Wednesday, 27 March 2013

African Renaissance: Opportunities and Challenges

African Renaissance: Opportunities and Challenges
A presentation to the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) Conference: Towards Social Transformation
By Takura Zhangazha*
Wednesday 27 March 2013, Rockwood Center, Harare.

The topic I have been asked to discuss with delegates to this important conference remains of utmost relevance to Africa’s placement in global politics both from an historical and contemporary perspective. Arguably neither history nor the contemporary can ever be deemed to be completely separable. In historical terms the phrase African Renaissance has its pragmatic expression in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) a continental economic and political revival blueprint approved by the African Union in 2001. The phrase and term Renaissance is however much documented in European history as a part and parcel of what has been referred to as a period of enlightenment and technological advancement in that continent's history.

As delegates to this conference may be aware, the initial push for a contemporary African version of ‘renaissance’ was articulated initially by Cheikh Anta Diop in  mid 20th century and in our times, by former South African President Thabo Mbeki. The latter was to be joined by former Nigerian and Senegalese Presidents Obasanjo and Wade respectively. Current Algerian President Bouteflika was the fourth actor in this then formidable quartet of African leaders.  In essence this quartet, was keen on not only linking the African Renaissance with matters limited to development as outlined in NEPAD but to the broader political reform of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to become what we know and refer to as the African Union (AU) today. 

It is this latter point that must instruct us as to the historicity of the ‘African Renaissance’. Their understanding was that in reforming the OAU into a much more democratic and broader continental body, they were in effect advancing the aims and objectives of an African Renaissance. The AU has however generally had its teething problems (such as a broad lack of popular continental legitimacy) despite the good intentions of the African progenitors of the new drive toward NEPAD. 

This is a point that must be viewed from the perspective of the possibility that these good intentions of those that began to talk of the African Renaissance came to borrow too much from the dominant ideological framework of what a ‘renaissance’ might come to mean.  This framework being that of the European model of continental governance (especially when one looks at the role of the European Union) which had gained ascendancy as a preferable one. This model was however inadequately queried as to its contextual continental relevance to the African continent. It is this ideological paradox that I will return to later in order to highlight the complexities of what the African Renaissance has come to mean. 

There is a second and new dimension to perceiving the African Renaissance and the ‘opportunities’ assumedly attendant thereto. This dimension has come to be expressed primarily through an argumentation that initially began as a derogatory one. It began as a positing of the African continent as a lost cause, particularly through the infamous Economist article that derided ours as a dark continent. Ironically it was to be the same magazine that would praise the continent as ‘Africa rising’ based on what regrettably is a neo-liberal and inorganic understanding of how they perceive Africa to be rising. 

The general talk in this presupposition is that the African embracing of liberal constitutions/values (inclusive of the North African revolutions)  that are more celebrated in elitist circles than they are lived realities in everyday peoples lives, is indicative of a  ‘rising’. Moreover and perhaps even more importantly, there has been a celebration of political economies that have embraced free market economics where the figures and facts given about economic growth rates are more on paper than in collective common reality either by way of improvements of people’s livelihoods or by way of contextual and progressive economic analysis.

Further to this, it is important to take into account the continued complicity of our own African leaders in this unfortunate state of affairs which gives the false impression that  ‘Africa is rising’ without a complete let alone popularly legitimate understanding of the same. It is a complicity that has led many to question the effectiveness of the AU unfairly and without understanding the complexities of the challenges that the continent faces. Particularly so where and when it comes to conflicts that are waging across the continent. It is only fair to assume that those who supported UN resolution 1973 on Libya may be thinking differently about liberal intervention and the whole idea of an 'African rising' within a unipolar world.

As has been stated by one of the founders of NEPAD, former SA President Thabo Mbeki, there is the tragic occurrence across the continent of a ‘predatory elite’ who neither have the wherewithal to understand the nuances of globalization and Africa’s placement in it. Even more unfortunately, it is an elite which is prepared to feed itself  at the expense of the majority poor. And tragically it does so while being ‘recognized’ as part of the 'Africa Rising' western narrative. Not from a continental perspective, but from what the legendary African liberator Kwame Nkrumah warned against, a ‘balkanized’ perspective.  

To put it in a much simpler narrative, the predatory elite are involved in ‘mimicry’ leadership that seeks more recognition from the north than it seeks recognition on democratic value and principle from its own peoples on the African continent.
Regardless of the foregoing, which may be perceived as pessimistic, it is important for us to understand the words of the African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral when he spoke at the Tri-Continental Conference Havana, Cuba in 1966. At that conference, he told delegates that

We also know that on the political level our own reality — however fine and attractive the reality of others may be — can only be transformed by detailed knowledge of it, by our own efforts, by our own sacrifices. It is useful to recall in this Tricontinental gathering, so rich in experience and example, that however great the similarity between our various cases and however identical our enemies, national liberation and social revolution are not exportable commodities; they are, and increasingly so every day, the outcome of local and national elaboration, more or less influenced by external factors (be they favorable or unfavorable) but essentially determined and formed by the historical reality of each people, and carried to success by the overcoming or correct solution of the internal contradictions between the various categories characterising this reality. "

Where we replace ‘national’ with ‘continental’ and 'local' with 'national' Cabral’s approach and understanding of the challenges of his time (and ours) will assist us to understand what exactly we now mean by African Renaissance.  Essentially it will and must mean that we must take into account our realities country by country and continent by continent. We must seek as far as is possible to demonstrate a capacity to address our collective challenges in a democratic, holistic and organic manner. In doing so, we must negotiate with globalization much more firmly and on the basis of social democratic value and principle.

Where we discuss NEPAD and the African Renaissance, we must be cognizant of the fact it is not about romanticizing the role of Africa in the world. Instead it is about dealing with the realities of inequality, poverty and conflict from a democratic perspective and with an intention to carry on the liberatory tradition of the OAU as well as the pragmatic intentions of the AU.  In order to do this meaningfully we must appreciate and understand the African continent’s challenges without the blinkers of the dominant west nor with the unbridled fervor of radical nationalists and Pan Africanists. Our future, like our history, will be negotiated. It is a question of whether we negotiate in the manner described by Amilcar Cabral or we fall over our feet trying to impress others by way of mimicry and inorganic political understanding of our continental realities and challenges.

To conclude therefore, the opportunities of building a better Africa are ever more apparent within the context of the AU, NEPAD and the philosophy of an African renaissance. But the primary opportunity will be our ability to use the same said organizations and platforms to commit to leading Africa on a path of returning to making democratic history which is people centered and challenges the dictatorial tendencies of the new technology driven second wave of globalization.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

In Praise and Defence of the 179 489 ‘No’ voters.

In praise and Defence of the 179 489 ‘No’ voters.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The announcement by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) that 179 489 Zimbabweans voted ‘no’ to the draft constitution as opposed to the slightly over 3 million that endorsed it will give slight relief to the political parties in the inclusive government and the civil society organisations that were complicit in what can only be defined as one of the greatest political deceptions of Zimbabwean history.  In accepting this result there are those who will mistakenly equate the vote count as the equivalent of a dress rehearsal for the harmonized elections scheduled for later on in the year. And this has already been hinted at in some press reports where the rural turnout is being equated with what has been referred to as a potential ‘landslide’ Zanu Pf victory.  Others, particularly the MDC parties in the inclusive government will try and claim the vote as their own, together with their malleable civil society partners. They will laud the ‘yes’ victory as vindication when in fact the majority of their voters did not even know what they were voting for.  In short it is a Pyrrhic victory for them no matter how they try and spin it.

The real issue at hand is the necessity of praising the 179 489 voters that chose to vote 'no' to this draft constitution. This they did against the run of the mill politicization of the process and the messianic tendencies of some of the political leaders who chose to think on behalf of all Zimbabweans without adequate consultation and yet still ridiculously claim to have done the right thing.  It is the 179 489 that stood firm against the elitist promises of power and resisted being herded like cattle into unprincipled terrains where the grass will not be greener for future generations of Zimbabweans. The 'no voters' have stood by basic democratic value and principle and for this,  history will absolve them.

This is not only because they faced the behemoth of three political parties seeking to cajole them into supporting something they neither democratically participated in nor knew. They also faced massive propaganda on the part of a parliamentary committee (COPAC) which produced t-shirts, billboards, radio programmes, newspaper adverts all in aide of getting an inorganic yes vote to its draft. Furthermore, those that they may have trusted in the form of civil society organizations departed from democratic principle and premise and sought instead either direct attachment to the political parties or demonstrated an ambivalence inimical to democratic value and principle. The ‘no’ voters decided to depart from such narrow and politicized narratives to lay a claim to the country’s future, not just for themselves, but for generations to come. And for this they must be praised and defended. 

Where those aligned to the political parties sought to denigrate the naysayers, they used the flimsy question of what next as though our country’s history functions at their benevolence. It is apparent that for most of the dissenters to this draft constitution what is next is the continuation of the campaign for a democratic, holistic and genuinely people driven constitution making politics. This, without the power seeking politics of the inclusive government. Because some of the campaigners for the yes vote mistakenly thought it was a vote for their parties, it is imperative that the following  point be made clear;  the constitution transcends political parties and is intended primarily to recognise a country’s holistic history, its contemporary realities but above all, to pave the democratic path for majority generations to come and not for the few. 

The way forward for the 179 489 therefore begins with bringing any sitting government of the day to account on the basis of democratic value and principle, and never losing sight of the still outstanding issue of establishing a democratic and people driven constitution. It also includes an understanding that our country does not belong to the 3 million that were in the majority in this vote, but that it also belongs not only to the 179489 but also the remaining eligible voting population of a further 3 million and the pending voters of at least 5 million other and younger Zimbabweans. 

In understanding the way forward, it is of fundamental importance that the 179489 do not lose hope and adherence to democratic principle and values no matter the endgame politics of the inclusive government. There will be talk in political party circles about what to do with the official 5% garnered 'no' vote. There will be temptations at coalitions between those who voted yes with other political parties only to be fighting each other at the next harmonised elections. Such temptations must be kept at abeyance because the 'no' vote count was not about trying to get a foot into the door. It was about democratic value and principle. And this, with the fact that there are people countrywide who recognize this, is indicative of the need for a much more organic and democratic approach to our politics and activism.  This without the overbearing tendencies of those that may seek to demonstrate solidarity from beyond Africa’s shores nor without getting mired in the politics of the party that broader civil society founded, the MDC(s).

Finally, in praising the 179 489, it is key that we understand that the no vote carries with it enormous historical leadership responsibilities. It is a pledge to the country that in voting 'no' we accepted the responsibility of our action and we will continue on the democratic path to ensuring a democratic Zimbabwe where all are equal before the law, have equal opportunities to better their lives regardless of race, gender, colour or creed. And that in the course of the next three months, the 179 489 no voters must increasingly prepare to demonstrate this same said responsibility to lead.

* Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Monday, 11 March 2013

Bikita Diamonds:The Urgency of a Social Democratic Mining Model.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The Zimbabwean Deputy Mines and Mining  Development Minister, Mr. Gift Chaminikire in statements attributed to him in the media recently confirmed that there has been diamond exploration and possible mining in Chief Budzi’s area in rural Bikita. This is something that had been reported in early 2012 in the provincial weekly newspaper, the Masvingo Mirror. It has taken more than a year for a senior government  official to fully publicly acknowledge this but at least we now know that there are companies that have begun diamond exploration and possibly mining in the area adjacent to the Devure river and close to the Save Conservancy.

 There is also further acknowledgement that the companies that are said to be operating in this area may not have been licensed by government to do so, an issue that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Particularly where one reads in the press that there has most definitely been some sort of mining taking place through a Chinese company Nan Jiang Africa Resources Limited. It is also a matter that requires both central and local government explanation not only to the residents of that particular part of Bikita but also to all Zimbabweans.

Given the precedence of the unfortunate chaos and violence that informed the initial diamond mining in Marange (Manicaland), it is important that we ensure that Bikita is not a repeat of the same, even if the diamonds in question are reportedly kimberlitic and not alluvial ones.  I emphasize this primarily because all indications are that  had the diamond discovery been of alluvial ones, the lackadaisical and secretive government disposition toward this matter would have led to a serious disaster in Bikita. Further still, the fact that this diamond find has not been as chaotic as Marange for now does not make it any less important in relation to how government and the mining companies are going to relate with the entire community that lives in Bikita district.  

This point is of fundamental importance because either way, now that diamonds have been ‘discovered’ in Bikita, they will inevitably be mined by one company or the other. It therefore becomes a matter of what sort of framework will be used to allow the mine to operate in a sustainable and social democratic fashion in the district. In essence what is required is a social democratic model over and about the diamond find as well as any mining company that government  grants an operating licence to. This model would entail a number of key points and considerations.

Firstly that the government through the Ministry of Mines must re-tender the mining licence publicly and transparently in the interests of accountability. The fact that there is a mining company operating in what are for now reportedly unclear circumstances in the area means that something was not done transparently and as a result thereof, the whole mining license issue must be revisited.

