Monday, 30 May 2016

‘Keep on Marching’ Zimbabwe’s Not So New, Partisan Political Pre-Occupation.^

By Takura Zhangazha*

There are some not so new sounds of footsteps on the streets of  some of Zimbabwe’s biggest cities.  

In the last month, the main opposition and the ruling party’s supporters have taken to the same to express above all else, their support and loyalty to their respective leaders.  The opposition will deny this initial assertion and argue that it was ‘real issues’ such as the missing US$15 billion announced (ironically) by the ruling party’s leader to be missing from the national diamond revenue state balance books that made them place peaceful boots on the ground.  

 The ruling party’s marchers will, contrary to their counterparts, argue that they have no problems demonstrating on behalf of their long serving leader’s ‘lion’ status on the African continent (and in their view,  beyond our continental land mass). 

In other instances, the religious movement has also held a march against what government refers to as the ‘national pledge’, This is combined with references to the latter’s failure to recognize the importance of the Scripture Union in primary and secondary schools in building a Christian national culture.

And it may come as a shocker, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, with some judicial persuasion (also read as orders) eventually let all of the non-ruling party’s marches proceed as planned. 

Some state newspaper columnists have lauded this not so new era of marchers on our city streets. This by exhorting a previously reluctant state security sector to allow the marches to go ahead. 

Social media pundits have generally had a jolly good time asking when these marches will all end.  They argue that if one march is held in Harare, another in Bulawayo we might as well proceed to having a national ‘march and numbers' competition. 

In all of these attempts at claims to political superiority via numbers on the streets or good-natured humour as to the meaning of it all via various media platforms, it is only fair to say that whatever one’s own personal political persuasions, it is good to have Zimbabweans marching.  Whatever the cause, whatever the reason.  So long it is done peacefully, fairly, justly and transparently (which remains a hard ask in the country).

It’s not that Zimbabweans were not marching before. They were generally beaten up and arrested for it if they differed with the ruling party.  And protected if their causes were in politicized congruence with the latter.    

It’s the newfound  ‘march cause’ and its new impetus that needs a bit more scrutiny.  The MDC-T marched in Harare. Zanu Pf also marched,  at least two weeks later, in Harare.  And recently the MDC-T marched, again, in Bulawayo.  The churches haven't done so, at least recently.  They have just limited themselves to social media for now.  

All of these marches can be argued to be driven by these mainstream political parties being in a conundrum as to how to continue or begin to capture the popular imagination in pursuit of either retaining power or acquiring it.  For this, they all need to meet Zimbabwe’s young, voting generation’s ambivalent desire for a new radical, and sadly so, benevolent politics with borderline religious, charismatic fervor.

What is increasingly emerging in our nation’s collective quest for some sort of inevitable political change is an understanding that we have all been marching and demonstrating in pursuit of one cause or the other.  

The labour movement, as led by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)  marched against Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP).  The war veterans marched against the failure to have their pensions paid. The students marched against the removal of student allowances as led by the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) and the Womens’ Movement also marched against many (many) discriminatory laws and practices  in various feminist and gender equality struggles.

All of these marches have met and continue to meet police resistance, especially where they were/are not affiliated to the ruling party.

In contemporary times. The national police force is  a bit more understanding and permissive thanks to the sterling efforts of  Zimbabwean civil society.

What however remains apparent is the fact that the current marches in favour or against the ruling regime are mired in protecting and promoting the reputations of individual leaders before they are about explaining what the urgent, broader national concerns are.

This does not make the marches in any way misplaced.  While they are a reflection of popular sentiment of support for either the ruling or the mainstream opposition, depending on whose side you are batting for, the remain a pantomime show of numbers. All with 2018 in sight.  They however do not reflect a popular understanding of the complicated political realities that a majority of Zimbabweans (political or non political) will have to face.  With  or without cogent explanation from their respective  national leadership.  

From bond notes to  African Union leadership (and legacies), national pledge issues were always going to be issues that catch the populist political culture we are now confronted with as a country.  Especially where and when it is integrated with our newfound political materialism. 

What we must however accept as Zimbabweans is that either way, in this moment we are better off with our fellow citizens taking to the streets for their various causes.  Even if we disagree with them.  Even if we are more worried about the state of the economy or how some of us are trying to get the next foreign job placement with all the risks of human trafficking that our government has dismally failed to deal with. 

So, if I was to be asked my personal opinion I would say,  "go ahead Zimbabweans of every hue and persuasion.  March on. To whatever corner suits your fancy. Even if just for political catharsis. Let your marches be learning processes or phases. That better things can happen if we find common ground, believe in our country, believe in our common humanity, understand the necessity of eventually coming to terms with not only our repressive colonial past but also our post-colonial repressive legacies. Warts and all."

^Please also see 'Keep on Knocking. History of the Labour Movement in Zimbabwe. 1904-1997'  http://www.amazon.com/Keep-Knocking-History-Movement-Zimbabwe/dp/177909003X edited by Brian Raftopolous and Ian Phimster 


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

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

South African Parly's Violent Eviction of EFF: Mechanisms of Democracy Not the Meaning of Democracy?



 By Takura Zhangazha*

It is not really the business of outsiders/foreigners to directly comment on how a specific country's Parliament behaves.  But the recent violent ejection of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) opposition party from the South African parliament left me wincing. Not necessarily at the pain that was evidently being inflicted on the members and security details. But more because of the negative perception of parliamentary democracy that will emerge from the incident.   

Especially in Southern Africa given the exemplary nature of South Africa’s democracy as well as its broadly accepted ’big brother’ geo-political role.  

So what happens in South Africa’s parliament matters beyond its borders.  Especially if it relates to issues of political accountability of government to other institutions that are bound by the democratic principle of the separation of powers.  

And South Africa, at least since 1994, has generally been expected and known to be leading from the front on such democratic matters and practices.   That its parliament has since the last general election been catching the regional public eye is largely due to the arrival of the EFF and its ability to do the most radical of actions in pursuit of bringing President Zuma’s government to account.  

It has earned it plaudits among many a young Southern African, with some even going as far as forming their own versions of the EFF.  And of course hoping to ascend to power/parliament in similar fashion, even if their political systems are not like South Africa’s based on proportional representation. 

EFF has heckled, sung, mocked authority and been evicted from Parliament in a manner that has been  unprecedented in the region. All seen via satellite television and social media across many capitals in the SADC region.   Their visibly violent eviction this week was however not entertaining nor inspiring.  

The general reactions of such ‘parliamentary violence’ outside of South Africa itself will be many.  Among these would be the most obvious one of it all being thoroughly entertaining.  Not only in respect to the pre-eviction debate but also the unbelievable spectacle of security guards evicting embers of parliament in such a violent manner.  It made for great television for sure.  And will be watched over and over again on social media platforms.  

A second reaction will be on a partisan basis. Either in support of the ruling ANC  or the stubborn opposition EFF.  In both cases justification will sought as to who is right in their actions.  In this one there are no winners, just continual haggling and waiting for the next appearance of Zuma and the EFF in Cape Town. 

The less prevalent reaction would be one of immediate disapproval of both the conduct of the South African Parliament and the EFF. Whichever way one looks at it there should be no fisticuffs in a democratic parliament. Even where we have witnessed some members fight among themselves in Eastern European countries, it is still completely unnecessary that as important a representative space such as the legislature’s chambers become emblematic of how not to solve political differences using violence. 

A further but more urgent question is whether this latest incident reflects societal realities or is intended to define them afresh.  Seeing political leaders being forcibly removed from parliament on live television is largely going to have the effect of changing the nature of political engagement at grassroots.  One can only hope that it does not come to that.  But it has been seen by the public. 

While the big issues are in relation to South African domestic politics, such as a numerically futile attempt to impeach that country’s current president, there is need for a broader Southern African debate on the democratic effectiveness and democratic value imbuing role of our parliaments.  This debate has to answer broader questions as to how organic are our parliaments. Inclusive of answering the question of how organic do they want to be?  Or whether the EFF being violently evicted from Parliament is a reflection of societal opinion or just a demonstration of power.  

We therefore need to think of our parliaments not just in relation to actual votes and legislative authority.  We must try and make them more reflective of our own organic democratic value systems.  Not only in relation to their conduct but also in relation to how they reflect our lived cultural realities in our various countries.  For example, beyond the legal import of the continued attempt to get Zuma removed from office, to what extent are the actions of the EFF reflective of broader South African public opinion? And how do parliaments also seek to influence public opinion beyond the political parties that have representatives in it? 

In the final analysis however we must all agree that a physically fighting parliament is not a good thing for the furtherance of a democratic political culture. We would do well to remember the wise words of Kambarage Julius Nyerere of Tanzania who once opined, 'the mechanisms of democracy are not the meaning of democracy'  
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Africa and the Age of Imagination


By Takura Zhangazha*

I have recently encountered a holistic debate about the future of the internet in Berlin, Germany.  This at a very organic annual internet and society conference called re:publica .  This was the tenth edition of this conference.  It focuses on all things related to the internet, from algorithms, creative art, politics, digital colonialism,engineering, terrorism, health and new digital technologies from a very global perspective.  And as they all relate to the digital world.

As an African, these are not necessarily new concepts. Not least because I have always had a keen interest in how the internet works but also because I have a primary interest in how it is viewed globally.  And these views are many. 

There are those who clearly understand the commercial aspects of the internet, to those who feel it is commodifying humanity and others who focus solely on issues to do with its invasion of privacy.

Others still who view its role much more philosophically and debate how it has led to new forms of either revolt, subservience or at least given the previously powerless some form of ability to find their voices (globally and locally). 

In all of these cases, there is evident belief in the ability of the internet/digital society to change the world (yes, including the global south) for the better.  Even if some refer to it as the age of imagination.


But in all instances there is a firm understanding of the inevitability of the move toward not only the internet of things but the greater role of digitization in almost every other aspect of human life (health, commerce, transport, security, education, entertainment, politics and human rights) 

The uniqueness of this understanding is that while it is aware of the revolutionary/ society changing aspects of the internet, it remains, at least at Re:Publica predicated on democratic values and the best public interest. 

When viewed from my own African standpoint, the weightier question is always going to relate to comparative analysis between what obtains in the global north and what is yet to obtain in the global south. 

The global north has had a departure point that is founded on what are to the greater extent shared democratic values and ideals.  so the internet functions primarily as a means through which these values can continue to be enjoyed or at least enhanced. 

When one turns to our own African experience of this 'age of imagination' or the 'shape of things to come' it is evident that we have the broader challenge of furthering our democratic values in the real, and physical world.  While this is an ongoing struggle and in a greater number of African countries at least a legal reality, the age of imagination is not going to wait for us to come to its broader realisation. 

The big data companies, engineering firms, and any other industry within this framework are already setting the standards of interaction with Africa in their voracious search for new markets.  It is not as though Africa is not negotiating or producing its own innovators in this particular field.  We are trying, but trying badly.  

African governments have taken on a less organic role in how they interact with cyberspace.  They want to utilise its profit motive more than they do its democratic value role and effect.  Hence they regularly shut down internet access during elections or turbulent political periods.  Or in most cases monitor and snoop in on its content without judicial oversight. 

The primary challenge for Africa is to debate the digital/imagination age much more holistically and organically.  This is they key lesson that the re:publica tenth conference has taught me.  And to ensure that such discussions are less about the profit motive but more the contextual democratic and progressive value of the internet. And to also learn to negotiate much more thoroughly with global companies and capital as to how to avoid the expansion of digital technologies on our continent which does not mean that Africa does not have its own progressive cultural local context. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Zim Media’s Current Burden: A State that Wont Get Off its Back

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s media and media related organizations this week, and correctly so, join the rest of the world in commemorating World Press Freedom Day 2016. They do so, as is their custom by holding various press club debates, marches, road shows and distributing relevant publicity material to members of the public.  These activities are a long standing tradition and practice since the early 2000s wherein journalists and media-related  professionals undertake to show their all important relevance to our national democracy. 

Within the context of the 2016 commemorative events our media environment has undergone a semblance of incremental change.  Constitutional court judgments have led to the striking down of some of criminal defamation laws from our statutes. These legal developments are regrettably still to translate into a change to the culture of impunity against freedom of expression in our country.  Especially where it concerns political and social media driven expression.

In relation to the functionality of the mainstream media, the new constitution, while being of incremental importance, has not also come with change for the slightly better in relation to sustainability.  The private print media is currently functioning on an economic wing and a prayer.  The state controlled and also funded/subsidized media is also facing similar sustainability challenges though to a lesser extent.

The private radio stations are also barely keeping it together in a highly competitive environment for what is largely an urban market.  They have also chosen to the greater extent to remain focused on younger audiences and entertainment driven content in order to maintain what they consider higher levels of market relevance. 

Our media organizations, in their various interest areas are also facing the challenge of grappling with diminishing donor and member funding or support.

The government on the other hand, appears to be in no rush to undertake any transformative changes to the media landscape.  Both by way of the law as well as the culture of disdain for freedom of expression and access to information.  After somewhat successfully persuading media stakeholders to the now stalled and probably irretrievable Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) process, government no longer sees any urgency in broader media reform.

Its functional premise is to treat media freedom as a privilege and not a right.  So everywhere, journalists have to retain that caution, and always remember the weight of the state on their backs. 

Instead it is focused more on dealing with the matter of digital migration.  This is largely because that is the only current revolutionary aspect of the media industry at the moment.  The expansion of television access, its potential profitability and the generation of new media content is obviously something that the government is keen on controlling. 

In all of this, the Zimbabwean media is still faced with challenges that are no doubt familiar but increasingly muted after the IMPI process.  The first and most significant one is regrettably an internal one.  The media still has to literally claim its space and territory as the fourth estate.  Not just by way of reporting and bringing power to account.  But also by way of strengthening its existent institutions such as the journalists’ unions, editors forums, media associations and even publishers associations.  Without doing so, the media will never be accorded the respect it duly deserves. Even in as incremental a democracy as has become ours.

Secondly, all media stakeholders are faced with the challenge of not having a holistic and shared understanding of the future of the impact of digitization on the media.  Not just in relation to television and radio but also the expanding and inevitably influential role that the internet shall have on Zimbabwean society.  Any inability to face this tackle and challenge head on will lead in part to the media and its key stakeholders being left to play second fiddle to commercial interests in the industry. 
In the third instance, the media has to begin to think much more creatively about its sustainability in our current economic and social context.  

State and donor funding for the mainstream media is showing no sings of immediate improvement.  Treating the media solely as a business as opposed to matching that with a clear public interest role is going to be the sine qua non of many media owners going forward.  In this, journalists shall be compelled to become more in tune with the thinking of the publishers and only oppose them at the risk of losing their jobs.  Media stakeholders need to examine new ways of media sustainability and ownership/shareholding that takes into greater account the media’s public interest and promotion of democratic government role. This includes state funded and state controlled media.

In the final analysis however it is the fact of Zimbabwe’s media and its stakeholders standing by the democratic values and principles that establish the fourth estate that may move long awaited reforms a little faster.  If not with the government, then at least with the broader national public understanding and support.

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

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

New Ambassador Hotel’s New Ahistorical and Undemocratic Corporate Censorship Role



By Takura Zhangazha*

The management of the New Ambassador hotel in Harare last week deemed it fit to prevent a discussion on commemorating 36 years of independence at the Press/Quill Club that is housed in their building.  The reason they gave was that there was need for a police clearance letter.

It turns out, and sadly so, that this new undemocratic attitude of the hotel management may have been motivated in part by the fact that they recently got summoned to Harare Central police station over a press conference that was held by those who have since been convicted in the Gushungo Dairy attempted bombing saga.  

The questioning of the hotel management is similar to that visited upon the director of the Media Center  and his colleagues in Harare over and about the same case. Neither of the two institutions has issued an official statement to explain what exactly transpired. 

The development that we ostensibly know is that hosting a press conference, even for a targeted group of people, which is not a public meeting, can get you questioned by the police for a decent time period. And we can only hope that journalists, media freedom activists, lawyers and organisations can get to the bottom of the matter sooner rather than later. 

What we definitely now know is that the New Ambassador Hotel management has decided in part, to attempt at administering the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) on behalf of the police over and about press club debates. This, through using their security department for good measure. 
This is obviously a first since the press club does not hold or host public meetings.  Instead it generally holds press discussions or press conferences that are specifically aimed at small audiences that are not considered ‘public’.  

This understanding that the Quill Club is generally a professional space for those that work as journalists and in the media had before the recent actions of the hotel management been a shared one. 

Various political actors, inclusive of government ministers, senior civil servants, civil society activists, unionists, gender activists, youth leaders have not only frequented the Press Club but also sought to utilise it to speak to the press.  

Almost as though it were tradition the New Ambassador Hotel has been home to all sorts of civil debate, formal and informal.  Luminaries such as the writers Charles Mungoshi, Stanley Nyamfukudza, Freedom T.V Nyamubaya and Dambudzo Marechera used to visit it to not only socialise but also to discuss issues they felt were pertinent.  The same with political figures such as the late national heroes, Eddison Sithole,  Eddison Zvobgo, Sikhanyiso Ndlovhu, Willie Musarurwa as well as others such as the late James Chikerema.  

This tradition of debate continued through even the more turbulent years of the 2000s (including 2008-2009).  Various debates were held on  seemingly more 'volatile' issues which included electoral violence, media reform and the welfare of journalists.  Politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties were always willing to visit and use the press club to share ideas and debate key issues affecting the country. 

It is therefore disheartening that with such an illustrious contribution to freedom of expression and a largely amicable relationship with the press, the hotel’s management has decided to try and control what meetings the Press Club can and cannot hold. 

Even if there were administrative challenges around the nature of the relationship between the Quill club and the management, these are always going to be amicably resolved.  

What is problematic is the reach into what essentially should be the function of the state in terms of the law. While the proprietors of the hotel have a right to decide who comes into their hotel or uses its facilities, it does not change the fact that it acted against democratic values. 

Unfortunately this trend with regard to the collusion of business with the state in effecting undemocratic laws or actions has precedence.  Particularly where it comes to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, media freedom and freedom of assembly.  Corporate entities such as Steward Bank have already demonstrated this repressive trend with its attempts at getting journalists to reveal their sources last year.  

One can only hope that this recent undemocratic act by the New Ambassador Hotel management and its parent company, Rainbow Tourism Group shall not be repeated.  Whatever their fears for the profit or relationship with the state, there is always a better way of addressing their challenges.  What they cannot do is to play a direct part in diminishing the independence of the press club, media freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)