Thursday, 29 November 2012

2013 and Our Coming Fourth Phase of ‘Political Evangelism’

By Takura Zhangazha*

In the numerous sites of African struggles in the then newly established settler state of Southern Rhodesia, there is the little remembered  story about a coming into political consciousness  of  Hwange Colliery ‘native’ (as we were called then) mineworkers  in the 1920s.   It is a story about an 'evangelist' mineworkers inspired strike and semi-strikes via  an end time or  ‘millenarian’ message to  the largely migrant workers in their deplorable living quarters. It all stemmed from a group of charismatic African Watchtower preachers who promised that the end time would occur by 1924.[1] Their primary message was the biblical promise of the ‘reversal of fortunes’ wherein the ‘first would be last and the last would be first’. 

It was a message that appealed to the thousands of workers and it eventually led to a new consciousness, though religious in large part, among the workers . Issues such as  unfair treatment of workers and low wages were central lexicons of the worker resistance debates and the millenarian message was made more clear  with a declaration that the white manager had to go by the beginning of 1924 (as part of the ‘end time’ narrative).  

Thus began a short lived euphoric period of hope and change among the mineworkers that was quickly thwarted via the removal of the charismatic preachers from the mine back to either then then Nyasaland or Northern Rhodesia.  While it was the repression that ended the euphoria of change for the workers, it was also divisions within their 'millenarian-cum-unionist' movement and the inability of its leaders to reach across their narrow interests to expand their nascent half religious, half labour movement into a long term and continually worker-centered one.  In essence, they misconstrued their popularity for the actual ‘revolutionary’ or ‘change’ moment so long they promised a reversal of the fortunes for their working colleagues.  However and even though it was limited to the colliery and is a somewhat microcosmic but complicated example, the case of the Hwange Watchtower twelve and their leadership style  is instructive to those that wish to understand contemporary Zimbabwean politics.

 This is because our contemporary Zimbabwean society has been structured around declarations and intentions of hope and change that have been definitive in their occurrence but to the greater extent unrealized in their aftermath.  This in similar and charismatic leadership  fashion to the religious unionism of the Hwange African mineworkers in the 1920s.

To expand further, there have been three definitive epochs of change in post independent Zimbabwe that rode high on the charismatic leadership of euphoria of hope and change. The first being that of our national independence itself with  its attendant sacrifice and euphoria, the second being the establishment of the Unity Accord which managed to stop both the war in the South and reduce the national political persecution of Pf Zapu supporters. The third phase is that which relates to our contemporary times and essentially begins with the constitutional referendum of 2000, where we now had a more politically assertive populace.

In the first phase, we indeed had a popular and charismatic  leadership, a characteristic that was seen amongst the leaders at Hwange Colliery with the Watchtower evangelists. They promised hope and change in the name of democracy, socialism (gutsaruzhinji) but before the decade was over, they had begun to implement both the infamous one party state, the Executive Presidency and  initiated the disastrous phase of neo-liberal economic policies. The sloganeering and the narratives of liberation were extremely important in their occurrence and were to all intents and purposes meant to be definitive. Like the workers at Hwange Colliery, we took to the new slogans like ducks to water and expected eagerly. 
 What we did not realize was that while we accepted the promises of the new leaders, we did not adequately query their pragmatism nor how organic their links with our collective national aspirations were. Instead we left all of the decisions on the future of our society to those that led us, or alternatively, we trusted them too much primarily out of their awe and charisma as opposed to the principled and democratic national agenda. 

And we arrived with these same dispostions to the second phase, that of the signing of the 1987 Unity Accord.  Our charismatic leaders  told us that there would now be peace, yet the peace was underpinned by continued suspicion of everything oppositional. When it came to the unity government’s  policy was informed by a new mimicry of the new Western hegemony (after the Cold War) that was devoid of the historical trajectory of the initial phase’s promises of hope and change.  

Again as with the first phase of change, we were somewhat euphoric about the promises of new changes under the false sophistry of charisma and personality cults. The only ‘changes’ that we came to observe  were more in the offices and profligacy of government than they were evident even in any wishful democratic reality. Our leaders of that time,  like the Hwange religious-cum-unionist activists, used the language of redemptive finality and promise as bait for us to follow their lead.  Indeed we wanted to have this told to us because it was not only liberatory language but it held out an absolute promise for the betterment of our lives (whether it was apocalyptic or not). 

It is in this same period that we were to be righteously preached to about  bracing ourselves for economic structural adjustment and accept the ‘wisdom’ of the market. We also learnt to accept our leaders mimicry of the knowledge and cultural productive systems of the west to the extent that we were more interested in the acted out World Wrestling Federation (WWF) than the fact that the state had disinvested in our own children’s education and health.  The promise again, had been popular but like that of ‘Wankie Kolia’  it turned out to be false and short lived, even if it suited the ‘consciousness’ of that time. 

Our third post independence ‘hope and change’ phase came in the late 1990s.  We were to find  leaders whom we tasked with the social democratic revolutionary task of not only re-imagining the future on our behalf but making it a reality. Against the backdrop of the betrayals of the first and second phases of the national dream, we again supported those that would have the country back on the path to the change that we have required across decades of struggle and variegated leadership. 

Our new political ‘evangelists’ promised us that they were there to struggle for our human rights (which was/is a good thing) but like the 1920s Watchtower comrades of Hwange Colliery, they appear to have mistaken the popular support for their moment and movement for the endgame in and of itself. They have ignored the reactionary nature of the ‘colliery management’ as it were, and we find ourselves celebrating more their ephemeral popularity than that of seeking organic progress. 

And by this I mean that there has been a failure to understand that within the popular moment, as in 1980 and in 1989, and with 2000 to present, comes the responsibility of organic (and therefore consistently principled commitment thereto) societal transformation.  And this is yet to be realized even four years after a valiant but violently repressed attempt at seeking to acquire a new and social democratic society as ideologically enunciated by the leaders of the third phase of hope and change.  

In relation to contemporary times, these third phase leaders have now had an interaction with the first and second phase leaders (most of whom have remained the same) in what has been called an inclusive government.  It is also a phase that has been referred to as the ‘transition’ in line with the general definitions of what has also come to be known as the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC)

Unfortunately for us, all of our contemporary 'political evangelist' leaders have now come to a default arrangement where they see themselves as the only main players of Zimbabwe’s political future and this, not necessarily in tandem with a national dream.  Instead it is for the purposes of maintaining a new found status quo wherein it is more their own rivalry that becomes the political mainstay and not a nationally shared future for all Zimbabweans.

It is this unspoken attitude and reality that brings to an end of this third post independence phase of our struggles to be a country that respects the full aspirations of its own people. In 2013 we will enter another phase that will either consolidate the return to a structured neo-liberalism shrouded in erratic nationalism and inorganic elitist discourses of democratization. Alternatively we can use 2013 to ensure the return to the path of the true national aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe. And that would begin with a return to the initial hope and change for a social democratic state and society.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

[1] For fuller versions of this amazing story see Phimster I. 1994. Wankie Kolia. Coal Capital and Labour in Colonial Zimbabwe 1894-1954, Harare, Baobab Books, . And also see Ncube G. 2004. A History of Northwestern Zimbabwe, 1850-1964, Kadoma, Mond Books

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Zimbabwe, SADC's Historical Obligation to Find Peace in DR Congo.

 By Takura Zhangazha.*

I first learnt of the existence of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) via an act of ‘cultural solidarity’ when it was still called Zaire and under the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko.  It was when two of that country’s more popular  musicians, ,KandaBongo Man and Kofi Olomide  were revolutionizing Zimbabwean music tastes via their genre of music, then referred to as ‘soukous’ in the early to mid-90s. 

I was to later encounter and know more about  the DRC in the second half of the same decade via reading and seeing stories in the press about  Mobutu Sese-Seko initially trying to co-opt the opposition into some sort of national assembly as well as repressively dealing with massive student strikes in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.  

