Thursday, 10 January 2019

An Emerging Political-Economic UnConsciousness in Zimbabwe


 By Takura Zhangazha*

I recently came across, via YouTube, a talk delivered in May 2018 by former Greece finance minister Yanis Varoufakis at the Cambridge Forum, Massachusetts, USA.  Its title was ‘Is Capitalism Devouring Democracy?’  Given his leftist credentials the main body of the talk was essentially pointing out valid criticisms of the current global economic system’s neoliberalism and perpetuation of inequality.  Whether via bailing out global banks or promoting a rampant financialised global economy or negating the economic regulatory responsibility of the state. He, at the end of the lecture proposes and international version of Roosevelt’s  New Deal and greater solidarity among the oppressed of the world (mainly in the global north). 

But that was not the most significant aspect of his talk.  Midway through it he mentions his first meeting as part of the Euro Group ( a meeting of finance ministers from countries that use the Euro as their main currency).  In the lecture Varoufakis says he told the meeting that he had the democratic mandate of the people of Greece (as a radical lefty) and therefore was intending on changing the country’s economic policy from what had already been obtaining.  Or that which had brought the country to where it is, i.e austerity. 

He recalls that the then German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble replied in one sentence, ‘Elections cannot be allowed to change economic policy.’  Varoufakis then says he replied with irony ( and I am paraphrasing here), ‘In that case, lets ban elections in bankrupt- or suspend elections for countries that are in the red.’  The key point that he was making here was the fact that the global economic system or as we generally refer to it these days ‘globalisation’ as currently constituted does not look upon elections or democratic processes to change economic systems from neoliberalism to being egalitarian or at least fairly distributive. 

I have made elaborate reference to this lecture (you can check it out on YouTube if you have enough bundles) because in our Zimbabwean context we are saddled with economic challenges that are a direct result of a re-energized neoliberal/free market/ ‘ease of doing business’ policy approach from our government.  An approach which is the preferred one for global private capital (global north and global east). And so soon after a general election in 2018, which for now, appears to have had little effect on the democratization of the national political economy. 

And the effects are all too apparent in the form of fuel queues, rising cost of living, high unemployment and the loss of savings. As begun by Mugabe and now being stubbornly attempted by Mnangagwa without his predecessor’s radical nationalism. 

It is also an approach that is, to my own personal disappointment, being pursued by the mainstream opposition political parties including those under the umbrella of the MDC Alliance.  Their argument is not one that represents an ideological counter narrative to neoliberalism.  But one that confirms by claiming that it is only them that can implement the same neoliberalism better.  As if there can ever be such a ‘progressive’ differentiation.  A change of implementers of neoliberalism does not mean the economic trajectory of the same changes.

But we live in relatively populist and angry times in Zimbabwe.  Where the immediate is more valued than the long term.  Where individualism and a high level of competitiveness coupled with deep pursuit of materialism means that to question the economic system outside of the neoliberal lens is viewed with derision. 

Hence a lot of those still in employment want to be paid in foreign currency.  Or big business/local private capital wants to be allowed to determine the character of the market (and pricing of goods and services).  But all at the same time screaming at a government that, at least at policy level is already saying in order for this to happen, there must be pain.  A pain that will be transferred to the poor majority while the well to do are, to use the government’s own phrase are ‘ring-fenced’.  Or have their monetary wealth protected.   

Or where ruling party and opposition leaders are still scrambling for recognition from global financialised capital or institutions as if they do not know that the latter do not serve the democratic public interest of the people of Zimbabwe. 

The economic formula government is trying to use to solve the country’s economic challenges is not made to fit the context.  Even if it has the support of global capital , the ruling and opposition parties or is being hailed as a success in a few neighboring or relatively more distant sister African countries. 
In our specific context we need to rediscover a more critical national consciousness that understands our challenges ideological and in relation to our placement in the global economy.  We need to be wary of the culture of consumerism/materialism and individualism that Mugabe and later on the 2009-13 inclusive government followed through by Mnangagwa are trying to cement in our polity.  

This means examining new alternatives to our national political economy that can only take the form of social democracy if we are to prevent putting up ourselves and our country for sale to global capital and its local rapacious representatives.  Be they in government, opposition and in business.  And we also need to take sharp lessons from the global north as to how not to proceed down the same path.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com

Friday, 4 January 2019

Delta Zimbabwe’s Defiance of Govt: The Tail Wagging the Dog?

*By Takura Zhangazha

The move by Delta Corporation Zimbabwe Limited (Delta) to announce that it would begin to sell its products in multiple currencies with a particular emphasis on the US$ was one of the most bold actions from a private corporation in recent years.  Mainly because in its statement announcing its decision, Delta made reference to the current government's monetary policy as being inadequate and went on to audaciously listed new prices in US$ for its commodities.

Government sort of panicked with the Minister of Industry, Nqobizitha Ndlovu issuing a press statement warning business against ‘dollarising the economy’ through unilateral decisions on commodity pricing by private business.

It went further and convened a meeting with Delta executives with the governor of the Reserve Bank which resulted in a joint press conference that announced a reversal of the US$ pricing of beverages for the domestic market. The Reserve Bank also promised to provide the requisite foreign currency (state subsidies) to Delta in order to maintain the status quo of pricing in bond notes.

 The minister of finance weighed in on the matter by stating that he did not expect private players to ‘rush to choose the currency they think the country should adopt.  They should just be patient, let us work together.’

This incident between government and Delta is interesting in a number of respects.

The most evident being that Delta is a powerful player in Zimbabwe’s political economy.  When it sneezes, it would appear government coughs.  This is probably due to the fact that it is almost a monopoly supplier of beverages and contributes significantly to the national purse via taxes and excise duty.  So government cannot afford to have an unhappy behemoth of a company that can decide unilaterally that its operations are no longer feasible (i.e profitable).

Secondly the government is increasingly a victim of its overall macro economic policy framework of the ‘ease of doing business’ or an unfettered ‘free market’ and its attendant neoliberal principles and rules.  Delta and a number of other large companies (Econet, Innscor, Makwiro Platinum etc) are probably all too aware of this.  Hence the ease with which Delta announced its decision as a private corporation.  Because government is pushing pro-private capital policies, the latter can easily decide that the former’s policy measures are inadequate.  As did Delta.  And they can with relative ‘ease’ threaten the government with arbitrary and profit motivated decisions to scale down their operations if their demands are not met. 

This is a vulnerability that government has brought on itself and local private capital knows that it has the protection of the gaze of global capital.  It then becomes a question of what does government actually control? Or what will it eventually be able to control when it comes to the interests of private business and companies as large as Delta?  So far it would appear that these large companies (private capital), given the example of Delta are potentially the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

And this latter point brings into focus the intrinsic/ longer term character of the emerging relationship between the state and private capital.  It’s a relationship that intends to become cemented by the shared principles of the free market/neoliberalism.  This to the extent of creating that hazardous ‘revolving door’ between state actors and private capital actors.  That is to say, at some point it will become difficult to tell the difference between a cabinet minister and a corporate executive.  Hence for now there is amicability, even after Delta’s unilateralism, between the state and private actors.  With the latter being keen to see government do its specific bidding in the name of the free market or as Mnangagwa puts it, ‘the ease of doing business’. 

It is however evident that this relationship between state and private capital actors is not democratic.  Or does not seek to deliberately work to serve the democratic public interest.  This is because the public interest tends to work at cross purposes to the profit motive of big business.  Hence for example the quicker solution to a potential crisis of beverages over and above that of the health services sector.

In order to counter this increasingly hegemonic relationship between private capital and state actors, we need to put up alternative understanding of what would a progressive national political economy.  We need to protect state capital (land, health, transport, water, education infrastructure) from the avaricious hands of private capital.

 And we need to put private capital in its place by telling a corporate citizen such as Delta that it is not a priority citizen because of this proximity to the state or claims at being too important to be allowed to fail (hence it and other private players are now guaranteed of state bailouts).

 And finally we need to come to unpopular terms with the fact that our continued use of the United State dollar (US$) as an official or publicly preferred currency in unsustainable.  However we try to rationalize it.  Instead we should work on introducing a credible local currency that will be available as a medium of exchange for all of us and not the politically and private capital connected few.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Commodity Fetishism/Politics: An (Dis)Honest Closure to Zimbabwe’s 2018.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Over the Christmas break, while travelling, I had to crosscheck the Marxian term ‘commodity fetishism’.  That is mainly in our Zimbabwean contextual ‘intrinsic’ valuation of specific goods/commodities –in their post-production and availability or a lack thereof to consumers. And in part how this contributes to defining our political, economic and social behavior.   

This was because mainstream and social media were agog with stories of how there were shortages of all things associated with a ‘happy Christmas’.  Or the lack of it.  These ‘things’ included fuel, Coca-Cola, local beer and the happiness associated with them.  And as is generally said in this part of the African continent, ‘the struggle is real’ in attempts to secure these commodities and the possessive personal satisfaction they can bring.  Even if we, as majority and mere consumers are not in control of their means of production.

If you have a personal vehicle, access to fuel was and still is a personal hassle.  Especially the fuel that you get at the local currency (bond note, mobile money or bank transfer) rates.  The queues at petrol stations were and still are a pain to experience especially if one is on a journey to a rural home or touristy holiday destination.  Where the fuel was available, albeit briefly, the likelihood of you getting to the pump after a long stint in a queue was limited.  Even if there were a few cars ahead.  This was mainly because there were the ‘special ones’ that could always get more than they need for their local or long journey use.  From touts to parallel market fuel dealers, the fuel was and is a profitable bargain.   They purchase it at what is clearly a locally discounted rate in large quantities, store it and wait for those desperate enough to be willing to pay for it in United States Dollars (US$).  Or at triple the pump price in local currency. 

For the other Christmas ‘happiness’ commodities such as Coca Cola and local beer, the prices fluctuated depending on the supply or supplier.  And it turns out if you had local currency as with fuel you may have had to pay double or triple the price to get your family’s drinks of choice. 
In all of this there are those that made a phenomenal profit.  Even in fuel queues the joke was that if you check out those who had the jerry-cans and drums, they would be be able to buy up market residential stands by the end of January 2019.  (It is now being reported that some of the fuel dealers are being arrested). 

But back to commodity fetishism.  The value of the Christmas happiness goods (fuel, drinks, clothes) was reflective of a national tradition about how the year should always end on a high note. Almost also as a carry over to how (black) labour and capital would define its relationship in terms of national happiness both in colonial and post-colonial/independent Zimbabwe.   With a possible summary statement being ‘If we don’t (nationally) get the happiness we always get at the end of the year, then things are not going well. Especially if government and private capital do not deliver or if the former does not enable the latter!’ 

I know that the public perception may not be as complex as the preceding statement.  The point however is that it helps explain the general public disappointment and pessimism.  Together with a curiosity of what underlies our culture of consumption as the equivalent of happiness. 
In abstract conversations with comrades, discussions on this particular matter have tended toward explaining our national social (political and economic) culture as increasingly self-centered or individualistic.  And also very much nostalgic of what would be perceived to have the ‘good times’ which regrettably do not exclude colonial Christmas time experiences.
 
The key emerging issue is that the Zimbabwean government’s approach to the national economy is failing to meet these expectations which are historically and popularly perceived or appreciated.  Not that it ever can, given the ‘policy’ fact that it has chosen a ‘free market’ approach to these matters, a market which for now is not (and will not be) delivering as popularly expected.  For some reason best known to itself the state assumes that with all this ‘pain’ there shall be ‘gain’.  Something that can only be qualified as an ahistorical truism.

But private capital also comes into the fray.  Despite US$ subsidization by government (queue to the Reserve Bank for US$ anyone?) big and informal business is failing to pay adequate homage to the ‘free’ market by profiteering and creating narratives that aver from the favours it is getting from the state.  All mainly based on the unofficial currency exchange rate and waiting upon the implementation of further fiscal reforms beginning January 2019.  As far as private capital is concerned, profit is profit and opportunity is exactly that, opportunity.  Never mind issues of business ethics as they do not relate to profiteering rackets. 

Again if the Leninist question of ‘what is to be done’ emerges as it should, the key issues are about countering an increasingly entrenched Zimbabwean individualism that looks at self-actualization as occurring in isolation as opposed to being part of the national collective.  Even if the year 2018 was one of national anger/high emotions, we will always need to take a step back and remember that worshiping commodities/ consumerism will not solve our national problems.  Neither will a neo-liberal government that pretends to be concerned about peoples’ welfare and yet focuses on the free market with abysmal failure, even by their own standards.   

What is required is a more contextual, structural approach to the national economy.  One that ensures that the role of the state is not subsumed by the vagaries of a rampant profiteering and an informal ‘free market’. 

And also that, in the final analysis, Zimbabwe requires its own solid national currency.  Even if popular perception and political mistrust gives greater value to the US$ as is the global norm.  Except that our problem is that we use it as if it’s our own. 

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

Friday, 21 December 2018

Zims' 2018: A Year in Which Anger was Never Going to be Enough.


By Takura Zhangazha*

At some point almost every adult Zimbabwean could easily be defined as being angry in the year 2018.  And all for different reasons. A majority of us were apoplectic about the state of the national political economy as accompanied by the promises of Mnangagwa’s ‘new dispensation’.  Not that expectations were that high.  It was more to do with promises made, and promises that were clearly going to be difficult to meet.  All accompanied by populist electioneering in the aftermath of the death of the main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.  And a very serious intention at retention of political power by the ruling Zanu Pf party despite having ousted its long serving leader Robert Mugabe.

So the anger remained fundamentally political in character.  There were those that were angry at the ruling establishment and its failure to work miracles with the economy or its financial component of the United States dollar (US$) versus the local bond note.  There were those that were angry with opposition leaders for not subsequently recognizing the electoral result. Others too were angry at Robert Mugabe for capitulating to the ‘coup-not-a-coup’ of November 2017 or for endorsing the main opposition’s presidential candidate. After the July elections there were to be those that were angry at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for allegedly ‘rigging’ the election, anger which also got transferred to the constitutional court for arriving at a judgement that kept Zanu Pf in complete power.

It should have ended there but it didn’t.  The anger continued  in the post electoral period with the Monthlante Commission of Inquiry into the August shootings in Harare becoming a central purveyor of such politicized frustration and a search for carthasis.  Not only by way of its public hearings but also its recent final report and recommendations. 

Even then the national political economy did not change for the better and the national anger escalated as a result of a new monetary policy as introduced by the ministry of finance.  The steep rise in prices and shortage of basic commodities caused by astronomical unofficial exchange rates with the US$ had a lot of people in national panic mood. The hoarding of basic commodities by those who could afford them and the withdrawal of regular production cycles by private manufacturers did not help matters.

Not surprisingly Mnangagwa’s government did not and has not shown signs reflective of the national panic, let alone anger.  Instead it has all the while kept insisting that if there is no ‘national’ pain, there will be no ‘national’ gain.  And they insist on ‘austerity’ i.e. the free market/neoliberalism as the only solution to the chronic challenges that the national political economy is faced with.  This means there is method to their proverbial ‘madness’.  

It is essentially the equivalent of ‘shock economic therapy/ shock doctrine ’ where government works closely with willing and in search for massive profit private capital to reinvent a national political economy in keeping with free market principles and values such as privatization and limiting the role of the state. And for this they have the support of local and more significantly components of global private capital. All with the intention of ensuring that Zimbabweans get used to this way and become individually more competitive with a national consciousness that no longer values the role of the state as the primary guarantor of citizens’ social and economic rights.

Given this determination by state and private capital to embrace elite motivated neoliberalism it is important to emphasise that anger or claims at youthfulness was/is never going to be enough. It may help in bringing people affected by similar emotions together but without a structured alternative to counter the neoliberalism the anger will only serve a cathartic role.  Or give the impression of momentum that with hindsight will be viewed as performance politics/activism.   Both of which tend to be more ephemeral than organically long term. Or where people become enamoured to increasingly superstitious and materialistic religiosity/livelihoods that is always on the lookout for the next messianic figure or big gamble paying off (crosscheck millennial capitalism  

So the political year that was 2018 was a national emotional roller coaster.  No matter which side of the political divide one found themselves in.  And depending on political loyalties accompanied by an initial assumption that the governments ‘ease of doing business’ may temporarily pay off or fail, 2019 is likely to remain another highly emotional national year. Especially for a majority of poor Zimbabweans who will still be subjected to multi-tier commodity pricing, the emergence of a new ‘informal’ currency and the vagaries of privatizing social services.

Except that the anger may not just be with the state and private capital’s unholy partnership(s) but the entirety of the structure of the neoliberal and free market ideological framework being used as a solution to addressing the problems with the national political economy.  For this challenge to the under construction neoliberal hegemony (as orchestrated by the state and private capital) to have greater success new alternatives, not just as of the traditional conservatism versus socialism/social democracy but more people centered and contextual ones.  Or those that understand even more global dynamics at play but remain grounded in realities that place people at the centre of their proposed solutions.  Over and above a desire for recognition for challenging the ruling establishment(s) only to pursue the exact same regressive neoliberal economic policies.  Here’s to wishing cdes a happier 2019.  Optimism is key.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Tuesday, 18 December 2018

US$8 million for Zanu Pf and MDC Alliance: An Annual Sharing of State Electoral Spoils.


By Takura Zhangazha*

Understanding the raw political ambitions of individual Zimbabweans is a complex exercise.  One that is full of familiar dictum's/accusations such as they want ‘power for power’s sake’ or ‘they are in it for the money’.  On the rare occasion comments about how certain political leaders ‘mean well’ in their pursuit of political power. Or that at least they are ‘one of our own’ and the now ominously familiar, ‘they have liberation war credentials’. 

These individuals invariably join/form political parties to better enable their intentions at some form of power.   The parties that they form or are a part of are also queried as to their intentions with power.  In the case of the ruling party the general accusation is that even if they may have been all about liberation, their long rule has made them appear to be all about self aggrandizement.  With the main opposition the occasional accusation is that they are also in it for the perks but also, luckily for them,  they would still be perceived to be the metaphorical ‘better devil’. 

The prevalent view it would appear is that politics and political ambition are linked to some sort of benefit(s) from the state.  And that whatever happens at the top of the political ladder, lower level leaders and supporters get some piece of the pie.  This would also be known as political patronage. 
What has been interesting has been the legal role that the state is obliged to play in support of those that would publicly be perceived as only motivated by milking from it. 

This week the ministry of finance and economic development announced that it has allocated a total of US$ 8 million (lets not argue about currency here as I am certain they all have ‘nostro’ accounts) to the ministry of justice for distribution to the political parties that are in parliament.  This is done periodically in terms of the Political Parties (Finance) Act.  In this act, each political party that got at least 5% of the total votes cast for its members in the last general election shall be entitled to an equivalent percentage of the total money allocated to political parties in each financial year.
So the ruling Zanu Pf party is going to get at least US$6million and the opposition MDC Alliance is certain to get US2 million.  At least according to the ministry of justice permanent secretary Virginia Mabhiza. 

The act does not advise political parties what the money is to be used for.  It is entirely at their discretion save for when the relevant minister issues out regulations as to how these monies are to be accounted for.  And as far as I recall, these regulations are yet to be publicized.  Nor has any minster of justice previously tried to make it an accountability issue beyond accusations of foreign funding which incidentally is not quite disallowed. 

The long and short this act is that apart from other motivations such as getting actual executive power (the presidency) in terms of current Zimbabwean law, there is definitely money to be made by running as a political party, for parliamentary office. All you have to do is to get at least 5 percent of the total vote count for candidates in the National Assembly (which also entails actually wining some first-past the post seats/ constituencies).  And as it turns out, it can be a lot of money just for your party (and as controlled by the party leadership). 

This would not always be a bad thing if it was clearer as to what the money was being used for.  Preferably this state funding  would be intended to help political parties strengthen their internal democratic processes and represent their constituencies better. Even if its not stipulated in the relevant act or in existent supporting regulations. 

In reality, experience shows us that these monies are largely unaccounted for and tend to be under the direct control of political party leadership. 

This would probably explain why the public may be skeptical of such state funding arrangements for political parties in a time when government is talking about ‘austerity’ (unpopular as it is).  Moreso given the amount the ruling party is being allocated.

This state funding of political parties has not promoted internal party democracy, a national democratic culture or seen a flourishing of issue based politics.   And that is why the Political Parties (Finance) Act must be amended to include in its parameters how state funding is intended to contribute to the enhancement of intra party democracy, public accountability and issue based political practices.  This should be done in tandem with removing/reforming the constitutional clauses that allow political party leaders to dismiss MPs without due procedure. 

Zanu Pf and MDC Alliance would probably not agree with the above proposition for a number of reasons.  The utmost being that it would limit their ability to practice political patronage over parliament.  It would also seek to make them more intra democratic and as a consequence contribute to a better national democratic consciousness that sees beyond just our five year electoral contests. 
Smaller opposition parties may also be wary of such reforms because they would feel that they would never have a chance of winning against parties that receive state funding.  A gentle reminder to them would be that at least in its beginning the MDC (as then called) did not receive such funding and gave Zanu Pf more than just ‘a run for the money’. 

Civil society organizations that work on elections, democracy, accountability and human rights would be advised to take this up more concertedly.  Because this might be an opportunity to help direct our national democratic consciousness into less personalized and more institutionalized understandings of a people centered polity.   
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot



Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Zanu Pf's New Arrogance, Not Expecting a Fall.


By Takura Zhangazha*

It is worth repeating until enlightenment. Zimbabwe’s current government is keenly intent on neoliberalism.  And it is increasingly arrogant about it. Note the language of the minister of finance Mthuli Ncube on CNN talking about how ‘Zimbabwe is Africa’s best buy’.  Or alternatively the acting minster of public services, labour and social welfare, Kazembe reading out a statement threatening ‘politcal’ NGOs with bans just after a cabinet meeting.   Or when the ruling Zanu Pf’s party war veterans and women’s wings almost casually announce an intention to raise the minimum presidential age limit from 40 years to 52.

Even when motorists are stuck for long periods at a time in fuel queues, the government has not panicked.  They believe in the market even though they are quite literally bailing out a number of private suppliers by giving them priority access to US$.  (Yes that’s austerity for you, ‘ringfencing private capital’ while praising the ‘free market and deliberately passing on escalating living costs to the poor). 

And expect more of this arrogance as Zanu Pf holds its annual 2018 conference to demonstrate not  only a firm grip on power but commit itself internally and externally to neoliberalism.
It is this commitment that has many opponents to Zanu Pf in happy denial that it can pull it off.  And their most favourite saying is that ‘you cant rig the economy’.  The latter being a fair point if you too like the Zanu Pf leaders are a believer in ‘free market’ economics.  

Those that support this ‘free market’ economic template both from an ideologically informed bias or just a perusal reading of motivational books on ‘how to get rich quickly’ do not think the market will respond in Zanu Pf’s favour.  The only setback to their hope is that private capital appears to be favouring this neoliberal policy fundamentalism of the ruling party.  Not for political reasons in the strictest of senses but in order not to miss an opportunity of a government that is essentially placing state/public capital on the global auction floor, i.e to the highest and risk averse bidder. 

So directly political questions of the governments legitimacy are of limited domestic consequence.  And by domestic I mean both in country as well as on the African continent and to the global east. It becomes a dangerous combination of private capital and a colluding state political leadership that once it sees that the myth of ‘there is no alternative’ is publicly accepted, then they can quite literally weather any other political storm. Especially if its one that comes in-between elections.  And that once done, they can have the establishment of a very real 'revolving door' between the state personnel and owners of private capital.  

While their presidents new found maxim of ‘no pain, no gain’ is being only painfully felt by many Zimbabweans, their aim with it is to assuage private capital that they will not abandon ‘austerity’.  And this includes ensuring that there’s a newfound commitment to private capital and protecting its private property rights while allowing it a regular look-in as to what to nitpick from state capital via privatization.

And this is what is fortifying Zanu Pf.  An assumption that if they follow the dictates of private capital or the free market, at least at macro-economic policy levels, then they will stay their own version of a political course.  The only catch is that the pain element may also occasionally extend beyond the economic and back to the political if they meet organic and people centered resistance to the neoliberal economic order that they want to fortify in Zimbabwe. 

The much more difficult proposition as to how to challenge this under construction hegemonic project.  Backed as it is by global capital. The suggestions are many but the actions of those that would be in opposition and challenging for state power need to be clearer on how they are an organic ( ideologically grounded to the left, people centred and intra/internally democratic)  alternative to the ruling Zanu Pf establishment. 

And this fact must regrettably be repeated because not only is it relevant but it would be currently the only alternative to counter the abstract and ahistorical rhetoric of there’s no alternative except to cozy up to global capital. Even if for now the national consciousness is currently crippled by personality driven political awareness and an urgent concern for the immediate.  The latter being even still crippled by the inverse relationship between incomes and lifestyle (expectations).
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Africa and Assumptions of Global Homogeneity as Equality.


By Takura Zhangazha*

There was a Global Citizens’ Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa this week.  At the recommendation of my wife I watched a decent chunk of it on television.  A number of the big stars of the North American entertainment industry pitched up and performed very well.  All with a lot of support from the thousands of their, quite literally, screaming young South African fans. 

Apart from the fundraising for charity and very evident entertainment value of the concert there were also a number of speeches and a number of slogans in remembrance of the iconic Nelson Mandela.  And I mean the more globally preferred Mandela in this instance.  As opposed to the one that went on to defend his and the still ruling African National Congress’ relationship with Fidel Castro, Muammar Gadhafi as individual leaders and also other ‘pariah’ governments that had contributed significantly to not only the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa but the liberation struggles of the African continent.

What was striking about this concert was how it was as popular as it would be reflective of those that attended or watched it aspirations of what it would mean to be a ‘global’ citizen.  

The South African president Cyril Ramaphosa had to be cautious about the length of his speech because he was delaying the arrival of ‘Queen Beyonce’.  

The inimitable TV screen ‘queen’ Oprah Winfrey also appeared to be cognizant of the fact that she was not the main attraction even if she is sponsoring charitable schools in South Africa (or elsewhere).  And our very own returning ‘son of the soil’ Trevor Noah in his The Daily Show comedy series went on to do the equivalent of a ‘rags to riches’ story by showcasing his grandmother.

Billionaire (by global standards) Patrice Motsepe also took the opportunity to wade into the land reform debate in South Africa with a pledge to fund what would, for now, turn out to be a peaceful and orderly  processes around land re-appropriation. 

And there are many ways to try and bell the cat.  Or at least capture the audience and popular imagination.  Brilliant as the Global Citizens’ initiative may have been to many, there are issues that should raise many an Africans eyebrows. 

These are not many but they remain consciously important, even outside of the entertainment and goodwill gestures of those that would perform for us.

The first being that we, as Africans, have to contend with the reality that a lot of our young people greatly (popularly) appreciated seeing international artistes perform.  If only to reaffirm how we aspire to be as successful/rich as they (artistes) are and to command the attendant attention. 

 And that in a Gramscian cultural/‘hegemonic’ sense we are the sum total of these same said aspirations. To be ‘global citizens’ as envisioned and valued by those in the global north.  Or to wish that one day we can be Beyonces or Jay Z’s while knowing full well that it is not possible. At least in our lifetimes. Even if we tried, it would never be allowed to happen without the consent of global capital and its geographical epicenters as we colonially remember them.  This is a perception/feeling I thoroughly fret about but also realize I/we are relatively powerless, for now, over.  (It is really hard to counter the medium in favour of the message in the global south).  Suffice to say, unless the Ushers, Beyonces’ , Farells’, Coldplays’ and others become more familiar or similar to the rest of us we will always be in awe of them.  Barring a global scandal of sorts.

The latter point would bring me back to the title of my blog.  The import of the Global Citizens concert must be reviewed in its cultural hegemony aspects. That is to say, it does not come on its own but with a serious focus on demonstrating to many what is a globally dominant culture. One that reflects the axis of of capital, culture and intentions of demonstrating superiority. We can only be equal if we are to all intents and purposes similar or suit what is palatable to the global north.  

I would hazard to argue,  much to the happiness of those that would want to keep the global south in its place, that acts of kindness toward the African continent and its people would essentially be a ‘throwback’ to colonial dominance and an attempt to remake the African in the image of the ‘modern other’.  Hence the titular phrase, in this blog, of assumptions of ‘homogeneity as equality’. 

The angst that many an academic/activist on Africa and African studies would face is that of answering the Obamanian question of human  ‘universality’.  That is, a universality of human rights and the acceptance of the global world order. One that embraces the very fact of the United Nations as a global human equality arbiter as the forbearers of what would be African liberation and independence such as Amilcar Cabral originally imagined.  

The cold reality of the matter is that, despite the fact of Africa’s history of complicity in its own exploitation, it does not have to fawn at the altar of neoliberalism and neocolonialism. 

The advent of the radical ‘fortress’ nationalism of the global north means we are probably back to where we started from.  At least from an African perspective.  Except that this time it is not as political but more economic. 

It is broadly anticipated by the global north that we, as Africans, will accept, especially with governments as desperate as my own (Zimbabwe), neoliberalism as an economic panacea to the problems that we face without argumentation/agency and in return for either retention or ascension to political power. 

The intention is not so much to shock us into acceptance of a false ‘end of history’ but to argue that we, as Africans, need the equivalent of 'hand holding' in order to be able to make our own history in these ‘internet enabled’ globalized/modern times.  

This being a reason why most African governments will not argue with the IMF and the World Bank about what (in Leninist terms) is to be done about the state and African economic revolution .  Or why African leaders continue to mimic the troubled European Union model of regional economic (free market) integration at a time we should be following the ideological footsteps of those that founded the Organization of African Union (OAU),

In part, this explains why and how in Zimbabwe, at the moment, we are undergoing ‘shock therapy’ about our national economic policies.  The intention of the government is to shock us into acceptance of the supremacy of the ‘free market’.  No matter how many times promises to guarantee the supply of foreign currency to the petroleum services sector.   

What is evermore apparent is that we, as Africans,  are on the lower rungs of the global economic order.  Not just by way of assumed right but by way of better knowledge production systems and a more contextual global historical narrative.   Our strength however remains our ability to struggle. 

But we must learn to re-talk back. Negotiate better and demonstrate a better contextual understanding of where we were, are and where we can be.  In our own reality and our own imagination.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his own personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)