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) 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Dear EPL, UEFA + Global Media, for Us Africans, AFCON is Not a Backwater Tournament

 By Takura Zhangazha*

In early January 2017, Africa will hold its premier football tournament, the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Gabon.  And we are eagerly anticipating it.  Not with the same media driven fervour that accompanied Euro 2016.  But we will be happy to see our best football players competing for what is African football's highest honour. 

There is however an apparent dilemma. This being  that the majority of our best players ply their trade in European leagues. And the AFCON tournament is held during Africa’s summer when most European leagues are at their fiercest levels of competition.  So many European clubs tend to wish they could hold on to these star players during this period.  In turn some of the players choose to stay away from their national teams in order to keep their places in the much more lucrative leagues because essentially the Afcon does not pay as well and its not as reputable as the Euros or COPA America. 

The sports media and commentators also tend to treat the AFCON as an unnecessary aberration to what they deliberately present as the better football of their premier leagues.  For them, it would appear, losing African star players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang,  Sadio Mane, Yaya Toure, Nkolo Kante  or Andre Ayew (to name a few) to this ‘inconvenient’ tournament compromises the quality and competition of their premier leagues.  And references to how in January the fact that the African football stars that chose to play for their counties will ‘disappear’ to Africa this coming January (see commentary on Liverpool vs Stoke match on 27 December 2016), smacks of subtle derision of the tournament. 

Unlike the COPA America or the Euros, the Afcon is determinedly derided and treated with the significant disdain.

True, football is about the money more than it is about global solidarity or feel good moments.  The FIFA 2010 World Cup held in South Africa was clear testimony to this.  Never mind the fact that Nelson Mandela was there in person at the final announcement of the winning bid of his country on behalf of the continent. The 2010 edition still turned out to be too expensive for African pockets.  We ‘waited for Kaka’ but didn’t really get to see him.  At great cost and scandal to the South African government.  The end effect then became that even the hosting of that global tournament did not give greater value to African football and its footballers. Hence our own tournament continues to be treated with appalling disdain. Both by European clubs and mainstream global media.

And yes, we have had tragic incidents at previous tournaments such as the shooting of the Togolese team bus in Cabinda,  Angola at Afcon 2010.  This does not take away the commitment of players, football associations and fans from supporting the tournament.

But its obviously up to us as Africans (and those of African origin) to give greater value to our football (and other sporting disciplines).  Prejudices against our sporting capacities, including the disdain shown over and about our continental sporting tournaments will remain with us for a while.  Regardless of this  we have to value them better for ourselves from our local football leagues and other local sport. 

This however must include an understanding that the behemoth that is global football is always going to create and find  preferences.  And corporate sponsorship will always follow the numbers and the lucrative markets.  And that the tradition of our own football clubs and how we administer them will be a key determinant of where these preferences and numbers are found.  


More often than not we choose the easier option because after all football is football.  It can have its moments of racism such as when Yaya Toure  was racially abused in Russia and was to issue an African boycott threat to the 2018 FIFA World Cup to be held in the same country . And as Africans we will continue to admire the great players and football of the European leagues including our own.  But we cannot accept the belittling of our own African Cup of Nations. Be it by coaches, leagues and sports commentators from the same said soccer leagues.  If we are to say no to racism, we have to also respect each other’s continental football showcases. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Zim's Politics and Jurisprudence: Whose Chief Justice is it Anyway?

By Takura Zhangazha*

The Judicial Service Commission recently undertook public interviews for the position of the Chief Justice of Zimbabwe. This was done because the current chief justice is retiring in early 2017.  It was also done in terms of section 180 of the current (new) constitution which empowers the JSC to independently determine who occupies the office. 

A few days prior to the public interviews, a University of Zimbabwe law student, Romeo Zibani filed an urgent high court application seeking to annul the process that the JSC had already begun undertaking in terms of the Constitution.  The arguments given in the court papers were that the JSC could not impartially appoint a nominee to its most important post.  The court papers filed also included an unsigned memorandum of intent to amend section 180 of the constitution to give the president powers of appointing the Chief Justice  from the permanent secretary in the ministry of legal affairs.

The interdict to stop the interviews was granted by Justice Hungwe.   The JSC filed a notice to appeal the interdict and used that as the basis upon which to proceed as planned with the public interviews. The latter were shown live on state television and made for both decent public scrutiny of the candidates that attended (one candidate, Justice Chiweshe did not attend).

Over a week later, Justice Hungwe issued his full judgment in the matter.  In it he indicated his strong persuasion that the JSC had erred in refusing to wait it out and allow the executive to make amendments to the constitution.  This he argues, is in the interests of accentuating transparency and accountability as part of the values that are cited in Section 3 of the constitution.  He also further averred that the constitution itself is a ‘work in progress’, a point that is not only interesting because its coming from a judge but one that underlies perceptions of the supreme law of the land not being perfect.  His view is also that too much independence of even the judiciary may not be a good thing for the doctrine of the separation of powers since, he argues, the former does not ‘function in a vacuum’. 

The case itself has led the media to conclude that the process has been politicized by Zanu Pf factional fights for the office of Chief justice.  Claims that the G40 and Lacoste faction were angling for their preferred candidate hence the court action have however not helped the public image of the judiciary.  And this is regardless of whether the JSC process is confirmed  or dismissed at the Supreme or constitutional court level. 

Social media too has had its say and the verdict is largely similar to that of the mainstream media.  Prominent political personalities have indicated not only their disdain at the Hungwe judgment but insinuated that the maneuvers to stop the JSC process are the work of ‘successionists’. 

These allegations have had a conspiratorial ring to them since the manner in which the challenge has emerged was bound to raise a lot of political eyebrows from the opposition and supporters of  judicial independence. 

There are however a lot of issues to consider beyond the evident politicization of the matter of who becomes Zimbabwe’s next Chief Justice. 

First is the fact that while we as ordinary citizens cannot wade into the legal merits or demerits of the matter which is now the subject of an appeal to a higher court, we can at least note its impact on the meaning of judicial independence, the doctrine of the separation of powers and the democratic meaning of the constitution. 

We can also ask questions as to the veracity of the selection process of the Chief Justice and wonder how the judiciary has come to be in sixes and sevens over section 180 of a relatively new constitution.  

And we must ask just how important is section 3 of the constitution that outlines national values over and above other sections of the constitution. (We should be mindful that some cabinet minsters have used the same section 3 against the freedom of the media)

Furthermore, we have to ask whether the constitution should be amended so soon after a referendum and specifically for what would appear to be expedient purposes.


While we know that eventually it comes down to the judiciary interpreting what the writers of the constitution intended when they wrote section 180 that is used to appoint  the Chief Justice,  it is imperative that it puts on its best legal minds on this particular case.  This is because it can open the floodgates to constitutional amendments as well as elite capture of the judiciary.  And we would do well to always remember Julius Nyerere’s  warning that ‘the mechanisms of democracy are not always the meaning of democracy.’  
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com0

Friday, 16 December 2016

Struggle Fragmentation and a Failing Incrementalism in Zimbabwe.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The furtherance of the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe is getting a little bit more complicated now.  And as we end 2016, with the prospect of an elections pre-occupied 2017, it is bound to become even more so.  An immediate question that one may ask is ‘what is this struggle’ that I am referring to?  There is no one answer to this question.  Neither is there still one person (charismatic or otherwise) who is able to give an all embracing definition, for now.

Understanding what it is to ‘struggle’ in present day Zimbabwe now range from perspectives that vehemently want to topple/remove the current government (not clear on how) to those that want to fight for their own sectoral interests, to the many  that just want to survive every day and finally to a very few that struggle on ideological pretexts.

The reasons for this ‘struggle fragmentation’ are also many.  The immediate ones are for example the splitting of the main opposition MDC party on what are arguably personality differences than principles (even after initial splits, the opposition continues to split).  Another reason is the fact of sustainability challenges for mainstream human rights civil society from causes that include donor fatigue, competition for resources and lapses in transparency and accountability. 

But these are pretty much straightforward reasons that address more the symptoms than they deal with the actual illness. 

The primary reason for ‘struggle fragmentation’ in the pro-democratic forces in Zimbabwe relate to what I consider three fundamental causes.

The first is a direct result of the constitutional reform process (COPAC) undertaken by the inclusive government from 2009-2013.  COPAC culminated in a massive ‘yes' vote, a victory which was initially presented as the ultimate embodiment of the struggles of the people for democracy. A lot of its flaws were put aside for mainly partisan reasons and the result we have, though few of us talk about it, is a constitution that remains unknown and instrumentalised for political power games by the ruling party.   

But this isn’t really the problem.  Instead it is the fact that we as activists of one persuasion or the other, are stubbornly refusing to grasp the ‘incremental change’ reality that the new constitution ushered in.  Hence some of us continue to undertake our activism in absolutist terms without taking into account that the supreme legal document with its contrived popular mandate is the current centerpiece of how the state is now being run.  And conveniently forgetting that a greater majority of us ushered it into existence, even if for various and eventually problematic reasons.  In the process we have failed to make the best of this incremental phase that now characterizes our national politics.  Examples of this include but are not limited to the surprising current calls for a national transitional authority which essentially would abrogate the constitution.

Or why we are increasingly pre-occupied by factionalism within the ruling party while forgetting that we neither control it, or that it is also the ‘sunset clauses’ within the constitution that are partly perpetuating  it.

The second fundamental reason why we are where we are is that of ‘election cycle activism’.   Not that it is in any way wrong.  In fact it is quite necessary.  But the challenge has been to place within the context of a whole body of activism and not over-emphasise it as though we are all in pursuit of power.  Its downside became very clear in the post 2008 political context in which the MDC(s) as a natural political ally of progressives became their nemesis.  After being helped and supported as part of a broad though poorly defined alliance, it ignored the principles and values espoused in tandem with labour and human rights organizations, for example as outlined in the Zimbabwe People’s Charter. 

From the economy, through to the constitution and social justice, the MDC(s) in the inclusive government forgot its founding values and principles.  Instead it embarked on an aggressive muting and co-option of allies that were previously independently contributing to the collective struggle (the controversial means it used to do this are well known).  This also explains why being honest about the 2013 election potential and eventual defeat of the opposition was generally derided.  A majority of us had simply begun to believe our own lies.

The third and final reason relates to our collective failure to understand the ideological pretext of the Zimbabwean state and its political economy.  While initially we understood, with the help of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the imperative need for contextual social democracy as the ideological framework for change in our country, we got too quickly co-opted into the neo-liberal global economic prescriptions of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Thabo Mbeki (third way).  With it of course came resource support and knowledge production systems that did not truly fit our context.   And this was a narrative that the ruling party had already embraced with ESAP and all of its subsequent economic reform programmes such as the current ZimAsset. 

This also explains in part why the ‘No to Bond Notes’ protests have failed.  Mainly because we failed to understand the economic helplessness of a majority of our people, we thought they would literally spill into the streets to support a currency they do not always have but also one they do not really feel they have power over. We failed to posit an organic economic argument around key issues of social welfare to the extent that our default argument has now become a ‘wait and see’ attitude which suits neo-liberal arguments of how the market is king. 

There are many counter-arguments to the reasons I have presented here. But I am certain they will not be at complete contrast to the same.  What I would like to conclude with is to return to our failure to understand the current ‘incremental’/small  change context in which we are operating in.  We may not need to accept it in principle, but we have to function within it, for now.  We need to address our historical trajectories and national political economy with a new candidness, allow young leaders to learn a new organic activism, think about but beyond the electoral cycle and establish organic social movements that understand Zimbabwe’s realities while continually embracing contextual social democratic values and principles. 

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

Monday, 5 December 2016

(No) Nationalism and Money in Zimbabwe

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The introduction of bond notes in Zimbabwe has not been as apocalyptic as predicted by critics. Nor has it been as positive as anticipated by those that support their introduction.  And in both cases, the politics of the bond notes has been muted.  Despite some demonstrations planned and threats of arrest and detention of those opposed to them, no political party has gone full throttle in favour of or in rejection of them.

In fact most of the opinion battles have occurred largely through the media.  This was done mainly through editorials, columns and biased hard news stories.  But even the private mainstream media moderated its anti-bond note tone as the date of their introduction drew closer.  Not least because they were also now accepting revenue from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) promotional advertisements.

The default verdict of many Zimbabweans however is while suspicious and mistrusting of the government remains that of a ‘wait and see’ attitude. 

One security guard I recently talked to explained with reservation that if it doesn’t work, then he will cross the rejection bridge when he gets to it.  For now all he wants is an end to the bank queues and by dint of the same, not preoccupying his ‘off time’ in them.

In kombis, the key issue is always about the change that is returned and whether its in bond notes or in actual United States dollars.  But there is no rejection of change.  There may be a bit of consternation, a bit of grumbling about a lack of ‘fair’ aggregation of bond notes over the actual currency.  I assume that this would also apply to the exchanges in flea markets and other informal trade arenas. 

What is arguably true is that there is no nationalism that is accompanying the bond note.  Even from ruling party supporters and policy makers.  The big debate is about their utilitarian (or lack of it) value and nothing else.  From issues of shorter queues for cash, through to unpredictable exchange rates on the streets or via electronic money transfers, there’s no immediate sense of national ownership of the bond note.  It is currently being viewed, and understandably so, with derision, humour, and to the greater extent, resignation. 

In other words, the bond note is viewed as money, but money that is inferior and money that does not reflect any popular national acceptance.  For the government it does not have to. As long as it serves what Finance Minister Chinamasa has defined as the reduction of the import of US dollars and preventing the externalisation of those that are already in circulation.   

The default acceptance of bond notes is therefore an indicator of how far and the extent to which our nationalism is no longer defined by what would be conventional measurements. Having a national currency would be an easy one to point out.  Rejecting one proposed by government, even though not by popular dissent, would indicate that our nationalism is no longer conventional by a long shot.
And this does not matter to the ruling party.  It never claimed to have a brand of popular nationalism.  Instead it is clear that its view of nationalism leans heavily toward being ‘patriotic’.  The latter being a state of affairs that, in its probable view, does not require popular consent but a latter day version of democratic centralism (i.e the few deciding for the many). 

The downside of this lack of popular support for the bond note is that it is indicative of how the general view of the national economy is no longer determined by contextual factors.  Zimbabweans are increasingly global in their economic outlook.  This means that they tend to accept the economic systems/outlook of countries that they admire, including the USA whose currency they stubbornly want to hold on to.  As a result, and largely due to lack of economic trust in their government, there is a tendency by most Zimbabweans to defend neo-liberal economic policies even if the world and global financial institutions such as the World Bank are increasingly questioning their progressive economic impact. 

It is this sort of approach that the Zimbabwean government is also taking advantage of.  It knows, probably, that we will not question its economic policies beyond what they do to our individual pockets as citizens. Or at least as a national collective.  Nor in relation to social welfare and trying give every citizen a fair start in this cutthroat and individualistic/atomised national economic (dis)order.  Hence its tenacious and in part arrogant introduction of a currency no one really understands but will eventually end up using even if under some sort of protest or with an intention to fuel parallel money markets for illicit profit purposes.

Until such a time we approach our national economic challenges as holistically as practicable, and we stop having isolated responses to what we perceive to be challenges as they affect us individually or on the basis of our narrow class interests, we will remain beholden to a central government that believes it can always get its way. Even with money.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)



Saturday, 26 November 2016

Africa's Struggle History Absolves Fidel Castro

By Takura Zhangazha*

Cuban revolutionary Commandante Fidel Castro’s passing was not a sudden shock for the world nor for us here in Africa.  We already knew he was unwell and at his age, we knew that his revolutionary life was near its end.  He even let us know it and advised that the ideas of the Cuban revolution will go on long after he has passed.  Those ideals, much maligned by American media and its presidents bar Barrack Obama, were unapologetically socialist.  And by dint of their humane precepts also African. 

And Africa knows who Commandante Fidel was. And even if one is not part of the liberation struggle generation of the continent, his name was at some point whispered, his political exploits  and his colossal revolutionary reputation referred to in our schools, universities and progressive political organizations.  Even where we resided in our African countries that were avowedly anti-socialist and in the ambit of the West during the Cold War, we knew that if you mention Fidel, you mention a revolutionary. 

My first encounter with his world, his thought, his country was not through a book.  It was through a Zimbabwean teacher who had recently returned from Havana to teach us chemistry in high school.  Sometimes the chemistry was difficult but the admiration the teacher had for Cuban society was self evident.  In fact it was idealistic to a fault.  I didn’t understand socialism or communism proper nor why in any event, there was such a chasm between USA and Cuba relations.  Even after skimming through the history books of the Cuban missile crisis. 

Encountering Fidel at university was a different ball game. In the late 1990s, with the Cold War effectively over and all but one African country being free (remember the Saharawi Republic), it was all about Fukuyama’s infamous ‘end of history’ dictum.  We were taught, not all the time, that communism is dead and liberal democracy and economics are the definitive fulcrum of human (western) history.  Ye the lecturers couldn’t fully explain the stubborn island that was Cuba in this lexicon.  But we would debate it at International Socialist Organisation meetings at the University of Zimbabwe Campus.  As wannabe revolutionaries we would cite all the Lenins, Fanons, Nkrumahs but eventually end up referring to a living revolutionary in the form of Fidel Castro in awe at how he could possibly be holding ‘socialist fort’ on the island that was Cuba. 

Overwhelmed by economic structural adjustment programmes and forlorn about the receding global possibility of global socialism, we would debate Castro is smaller spaces and occasionally watch video cassettes of Cuban life and his very long speeches. 

The South African and Namibian cdes, that we would meet as activists at the turn of the century, would perpetually remind us of the painful but legendary battle of Cuito Cuanavale and how it was the Cuban defence forces that helped not only spur on their struggles but prevent apartheid South Africa from having a stranglehold on the region. 

And we were perplexed at why the American media at some point raised eyebrows about African struggle icon Nelson Mandela’s state visit to Cuba.  We knew the Cuban people had helped us throw off the shackles of colonialism, settler states and apartheid.  We knew of the Tri-Continental conference that occurred in 1966 that Fidel hosted in Havana after Che Guevara’s abortive trip to the then Zaire.  We know he met and was impressed by the African revolutionary  Amilcar Cabral at that meeting that re-enforced his revolutionary commitment to assisting African liberation struggles from colonialism. 

He was also to meet a majority of African liberation and post independence leaders inclusive of icons such as Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere among others.

And he didn’t end there. He continued, at great cost to his own country to assist Africa in health and education.  And he continued to be a moral voice against the imperialism, neo-liberalism, liberal interventionist wars and global unilateralism that has characterized the post Cold War global order. 
As Africans we knew that Cuba’s differences with America were not our creation nor ours to solve.  But like the solidarity that the Cuban people gave to us we returned it at the United Nations and other global for a. Not in obligatory gratitude but more form the lived experience of how our humanity binds us together regardless of race, colour, creed or continent of origin. 


And yes we read the biographies, watched the movies, documentaries and even witnessed a handshake between Raul Castro and Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. We saw the continually negative coverage of Cuba (as will be the case during Fidel’s memorial services) in the now global media and argued over why his socialism wrongly curtailed freedom of expression. But there is one thing that we as Africans will always know, from liberation generations to post independence ones and post Cold War ones. This being that African liberation struggle history is clear. To paraphrase his treason trial courtroom speech in 1953, ‘condemn him, it does not matter,’ our African struggle history absolves him.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)