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 (