Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Harare City Council’s Crisis of Legitimacy, False Entrepreneurship + Crony Capitalism.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The Harare City Council (HCC) has recently decided to embark on a a 'name and shame' advertorial campaign of its debtors in the local press. This is an additional course of action to the already deployed and very unpopular private debt collectors called 'Wellcash Debt Collectors' (ironies never cease).  In its rabid pursuit of those that owe it rates, HCC has chosen not to hide its new 'business oriented'/profit  approach to local government.   Never mind the fact that it is an elected council and yet not one of the Councillors  can remotely claim to be be high up in any objective opinion poll, either at ward, district or city level. 

But all of this did not begin with the current administration of the city (I will come back it later).  It was in the topsy-turvy days of the mid 2000s when central government appointed commissions to run the city.  And when all political parties displayed their great disdain and belittling of local government and those that would run for local level office.  

This was after the first executive Mayor of Harare, Solomon Tawengwa (1996-1998) was kicked out because of allegations of corruption.  The next elected executive mayor, in between a commission  of inquiry and a hotly disputed 2002 local government and presidential election, was to be Elias Mudzuri, the opposition’s first for the capital city.  Amid direct political interference from central government  (as directed by then Local government minister Chombo) and divisions within the opposition council, he too was to be fired.  Oddly enough he was replaced by his deputy Sekesai Makwavarara.  She was to go further and survive the disbandment of the entire council and serve as chair of a central government appointed  commission.

The harmonised election (again controversial) of 2008 ushered in a non-executive mayor in the form of respected businessman Muchadeyi Masunda.  He surprisingly lasted his entire tenure and as generally expected steered the HCC to a more businesslike approach to its affairs.   Though this did not dent the culture of  corruption (controversial land deals, high salaries). And he didn’t help matters by calling his fellow councilors ignorant and uneducated. 

After the 2013 harmonised elections the MDC-T gave the city Ben Manyenyeni as Harare’s new ceremonial mayor until present day. Taking a cue from his predecessor’s elitist and business like style, he too was quick to call councilors uneducated and pursue an elitist ‘entrepreneurial’ approach to city affairs.    All under the aegis of a still ever interfering central government this time as orchestrated by now Local Government minister, Savious Kasukuwere.

I have specifically mentioned these mayors, a commissioner and local government ministers to indicate one specific thing about the state of affairs at HCC.   This being that over the last 17 years the blame for the dysfunctional council which is falling more and more into the hands of what we now refer to as land barons is the direct result of a regrettable complicity between the ruling party (central government)  and the mainstream opposition MDC-T (local government). 

On its own this is a controversial point.  But it is clear that despite the ups and downs of previous years concerning the nature of the relationship between central government and its local version, there has been  a default/unwritten convergence around ‘milking’ the HCC’s public capital and wealth by converting it to private use. 

And coincidentally it began with the HCC’s vainglorious and in part pretensive pursuit of public private partnerships while at the same time deliberately dis-investing in specific social services such as education, health and public transport. 

In the process the city and its public property became open sesame for wannabe businesspeople connected to largely the ruling party and an influential few to the opposition to claim quid pro quo's.  Th most infamous of these was to be Phillip Chiyangwa  who reportedly in return for ‘helping council to pay salaries in mid 2000s got vast tracks of council land for personal ownership/use.  Not to be outdone were a number of opposition MDC-T Councillors who also took council/public property and converted it to their own private use. 

Since then HCC property has almost been for sale to the highest bidder or the most cunning gof councilors.  Land and other council properties are perpetually under the gaze of ‘entrepreneurs’ or the World Bank exhausted/exhausting neo-liberal language of PPPs which only serves to be taken advantage of by greedy central and local government politicians. That is why against better judgement the HCC is still keen on privatising water. 

And it is this haphazard background that informs the current leadership of the HCC, inclusive of its town clerk (s) and support staff, who according to media reports  are very well remunerated.

Because it is failing to be more democratic, conscientious and transparent in its leadership approach the HCC would be hard pressed to be re-elected as is. Let alone happily welcomed in many of the ghettos it is targeting with its default austerity measures.  

A development which may be attributed to its seeking vainglorious approval by ether central government  or political party and private sector leaders.  Hence sometimes the HCC has completely out of context calls for investments in ‘golf estates’. 

Or when  the HCC decides that it must pay debt collectors to pursue hard pressed residents in the poorest neighbourhoods of the city for council rates bills.  A practice that makes it a city that lacks democratic legitimacy and chooses instead to act like a private company.


And this is the point that must be driven home to those that would seek to be the next city councilors for not only Harare but any other elective local government authority.  City, town or rural district councils are not to be run like private corporations.  They are public bodies tasked with democratically delivering social services to the people of Zimbabwe.  The may borrow ideas from the corporate world but these they cannot turn into the reason for their own existence.  

Nor  must they function solely for monetary profit because the measure of their worth is never in how much money they squeeze out of hard pressed residents (who by the by have always been willing but in recent years unable to continually pay).  Instead it is to serve the public interest as true examples of the  meaning of democracy in the everyday lives of ordinary Zimbabweans. We must therefore work to prevent Harare  becoming a city of oligarchs, land barons and pre-paid politicians.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Mugabe + Private Business' New(ish) Interface: Collusion, Carrots and Elections

 *By Takura Zhangazha

After a hiatus of at least ten years, Zimbabwe’s government recently had what the state media dubbed an historic interface with business leaders/representatives.  From the follow up media coverage one of the most surprising revelations of this meeting was by President Mugabe.

He indirectly disclosed that he was an ardent supporter/follower of former British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies.  In fact he praised her, in his own words,   “There was great improvement, the economy of Britain started looking up, Margaret Thatcher had succeeded.  I am not sure if Reagan succeeded on the American front.”

Tellingly Mugabe said these words where he was making reference to state owned companies and what he considers their inefficiency and corruption.  He went on to call for some of them to be thrown into coffins and be buried ‘with the words rest in peace’. 

On the face of it this would be vintage Mugabe trying to get some sound bites out there.  To focus on that would however be to miss the point. 

Looking closer at his comments and the context in which he made them, Mugabe was probably making an offer that private capital/business cannot refuse.  Especially on the eve of an election year. 

In mentioning Thatcher and Reagan favourably in one sentence, Mugabe is essentially indicating to Zimbabwean private capital that he is game for the privatisation of state owned companies/enterprises.  As did the two leaders of the United Kingdom and the United States of America in the mid-80s with their rapid and historically unparalleled embrace of free market economics which we now refer to as neo-liberalism.  And if there were any doubters as to Mugabe's deep seated ideological grounding, look no further than Thatcherism and Reagonomics with a sprinkling of  some radical African nationalism.  

Not that the Zimbabwean government has come late into the neo-liberal game.  It did so with the Economic Structural Adjustment programme and has not looked back.  And this was implemented at the beginning of the end of Thatcher and Reagan’s controversial economic reign in their aforementioned respective countries. 

The only difference with then and now is that Mugabe had become more radical in his black nationalism, having forcibly repossessed vast tracts of land (dubbed the 3rd Chimurenga) from white farmers at the turn of the century. Both as an election survival strategy as well as a claim to fulfilling a key objective of the liberation struggle. 

Except that this appears not to have been done for the primary purpose of broad socio-economic justice and restitution but within the ambit of a now apparent high regard for neo-liberal economics. 
To explain this point further is to point out that for all the assumed radical nationalism that was the fast track land reform programme, the governments’ intention was never to make the same a revolutionary act. Either in distributive terms or on clear ideological grounding that systematically takes the country’s economy forward on behalf of the many.

With hindsight and on the basis of the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zimasset) neo-liberal thrust around the ‘ease of doing business, Mugabe is now remaining true to capitalist and neo-liberal ideological form.  

However, the most interesting element of this state 'interface’ with business is probably its timing.  Factually it is toward the end of this government’s tenure and the political intention,beyond a sharing of the spoils with private capital, is to retain  power in 2018.

Reading between the lines the Mugabe government and ruling party are probably angling for the support of business in next year’s harmonised elections. Not because they never had it.  There have been a number of direct and indirect donations from private capital to Zanu Pf’s electoral campaigns.  The point may however be to preempt private capital’s support for the opposition and make it clear to the same that Zanu Pf  is the only game in town. 

And in order to make this evidently clear there is the subtle offer of state capital such as parastatals to, you guessed it,  private capital. But even beyond these parastatals there is other state capital in the form of land and/or infrastructure investment tenders.  Hence Mugabe’s exhortation that private capital, again in his own words, ‘ must not disentangle itself from Government’. 

In reality the latter statement essentially means that as long as private capital endears itself to the ruling establishment, the strongly hinted promise is that its profit interests are protected.  At least going forward and with elections in mind.

So the collusion between the state and private capital is likely to continue under a Zanu Pf government if it wins in 2018. A collusion that will see the ruling party retaining power and influence while private capital is left to pursue profit not only via the privatisation of state capital (in all its forms) but also expand its already considerable private wealth. Not for the many. But for the already rich few. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Thursday, 7 September 2017

MDC Alliance: Nostalgia, Spoils and Last Chances

By Takura Zhangazha*
Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) has decided to take a big political risk for the forthcoming 2018 harmonised election.  It has decided to reach out to not only its one time members/leaders who left it in acrimonious circumstances but also other parties and begin a public process of setting up what it now calls the MDC Alliance. 

I have referred to the alliance as a risk largely because it did not have to go that route.  Nor does it appear to have been forced.  It’s a deliberate strategic decision on the part of its leader Morgan Tsvangirai.  A decision that has seen him fall out with some of his top lieutenants at the highest level. This is a fallout that will continue all the way to the polls even if somewhat resolved. And I will come back to this point a little bit later.   

The reasons touted for the existence of the alliance however appear varied.  The state media insinuates that it is being done in pursuit of more funding from ‘imperialist’ forces.  The private media argues that unless the opposition unites, they will continue to split their votes and public opinion and as a result suffer defeat at the hands of the ruling Zanu Pf party.

There are other societal groups such as civil society actors and/or academics who have differing views on the same matter.  Not because they have a vested interest but more because they have always been sympathetic to the opposition (united or divided).

On the face of it, the argument for an opposition coalition holds water.  A divided opposition will least likely defeat a  factionalised ruling party. Especially if there are always questions about how free and fair general elections are as is the case in Zimbabwe. 

What is however more important are the reasons for opposition unity both on paper and structural reality than assumptions of the political/electoral logic of that unity.

On paper it is apparent that the MDC Alliance is predicated on the example of the last two Kenyan general elections which have been driven by coalition politics.  And as is now in the public domain, Kenya will have to have a second presidential election after a constitutional court ruling deemed that the August 2017 one had not been done legally.  A ruling that opposition leaders in Zimbabwe, speaking at a recent alliance rally praised.

So it is the Kenyan example that probably gives the opposition some sort of momentum and hope.  Never mind the internal faults of their individual political parties and outfits (eg lack of internal democracy, ambiguous ideological positioning and an emerging ethnocentrism). And also probably without due diligence as to the fact that Kenya and Zimbabwe are not so similar in relation to political culture and practice.

Three things strike me as standout characteristics of this new found impetus toward an alliance by the opposition.

The first is the fact that it is very nostalgic or a yearning for the past.  Not that it’s a bad thing.  Everyone whether political or not wants to remember the good old days.  When Tsvangirai, Biti, Ncube line up to speak at their alliance rallies, it is not difficult to discern a desire for a return to the heyday of opposition politics circa 1999.  Especially when the trio were at the head (two of them in varying capacities) of the then united MDC. Or when they served in the inclusive government and claimed to varying degrees authorship of stabilising Zimbabwe’s runaway inflation and a new but essentially incremental constitution. 

The only thing about this nostalgia is that it looks at re-inventing a past that contemporary political reality will refuse to reinvent. And it conveniently overlooks the sad fact that they or any other former united MDC members backing the alliance were the cause of the first split in 2005.  Or subsequent (and multiple) ones in later years after the end of tenure of the inclusive government. 

On this basis, nostalgia is not enough to make the alliance a success.  Not least because there are new players in the mainstream MDC T but also because those that lead splinter parties have to contend with the campaign expectations of the leadership that they recruited or the structures that they created. 

This brings me to the second characteristic that I have noticed about the alliance.  This being a ‘sharing of the spoils’ approach.  One in which there is haggling over parliamentary seats or at least the ‘safe ones’ and which parties get them uncontested (except by Zanu Pf) for their own candidates.  It has led to simmering divisions in the MDC-T particularly in the Southern regions where long standing leaders are refusing to give in to the demands of other leaders from parties such as Peoples Democratic Party and MDC.  This points to a culture of ‘fiefdom’ politics which will evidently lead to disgruntled 'independent of the alliance'  candidates in the 2018 election.  And, no prizes for guessing, with the end effect of splitting the opposition vote.

I must however note that there is no scramble for local government seats within the alliance.  A testament to how many in the opposition view council seats as lowly, an attitude that will have a strong bearing on their ability to get a winning vote count in 2018.  I make this point because our elections are harmonised (local government, parliament, president) and each position has a bearing on the electoral mathematics. Hence in 2013 one of the most used slogans in the Zanu Pf campaign was ‘upon-upon’, a catch phrase that votes for MPs and councillors were important in getting higher votes for the presidential count.

The third and final characteristic that I have seen about the opposition’s current alliance politics is that of it being touted as a ‘last chance’ opportunity for relatively long standing opposition leaders.  Their unity partly based on how they worked together previously,(while having small signs of regrets at having split? recognises the monumental task they face if they are to electorally defeat the ruling party.

 They are therefore motivated by an intention to give it one more ‘full’ go. And this is why whispers in their corridors of power are addled in conversations with the refrain ‘we can’t afford to fail this time, especially to a 93 year old man’.

 Even if this sort of sentiment will not be stated in public, it remains an indicator that should they fail, they will have limited reason to maintain the alliance in the form that it would have gone into the 2018 elections with. And waiting in their respective party wings or even the alliance itself are other (younger) leaders angling for their turn in the 2023 election.  Alliance or no alliance.
One can only wish these opposition political players all the best in their endeavours.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Africa and Threats of Global Nuclear War: Its Time to Talk Back. This Time Bluntly.

 By Takura Zhangazha*

When the first Gulf War occurred in 1990, there was limited satellite television access for many a Southern African, let alone a Zimbabwean.  I was in my last year of primary school at that time and our headmistress, walked into the class with a seriousness that we would only come to understand with the benefit of hindsight.  She pulled out a map of the world and pointed somewhere to what we now know as the ‘Middle East’ and talked of something referred to as ‘nuclear war’.  Or at least the dangers of it and the potential ‘global apocalypse’ that would occur. 

Her warning, for the age we were, obviously had a very religious tone. But she did make mention of a ‘dangerous cloud’ that would move all the way from the Middle East to where we were in Africa, killing everything in its wake. 

It is a primary school ‘lecture’ that always pops up in my mind whenever there is talk of nuclear war or where nuclear powers are reportedly at loggerheads.  Ditto the recent and hopefully subsiding diplomatic rows and military threats between North Korea and the United States of America. 

They had me in a silent panic. Not only because the leaders of the two nuclear countries are reportedly erratic and prone to act on whim. But also because of the catastrophic devastation to not only human but all forms of life that a war of that nature would bring on to the world. 

Another thought that struck my silent panic mode was the reality that the general imagined narrative where a monumental catastrophe occurs in the Global North, there is always the option of mass movement of survivors to, you guessed it, the Global South or in some specific cases, Africa. It’s a narrative that is found in some movies on climate change, where after massive flooding, ships find themselves docking in some Africa port or the other.  And in most cases Africa will have had a minimal role in causing a specific climate crisis (this is also the reality, Africa has a comparatively miniscule role in causing global climate change).

And again where we look at the current nuclear power impasse and its consequences, Africa and African countries will be nowhere near trigger ‘red buttons’ or special codes and keys. In fact, it would be trite to note that no single African country has a nuclear warhead. The last and probably only country to have these was apartheid South Africa which got rid of them in the run up to national independence in what some have described as controversial circumstances. Suffice to say we have a non proliferation treaty to show for it.

I am glad no African country has these weapons, even if by default or in keeping with the interests of global superpowers.  Even if some will argue that having them may keep liberal interventionists away, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is an absolute ‘no-no’.

The key consideration however is that given the reasonable probability that should a major man-made catastrophe such as nuclear war occur between the belligerent USA (plus allies) and the even more stubborn North Korea (plus allies), there would be an initial global trek southwards.  At least to where a liveable environment would still exist, even if temporarily. This, I might add, is a point that has been raised by renowned Australian journalist, John Pilger in one of his most recent articles.
This is why Africa has to talk back to the nuclear superpowers.  And very loudly so about any threats of ‘fire and fury’ from the world’s  holder of nuclear weapons. 

Our talk back, in keeping with the progressive world would, as we have always done, be calling for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  But it would also be diplomatically to say, we know what will happen to us and our people in the event of nuclear war decimating cities and populations in the global north.  It would be a return to occupation and depending on what of the superpowers remains, a return to colonialism.  Not as an option, but as a life and death matter. 

This is because in Africa’s placement in the world, we are not negotiating hard enough to make our own interests and stance against nuclear war patently clear. On paper and in practice.  Sometimes to the extent of viewing or thinking that its well-nigh impossible that there would be a nuclear war. Or that it would only between those that have these dangerous weapons or those that live in close proximity to them.  In extreme cases, I know and regrettably so, some colleagues who have viewed wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia) and threats of wars (even nuclear ones where this is no winner) as though it were like watching a random American movie. 

We must therefore deal our own hand before we are dealt with. We need a united people centred voice that says no to nuclear war not only because of its decimation of humanity but also because it is never going to be in our best interests as Africans.  Nor have previous wars of global super/nuclear powers.

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

Thursday, 10 August 2017

'Smash, Grab and Profit' Zimbabwe's Local Government Elitist Collusion with Private Capital


 By Takura Zhangazha*

The Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing recently held a national ‘Local Government Investment Conference' which it conveniently dubbed with a catchy acronym, LOGIC.

It was pretty high profile with a brief opening address by Vice President Mphoko and a keynote one by finance minister Patrick Chinamasa.

According to the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe's (UCAZ) organising committee for the event, the theme was ‘Local Government: Promoting Investment and Industrialisation for Socio-economic Development.’

The underpinning ‘logic’ of the conference was as its title suggested, ‘investment’.  And this, from a very corporatist (World Bank) perspective.

This was evidenced by the announced themes of the conference which included, ‘embracing the ease of doing business’, ‘investment opportunities in urban local authorities’,  ‘SME’s as engines for local economic growth’ and ‘gender mainstreaming in promoting investment for socio-economic development’. 

I am sure a myriad of other types of ‘investments’ were discussed under the pretext of the much vaunted but clearly private-profit motivated ‘public private partnerships’( PPPs).

Judging from the key note speaker's address, the most keenly followed type was that in housing or property ownership.

Even though Minister Chinamasa  called for a stop to what he referred to as ‘land barons’, he would know all too well why the former are the greatest investment that local governments (urban and rural districts, including some chieftancies) are in most cases conveniently accepting despite allegations of corruption.  

This is largely because of downright greed and distribution of political patronage.

More significantly it is because ever since the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP), farmland in close proximity to urban or peri-urban (inclusive of 'growth points') has become easy money for those that are politically connected.   

Or in some cases, as evidenced by the developments in Mazowe district, those at the highest levels/levers of political power such as the president and his family can convert vast tracts of land, ostensibly with the state’s permission, into an orphanage, animal park and as announced recently, a university (to be named after the president).

All this while conveniently close to some more former agricultural land, once controlled by a rural district council, that will be converted to national government use due to the pending re-location of the Parliament of Zimbabwe.

What we essentially have, even under the guise of ‘orderly investment’ as being prescribed by 'Logic', is a ‘smash, grab, own and profit’ privatisation of public capital.

A 'public capital' which should have been democratically primed to be converted into public wealth.

Land barons, politicians, politically connected elites are angling to divert public capital (land, water, flora and wildlife) from public wealth (health, clean water, education, transport, communications) into private capital and private wealth.

And they are not hiding it.  All the while taking a cue from what’s happening at the national level with the ongoing privatisation of electricity/energy, national health services (government is considering allowing doctors to advertise their services as the best), education, transport (including the national railways) as well as land (bio-agriculture and Chiadzwa).

But the softest spot for this neo-liberal approach is local government.  At national level the elite of the ruling party prefer a state capitalist model (i.e to have a direct stake in major state capital with an aim to make humongous private profit).

So local government is essentially a 'share of the spoils' of those that would leverage public capital for private profit. 

The main reason for this and  why this trend has emerged and continues to do so is that the ruling and opposition parties clearly function from the same neo-liberal and private wealth accrual template. By way of ideology and also by way of practice.

The ruling party as the one that oversees local government and the mainstream opposition MDC-T as that which controls a majority of urban councils. 

Furthermore, the fact that civil society while being aware and in part fighting against corruption in local authorities, has not put up a clear counter-ideological narrative to neo-liberalism ala-carte Zanu Pf.

Not necessarily because they cannot mount cogent arguments for alternatives such as democracy or democratic socialism.  They can but they will not for reason that vary from fear of loss of funding or  not really wanting to ruffle the feathers of private capital.

And this is the same for 'public intellectuals' and a majority of academics. 

The end effect of these approaches to local government is that there is no social and economic justice for a majority of poor Zimbabweans who are the worst affected. 

It will not only be government extracting from them through rates and taxes, but private companies that receive tenders to supply pre-paid machines for water as well as those that win opaque land development tenders even if the state owned Urban Development Corporation (UDCorp) claims that it is overall in charge of the same. 

At the moment, there is little or no democratic public interest in the way our local government is being run. Even if  state and private capital collude under hollow sounding acronyms such as ‘Logic’. 

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

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Amending a Constitution Using a Constitution: Basic Politics’ Triumph Over Law in Zim

By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s Parliament had to be divided to vote on constitutional amendment bill number 1 of 2017.   And it was pretty much a foregone conclusion as to how it would all turn out. Zanu Pf has not only a two thirds majority (required to change sections of the constitution) in the National Assembly but a currently unassailable ‘super majority’. 

Unless it had turned on itself, that the bill was going to pass did not need further analysis.  And true to its form, Zanu Pf did not turn on itself at a crucial political moment.  Especially when the Minister of Justice and Parliamentary Affairs who also happens to be the country’s vice president and one of those eyeing the national presidency in a post Mugabe era, had a political point to prove.  A point that specifically would be to prove that he is able to cajole enough Zanu Pf MPs, ministers included, to tow the party line and come to Parliament to vote on a crucial matter.

The opposition was always going to put up a Parliamentary fight.  Not least because they wanted to be in the news headlines but also in order to lay some sort of claim at being on somewhat ‘holier’ constitutional(ism) ground.   And they did try.  From resisting adjournment of a debate on the budget review statement by the minister of Finance through to requesting a secret ballot (which was rejected by the Speaker) and asking for Parliamentary vote recounts. 

The actions of the opposition MDC-T MPs turned out to be of limited political import.  But credit to them for doing what they had to do, that is, to oppose the amendment. 

Except that there are intriguing issues that are emerging over this amendment. 
The first of these is that the argument over the appointment of the Chief Justice (which is what this amendment no.1 is really about) was never not going to get a ‘push back’ from the executive arm of government.  The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) had decided to stick to its guns and insist, under the leadership of the late Chief Justice Chidyausiku, on presiding over the process of the latter’s successor.  The executive conceded (at least sort of).  And it returned, as promised in written letters to the JSC, with an amendment to the supreme law of the land.  And for this, it used another arm of government that it directly controls, the Legislature/Parliament. 

Requiring a two thirds majority (which it already has), Zanu Pf decided to change the rules of the game and demonstrate to the judiciary that the latter’s moment in the sun was effectively over.  When President Mugabe signs the bill (as is expected) into law, it will be apparent that politics can always trump the law. And with a great deal of disdain too.

The second alarming issue that emerges is that a newfound idealism that the constitution represented  (sort of)  when it was supported by the political parties in the then inclusive government, has come to naught.  Whereas the opposition would have had Zimbabweans believe that a new ‘democratic’ era of national politics had emerged in the aftermath of the 2013 constitutional referendum victory (warts and all), they forgot to mention that it did not signal a revolutionary moment in Zimbabwean politics let alone in our national history.  As the saying goes, ‘the old is always in the new’ in political narratives and this is where we are.  Euphoric moments of assumed complete victories are always drawn back by a more organized and long ruling establishment.  Especially if the opposition has no follow through actions and has a false sense of political arrival. 

The third lesson from amendment number 1 is that there is a difference between understanding  political reality and having your head in the clouds.  The 2013 constitution is essentially an incremental change document.  Not just by way of wording (crosscheck the sunset clauses on presidential elections in schedule 6) but by way of the intentions of those that wrote it.  At least those on the side of the ruling Zanu Pf party.  It was a way in which to mange expectations of change without delivering change.  Hence when the opposition agreed (after a lot of haggling as reported by the mainstream media) to its final contents, there was none the happier than President Mugabe. 
This is because in its actual intent the new constitution was intended to be a ‘transitional’ document for the political parties involved. And this transition was meant to be, for all parties, a ‘transition to full power’.

 For Zanu Pf it was a way to manage as well as weaken the mainstream opposition and retain unbridled power. For the MDCs (divided as they were and still are) it was a way in which to call Zanu Pf’s bluff and win the election and manage their own internal succession politics via sunset clauses (again check Schedule 6).  As it turns out the opposition lost (controversially) dismally in the 2013 election. And by that, the opposition had been hoist by its own petard. It was to make this worse by firing its own members from the National House of Assembly after yet another spit in its ranks and refusing to participate in by-elections it had caused. 

But this amendment number 1 of the constitution is not one in which I, as a person who voted ‘no’ in the 2013 constitutional referendum, can claim any self righteousness or have a ‘we told you so’ arrogance.  After that referendum vote, I accepted defeat and sought to understand the new constitutional reality better and pragmatically.   From the new rules on the separation of powers, through to the bill of rights and devolution, there was one thing I kept in mind.  And that was that in the final analysis, this is an elitist incremental ‘change’ constitution whose progress or lack of it would be determined by whoever would be in power (which was the opposition’s hope).  And true to form the ‘victor’ ruling Zanu Pf party has used its power to make the constitution exactly what it is, a document for the exercise of power.  Not for the realization of ideals or perpetuation of truly democratic values.  And for this, we have the opposition to thank, no matter how many points of order they raise when the constitution is used to amend the constitution.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Zim Govt's 'Comfort + Control Zone' Over the Media

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The Zimbabwe Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services is in a comfort zone that its leaders probably didn’t think was realistically feasible a couple of years back.  This can be explained by the recent statement that the responsible cabinet minister Chris Mushowe made threatening to withhold parastatal advertisements from 'critical private media'. Or oddly that he would encourage Zanu PF supporters not to buy any private papers (I am not sure how many supporters of the ruling party actually do that voluntarily.)  

Whichever way one looks at it, the minister is making these statements not without elements of being in a comfort and control zone over the media but also with an arrogance that belies his mistaken perception that media freedom is a privilege and not a right. And it is fair to ask where is the government getting this arrogance from?

Or where the rather snide language of the permanent secretary in the same ministry to equate commercial radio stations with community radio stations comes from?

In some circles there has been debate in slight mimicry of South African political parlance, of ‘media capture’.  Not only along factional lines in the ruling or opposition parties but also in relation to business interests that affect editorial policy.  The jury is still out on the validity of this ‘media capture’ assertion but suffice to say it is worth looking into, even if briefly.

It all began with what it referred to as the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI), then under the leadership of the another minister, Jonathan Moyo who was officially the progenitor of the notorious Access to information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). 

He had sort of resurrected from his initial label as a ‘media hangman’ and with IMPI sought to endear himself with the mainstream media, an endeavour that on the face of it, was quite successful especially with the private media.  Never mind the stories and disputes that emerged from those members of Zimbabwe’s media profession that were to eventually be part of the panel. 

Beyond IMPI, which Moyo’s successors at the ministry are yet to allow to come to full policy implementation, there was another element that brought a new comfort zone to government in its relations with the mainstream media.  This was that of media ownership. 

The most recent example has been the launch of a couple of local commercial stations owned by AB Communications.  The others that are also now broadcasting are owned in part by the government controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (Zimpapers). And in media analysis circles this is called multimedia or even cross media ownership especially if we consider the fact that Zimpapers also has a dominant newspaper division and that AB Communications has made public its intention to start a newspaper.

And both companies are angling for the yet to be issued national television licenses.  And they do have the makings of television production divisions, a sign that they have enough confidence (I don’t know from where) that they are likely to also acquire these licenses at a date to be determined by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ)/ government.

The other major player in Zimbabwe’s media industry Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) tried to branch into radio, particularly the local commercial aspect but was denied a license in what it considered controversial circumstances.  I am not sure if they are going to also try for television (a much more costly endeavour).

The end effect of these processes is that Zimbabwe’s media is under siege by existent and soon to be ‘media moguls’ in the form of Zimpapers and AB Communications. And due to serious challenges of viability and sustainability of private media as a business, independent and objective journalism is getting harder by the day.  Even those journalists that would wish to be effective freelance reporters and pursue their democratic public interest role to the hilt are now stymied by economic challenges and lack of resources to effectively do so.

It is those with resources that are not only spreading their wings across differing media platforms (newspaper to radio to television) but are also beginning to have uniform editorial policies that disable media diversity and in the final analysis determine what is ‘news’ in favour of their own political or economic interests.  While at the same time lauding ‘converged newsrooms' as technologically progressive when in  reality they stifle news diversity and place greater commercial pressure as opposed to public interest on the shoulders of editors and journalists. 

The immediate latter points are also then responsible for allegations of ‘factional capture’ of the media.  This is where it is a combination of business and political interests that determine news content.  Hence Minister Mushowe’s threat that linked a purportedly ‘over critical’ of government media with blanket advertising bans.
This is the background that informs central government’s media  ‘comfort and control zone'.  And the media has to urgently shrug this government off its back sooner rather than later in the interests of democratic free expression in our country.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)