But perhaps for most adult Zimbabweans, the most direct interaction they remember our two countries’ histories to have had, was that of the multi-national DRC war of 1998 in which our national Defence Forces were committed by our then government  to fight under the auspices of SADC’s Organ on Politics, Security and Defence. We would remember this particular war because we lost the lives of brave members of our armed forces.  It is a war that is also remembered because of disagreements over the nature of intervention in the DRC by SADC member states (particularly Zimbabwe and newly independent South Africa under Mandela)  as well as its increasing loss of popularity back here at home. It was also  to become a war that would significantly contribute to the exacerbation of the financial and economic crisis that became very apparent in the same year our troops were committed to the DRC.  

The motivation for this war is still disputed in some circles and for now it is the official version that when Zimbabwe chaired the then recently established SADC Organ on Politics,Security and Defence Cooperation, it had received a request from the one of the newest members of SADC, the DRC  for protection against ‘foreign aggressors’.  

The decision, along with two other SADC states Namibia, Angola and a non SADC member state Chad, to assist the beleaguered government of the late DRC President Laurent Kabila, remains one that will forever be viewed in opposite terms by Zimbabweans. Some were and continue to be in support while others were and have continued to be opposed to our role in the Congo.  Domestically this war led to the arrests of journalists such as Grace Kwinjeh then working for The Zimbabwe Mirror weekly and it was also to be one of the major public disgruntlement issues that assisted the then mainstream civil society's popular mobilisation processes against government and the role of the President in taking the country to war. 

These controversies do not however take away the historical fact that by virtue of that act of seeking to assist the Kabila government retain control of its territory, Zimbabwe cannot ignore its obligation to participate in getting the DRC back to peace and stability. And this is also true for SADC,  inclusive of  member states who may not have agreed with the Organ on Peace, Security and Defence Cooperation resolution in 1998 or even with the permitting of DRC to become a SADC member. 

Where we fast forward to contemporary times, it is almost tragic to think that most parts of the DRC have not known peace since our own intervention. This is most tellingly so for the Eastern parts of the Congo which are coveted by many in the region (both state and non state actors) for their mineral wealth and attendant porous borders.  The holding of (disputed) elections, the intervention of even the United Nations, the selective indictment of various war criminals by the International Criminal Court, all seem not to have done the trick in order to bring peace to the DRC. And even where all of these developments  must be viewed as ‘work in progress’ the fact that the largest town in Eastern Congo (Goma) has fallen to M23 rebels rumoured to be supported by that region's alleged aggressor states, Uganda and Rwanda while under the direct watch of MONUSC ,must be serious cause for concern for all Africans.  Not only because of the potential for a fully blown out war in the region but also because of the internal displacement and tragic loss of life by  civilians who have never known peace proper.

It is therefore urgent that we begin to look at the DRC crisis no longer as being just the responsibility of the United Nations or the Great Lakes intergovernmental summit or the latter's appointed 'mediator', President Museveni of Uganda. Neither should the crisis be confined to Western understandings of its full import through borderline 'missionary' arguments and residual colonial discourses about ‘hearts of darkness’, let alone perceptions that all African leaders  function  in the ‘footsteps of Mr. Kurtz’. 

If ever there was a time where Africans must demonstrate that we are not perpetual slaves to conflict (such as the evidently proxy one in the DRC) we should at least insist that our national governments, regional and continental bodies and the UN  act much more decisively to get the DRC on a more permanent path to peace and stability. It is an historical obligation and necessity and it begins with a phone call, petition, statement or request to our ministers of foreign affairs to let them know, that Africa expects peace, and in decisive fashion. Particularly for the DRC, and as has been oft said in many an African struggle, 'freedom in our lifetime'.  

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in personal capacity.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

2013 National Budget: 'Last orders' for the inclusive government?

By Takura Zhangazha* 

This month Zimbabwe’s Minister of Finance will present the inclusive government’s last policy salvo in the form of the 2013 projected national budget.  It will however be presented without the air of finality I imply here.  That’s probably because it is an electoral budget both in relation to what will be its key priorities as well as in the relevant minister trying to pitch for his party’s performance legitimacy in the negotiated government.  The latter point is evidenced also by the promises prior to the presentation of the budget of not only bonuses but even pay increments for civil servants who are significant  national opinion makers in an election year. More-so after the informal announcement by  President  Mugabe that elections are scheduled for next March.

This fourth and final budget of the inclusive government will not be the subject of much debate in a Parliament that is close to the end of its term of office and more worried about party primaries than national policies. Neither will it be strenuously argued over in Cabinet, when both the President and Prime Minister are hopeful they will be presenting a less negotiated budget to a new Parliament in potentially less than six months.  So it will be a highly politicized budget with limited little by way of long term or firm policy directives. Except perhaps for the issue of civil service bonuses, income tax thresholds and customs duty on foreign goods.  And these are issues that will concern more the ordinary citizen than our ‘end of tenure’  political leaders. 

In fact our politicians are so conscious of their time being up. It has been reported in the media that members of Parliament are now asking for ‘exit packages’ or 'pensions' because they fear that they will not come back or will not have resources to launch re-election bids. And all of this somewhat conveniently before the budget is presented. Cabinet too is not to be exempted from this now apparent affinity for profligacy when one looks at Ministers' propensity to travel for almost every conference abroad  and other issues such as luxury vehicles in a country with inadequate and for the most part, dilapidated public transport. 

So as it is, the 2013 national budget might just be a case of ‘last orders at closing time’ for leaders and parties in the inclusive government. From ‘pensions’ through to the purchase of new vehicles for officials who have no more than six months left in office, these  ‘last orders’ will be many and will come from members of the parties in the inclusive government.  

What will be missing, once again, is a progressive policy imprint on the country’s economy not just for the year 2013, but for posterity. And this has been the problem of all of the last three budgets that have been presented by the inclusive government to Parliament.  They have not sought to provide a holistic and progressive framework that sets the country on a traceable economic recovery path. 

They have sought to 'stabilize' the neo-liberal framework that has informed the national economy since the years of Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAP).  This means instead of using the economic crisis of the late 1990s as well as that of 2007 to change the World Bank sponsored (and for the large part, failed) frameworks of addressing the challenges of the national economy, the inclusive government has merely perpetuated them.   

This has been done through reversion to the euphemistic public-private partnerships which have been more about ceremonies than real economic progress;  the continued state disinvestment in its own public infrastructure and social services much to the detriment of the livelihoods of many; the unmitigated and elitist courting of extractive foreign direct investment and the outsourcing of key state responsibilities such as drought relief and healthcare provision  to international organisations whose terms of reference and resources are not only limited but can also be selective. 

The parties in the inclusive government have however sought to blame each other for the incoherence of our national economy and their economic policies. One party will argue that agriculture is underfunded while another will say that mineral wealth particularly that accrued from diamond mining is not being adequately or properly remitted to the fiscus.  These sort of accusations may come with the territory that has been the inclusive government but are only symptomatic of the greater problem of the lack of a holistic understanding of the necessity of a progressive social democratic economy for Zimbabwe. 

For instance, even if one were to eventually be satisfied with the funding of agriculture a key question that would emerge would be why then export the cotton when we can manufacture (even with our dilapidated textile industry) clothing and clothing items here in Zimbabwe?  Similarly, even where the diamond revenue was to be remitted adequately, why would it be proposed that it be used to repay debt to the IMF as a priority over and above the rehabilitation of Parirenyatwa or Mpilo referral hospitals? 

It is however most unfortunate that the inclusive government’s approach to the national economy, as exemplified in the last three annual budgets, has sought more a return to a neo-liberal past and not a progressive social democratic future.  Where we await the 2013 one, we must be aware that it is the final one of the inclusive government and it is most likely to be about elections and the attendant politics thereto. This however does not mean it cannot be about the economy itself as opposed to political grandstanding over our right to vote. We must therefore query its fundamentals with a broader understanding of the economic progress we envision (in my case,  a social democratic one) that will improve and encompass progressive livelihoods for all Zimbabweans in the ‘now’ and for posterity.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (