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. 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 (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)
 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