The ‘quiet’ transformation of Zimbabwean Society.
The general discourse on the challenges that Zimbabwe has faced in the last ten years has been given as that which has its root causes in the political realm. In explanations as to why the country is where it is, and specifically in the aftermath of the advent of the global spread of liberal democratic values, academics and laypersons alike have referred to the root cause of the general crisis in Zimbabwe as a ‘crisis of governance’. Such a description of the problems the country has faced has also been taken to mean that it is the manner in which Zimbabweans are governed that has been the source of the current and even previous unpalatable state of affairs in the country.
This would be 'crisis of governance' causal effect has included identifying the ‘democratic deficit’ of Zimbabwe's political system as the primary reason as to why we no longer have either social welfare, decent levels of foreign direct investment or even why our own citizens are leaving the country in droves at every turn and opportunity.
Because in any event, the same said ‘crisis of governance’ still obtains, it is however important to point out that the country has however not stopped functioning in one way or the other. Whereas the late Professor Masipula Sithole referred the manner in which Zimbabwe started functioning after 1997 as an exercise in ‘normalizing the abnormal’, it remains true that however one may view it, we still have a state that is undergoing seen and unseen changes.
The ‘seen’ changes (or lack thereof) are those that relate to what I have referred to earlier as being determined by the cliche, ‘ a crisis of governance’ which is mainly defined by the lack of a number of democratic mechanisms such as free and fair elections, separation of powers, a democratic constitution amongst other matters that relate to various indices on democracy.
The second and for the purposes of this article, more important change to Zimbabwean society has however been the 'unseen change' which has tended to evade or be evaded by political actors. This 'unseen' change is primarily experienced by the majority poor or ‘underbelly’ of Zimbabwean society and can be described as the comprising the ‘quiet change’ in the country. It is a change that has to deal with the new, stark and harsh realities that the everyday citizen has to face in Zimbabwe, no matter what the political leaders are saying at any given point in time.
These realities are indicative of the transformation of the state from being 'benign' to being completely negligent to the livelihoods of the populace through inorganic planning and outsourcing of social welfare needs to either international NGOs or corporate (read as South African and Chinese) capital. The overall impact of such an approach by the state has led to literally ‘revolutionary’ change in how Zimbabweans survive on a regular basis as well as how this has negatively affected our social value systems.
More Zimbabweans are now of the firm understanding that even where they had confidence in the state seeking to assist them out of poverty or humanitarian disasters, it is an unrealistic collective expectation. This, not because of big ideological battles on the role of the state but simply on the basis of the nonchalance of political leaders when it comes to matters that have no bearing on political power as an end in itself.
This has led to many citizens pursuing 'survival' tactics in activities that relate but are not limited to the informal economy (cross-border linked trading), farming under the fast track land reform programme (even if their political party of choice is against it), resorting to crime (including syndicates taking advantage of vulnerable young women for commercial sex work) , finding solace in religion and superstition or alternatively simply emigrating from the country and leaving behind disjointed families and communities. Even where some citizens are employed formally, it is mainly to augment or finance the informal activities that are cited above.
In undertaking these activities the attendant socioeconomic culture is one that is resigned to the ‘each man for himself and God for us all!’ mantra. This is tragically so even where there should be collective concern over services that are intended to technically ensure basic human equality for all such as health, education, shelter and access to water.
As a matter of consequence, the sad thing to note about the above cited realities is that they have taken on a life of their own. That is to say, the negative state of affairs vis-a-vis the general lack of a social welfarist and responsible state has begun producing an increasingly societally ‘acceptable’ knowledge and cultural system (increasingly via ICTs) of its own for younger Zimbabweans who may no longer harbour idealistic notions of democracy for a society that seems to have neglected them.
It therefore becomes this 'quiet change' that is most definitive of the future of Zimbabwe, after all the slogans have been shouted. It is a change that is easy to ignore given the Manichean character of Zimbabwe's politics but it is the reality that a greater majority of Zimbabweans have to face every day. Where political, civil and religious leaders do not address the ‘abnormalised normal’ in Zimbabwe’s ‘underbelly’, we have a real crisis on our hands. And it will not just be one of ‘governance’ but of a complete collapse of the legitimacy of the Zimbabwean state.
* Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity. takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com.