Secondly both central and local government must explain to the residents of Bikita district the full implications of this diamond discovery with the full intentions of democratically integrating them into any mining plans that will be considered from  the companies that will apply for mining licences. This would be in relation to the prioritization of employment for the residents of Bikita, the linking of the mineral license with specific development of the area such as rural electrification, expansion of public transport, expansion of health services and education, access to clean and safe water, safety and security as well as the provision for a safe and sustainable  natural environment management plan. In this, where there is need for the state to invoke its ownership of the communal land, it must not do so in a manner akin to the Chiadzwa tragedy where hundreds of families were forcibly relocated to a state farm hundreds of kilometers away. 

Any relocation plan must be democratically arrived at with the specific option of first ensuring that the residents of that part of Bikita district are allowed to stay and work for the mine with specific residential stands allocated to them within the vicinity of the mine and as far as is practically possible. Simultaneously there must be protection of the heritage and history of Bikita through not only ensuring environmentally friendly mining of the kimberlite diamonds but also keeping sites such as the Chibvumani ruins out of the scope of any mining activities and exploration.

If these issues are taken into account and if in effect any diamond mining activities in Bikita are undertaken within a social democratic context, a progressive model for application nationally will come into being. While it is inevitable that a mineral resource such as diamonds remains one that will cause radical changes to the area in which they have been discovered, these same said changes need not be elitist or undemocratic in form and intent. The Bikita diamond discovery presents an opportunity for the government of Zimbabwe, to do the right thing by the residents of Bikita and the entirety of the Zimbabwean citizenry. It must undertake a social democratic and people centered approach. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A Zimbabwean Salute to President Hugo Chavez

By Takura Zhangazha*

South America would not have been part of southern African liberation historiography had it not been for the Cuban revolution under Fidel Castro and its deliberate acts of solidarity toward and with  liberation movements across the African continent. In the aftermath of the Cold War, this solidarity has generally been wished away by those that would like to selectively rewrite our understanding of our own struggle history as Africans as well as do away with any affinity we may have had to socialist ideas and visions of our society.  That was until Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution arrived not only in Venezuela but also onto the global stage.

Given the fact that most of us in Zimbabwe and in Africa were enamored to Western hegemony via an expanding global media, we did not quite understand what Chavez was all about. We saw him on global media networks with Fidel Castro or alternatively raving and ranting against what he referred to as American imperialism. And still we did not comprehend what Chavez was about. We initially viewed him from the narrow prism of the West which had somehow persuaded us that we had reached some sort of ‘end of history’ and therefore there was no alternative to free market capitalist ideology. That was until thecoup in Venezuela in 2002 where Chavez was ousted only to be brought back to power via popular support and demonstrations on the streets of not only Caracas but other cities and towns of the country. That’s when I personally started taking an interest in the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. The question was, how is this leader who has been ousted via a coup, as was generally typical of Latin America, back in power and popularly so?

It turns out Chavez had irked the oil industry barons in his country through his nationalization programmes as well as his intentions to ensure social service delivery to the poor majority of Venezuela. He had also stood up to the United States’ hegemony in South America and was therefore a departure from pliant leaders to whom the north had become accustomed to.  He also had the wrong ‘friends’ globally and was challenging for the reform of the United Nations Security Council as well as speaking against the Iraq invasion of 2003. His friendship and solidarity with not only Cuba but also the Global South was evidently irritating to the West and he was therefore generally derided in the mainstream international media for having dictatorial tendencies. Regardless he still went on to win four elections that were regarded by international and local observers as free and fair and his country continues to be regarded as a functional constitutional democracy, even by its most acerbic detractors. 

In mourning Chavez from Zimbabwe and from Africa it is key that we remember him for his principled global leadership example and his people centered policies and politics. Whether one views these same said policies as socialist or social democratic, Chavez demonstrated organic leadership of his society and peoples. It was a leadership that had a direct link to the concerns for the poor majority and understood that the state, whatever else it does, is there to protect its citizens. He did not change the fundamental  democratic tenets of Venezuelan society but he did not take kindly to what he perceived as foreign influence on it, particularly after the failed coup in 2002.  His domestic record however remains the prerogative of Venezuelans to judge but from an African perspective, it showed that a different style and approach to political leadership is possible. Chavez showed Africa and our leaders that a leadership that is less enamored to the Washington Consensus as well as grounded in the realities of the people and that utilizes national resources for the common good is possible.

Chavez also carried on the tradition of solidarity with the global south in tandem with the example set by his close friend and mentor Fidel Castro. In a letter sent from him to the Africa-South America Summit held in February 2013, Chavez insisted that ‘we must unite’ for sustainable development and for the benefit of all our peoples. Key to this statement is the fact that Chavez abhorred ‘mimic’ leadership that sought more to appease the West than to deliver to the people and poor majority. And this has been a key challenge of African leadership, which portends an inability to understand that leadership is not about replicating the policies and dictat of the West but more about organic linkages with the people and trying out methods that benefit the majority and not the few.  

Indeed there will be numerous obituaries written about Chavez and his leadership style but from my own perspective, he represented hope for the poor and the eternally oppressed Global South. He stood up where others chose to meekly sit down and he represented those that never thought they stood a chance at recognition or a better life.  Hugo Chavez was and is a contemporary revolutionary and we are better off for having known his leadership, no matter the controversies. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in personal capacity(

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Dishonesty of the 'Yes' Campaign

By Takura Zhangazha*

In the last fortnight, there has been a somewhat muted launch of the ‘yes’ vote campaign for the COPAC draft constitution by the political parties in the inclusive government. One of the parties, the MDC T, sought to do so in grandiose fashion by holding a 'yes' campaign launch rally in Gweru last weekend. One can only assume that it was supposed to be  a massive rally which would show how much support they have and also indicate that they do not care about political principles or values, so long they have their supporters heeding their every word. As it turns out, the rally was neither as big nor as emphatic. Perhaps it was because of the rains that fell or perhaps it was because there is inadequate popular support for COPACs draft constitution, even if that party’s  leaders claim to have greater numbers at their beck and call.

The media has also been reporting that there has been low attendance to the meetings that have been called either by COPAC or other political parties in support of the draft. Some of the reasons given by the organisers of these meetings have been that there was not enough notice or alternatively there were not enough copies of the draft by the time the meetings began. In response, and again as reported in the media, citizens have definitively argued that there is too little time given for them to read and understand the draft or alternatively, if they are party supporters and activists, they just reply that they will follow the instructions of their political leaders. 

All of these developments indicate that there is some unfortunate political dishonesty going on over and about the ‘yes’ vote campaign. It is a dishonesty that has the immediate effect of exposing the flawed and evidently undemocratic nature of the process as well as indicative of the dictatorial and centralist politics that is now a shared characteristic of the parties in the inclusive government as well as those that are acting as their lackeys. It is also indicative of political leaders that are unfortunately caught up in the mistaken view that the people they lead are cattle to be herded in whatever direction the herdman/woman thinks and this, without their consent.

It would have been fair to assume that perhaps those campaigning for the yes vote understood the full import of the draft constitution they are proposing. Some of those who are at the helm of leading this yes campaign have neither read nor understood the document in question and are always caught out in media interviews or some civic society organized public meetings as being either ignorant of its contents or as being patently dishonest about its import. So even if one were to argue (in incremental fashion) that indeed the process was flawed, it would still be a herculean task to accept the argument based on content from people who either do not know the document’s contents or who are deliberately misrepresenting its articles.

Further dishonesty in the 'ye's campaign is found in the fact that some of its supporters have taken on a very personal approach to the matter. This includes wanting to be personally written in the annals of history as the progenitors of a new constitution for Zimbabwe. This would not be a problem were it not appearing to be done for mere personal recognition and not for democratic values or principles. And in this, there is the dishonesty of misrepresenting the facts of the draft constitution and positing of the argument that ‘any change is better’ without giving people adequate time to read and understand the document for themselves.

And this is coming from persons who were either leaders or direct participants to the 2000 rejection of the Chidyausiku Commissions draft constitution. A rejection which they wrongly refer to as having been a mistake and yet the true agenda was the articulation by the majority voters that they would really like to see a people driven draft constitution. By any democratic measure, the participants in the 'yes' campaign know full well that their process and document fails the ‘people driven’ test as articulated by the NationalConstitutional Assembly (NCA) and in the Zimbabwe Peoples Charter. It is no longer in any way a document for posterity but a document of their personal political moments which history will be wary to remember.

When taken into full account and from whatever angle one views it from, the current 'yes' vote campaign is an exercise in political dishonesty. This is initially and fundamentally  in relation to the process which was driven by political parties in the inclusive government without the democratic participation of other stakeholders.  And secondly in relation to the contents of the draft which do not signify any significant democratic shift from the politics that informed and informs the current constitution. Thirdly and finally, the dishonesty resides in the elitist and spoon-feeding paternalistic attitude that informs the conduct of the parties and persons campaigning for a 'yes' vote. They will not even allow adequate time for people to debate their flawed document, let alone either get a copy or read it, a process and campaign that can only be defined as a national travesty.
* Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (