By Takura Zhangazha*
A Diaspora based friend who works in the hotel and catering industry recently and happily told me that he had completed payment for an urban residential stand at a growth point. I asked him why buy an urban property that is so close to his rural home? His answer was in two parts. First that it was what his peers were doing. They were part of a housing cooperative that allowed what he considered relatively easy payment terms. The second reason which was a bit more nuanced was that he basically didn’t want to die without owing an urban property.
Or even without escaping what he evidently considered the backwater that is his rural customary law governed and ultimately state owned land. Basically he had purchased a retirement home that wouldn’t have him go back to what historically we have come to call the ‘reserves’ or in local vernacular ‘ruzevha’.
And its all fair enough. The city in our own Zimbabwean and African contexts was always going to be etched in popular imagination as being the best place to live. Not only because of the ‘bright lights’ but more because of having been presented by the colonial state as the place where all the 'civilized' people live. Or at least ought to. That we were to the greater extent coerced to begin to live in cities may miss our more recent historical and collective memory.
What is however more apparent is that the city or cities are increasingly more attractive to young Zimbabweans. And the same cities portend assumptions of better living, lives or lifestyles. With the latter meaning not only quicker access to goods and services such as electricity, water, transport, health but more significantly in search of recognition of success by lifestyle.
And it is this latter point that is now defining our rapid urbanization in Zimbabwe. What we are seeing is not just a physical urbanization of the country but more tellingly, an urbanization of our minds/national consciousness. Regardless of where we are actually living.
So a majority of us no longer desire what would be basic necessities even of urban existence. We would want the recognition of the designer clothes (even if they coming out of imported bales of second hand clothing), the odd car, smart phone, shoe etc. In this we have become enamoured to commodities that we think or are told should make us feel better. Or we are suffering from what Marx and others would refer to as commodity fetishism. Except that this is particularly with the mindset of pursuing the best possible and fashionable urban lifestyle.
In this, we are not short of comparative analysis of how ‘others’ are consuming or failing to do so. With the first departure point of this analysis being the fact of movement from rural to urban. And then in the urban to compare, again, how much more we are consuming i.e. how many stands, cars, etc do you have?
Or even more sinister, very base and materialistic comparisons of where your children go to school and whether you are still stuck in the ghetto or have crossed the lifestyle Rubicon that would for example be Samora Machel Avenue in Harare.
This is why in part, with the severe reduction of the more formal economy, the scramble for recognition is no longer in specific professions or ethical considerations about income or a lack thereof. The key issue becomes how much money you get not why you get it. This would also explain why for example the denigration of the teaching profession comes with the greatest of ironies from those that went through the education system only to now spite it.
Or in the medical profession, once highly valued and respected occupations such as nursing or even medical doctors themselves find themselves struggling for not only a past respect of their important work but with greater urgency, better remuneration. This against the evidently opulent lifestyles of other previously less well paying occupations such as politics, religious ministry or being a foreign currency exchange dealer.
This for many an admirer of capitalism and cut-throat free market economics, would not be a problem. The only dilemma however for those of us on the left is that it demeans democracy and a people centered state. The hedonism we are now exhibiting, as motivated primarily by highly materialistic lifestyle desires does not bode well for posterity.
To be drowning in our own consumption, based on lifestyles that ultimately become unrealistic and at the comparative expense of those we would call others is an exercise in national futility.
We probably need to re-balance the urban and the rural beyond the designs of the colonial and post colonial state. But probably more importantly we just need to manage our materialism and greed.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)