journalist will obviously seek to protect their own reputation and repudiate any comparisons that make them appear less professional. And that’s all fair enough. 

What is however more important is that journalism needs to examine its contemporary placement in Zimbabwean society beyond the ‘market’ and pursuit of profit or a debilitating political correctness or partisanship.  And it must organically play that role of speaking truth to power or continue to lose public sympathy and support at a time when it needs it the most.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Six Key Tasks for Zimbabwe's Opposition Parties for 2018 Elections and Beyond

By Takura Zhangazha*

Analysing Zimbabwe’s opposition political parties is to arrive at a precarious opinion and position.  Especially if one attempts to shed a bit of bias and seeks to contextually hold the opposition to the highest political standards or measurements.

The main reason why the opposition political parties do not take kindly to criticism or ‘against the grain’ advice is probably understandable if you are a Zimbabwean.  At least from a political perspective.  This is because they have, as opposition activists (individually and collectively) borne the brunt of a repressive state apparatus that in the last years has been instrumental in maimings, abductions, deaths and highly disputed elections.  For this bravery they must be respected as much as the state should be condemned for its role and complicity in establishing a culture of  violence, intimidation and impunity.

The latter statement is not however intended as an aside.  It is a veritable fact that ever since 2000, anyone associated with opposition political activism has a sad tale to tell of their experiences at the hands of ruling party activists.  And this is only if they are alive to tell such tales. 

It is these traumatising experiences that should make the leaders of the various old and new opposition parties take their work seriously, if they do not already do so. 

But where they are serious about their politics and their stated intentions to take over the reins of power in the country via elections in 2018, they need to approach at least six issues from a different and much more organic angle.  And even for this, they do not have time. 

1.  They must fully understand and explain to their party members the full import of a grand opposition coalition: This explanation would include a firm justification or reason for the coalition and why former rivals must become friends.  The easier and populist route is to say this is in order to ensure that ‘Mugabe must go’.  Or to say its an elite pact for the top leadership i.e presidential candidates and that for the positions of house of assembly, senate, parliamentary womens quota and local councils will be contested separately.   The organic route is to explain how it works, what values bind the parties together and how it will work for lower level directly or indirectly elected seats will be shared. And this will avoid that slogan once used in the 2013 harmonised election by the ruling party ‘upon upon’ or ‘one party state’ being used against the opposition.

2.  They must embrace intra-party democracy and accountability: Any talk of a coalition is of limited consequence if the opposition parties that seek it are inherently weak or ruled by dictat.  A coalition of the weak cannot defeat a ‘commandist’ ruling party merely because it says it is a coalition.  In order for individual political parties to make more serious their quest for political change via elections they have to be in and of themselves strong enough to bring willing numbers, structures and activists to the table.  If they are not internally democratic and accountable, a decision to join a coalition will inevitably lead to friction and rapture.  And it will also lead to the fracturing of votes because inevitably internally weak political parties always have a plethora of ‘independent’ candidates derived from former members.

3. They must be ideologically clear and be detailed in their policy alternatives:  There are many policy propositions I do not agree with as and when they emerge from our current crop of opposition parties.  But where they are clearly put out, they have my grudging respect even if I do not agree with them.  Regrettably most of our opposition political parties have hidden behind the popular and organic cloak of social democracy while placing neo-liberalism (privatisation, free markets) at the centre of their ‘alternative’ policy proposals.  This has led them, even if they will deny it, to be speaking the same broad policy language of the ruling party. The only difference is the fact that the latter couches its neo-liberalism in an on the surface ‘radical nationalism’ and in pursuit of an ancillary state capitalism.

4.  They must prioritise their young members (across gender):  Youth departments/wings/sections of all opposition parties are exceedingly weak and in disarray. This is one of the elephants in their political rooms that they rarely talk about or seek to address.  Yet they expect a certain radicalism from young party members for demonstrations.  Rarely are young party m embers engaged in structured and organic party processes that relate to ideology, party policies, gender equality or systematic support to resolving their intra party concerns.  This leads to a culture of mimicking Zanu Pf youth politics where the latter are kept in reserve mainly for mobilisation processes only.  But then again, even the ruling party is getting to understand this hence there are younger candidates for its electoral contests except for the presidency.

5.  They need to get their voting demographics and processes right:  The 2018 elections are a different kettle of fish from those of 2013.  The opposition goes into this election even more divided than the previous ones and also with a very ambivalent commitment toward some sort of coalition.  They need to get over this ambivalence as soon as possible and undertake their own voter education processes for their members and supporters.  Even if they eventually decide against participating in the harmonised election.  They must however not mix up their advocacy campaigns for electoral reform with voter education.  This is merely because the technicalities of voting still need to be known by their supporters, warts and all. Again, even if they intend to reject the voting mechanisms or if they do not succeed to get the reforms they want.  In this, they must be mindful of the fact that the ruling party has already (and as reported by the media) begun its own voter education and registration processes.

6.  They must function for posterity:  To lead an opposition party in Zimbabwe as I cited earlier in this blog, is not an easy task.  Not least because of the nature of the ruling party and its tactics to hold on to state power. It is also about the values one portends in the process of leading and what one essentially wants to be remembered for.  It means doing your utmost best to pursue your party’s agenda for change (revolutionary or incremental). It however also means allowing for internal transition within the party and accepting responsibility for both successes and failure.  It is also knowing when your time is up and allowing others to pick up from where you have left off.  

Essentially therefore, understanding and functioning with posterity in mind is key because while we may talk of ‘not changing the ship’s captain before arriving’ we all know that where a current captain has gotten you is also no small feat and must be forever valued. In other words, opposition leaders should allow others the chance to lead, not only at the top but also throughout the party hierarchy and electoral processes.  That’s how the opposition becomes democratically valued.  And that’s how, it will achieve its goals. So in considering 2018’s harmonised elections, they must understand that where they give it their best while at the top, in the middle or lower down the ladder, in its aftermath, they will need to assess whether they performed their utmost (in difficult circumstances) best and whether they must retain the same positions or allow others to lead going forward. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (  

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Inhumane Oddities to Zimbabwean Life. Thanks to State and Private Capitalism.

By Takura Zhangazha*

There are certain oddities to Zimbabwean life at the moment.  And it takes lived experiences to be able to explain them.  Even if our country is neither at war nor tittering at the brink of it. 

I have a good comrade that I know that survived a car accident. He was not driving. Nor was he a passenger.  He was a pedestrian.  And he missed death by a whisker in Harare’s central business district.  And this was close to a church.  Three vehicles had collided as he was walking toward an intersection and one of them missed him by a whisker.  To say it missed him may be an understatement.  He jumped out of the way just in the nick of time.

Invariably road accidents happen.  But the reason I am citing this particular one is because of what happened in its aftermath. 

The first dilemma we faced was getting an ambulance.  Initially using our mobile phones we tried the emergency numbers and not surprisingly they were not working.  We then tried to get actual numbers of ambulance services and they too were not working.  A colleague then went to one of their offices which are close by and upon arrival he called us to say they wanted to ask if we had not already called another ambulance.  Slightly surprised at the oddity of the question, we confirmed we hadn’t and they then advised that they are deploying one. 

After ten or so minutes, and at least an hour after the occurrence of the accident, the ambulance arrived.  The medical personnel asked the slightly shocked comrade as he sat on the ground what medical aid scheme he was on and to which hospital he wanted to go on the same basis.  Again, odd questioning. We insisted they check him out first before asking such evidently misplaced first questions.  They took him into the ambulance (with equipment that was quite rudimentary), after finally asking the relevant medical questions.   

Then the first questions came back again.  ‘Which medical aid scheme are you on?’, ‘Which hospital would you like us to take you to?’.   The comrade said he was not on any medical aid scheme since he does not have a regular salary though he does part time jobs.  He also said he was shaken but felt fine and that he would probably be able to go to a doctor the following morning.  We then asked the ambulance crew what all the questions were in aide of and they replied its routine and that those that are not on medical aid are taken to the country’s biggest state hospital (Parirenyatwa). 

We asked whether this would be for free and the calmly delivered but shocking response was it would cost US$40 to transport him there. 

The comrade who was fine (and is fine) insisted on going home first.  But we knew that we didn’t have the amount required to take him to hospital let alone any extra money for whatever the hospital would require.  And the ambulance driver, all along acting in the most calm manner, excitedly stated that there has been another accident and that the victims there were on the Public Services Medical Aid Scheme.   And they hurriedly left.

What was apparent though not said was that the ambulance services were there for the money. And that they were willing to only commit if there was some form of proof that payment would be made (medical aid or anxious relatives/friends forking out whatever they had). 

Luckily our comrade was ok and the following morning undertook the necessary visit of a check up at his preferred clinic (after again looking for some money overnight). 

So its an odd life to be a Zimbabwean.  And its advised that you do not fall sick or find yourself in a road traffic accident if you do not have money but can still talk.  All of which you cannot avoid because they are inevitabilities of modern human existence.

What is happening in our country is a silent but painful dehumanizing of our being.  And perhaps it may not happen to you in the immediate but when it does, you will not miss its feeling of depravity and powerlessness. 

If there is a solution to this it will have to start with all of us recognizing the importance of valuing human life over and above profit (monetary or otherwise).  And to treat each other with the deepest of affection which essentially recognizes that all Zimbabwean lives, no matter class or race, must be enabled to be lived with dignity and respect.  And I am not even going to go into a tirade against privatization of health and other social services. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in personal capacity (

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Anger, Ideology and Political Activism in Zimbabwe

By Takura Zhangazha* 

In early March this year I was invited to share my personal views on political activism in Zimbabwe at a panel discussion at the University of Johannesburg’s department of Sociology.  It was not so much an academic debate but more to do with trying to understand past, present and possibly emerging realities on the subject matter.  The colleagues on the panel and the audience did a sterling job of, as is now common parlance in meetings, ‘unpacking’ the complexities of political activism in Zimbabwe.

From my notes there are three issues that stood out for me from the discussion.  These were anger and activism, the ideological (if any) contestations of activism and finally what the future of all of these portend.

Anger and activism emerged because I made reference to the social media initiated and motivated protests that began in July 2016 and sort of petered out by November of the same year.  That period signified to the greater extent a country undergoing catharsis and coming to terms with the possibilities for political action that social media can bring to the fore.

It also however signified the most often ephemeral character of social media impact with regards to activism and how the latter always needs a combination of online and offline strategic communications to overcome the reactionary apparatus of a repressive state.  And make no mistake, anger is good.  

But anger is not enough for activists of all ilk to achieve what are essentially long term or rather monumental objectives (such as seeking the resignation of a long serving president). 
This brings me to the next key point which is that of a structured activist focus via having a clear ideological pretext of what needs to be achieved (how and why).  This is not to say activist should ‘over think’ their causes and spend days pouring over seminal works on the significance of a clear set of ideas (vision, mission, objectives if you like) of what societies or better situations their actions will bring to reality.  Or at least set a firm direction and path towards.

I generally confess to being a contextual left leaning social democrat motivated by a desire to see a welfare state that performs its public good functions in tandem with respecting human rights.  That is the basis of my own personal activism.  Such a definitive framework greatly helps to inform not only my understanding of what is ideal but also how to measure the obstacles that in reality prevent my ideal state of affairs. 

It is less exciting, less immediate but it helps clarify issues that activism is all about.  And this is as it was at the height of the ZCTU led protests and process of the formation of Zimbabwe’s strongest opposition political party since our national independence, the Movement for Democratic Change. Motivated by social democratic ideals, labour and components of emergent human rights civil society and some church movements correctly sought to seek not only constitutional reform but socio-economic reform through a rejection of economic structural adjustment. 

History does not have to repeated. But learning closely from it would do contemporary activists (and even long serving ones) a lot of progressive ‘consciousness’ good. 

So a key question that then emerges is what we can expect for future activism in Zimbabwe going forward.  Pragmatic expectations point to the strong reality that it is largely the political parties that will dominate activism.  This is mainly because activism has been politicised to the extent that every other person that thinks they can achieve any democratic progress perceives that the only true route to that is to hold electoral office (and in particular to run for the national presidency). This activism is rarely intended to be transformational.  Instead to achieve it, most political aspirants and activists mimic the ruling Zanu Pf party by way of not only structure (two vice presidents) but in part by way of running internal affairs of their party (rule by dictat and with an astounding abruptness).

Activists that claim non-partisanship will likely be captured by this sort of activism not only because of their general impatience but also their unbridled political ambition. And its all permitted and should be welcome in so far as it promotes a diverse, democratic society that respects the right of all who live in it fairly and equitably.   

It would however be remiss to call it activism for transformative change or in its truer sense, revolutionary change. At its best it will in the current circumstance lead to incremental (small) change.  Unless it is grounded in and on a holistic ideological framework that views the ruling establishment in the same way.  For me that ideological framework remains left leaning contextual social democracy.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

ZimAsset vs Command Economy: Factional State Capitalism in Zimbabwe

 By Takura Zhangazha*

When the local state controlled weekly Sunday Mail published a headline story on what it referred to as the ‘command economy’, I was slightly surprised.  While it wasn’t a new term from the state and its related ‘news’ machinery, it was clearly a strategic propaganda move intended to remind us of the still to be verified success of the actual official term. ‘command agriculture’ as touted by government officials. 

All against the backdrop of the heavy rains that the country received which have heightened anticipation of a bumper harvest. 

What is probably happening is that the ruling party assumes that the continuity of its electoral hold on power predicated on the success of the much vaunted ‘command agriculture’ will translate to a new national economic development model.

There are also certain nuances as to whether ‘command economy’ is not a hint of  continued contestation between the ‘Lacoste’ or ‘G40’ factions of the ruling Zanu Pf party over what should be a government economic blueprint. 

That the Sunday Mail carried such a story as its lead would indicate the same. It is basically an attempt at creating a contest between the official blueprint Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic and Transformation (ZimAsset) and this nascent ‘command economy’ model. Especially with an intention of demonstrating who in the ruling party has a 'better' strategy at dealing with the economy. 

If the challenges the national economy faces were not so serious I would have said ‘bring out the popcorn and turn up the volume’. 

That ‘command economy’ may be a catchy turn of phrase does not however signify a specifically different government macroeconomic policy framework.  Neither is it a significant departure from ‘ZimaAsset’. 

Based on what has been made public, it is intended to ‘galvanise’ the policy clusters that are under the former.  The assumption would be that ZimAsset is not working in its current implementation format and requires much more centralized and direct planning. This would probably then lead to faster results through rapid ‘command’ implementation.   

In this regard, ‘command economy’ is essentially an attempt to embolden and speed up a ‘state capitalism’ economic framework as already defined by ZimAsset.  This is a framework in which the state and its functionaries (individuals and parastatals) essentially runs like a business i.e for profit.  In our specific case, due to cronyism and corruption, this profit is not remitted back to the state, but individuals who are connected to the state or ruling party.  

Furthermore, it has no clear public good intentions from the onset.  It seeks to provide what should essentially be public service via private profit oriented business models such as the much vaunted public private partnerships.  And the key target areas for this are key social services such as provision of water, transport, health, land and education. Hence there is insistence on privatization of water, electricity and health services. 

Where government officials talk of the ‘ease of doing business’  it is a combination of neo-liberalism and crony capitalism via access to the state and its resources.    

So we can call it ‘ZimAsset’ or ‘command economy’ but the end effect of a neo-liberal and crony capitalism framework is the same.  Whether it pits one Zanu Pf faction against another is a matter for those who are more interested in the ruling party’s distractive succession politics (even if by rumour, gossip and innuendo).

And the implementers of it are not only thinking short term i.e get rich quick.  They intend to construct a hegemony in which they have a pliant population that regards an elite serving economy as the norm and not an aberration. 

In fact they intend to make resistance appear futile by focusing on ‘the money’ minus an ideological contestation.  And they now know that the latter is certainly to going to come from the neo-liberal aternatives being espoused by the opposition which, again, as with ‘command economy’ juxtaposed with Zimasset, are two sides of the same coin. 

What we have to grapple with in reality is a state that is being led away from what should be its raison d’etre, that is, to serve to the best possible democratic extent, the people. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (