Thursday, 23 February 2017

Defining an Inclusive Zimbabwean Civil Society Compass (Thinking With and Beyond 2018)

Defining an Inclusive Zimbabwean Civil Society Compass : Key Messages and Rallying Points.
A Presentation to the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute Civil Society Think Tank Meeting. 

23 February 2017, Harare, Zimbabwe. 

By Takura Zhangazha*

Cde Chairman,

I would like to begin by thanking you for inviting me to this key Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) civil society think tank meeting.  I have been advised by  the organizers that the  primary objective of this meeting is to find common ground for pro-democracy activists on key rallying points for civil society as the country undergoes what is an inevitable but default transition. It's a transition  that in my view is now regrettably based on how long the current incumbent president can retain his hold on power. 

Either by way of the internal succession dynamics of the ruling Zanu Pf party or anticipation of the inevitability of incapacitation motivated by age leading to resignation or demise in office of the current incumbent.

And this is invariably the talk that is dominating public and private discourse. 

So ZDI is correct to indicate that the country is undergoing a form of transition.  One that many may not be comfortable with, but a transition all the same. 

The definitions of the nature of this transition already differs not only between members of the ruling party and their adherent ‘factions’ but also among opposition political players as well as those from mainstream civil society that leans toward various strands of democratic change and that which is keen on operating within the context of the status quo.

Either way, there are certain realities that transcend assumptions or knowledge of an ongoing transition that many Zimbabweans, deliberately or by default, are now well in full anticipation of.  

And these are realities that must inform the manner in which pro-democracy civil society pursues its agenda.  Even before we begin to address civil society’s own realities.

The first political reality for all Zimbabweans is that the past, especially where it relates to assumptions of assuming our politics have directly opposite and ideological ends, is effectively over.  

Even if we wished it had stayed.  The ruling Zanu Pf is in effective ascendancy over a perpetually divided mainstream opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) and it's offshoots. 

 For many who have suffered premeditated state and ruling party sanctioned or sponsored political violence for expressing opinions or mobilizing views different from those of the state and ruling party this is a truth we would prefer not to confront with reason but what can only be referred to as understandable anger.

But to be fair to the country and to those that would pursue an alternative path to the establishment both now and in the future we need to be candid and anticipate what’s occurring as well as what is on its way politically. 

This aforementioned ascendancy of Zanu Pf is essentially positioning itself for an unassailable hegemonic dominance over Zimbabwean society. 

 In other words it is not just political or about political rallies.  It has become a sum total of not only how the ruling establishments can comfortably shoulder  fights amongst its elites, deride the opposition and potential coalitions as placing ‘one zero upon another zero’ and not changing the latter’s essential lack of value as a counter- hegemonic project.

This would essentially mean that even in the event of a Zanu Pf loss of its current leader, the opposition may still remain unable to take complete advantage of what it would perceive of as a transition.

And where we add new civil society statements on national transitional authorities, far from being in a position of strength, they remain an indication of the sense of powerlessness of pro-democracy civil society. 

In other words and thus far, we are  anticipating and ‘prophesying ’ in order to warn the ‘non-believing’ multitudes against a pending nasty turn of political events.  Or where we have acted, we have sought a radicalism that, while important and sometimes driven by the effective use of social media,  has been at best ephemeral in its impact on national debate. 

It has however had a profound impact on how the struggle is increasingly being perceived in short term frameworks that regrettably remain ungrounded in clear strategic thinking or without any ideological praxis/consciousness. 

The reasons for these developments are multilayered but a key one has been the fact civil society organizations have been having challenges understanding the full import of the incrementalist/ minimal but progressive change they contributed to when supporting or deriding the inclusive government's  COPAC process.  The compromise nature of the constitution meant that it was never going to ‘hit the ground running’.  The new constitution did not signify a revolutionary moment.  It signified forward motion but not arrival.  And it is this progressive forward motion that mainstream civil society is still grappling four years on to try and protect.

But in essence, we still have to analyze the fact that there are some issues that can be key rallying points that mainstream civil society can use. 

 I have identified these as fivefold, namely elections, constitutionalism, young peoples democratic consciousness, the national economy and freedom of expression/media freedom.

The first rallying point which is that of elections is pointed out because we are already a year away from general/harmonised  elections.  The inevitability of the harmonized election dominating public discourse essentially means that civil society has to rally around finding common ground on key electoral issues.  And the most important electoral issue that will confront civil society is that of biometric voter registration.  

Not only in relation to the fact that it is most likely that civil society will be excluded from the civic education process of the same but more importantly in relation to having clear positions on supporting the process altogether.  And this is key. Ambiguity on the part of civil society will lead to greater public confusion and an electoral process that will be neither democratic nor popularly legitimate.

The second rallying point of civil society is that of ensuring that the principle and practice of democratic constitutionalism is made more popular.  This is despite the fact that there is limited knowledge of the constitution itself to warrant immediate public outcry.  But someone has to start from somewhere and this is beyond reacting to government’s decisions to attempt to amend an already inert national document.  This is however not only linked to electoral processes but must be positioned to be ongoing, perennial and beyond 2018. 

The third significant rallying point for civil society must be that of integrating the current and potential consciousness of young Zimbabweans into all of their programmes and advocacy campaigns. The activism characterised by gatekeeping and refusing to pass on struggle knowledge and experience to young activists will not help mainstream civil society in the least. 

If there are organisations that do not still consider it a priority to work with young Zimbabweans they are basically not geared to survive in the near future. Young citizens are yearning for a new consciousness which extends beyond slogans and social media.

At the moment very few civil society organisations are providing this. Or if they are, in some cases, it is to perpetuate the traditional politics of exclusion of young 18-35 year olds. 

On this I will give my own personal example of how growing up reading all sorts of literature on activism and ideological arguments was easier because there were organisations that were the homes of debates and progressive arguments. Nowadays young citizens get subjected largely to dogma and not debate or engagement.  Where the latter minimally occurs it is with ideas that lack application to national and regional social democratic struggle contexts. 

The fourth element that civil society must galvanise around is that of the state of the national economy. And this not just in the political parlance of how 'the economy will scream' and eventually bring down the incumbent government by default. 

Civil society needs to look at the economy in ideological terms and remember even if they don't agree with Marxism they must remember the key analytical tool that is looking at issues from a 'base and superstructure' perspective.  And even if there are differences in ideological perspectives of economic development, these must at least be debated and allowed to compete for popular support.  

Such an approach will help Zimbabweans understand not only the role of the state in a national economy but also where the argumentation is informed by the democratic values of transparency and accountability will also go a long way in combating the endemic corruption that is characteristic of state capitialism.

The final rallying cry for civil society within the context of an expanding reach of the interent and it's offshoot, social media is freedom of expression , the media and access to information. Civil society needs to rally against criminal defamation and the attendant victimisation of social media activists for expressing their views. Even if these views are on the president or on the state of civil society itself. Where we begin to abandon protecting freedom of expression we fall victim to a state that will happily charge people with treason for expressing views on social media. 

In conclusion,  Cde Chairman, I do not think that these rallying points can be singulalry themed.  They can however be inter linked through a structural social movement approach that transcends either electoral or funding cycles. Such an approach would be characterised by civil society being more candid about the realities it faces and where it stops blowing in the direction of ephemeral political events,  overcoming a subservient preoccupation with pre-determined  Zanu PF or opposition succession dynamics and staying focused on values, principles and the passing on of struggle knowledge to younger generations of activists. 
*Takura Zhangazha presents/writes here in his personal capacity. The views expressed here are his own.  (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com )


Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Curriculum Changes and Nationalization of Education in Zim: Gambling with the Future

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The government of Zimbabwe has changed its education curriculum.  There was no public debate prior to this far reaching policy change. Arguably because these changes were recommendations from a government commission of inquiry into higher and tertiary education which is referred to as the Nziramasanga Commission (among other government sponsored reviews)

Essentially the most significant changes to the curriculum are intended to sort of ’nationalise’ education by making it more contextual. That is to say, a lot more time in classrooms will be given to Zimbabwean (patriotic) history, recognition of languages including teaching in local languages and exploring to a greater extent, Zimbabwean culture and norms than in the past.  Of course there are some things that you cannot ‘nationalise’ such as Mathematics or Science. Even in how you teach them. 

The teachers unions, at least two of them (the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe) have gone apoplectic over this new curriculum.  They argue and correctly so that it is not only a rash decision but also elitist and arbitrary conduct on the part of education minister Lazarus Dokora. They also tellingly revveal that the teachers they represent have not had adequate training or preparation on the new curriculum to be able to discharge of their new delivery of knowledge tasks. 

Parents of school-going children are however not clear on the matter.  Mainly because they do not quite understand the new curriculum and its potential effect on their children’s education.  Or because those that would have been most vocal about such issues have children that are in private or mission schools that have generally always managed to offer alternative syllabi or function with a greater degree of independence from regular ministerial interference. 

Those parents with children in public/government schools, have all of a sudden found themselves having to ensure their children get to school earlier as well as listen to them recite the national pledge. But beyond the new inconveniences, there is reluctant acceptance from a majority of parents that comes from a sense of powerlessness over what government does with the curriculum as well as general assumptions that because they are not educationists, they are not in a position to argue.  Besides, it already hard enough coming up with the school fees. What more arguing about something as technical as an education curriculum? 

And this is why the ministry of education is proceeding with its 'in character arrogance'. From issues to do with allocation of form 1 places, national pledge and now the new curriculum the ones who matter the most in all of this, the parents, have not acted in national unison. And it is least likely that they will. 

The bigger questions however do not relate to the reactions and counteractions over the new curriculum.  What is most important is that we view governments education policy holistically.  Even if it is fractured by the very fact that there are three ministers that deal with education (Messrs Dokora for basic education, Moyo for higher education and Hungwe for psychomotor education).

While education must be primed to suit a nations context and development needs, it does not occur in isolation from the rest of the world.  To emphasise one component over another, as is the case with government’s STEM programme or the ‘nationalisation’ of the curriculum does not mean we will compete better on the world stage of invention or nationalist education.

Nor will politicising education, not thinking beyond ones own ministerial tenure assist us to resolve our long term challenges in education.  This particular point is made because it is clear that save for Josiah Hungwe the other two cabinet ministers directing governments education policy are clearly trying to leave their personal imprints on the sector.  And largely for political gain and while they still can. 

That is why in part, the new curriculum does not fit neatly into the stem programme.  Or why the Stem programme prioritises mathematics over for example history and in the process creates feelings of general inadequacy in students who are struggling with the natural sciences but are excelling in social subjects. 

The ambiguity of the public responses to the education question does not mean it is not as important as say bio-metric voter registration.  It points to a public pre-occupation with the social, economic and political immediate. This is motivate by the livelihood hardships that many parents and citizens are suffering.  But regrettably such an approach is not enough to guarantee a better future for our children.  Even if the primary challenge many of us face is paying the school fees and putting food on the table.  We need to do better by asking more questions about government’s real intentions and what they mean for the future of Zimbabwe’s children beyond ministerial tenures.  Where we fail, we fail not only ourselves but the future and generations that will inhabit it as adults.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)
 




Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Picking Up the Phone: American Humour vs Zimbabwe’s Foreign Policy/Reputation

By Takura Zhangazha*

The American comedy show, ‘Saturday Night Live’ (SNL) has been having a decent go at President Donald Trump.  In its latest edition it had a section in which it parodied his phone calls to the Australian prime minister, Michael Turnbull, Mexican President Enrique Piena Neto and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.  As expected the abruptness of the three 'calls' and bullish language attributed to Trump are great parody.  Until the next comic call to a character playing Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.  In it, ‘Trump’ calls the Zimbabwean ‘president’ and tells him, ‘This is the new sheriff in town’. 

The response comes as, ‘is this Donald Trump? You think you are a brutal dictator? I will rip out your spine and drink from your skull!  You can’t even walk downstairs you little…Don’t you ever call Zimbabwe again!’  And its not the Trump character that angrily cuts off the phone, to the great humour of the audience, but the character playing Mugabe. 

I would hazard a guess that the response to the clip from an American perspective is to assume that the ‘Trump’ character meets its match in the from of a dictator from a  ‘random little country’ that is of limited consequence to American foreign policy.  Or that these two are birds of the same dictatorial and unpleasant feather.  A perspective that makes it all the funnier (again, probably)  from an American (liberal) perspective. 

From a Zimbabwean lens it could probably be just harmless parody of our long serving ‘one centre of power’ that we are used to.  From Nandos caricatures through to other cartoon parodies, and depending on one’s political affiliation, it is downright good comedy which shouldn’t do more than cause a few hearty African laughs. 

Or it could reconfirm the myth that it is only Robert Mugabe who could have taken that call the way he did with defiance.   A thing which tends to delight his die hard supporters and others who fail to read between the lines of his autocratic tendencies.  Or those who view African politics from an orthodox anti-colonial lens that sees no fault in African leadership, regardless of contemporary global dynamics. 

The fear that I have, given the fact that we are entering a new phase of American foreign policy and the fact that its new president is clearly wont to react to news/social media stories (fake or alternative) even if they are comic in an abrupt fashion.  To liken Trump to Mugabe in parody always has a double meaning.  And the real Trump may not take too kindly to it. 

But then that would be Zimbabwe’s problem more than it is an American one.  Trump may decide to take too seriously the comic presentation that was the SNL skit a he is wont to do with so many other social media posts/issues.  A development which would mean that he would get curious about who exactly Robert Mugabe is and what the American problem with Zimbabwe is. The result of that briefing can either lead to him laughing it off or deciding to prove a specific point about how different he is from the parody that got one over his own caricature on SNL.   

And again the question must be asked, how does Zimbabwe respond to the new American administration? The one thing for sure is that there is no sign that there shall be the repealing of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) or sanctions which former President Obama extended a week before he left the Oval Office.

But it will not help the Zimbabwean government to be as brazen as it was with the Obama and previous American administrations.  Not least because Trump is not too keen on Africa beyond its benefit to American capital.  Even after all the parodies are exhausted.  But more importantly because, difficult as it may be to accept, in the view of the new administration we are probably, to use the language of the SNL writers, ‘a random little country’.

Zimbabwe has to accept that its period of anti-colonial/imperialist bravado in an age where the chief executive of the world’s still sole superpower is equally brazen is effectively over.  There is an urgent need to re-assess Zimbabwe’s placement in a world where one time allies such as Russia and China are very worried about engagement with the new American administration for geo-political reasons that trounce either democratic principles or long term loyalties.

Also being wary of the new wave of radical nationalism that is sweeping across Europe and reinforcing racist stereotypes of migrants or people from poorer continents such as ours. Or worse still, where in contemporary Africa, the balkanisation of regions and increasingly vague responses to Pan-Africanism and democracy are now being reinforced by leaders that worship at the altar of global neo-liberalism, capital and its interests.

Basic advice to the Zimbabwean government and its foreign policy toward the United States:  Enjoy the parodies. Don't arrest people for expressing their views.  But beyond that, don't ruffle Trump's feathers.  He has just been reminded there's a country called Zimbabwe.  Even if in cathartic humour. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Yes, Egypt is an African Country. Always. Not just at Afcon2017

By Takura Zhangazha*

I watched the Egypt versus Burkina Faso African Cup of Nations 2017 (AFCON2017) semi-final game in Gabon with great anticipation.  I had declared my support for Burkina Faso and had apologized to my fellow Africans, the Egyptian football fans for my preference for that particular match. Egypt went on to win the match and is now in the final of Afcon2017.

Someone, via social media, decided during the course of the match to raise the issue of why would I as an African, living in the South of the Sahara was respecting the football prowess of Egypt. 

 And he raised a number of puerile reasons for arguing the way he did.  His view was that Egypt tends to claim the best of sporting and political worlds.  The first being that it is part of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and also laying claim to being part of the Arab League. I politely disagreed with him.

And being Zimbabwean, I remember that World Cup qualifying match that had to be replayed in France in 1993 where Egypt played our national team which we had passionately dubbed what we dubbed the ‘Dream Team’.  We lost, albeit in controversial circumstances, but it didn’t ever cloud my judgment that we had lost to an African team. 

Since then Egypt’s national football team has gone on to become record holders of the African Cup of nations, in its various versions.  And they have deserved it.  Their national football teams have competed with the best of the continent and proven to be top class. 

Conversations around the ‘Africanness’ of Egypt are however thoroughly misplaced.  Not only because they are ahistorical but also because they fail to recognize the sporting prowess of fellow Africans that have proven beyond doubt that when it comes to sport, they will compete at the highest of levels. 

But there is need to de-bunk the myth and assumption that Egypt does not really act in solidarity with the rest of Africa or that it has specific attitudes of superiority to the rest of the continent.

To assume Egypt is in Africa geographically and that its hearts and mind are in the Middle East is to have selective amnesia about historical fact.  True, Egypt has always been caught up in the Palestinian quest for independence from Israel or global claims to territory such as with the Suez Canal.  Partly because of this, it has always been presented in the global media not as an African state, but an Arab one.  Not only be reference to its majority religion but its proximity and influence in Middle East politics and the struggles of the Palestinian people for freedom.   

In the process the country and its people has become a victim of what Edward Said referred to as ‘Orientalism’.  That is, wrong western cultural tendencies to regard or represent the people of the 'east' as lesser ‘others’. 

The reality of the matter is that Egypt has been an integral part and player in Africa history from the north to the south.  During our liberation struggles, Egypt was not only a host to various liberation movements and leaders (Nelson Mandela passed through Egypt at one point for training) but it was an active supporter of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

This is  before we even revert to debating further history of the historical states of  Eypgt[TZ1]  and Kush and their role in advancing humankinds knowledge and technology as written by great historians such as Cheikh Anta Diop. 

Regrettably younger generations of Africans may not appreciate this history and may fall into the trap of an 'orientalist' global media and in part Western foreign policy narrow prisms of always distinguishing North and South of the Sahara Africa. Not only geographically but also politically. 

It is a trend that we must actively try and avoid.  Even if sometimes it appears as though there is no reciprocity of recognition via media stories or the complex geo-politics that is the Palestinian quest for liberation.  

Again this would reflect the wisdom of those that fought colonialism who persistently worked to avoid what Nkrumah called the ‘bifurcation’ of the continent.  Not only by former colonial powers but also by way of global media discourse.  And even if it sounds repetitive, let it still be sweet music to our ears, ‘Africa Unite!’ Not just in respect of our shared struggle histories but more significantly our contemporary progress and our collective future.
 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)










Monday, 23 January 2017

Ecowas vs SADC? Comparison is Good, Context Still Matters

By Takura Zhangazha*

Recently, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) successfully and with some threat of force persuaded former Gambian president Yahyah Jameh to vacate office and also leave the country for exile.  This action on the part of Ecowas had continental  backing from the African Union as well as the support of a United Nations’ Security Council (UNSC) resolution. 

By all accounts the removal of Jammeh was a great diplomatic success for regional and international insistence that the will of the people must be respected.  And that incumbent leaders that refuse to accept the results of democratic elections must accept them and leave office peacefully. Or else face diplomatic disapproval or as in the case of Gambia, an actual  military intervention that fell short of arriving at the gates of its capital, Banjul.   

The successful intervention in the Gambia by ECOWAS has however also taken a comparative turn on social media platforms.  Young Africans active on social media, and in awe of the global media coverage of the intervention, were correctly quick to point out the difference between Ecowas and the Southern African Development Community(SADC).  The basis of the comparison was how SADC had apparently ‘dithered’ over Zimbabwe and not sent armies to Harare to force out the still incumbent government of Robert Mugabe in 2008. 

In that year SADC, against the global outcry by liberal interventionists, chose the path of diplomacy which the main mediator on the Zimbabwean crisis (and yes it was a crisis) Thabo Mbeki had referred to as ‘quiet diplomacy’.   

What is however missed is that Ecowas and SADC are two very different African inter-state organizations.  Not just by way of their historical development but also in relation to the fact that they have always tended to act differently on the continental stage especially after they were both reformed in the early 1990s, Ecowas 1993 and SADC 1992 to make them much more formal and more concerned in members states affairs.  Especially where it concerns their respective regional economies and trade. 

In an age of 'fake news' or 'alternative facts.' Africans would do well to be grounded in reality with a contextual dash of idealism.  And to also avoid that colonial trap that was the Monrovia and Casablanca 'divide' in the run up to the formation of the OAU.  A period  when two continental blocs going by those two respective names appeared to be either battling for recognition by former colonial powers or the pursuit of a new radical Pan Africanism .

But thankfully ECOWAS and SADC are from the same Pan African womb.  They however tend to act differently and have a different history of interaction with global powers.  Sadc, having its foundation in the liberation struggle era of the Frontline States has a  history of solidarity between liberation movements and was never going to abandon that in the face of the regional behemoth that was Apartheid South Africa. 

Ecowas, with member states that have experienced greater periods of national independence and inundated with Cold War battles for control of natural resources such as petroleum was always more nuanced and divided in its global relations.  Things are therefore not so Manichean. Nor are they easily excusable or a matter of pitting one African region against another. 

What is however important is for us as Africans to continue to draw lessons from not only our history but also from the different reactions to regioanl problems by members states and institutions of the African Union.  I mention the AU because Ecowas acted within the latter's remit.  Which also included SADC's support. 

So I celebrate the respecting of the people’s will in Gambia.  I am however mindful of the fact that different regional blocs will find dissimilar ways of resolving their crisis.  In the case of the Gambia, I am glad that it has been peacefully resolved despite the potential use of force by Ecowas.  In comparing the Gambia with Zimbabwe, I am mindful of the yearning for democracy in both countries but I am also aware that their regional contexts differ.  No matter how much one may wish for them to be similar. 

SADC acted within its remit on Zimbabwe and while not enabling the ousting of the Zimbabwean government cannot be faulted for choosing diplomacy over force.  Especially at a time when liberal interventionism was proving to be disastrous in Iraq, Afghanistan and was to prove the same in Libya.  And that fear of unending war was not unfounded given what former mediator Thabo Mbeki has disclosed as requests for military support by the then British prime minister, Tony Blair. 

As far as I see it therefore, SADC and Ecowas are two chips off the same African Union bloc.  Pursuing a Pan Africanism that may have somewhat different historical templates and after effects of colonial and other global interests. But at least they are forging forward, in still different circumstances and sometimes more slower than the other, in ensuring that Africa and its people still pursue the path of peace, not war.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Land as State Currency in Zimbabwe (Literally)

By Takura Zhangazha*

The revolutionary impact of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) was already appearing ambiguous when it was declared to have come to an end in February 2016 by the Minister of Lands, Douglas Mombeshora.  Not in principle. But by way of any further redistribution of land until the long awaited national land audit is done. 

The quest for post-colonial social and economic justice initially having been politicized via radical Black Nationalism and continually analysed through research studies of varying ideological inclinations has now come full circle.  Even if it does not appear so. 

What was not declared to be over were envisioned changes in land use from agricultural to urban development.  And the reasons for this are now increasingly apparent.

Late last year (2016), the central government announced that it will pay civil servants bonuses (both outstanding and backdated ones) by offering urban residential stands to them. The offer of land in lieu of bonuses was initially rejected by the civil service associations but appears still set to be implemented.

Recently, the Harare City Council also sort of announced that it will be paying its workers backdated salaries by offering again, residential stands to them. 

And who doesn’t want urban land, also to be read as urban capital?

A greater number of younger urban residents, living on the edge due to high rents and astronomical city council charges in the major cities of Zimbabwe are only keen to have security of tenure. Or put in another way, they simply want to get rid of that monthly problematic cost that is also referred to as ‘rent’.  Even if at great cost that includes not having immediate access to electricity, poor road systems and distant schools for their very young children.

There will however be few questions asked about where this land is coming from.  Even if its being administered by suspicious cooperatives or individuals that are rumoured to be closely linked to cabinet ministers or even higher up the power ladder.
Or a mayor who is also looking to have a blind eye turned toward his or her pursuit of publicly owned land as capital in the more lucrative suburbs of a city. 

This is mainly because of the desperation for housing (even if its not decent) in all our major urban areas.   

For the state and now also some city councils, the central and all important commodity to dispense of what it owes employees is land.  Wherever it can be found.  Whether its on a wetland or a site designated for industrial or fast track agricultural use does not really matter.  As long as it can somewhat credibly be turned to residential use and offered as political carrot to civil servants and local government workers that are already desperate to own a piece of land to build their own home. It would therefore be fair to argue that state or public land has become a currency in and of itself. 

In the first place and with the current ruling party, land was presented to the Zimbabwean public as a social and economic justice issue.  It has since morphed into a sharing of the spoils process in which hapless villagers tend to be herded from one acquired farm to the next in the more fertile regions of the country or in favour of either mining or bio-fuel projects.  

More recently it has also become about a rapid and haphazard urbanization process that serves more ‘land barons/oligarchs’ who are motivated by the ridiculously huge sums of personal profit that they will acquire.  These haphazard urbanisation processes are accompanied by odd claims at relocating capitals or central government functions to the periphery of already murkily run urban capitals. 

Hence we have an odd intention to rebuild a new parliament on the outskirts of Harare and establish a new center of geo-political power in Mazowe and Mt Hampden as reported by the mainstream media.

The emerging habit of making land replace financial capital is the new land grab in Zimbabwe.  Not least because its conveniently dovetailed into the FTLRP but also because it has come to represent opportunities at a new private wealth acquisition process for the politically connected.  For the politically vulnerable it is more a take it or stay without property that you would never have been able to afford without the patronage that is now the hallmark of the ruling party.

The end effect of these moves to make land replace salaries is to reinforce a system of patronage and a continued indebtedness of civil servants and council workers to the state and local government.  In the beginning it may appear rosy and progressive for those that work for the state and local government but invariably they shall face numerous challenges in relation to repayment and will fall victim to land barons in their various forms (loan sharks, banks, political leaders).  But then again, who is thinking beyond their immediate concerns these days? A regrettable development and evidence of pitfalls in our national consciousness.

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

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Potraz and Telcos: Protecting Spoils, Declaring 'Let them Speak Cake'.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) recent announcement that it has set minimum but high costs for mobile phone voice calls and data charges sparked a bit of a social media outcry.  It hasn’t quite started a hashtag movement.  But the fairness of it all is being questioned by those that would really use data for entrepreneurial activities.
The private and state owned telecommunications companies (Telcos) have predictably kept a satisfactory silence over the issue.

Potraz on the other hand has stuck to its guns on the matter, insisting that its drastic move motivated by the need for it to ensure that the telecommunications industry is sustainable.

The reality of the matter is that this move is an awkward form of protectionism for Econet, Telecel and NetOne.  And it proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the state/government and the Telcos  are working in tandem to squeeze the last dollar from mobile phone and data users. 

This is something that is not new. Telcos and government have had a long standing collaboration.  While not officially declared, revenue collected from these companies either in lieu of licensing or other taxes helped to fund not only the 2013 constitutional referendum but also the harmonised elections. 

The recent introduction of a tax on mobile phone usage to support a health insurance scheme (that remains obscure) is further testimony to this collusion.

The Telcos are therefore a key strategic sector for the government to accrue revenue.  Hence they tend to get their way with the state. Even if they give the impression that they do not have a say in what the state does. 

A more pertinent issue that however has emerged is how to measure the extent to which Zimbabweans view and value issues related to the costs of communicating.  Whether through voice calls or through social media/ internet data.

Regrettably the mobile phone in Zimbabwe is still by and large a status symbol.  And by dint of the same, so is access to social media or mobile data.  This means, the more advanced your mobile phone, the more you are seen to have climbed the social ladder.  Not that it really matters.  It’s the feeling of being up to date, being able to whatsapp, that makes one belong to a community of the exclusively ‘up to date’ and informed section of our society.  As well as the most entertained.

Access to mobile telephony and the internet, within this context, is wrongly viewed by both government and elitist citizens as a privilege and not a right.  For the private companies it is simply a means to make a profit without any pretence of serving a broader public interest. Even where they claim corporate social responsibility, it is essentially limited little to do with the fact that the internt is after all is said and done an essential public good. 

In this respect, the announcement of ‘floor charges’ are only a tip of the iceberg.  As many stakeholders have already indicated, data charges as well as over the top functions in Zimbabwe were already of high cost.  The fact that they will now be significantly higher may trigger an effective backlash from consumers but it will not begin to address the overall challenge that is the evidently opaque relationship and profiteering collusion between the state and mobile phone companies. 

The interlinkages between the pursuit of profit and political control of social media through cost has been an enduring characteristic of this telecommunications industrial complex.  It has had its ups and downs (Econet Zimbabwe vs the government) but these two entities have always found each other where it matters most, i.e profit.

So as it is, the mobile telephone companies are not going to insist on keeping costs lower.  They will make the most of what obtains until such a time government through POTRAZ changes its mind.  Even if its only for a month. 

Neither will they listen to the complaints of consumers of their products because they know almost everyone now intuitively uses a phone and will probably still find a way of being connected even if at greater cost. 
  

The question that we as Zimbabweans however must answer is how we view access to the internet and its related applications/new technologies.  We would be better off viewing it as a basic human right in this day and age.  Because if we don’t, we will be priced out of our right to express ourselves or access information.  
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)