Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Betrayal and Continuing Pedagogy of 'Mai Ezra'

By Takura Zhangazha*

Some leaders within the mainstream Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party in Zimbabwe have a tendency to reclaim direct and organic links with Zimbabwe's grassroots when under sustained criticism over their policies or their performance in the inclusive government. In doing so they make reference to a person/character whom they refer to as 'Mai Ezra' and (most of the time) claim that she is based in the North Eastern Zimbabwean rural backwater of Dotito. This somewhat metaphorical reference to the image of a poor rural woman with whom the leaders have a direct link or at least with whom they have special political rapport with makes for impressive political grandstanding.  Especially if one's policies or performance as a leader is being questioned on the basis of fact or democratic principle.

What is also interesting is how the characterization of 'Mai Ezra' is intended to put paid to any criticism because it demonstrates a leadership that is in touch with people of similar socio-economic and political background. But because no one foisted 'Mai Ezra' on MDC leaders, it would also be important to analyze whether the 'Mai Ezra' that these leaders initially referred to at the beginning of their tenure in the inclusive government is the same one today and if any event, she has not been betrayed by her erstwhile admirers.

Initially and on the basis of a popular but thwarted victory, the pronouncements of her existence by the MDC-T leaders would have made 'Mai Ezra' blush at the unsolicited recognition accorded her. It may have heralded a new style to political leadership. One that spoke directly to her interests and one that would be significantly different from what she may perhaps have viewed as lethargic and insensitive Zanu Pf leadership. It has however probably not turned out as she expected or was made to believe it would. And this is probably with respect to politics, the economy and her own station in life.

Where we analyse her expectations of the politics,  'Mai Ezra', in her assumed naivety probably anticipated that the inclusive government would demonstrate and set a new path toward participatory democracy. As it turns out, this has not been realised and instead, the political parties in the inclusive government have demonstrated a tenacious commitment to elitist politics that consult more their own political elites than 'rural backwater' citizens like 'Mai Ezra'. This is whether one looks at the disastrous constitutional reform process or where one considers the reported and rumored  cases of corruption within all levels of government.

Moreover it would be apparent to Mai Ezra that the initial sensitivity to her interests and her problems has significantly subsided, with government leaders showing a rather reckless addiction to profligacy either by way of super luxury vehicles, unscrupulous use of constituency development funds and the sudden movement of leaders from simple houses closer to the people to astounding mansions. She may have thought that perhaps they deserve the luxury if she too was at least in relative and modest comfort were water, electricity and access to medicines (for her high blood pressure and her son's asthma) not so expensive or even just readily available. Alas she has come to accept that the disparity in lifestyles between herself and her once fawning leadership as something that she didn't expect but now has to live with.

Where it comes to the economy, it may have been the introduction of the dollar that got 'Mai Ezra's' economic hopes up, especially so after the MDC-T took over the Finance and also some other key economic portfolios in cabinet. With each passing month (or even year) the dollar remains elusive for 'Mai Ezra'. She has now turned to cross-border trading which sometimes involves stomaching ambiguous ministerial statements and imposition of duty on imported women's undergarments that are key to her trade. She has also now had to master the art of negotiating with School Development Committees/Associations and the local clinic to at least pay in modest installments the school and medical fees for her son 'Ezra' because the government will not subsidize access to basic education and health services.

She has  also now learnt that she must hide her maize grain or else still get a party card for the other party because, with the regular recurrence of droughts she and her son would be naive to wait for government to de-politicise drought relief. Or alternatively to avoid upsetting the field officer of one international food relief organisation or the other. And she has to teach her son Ezra things that her mother never taught her, things like not being too generous and becoming more cutthroat and cold even where a neighbour is asking for assistance that has minimal financial implications.

As for her societal standing, where in the beginning she was proud to be associated, by way of reference, with what the leaders were saying about her, now she is somewhat shy or reluctant to lay claim to being the real 'Mai Ezra'. There would be too many questions to answer about why leaders were doing so many things that some of her friends and relatives do not approve of. Yes, she still occasionally attends the rally, more for entertainment and the passage of time in her dreary backwater. Where she participates in political debates she knows not to raise issues of policy and livelihood substance because she does not want to have to deal with animosity from more than one party, especially the one that once spoke glowingly on intending to address her every political need. At least she can still go to church and even sometimes hazard a visit to the newer ones with their glitz and glamour and promise of a rich life with or without the politics.

*Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Waiting for the new Samora Machels

By Takura Zhangazha*

Most regions in what is generally referred to as the Global South have iconic political heroes whose legacies straddle across borders and varying nationalisms. Latin America has its fair share and among the historical luminaries of that region is Simon Bolivar, while the Caribbean region  has Toussaint  Louverture.  Not that these key figures in the histories of their respective regions were without fault, but it is a fact that they are held in high esteem by significant majorities in the regions they lived in and beyond. Southern Africa also has key historical figures particularly in our 20th century's struggles against colonialism. Among the most exceptional of these figures is Samora Moises Machel, the former president of the Republic of Mozambique and a key player in the successes of the liberation struggles of not only his own country, but also of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia. 

His exceptionalism as a leader is in the same league as that of the late Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. The notable difference between the two is that Machel had fought a  liberation war and also had to shoulder the burden of having a hostile apartheid state as his immediate neighbour while at the same time offering solidarity and support to liberation movements from at least three Southern African countries. Against all odds, Machel held firm even where and when the Rhodesian and South African minority governments bombed not only Zimbabwean and South African refugees and leaders, but also citizens of his own country, Mozambique. 

This is  a narrative that is well known in Zimbabwe and perhaps more appreciated by those that were involved in the liberation struggle as well as those that are old enough to remember his tragic death in a suspicious plane crash on October 19 1986. But the issue here is not about his untimely death. Instead, in remembering Machel, we are remembering our own history. He may have been larger than life and one of the most popular regional leaders of his time, but what is most emblematic about him is his  deliberate and active intention to see the whole of Southerrn Africa free from colonialism and for the region’s population to directly benefit from the resultant independence. 

It was also his ability to provide leadership in the most dire of circumstances and his ability to understand a ‘revolutionary’ moment when it has arrived that separated him from the rest of the Southern African leadership.  Whether one looks at his decision to allow the main Zimbabwean liberation movements to operate from Mozambican soil, through to his insistence on negotiations with the British, and even where he signed the somewhat controversial Nkomati  Agreement with apartheid South Africa, when only at least five years later, even the ANC would begin direct but secret talks with the same. All of these characteristics and examples point to a leader who was both visionary and pragmatic. 

While some have argued that Machel’s domestic socialist experiment was doomed to fail, within the context of the global Cold War, a hostile apartheid South Africa and a foreign sponsored civil war, it is important to observe that Machel remained a principled leader.  This is the sense that he neither succumbed to either cold war camp (he even met Ronald Reagan) nor departed from the values that informed his country and the region’s liberation. 

Where we fast forward to contemporary times,one is struck by the unfortunate realisation that there are fewer and fewer leaders of Machel’s ilk that are left in the Southern African region. Not that they must all be veterans of one liberation struggle or the other, let alone be as charismatic as was Machel. Neither are they expected to be socialists nor even as revolutionary. All that would be expected is that they follow Machel’s principled and selfelss leadership example. 

This is particularly so in the wake of aggressive liberal interventionism in Africa by the West as well as the equally aggressive and publicly unaccountable pursuit of African raw materials by the East. Simultaneously, these two processes have led in part to the fortification of elitist leadership styles by our contemporary heads of state and government which is motivated by the pursuit of unbridled personal wealth via proximity to international capital at the expense of the majority poor.  

For all his faults and unlike our contemporary leaders, Machel kept in touch with the people. In our time and across the Southern African region,  leaders are seeking more and more to stay in touch with the next big mining or oil company for personal aggrandizement as well as gatekeeping the commonwealth for personal benefit. In essence our regional and national politics has come to be characterised by politics that is bereft of principle and democratic purpose unlike the politics that defined Machel. 

So as it is, we remain grateful  to the people of Mozambique primarily for their solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe during our liberation struggle but also for giving Southern Africa Samora Machel, a regional revolutionary. And we can only hope for new Samoras not only from Mozambique but from the entirety of Southern Africa.  Also not only by way of names given to newborns but by way of people-centered, principled and democratic leadership. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A Brief Reflection on Contemporary African Leadership

By Takura Zhangazha*

Reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography in late 1997, I remember being struck by one particular paragraph  that somewhat shocked me out of my messianic deification of the African icon. In it, he writes as if to make sure that the readers of his life story would understand that his decision to join the liberation struggle of South Africa was one based on pragmatism and necessity. The specific paragraph reads, 'I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, and a thousand unremembered moments provoked in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.' He also makes sure to insist, 'there was no particular day on which I said, 'Henceforth I will pursue the liberation of my people,instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise'.

It was a bit of a dampener because my then eager mind had been expecting a messianic narrative, even a 'Saul on the road to Damascus' moment for Mandela to make that 'final' decision to 'join' the struggle. Well it turns out he did not have that singular moment, a development that seems to be true for most African liberation movement leaders. Their leadership and participation in liberation struggles seems to have been driven by the sum total of their complete and repressive encounter with the inhumane apparatus that was the settler/colonial state at both personal and societal levels. Add to this the fact that the repression also had a Manichean character to it, then it is easier to fathom how and why not only the leaders but also thousands of Africans chose to join various liberation struggles across the continent. It was the 'age of resistance' by necessity and by the dictate of the common desire for equality and human dignity. 

It is however the aftermath of these same said struggles and the decisions made by our liberators that is now problematic. Contemporary leaders of not only Zimbabwe but also in most parts of Africa no longer understand the primary challenges of leadership and why they choose or are chosen to lead. This is because most of our leaders, even if they admire the courage needed to have undertaken the liberation struggle, have tended to be lost on why they are now in leadership proper. They do not see the thousand slights that the Mandela's and others experienced because they think that sort of leadership was only suited to era of anti-colonial movements and therefore assume the same leadership rules don't apply. This is probably a direct result of the fact that they believe the era of 'revolutionary Africa' is definitively over and as a direct result thereof, tend to apply themselves less in leadership roles and styles.

They no longer take time out to understand the societies and countries they lead, opting instead for prescriptions from international experts or transnational corporations who will promise temporary investments both into a specific corner of the countries they lead as well as an investment in their personal welfare. In other words, African leadership is now increasingly for sale. There are fewer and fewer leaders that find themselves pursuing the liberation of their people for lack of an option and as a fundamental necessity. Not that we expect them to be Mandelas or Cabrals but it would help if they demonstrated the requisite consciousness of the historic task of democratically pursuing the continuing socio-economic liberation of African peoples. And this beyond their politics of the belly.

At the risk of being accused of being nostalgic or even naive about former leaders, the key issue is that leaders like Mandela make it clear that they knew what they were doing in their time, and seriously so. Their vision was apparent but not easy even though analyzing their challenges was much more straightforward; they had to dismantle the apartheid/settler state and establish sovereign and democratic ones. After that, they had to pass on the leadership baton not necessarily to leaders that would mimic them, but those that would understand the revolutionary and founding vision of the people's struggles for emancipation. And it is in this regard that our contemporary leaders have failed dismally (inclusive of those that participated in  liberation struggles and still hold on to power). A number have gotten into or close to power on phenomenally popular waves, only to betray majorities in favour of mimicry of the West or East and in the process undermining historical opportunities for progressive and people centered democratic change.

As it is, we might need to have a contemporary African leadership that has a singular epiphany, one that remembers who we are and where we intend to go without falling prey to the easy and nefarious path of the politics of aggrandizement or unashamed neo-colonialism ( be it from the East or West). And like Mandela, in his heyday, this singular epiphany will be on the basis that, while there is no particular day in which they will say  'Henceforth I will pursue the liberation of my people,' they will simply find themselves doing so because they cannot do otherwise.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (