Tuesday, 30 April 2013

“Corruption, Ethics and Professionalism in the Media: The way forward.

 A presentation to the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF), Round Table Discussion

Tuesday, April 30, 2013, Quill Club, New Ambassador Hotel, Harare, Zimbabwe.

By Takura Zhangazha (Executive Director,  Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ))

Mr Secretary General and Mr Chairman,

Let me begin by thanking the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum for organizing this round table discussion on ‘Corruption, Ethics and Professionalism in the Media: the way forward’.  The topic is relevant in the context of the fact that in three days time, Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Press Freedom Day, an important calendar event for all those that remain committed to press freedom,  media professionalism and ethical journalism.

Because this is also a ZUJ event let me also wish members of ZUJ a happy Workers Day tomorrow, May 1 and indicate that I find it most pleasing that the commemorative events of both workers and journalists follow each other so closely on the international calendar. I am sure this may only just be coincidental but all the same, it is important to realize the importance of both labour rights  and freedom of the media as two symbiotic democratic principles that when adequately recognized lead to the establishment of societies where access to information, media freedom and freedom of expression are fully recognized.

In relation to the topic under discussion, Zimbabwe’s media first demonstrated full commitment to seeking the highest possible levels of professionalism and ethics through the VMCZ Media Code of Conduct. This code of conduct was adopted in 2007 by media houses that agreed to its stipulations and after nationwide and multiple stakeholder consultation, with ZUJ playing a key role in its adaptation. This commendable effort by the media stakeholders to establish the VMCZ as an alternative media self regulatory framework was essentially to demonstrate the commitment of journalists and media stakeholders to ethics and professionalism in the way they report issues in the public interest. It was, as it still remains, also done in order to proffer to the state, a regulatory framework that does not criminalize the media profession or cause undue and undemocratic hindrance to the work of journalists through a voluntary media code of conduct.

It is this Media Code of Conduct (MCC) that informs my contribution to this debate.

Issues of corruption and bribery in the media are addressed both broadly and specifically in the MCC. The broad nature of the code of conduct relates to Section 3 where it outlines the following:

3. General standards
a) Media practitioners must maintain the highest professional and ethical standards. They must carry out their functions of informing, educating and entertaining the public professionally and responsibly.
b) Media practitioners must defend the principle of the freedom of the media to freely access, collect and disseminate information and to publish comments and criticisms. They must oppose censorship, suppression of news and the dissemination of propaganda.

And this is an important departure point because we cannot debate this important topic without understanding the agreed to general standards as outlined above. Especially where when regulating itself, the media underscores the importance of the principles of freedom of the media, access to information and the avoidance of working for propagandistic purposes.

This is a succinct departure point from what has informed state regulation of the media, which has unfortunately in the case of Zimbabwe sought to ‘police’ journalists to write for and on behalf of the state not in the best public interest or in order to promote freedom of expression and access to information.  In essence therefore,  the VMCZ media code of conduct is intended to protect the media from not only being corrupt and unethical, but also to guard it against corruptibility by forces that may not intend to act in the best public interest or in tandem with the democratic principles of freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information.

Where it comes to the particularity of the issue of corruption there are specific sections of the code of conduct that relate to matters concerning bribery, inaccuracies and unfairness when journalists cover stories. For example, section 8 of the media code of conduct states,

8. Bribes and inducements
Media practitioners and media institutions must not publish or suppress a report or omit or alter vital facts in that report in return for payment of money or for any other gift or reward

This section is perhaps as brief as it is in order to ensure that there is no ambiguity on the issue it addresses. It must also be read in tandem with internal editorial charters or internal ombudsman rules for various media organizations as they all tend to address it with the seriousness it deserves. Furthermore, it must be understood that in general corruption is unacceptable in any sector of our society and must always be curbed by all and sundry. Where section 8 of the MCC deals with this issue it’s primary focus is on the conduct of media professionals in relation to their work and ethics within the media profession. This section does not purport to deal with the individual and non-journalistic behavior of a media professional. There are other laws for that and essentially, no one is and no one should be above the law on the issue of bribery or corruption.

Mr. Chairman, it is however important that we do not overlook the fact that there are still many challenges over and about the issues of alleged corruption or unethical tendencies in the media profession. And there are many causes for these challenges as well as there are solutions. From my perspective the primary challenge has resided in a repressive media environment where the state seeks to directly control or regulate the media through criminalizing the profession.

Such a culture of impunity against the media has generally led to the media having to self censor and function in a climate of fear which goes against the spirit and letter of Section 3 of the media code of conduct.  It is this repressive environment that has led to the greater extent to a media that then becomes susceptible to any alleged corruption.

Futhermore, the over-bureaucratization of state regulation of the media leads to the latter’s politicization and compromises its integrity and professionalism. A key example as we approach the occurrence of harmonized elections is how the media finds itself under statutory regulation from at least four bodies, namely, the Zimbabwe Media Commission, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe and the Postal and Telecommunications Authority of Zimbabwe. It is a statutory framework that does not promote transparency and accountability and therefore can only be viewed as a breeding ground for corruption and corruptibility of the media. 

This deliberately multiple regulator environment is then further exacerbated by the poor remuneration and working conditions of the media profession. This is in two respects. First it is the low pay and poor working conditions of the journalists in Zimbabwe. Secondly it is in respect to the multiple regulatory frameworks that each media house must adhere to, pay accreditation or a portion of their profits too over and above its statutory obligation to pay corporate tax to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. This cumbersome regulatory regime has tended to leave the media profession the poorer in a manner that is in reverse proportion to the importance of its role in promoting access to information, freedom of expression all in the public interest. 

This is why the ZUJ initiatives of establishing  national employment councils (NECs) for journalists must continue to be supported both by media professionals at all levels as well as by publishers and other media stakeholders.  Given the fact that I am aware that the ZUJ is an affiliate union of the ZCTU, I would also go further and advise that in thinking on the way forward, there is need to follow the latter’s model of National Economic Consultative Forums where and when it interacted with government and business. In the case of ZUJ however, these would be forums that relate to the media, media owners and publishers in all media forms, i.e print, broadcast and internet based media. This will be a key stepping stone in dealing with issues of conditions of service of journalists as well as their remuneration.

In order to deal with the challenges that the topic under discussion poses, it is my submission Mr Chairman,  that the media profession showed good intentions by establishing the VMCZ and its media code of conduct. And I am certain the good intentions of the media remain. The code of conduct is not an attempt by the media to skirt public accountability. Instead it is an attempt to guarantee it. As with all such initiatives across the globe, there will always be questions and ‘doubting Thomas’ on the issue. Unfortunately the majority of the doubters tend to be those that are in power and are therefore in charge of the implementation of laws that criminalise the media profession.  It is imperative, within the Zimbabwean context, that we understand that the Zimbabwean media has gone out of its way to try and be professional, even prior to the promulgation of AIPPA where in the 1980s there were varied attempts at establishing voluntary media councils. These were and have been stymied by a state that unfortunately and incorrectly regards, media freedom as a privilege and not a fundamental human right. 

The way forward and until the government demonstrates greater sincerity in wishing to address media reforms in a democratic and consultative fashion, is that the media must continue to strive to prove that media self regulation works and that journalists are willing and able to be ethical without being herded like cattle by those that enact laws that criminalize media freedom , freedom of expression and access to information.
Thank you and I wish you all a happy May Day tomorrow and World Press Freedom Day this Friday, May 3 2013. Ends//.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Primary Elections in Zimbabwe: Democracy within Parties and its Pitfalls

Primary Elections in Zimbabwe: Democracy within Parties and its Pitfalls.

By Takura Zhangazha.*

A presentation to a Public Meeting organized by the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) Thursday 25  April 2013, New Ambassador Hotel, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Good evening colleagues, comrades and friends.
Mr. Chairman,
The topic I have been asked to be a joint panelist in discussing is one that would be very interesting to a number of aspiring political candidates. And I am sure in the audience present here today there will be a good number of them.

Also, because none of the parties in the inclusive government or those outside of it have announced that they have officially begun the tenuous exercise of conducting primary elections, I must hasten to state for the record that in making this presentation, I have no vested interest in being a candidate for any of the nationally existent  political parties either at internal or national office level. And I am also here in my personal capacity and as a citizen of Zimbabwe to share with you my views on the subject matter at hand.

Stating this shall perhaps make it easier for respected members of the audience to consider my submissions as somewhat more objective than biased against any political party (existing or yet to exist) that has declared its intentions to seek power in the next harmonized election.
Where we discuss the issue of primary elections for political parties in Zimbabwe, its more or less a discussion on the internal processes of the same entities. And the inference in the topic of the ‘pitfalls’ of democracy within political parties pre-supposes that already there is something already amiss about them.

It is an inference I wholly agree with but not only about the primary election season in the manner in which it relates to our pending harmonized elections, but also with reference to the internal leadership election processes via a vis party constitutions and succession politics. 
In most of our post independence political parties, including those that have since stopped existing, there has been the undemocratic characteristic of the “founding leaders” syndrome. This syndrome can be defined as the general tendency of having the initial founding leadership at inception or taste of electoral success (not just the leader) still at the helm of the same said party over a prolonged period of time.

The party that has generally been singled out for criticism on this basis has been Zanu Pf for the obvious reason that they have been in government since independence and they have had the same party leader and general party leadership from independence to present day.
The other two parties in the inclusive government, though having existed for a shorter period and still yet to acquire singular and full executive authority in government have also demonstrated the same tendencies. All of their current leaders are those that were there at the party’s inception both when they were united or when they eventually split. 
And even in their shorter existence, there has been limited little challenge to the ‘founding leadership syndrome’ for a number of publicly stated reasons. These have sometimes been given as the ‘struggle is not yet complete’ and that one can’t change the captain of the ship before arrival at the preferred destination. In some other cases the leader has been referred to as the ‘only one’ who can lead.

In essence therefore, like in Zanu Pf, the other two MDCs political practices are characterized by a situation in which founding leaders are unchallengeable on the basis of their presence at inception of the party or at least as having been there at the first taste of being in some sort of elected authority (in this case, Parliament and the inclusive government). And these founding leaders are sometimes referred to as ‘brands’ or in lower leadership levels those that party members must always stand behind, no matter the mistakes they make.

For the political parties that are not in the inclusive government, the same syndrome applies.  Rarely have they sought a change of leadership, in some instances even after electoral defeat or failure. And where there has been some sort of change in leadership, it is a transaction that is limited to those that were in the founding leadership of the party and not necessarily a direct democratic process. Or even on the basis of performance legitimacy in relation to the party principles and values.

It is also this ‘founding leadership’ syndrome of retaining political power then informs the grassroots politics of political parties in Zimbabwe.

At lower structure levels, the retention of founding members also exists but it is a more democratic process. This is because it is closer to the direct base of the party particularly where one has no lavish security or bureaucratic structure to prevent an ordinary member visiting one’s house to enquire over a party matter or decision.  But unfortunately what also becomes a factor from ward/branch level, going upwards is the issue of ‘proximity’ to the founding leader or what can alternatively referred to as the national power center that becomes significant.

At grassroots, party influence and power is not determined, in our particular examples, by the values and principles that inform the party. But more by the benefits that one gets from being close to the center of power or at least its representation.

And this is an issue that brings me to the issue of primary elections for the four administrative posts that are available for occupation by aspiring individuals. These are namely the Senate, House of Assembly, local Government and quota representation in both legislative houses. The major statements issued from the centers of the parties in the inclusive government have largely been in relation to either incumbency or alternatively qualification procedures for candidacy.
The latter have tended to relate to either educational qualifications plus issues of duration of party membership.  The truth of the matter is this would all be well and good if the centers of political parties were being honest.

In tandem with the culture of founding leadership, the more bureaucratic the selection process of candidates has become, the more it amounts to internal ‘gate-keeping’ by the elites in the political parties.  In most party narratives about these primary elections, there has been the tendency for sitting national leaders to either not be challenged democratically at relevant constituency level (eg, confirmation exercises) or resistance to leadership renewal even at constituency or ward levels. This has seen in some instances, the leadership at the center no longer intending to contest previously held constituencies in favour of either direct appointment or hanging on the coattails of a main presidential candidate.
Where the same process has directly sought educational qualifications, this can only be referred to as a unfortunate tendency toward a qualified franchise system in which the values of the party are subsumed by those of either ZIMSEC or some university or the other. Such an approach protects most political party incumbents, undermines leadership renewal and makes seeking political office become like a civil service application process.  Whereas in properly democratic parties, there is a general understanding that it’s the ability of an individual to articulate the democratic values, principles and culture of the party that should get them elected, in the case of our own political parties, there appears to be no such internal democratic culture and leadership.

In all of these contests, which have generally been ascribed the infamous descriptive phrase, ‘politics is dirty’, there will be the typical money and personality based politics. The primary election season is a serious drain on personal resources of aspiring candidates. Both emotionally and financially. The high unemployment rates of the youth in the country (who are the primary party activists) as well as the general culture of the ‘politics of the belly’ that has led to this unfortunate state of affairs. 

And this is the point I would like to conclude my presentation with. The primary election season that is upon us is a direct product of the primary lack of a democratic culture in a majority of our political parties. This would be in relation to both internal party democracy as well as its interaction with national elections via primary elections.  Indeed every party has a constitution and rules for its individual and collective membership but these have either been underutilized or manipulated to retain elite circles of leadership or to function as power gate-keeping mechanisms. For some parties this power gate keeping has been solely for their own processes, while for Zanu Pf and the MDCs it has also been in relation to state executive authority and power. 

The main reason why primary elections have become such serious arenas of political contests is because in between the elections, most of the political parties do not demonstrate organic leadership of their respective political parties either by way of values, principles and or actions.  They either over concentrate on their personal retention of power in between their own congresses/conferences as well as its retention at state, parliamentary and local government level.

 It is an unfortunate development that has left most of our country’s political parties bereft of people centered ideas and concentrating on the politics on personalities and not, as the people would expect, on democratic values and principles. In order for the parties to better serve the democratic interests of Zimbabweans, they must democratize internally first and base their leadership selection criterion on party values, principles and ideological frameworks on a performance related basis and in an openly democratic manner that transcends mere populism.

Thank you.
*Takura Zhangazha spoke here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Zimbabwean Media, Elections and Democracy

A brief presentation to the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) Discussion Forum by Takura Zhangazha (Executive Director, Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe)
Wednesday 24 April 2013, Trust Towers, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Let me begin by thanking the editorial staff of the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) Group for inviting the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe to this pertinent discussion on Media, Elections and Democracy in Zimbabwe. It is important from the outset to highlight the democratic value of elections and electoral processes to democratic societies. Elections can broadly be referred to as the  sum total of processes that lead to the establishment of what has been referred to in American history and political parlance as ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’ (shall not perish from this earth). 

This is also a phrase that was cited by one of Zimbabwean politics’ most recognized historians Terrence Ranger as having been used in our own Zimbabwean liberation history. In his recently published memoir, ‘Writing Revolt, Anengagement with African Nationalism 1957-67’ Ranger cites one of our liberation struggle leaders (name supplied) using this line in the early 1960s when addressing rallies in the then Highfields township (much to the delight of the hundreds of people present at the same).

In fast forwarding to our contemporary political context, elections have however not be seen or referred to popularly as resulting in us having ‘government of the people, for the people and  by the people’.  The disputed and controversial elections that have occurred since 2000 in Zimbabwe have not necessarily reflected the unfettered will, even by majority dictate,of the citizens of our country.  

And the reasons for this are many and well documented in various electoral reports by observers and election related organizations. However it must be emphasized that one of the key reasons has been the deliberate stifling of the media, access to information and broader freedom of expression by the state.  And this is where the topic I have been asked to discuss jointly with other panelists becomes relevant.

The culture and practice of impunity and criminalization of the media and freedom of expression by the Zimbabwean state has contributed significantly to how elections have not necessarily reflected the democratic will of the people.  This is a point however that is made not in order to assume that the media must only have freedom to operate during elections in order to accentuate access to information of the citizenry around electoral processes. 

 Because elections are as I have indicated in my introduction are the sum total of the processes that lead to government of the people, by the people and for the people, they are not only time based democratic processes. They are in fact processes that reflect more the democratic culture and people centered stability of a country over the long term.

So in discussing the media, democracy and elections there is need for us to understand that these three issues transcend the harmonized elections we are expecting some time this year. These are issues that in effect reflect the fundamental values and principles of our society and that must always be considered for posterity and not as is the current case in Zimbabwean society, for incremental or elitist gain.

I say this latter point because in the lifetime of the inclusive government, there has been largely token appreciation of the democratic value and importance of the media, access to information and freedom of expression.  This tokenism has found expression through the incremental and ‘gatekeeping’ approach to media reforms that have been undertaken by the inclusive government where it comes to opening up the media in its holistic sense (print, broadcast and ICT based).  Moreover, the government has sought more a quantitative approach to media reforms with the simplistic assumption that ‘the more the merrier’.

Such an approach is one that foregoes the qualitative impact of the media on society as well as skirts the questions of the fundamental democratic value of media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information.  This is why the Zimbabwean media has at least four statutory regulatory bodies where and when it comes to elections, electoral processes and in general. These are namely the Zimbabwe  Electoral Commission, the Zimbabwe Media Commission, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe and the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. 

Further still, the state's paternalistic attitude toward the media sadly has come to be reflected in our recently 'referendum approved' draft constitution which has retained clauses that are inimical to democratic media freedom. Particularly in section 86 where freedom of expression is not listed as a right to which limitations should not apply. And also sections 248 and 249 where statutory regulation and criminalization of the media is enforced with greater emphasis than before. 

These clauses reflect a contemptuous, paternalistic and undemocratic attitude by the state toward media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information. It is also reflective of an ahistorical approach toward media freedom where the state and those that drafted the constitution failed to understand the full import of the statement made in 2001 by the late national hero Eddison Zvobgo to Parliament when the latter was debating the notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). In his adverse Parliamentary Legal committee Report, the late Honourable Zvobgo asked, and I am paraphrasing, ‘Where in the world have governments licensed its people to speak?’ This unfortunately is the contemporary state of affairs.

So as we debate the Media, Democracy and Elections, it remains imperative that we do not lose sight of the bigger picture over and about the same.  The media can only play its rightful role if its freedom is democratically respected.  Elections can only result in a government for the people and by the people if the media operates in an environment that does not criminalise freedom of expression and access to information. Such an environment cannot and should not be defined incrementally. Nor should it be invoked only during election periods as appears to be the case where and when political parties scramble for media coverage.  Instead it must be viewed as a cornerstone and founding principle of a democratic society. To think and do otherwise would be to betray the people of Zimbabwe.
Thank you.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A Clash of Generations, Zimbabwe at 33.

By Takura Zhangazha*

In our collective and individual reflections on the 33rd commemorations of Zimbabwe’s national independence it remains important that there be common understanding of the historical challenges that the country faces  in relation to history, contemporary politics and the future.  Indeed it may seem  too ritualistic for Zimbabweans to undertake such reflections on an annual basis but it is important to underline  why the same said reflections are necessary. Even if annually and with limited little material benefit stemming from the same. 

It remains necessary to reflect on the importance and time-based evolution of our national independence because fundamentally its founding tenets have either been under achieved, betrayed or altogether ignored by either those that took the post independence leadership mantle or those that have since 2000 participated in government at the highest levels.

This particular essay on our 33 years of national independence is cognizant of the fact that reflections on the same differ between generations. And this is a salient point for this brief analysis. It will outline what I consider the perspectives of the the 'liberation war', 'the consciously born free', 'ESAP', 'departure' and 'Google' Zimbabwean generations on the progression of our national independence and its meaning.  These 'generations' are defined by both age and political periods in our country's post independence history. Reference to them will also indicate my understanding of their political consciousness and roles in relation to the values, principles and objectives of our national independence over the last 33 years. 

To begin with, the liberation war generation are those who today have come to have a much more stubborn and experienced understanding of the meaning of independence. It is an understanding which they have correctly sought to imbue the subsequent 'consciously born free' generation with. The unfortunate angle to these good intentions  has been that 'liberation war generation' assumed that even the 'consciously born frees' would not come into their own consciousness. The values of independence may have been and still remain inviolable but their meaning to the experienced lives of the 'consciously born frees' changed.

Where one then analyses the meaning of independence to those who came into political consciousness in the aftermath of 1980, there was and remains an appreciation of the role of those that fought to liberate the country. This appreciation however did not and still does not translate into undying loyalty to the same. The impact of post independence policies that departed from the ideals of liberation led to many questioning the nation state project as articulated by the then ruling and eventually united  Zanu Pf party. 

Within the context of the euphoria of independence there was however an understanding of the distinct difference between Rhodesia and Zimbabwe. This was mainly experienced through the expansion of social services and the ambiguous expansion of opportunities for all, especially via education and work. This generation did not however share the same understanding of independence on a national scale. This was particularly significant during the period of 'Gukurahundi where being consciously born free was only symbolic for those that were in the Midlands and Matebeleland provinces. 

The government however went ahead with parading the 'consciously born frees'  to become the emblematic symbol of the success of independence until the time the Cold War  ended and Zimbabwe's global allies were no longer to be determined solely by ideological underpinnings. It was was a development that directly affected the performance legitimacy of the state and also impacted negatively on the socialist ideological understanding of independence of the 'consciously born free generation'. The fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist states was to have a profound effect on this generations understanding of 'gutsaruzhinji' as well as the one party state that was being proposed (and eventually rejected) in the late 1980s. 

The relatively newly independent state then began a radical withdrawal from social service delivery and implemented the World Bank recommended and sponsored economic structural adjustment programmes (ESAP). This development signaled the end of the post independence honeymoon period and heralded the beginning of the manufacturing of what I will refer to as the 'ESAP generation'. This latter generation was and remains a combination of the born frees and those who were coming into political consciousness in one form or the other in the mid 1990s.  

This generation was led primarily by the 'consciously born frees' in how it interacted with the state’s withdrawal from social services and reversion to colonial era political repression to stifle descent. It is a generation that was less ideologically committed to the official version of the meaning of national independence and keener on  issues relating to livelihoods and survival. It is also a generation that was to be subjected to a massive wave of globalization via the internationalization of Western media and culture to the extent that it took on the dominant global hegemonic values and principles without applying them organically to the national context. 

By the end of the 1990s it was to translate into a formidable opposition to the national liberation movement generation. It had a particularly different understanding of the meaning of independence which included decrying the betrayal of the liberation struggle but not necessarily adhering to the values of the same. In part this was an ahistorical approach that was the result of the disjuncture of the liberation struggle's historical trajectory through the undemocratic leadership of the country over the first two decades of post independent Zimbabwe. 

It is however important to note that the ESAP generation was not necessarily organic in its approach to what it defined as either the betrayal of independence or contemporary national challenges. Whereas initially its claim to the state stemmed from what it defined as the ‘working peoples movement’ (a combination of students, youth organisations, trade unions, women's associations, business organizations and disaffected liberation war veterans), it found solace in alternative political frameworks that were determined largely by the global liberal democratic narrative. It laid claim to the sate successfully by registering tremendous success in mobilising popular support and making a somewhat phenomenal entry into the formal politics of the state legislature and local government.  It is this same generation that eventually made the liberation era generation agree to share power in 2009.

There is however a newer generation that has emerged since the turn of the century and particularly at the period of the quarter century commemoration of our national independence. This is a generation of those that came into political consciousness at the height of the national economic crisis and the performance based de-legitimisation of the state in the mid 2000s. It is the generation that also would have no qualms about leaving the country in order to survive.  I would call this the 'departure generation' which as with the 'ESAP' generation is a combination of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’. 

The nature of the departure was not only physical but it was also a departure from actively seeking to appreciate the values of independence as articulated by either the 'liberation struggle', 'consciously born free' or 'ESAP' generation. Politics and political being became irrelevant to survival for the majority of this particular grouping. And this remains the case today.

It is a generation that will seek more economic survival than political consciousness. Where it has an interest in politics and political activity, this is merely instrumental for survival. It is also a generation that is also more global than it is national in its political outlook. This characteristic being a direct result of the politics of exclusion in the mainstream political parties. 

In its wake, the departure generation'  it is also spawning a what I would refer to as a Zimbabwean version of the globally acclaimed ‘google generation’. The latter is more persuaded  by international culture and media than it relates and understands national context. It is primarily a direct product of dissipating political consciousness over and about the values of national independence and their relevance to contemporary Zimbabwean society.  It is also however the generation that will determine the future of Zimbabwe less because of its numerical advantage but more due to its political opacity and malleability. This is because it is yet to portend any particular political values or where it does it is not aggressive in its loyalty to them. 

As Zimbabwe commemorates its 33rd independence anniversary, there are matters that remain unresolved, under achieved and over politicized about the objectives values and principles of our national freedom. These issues cut across generations by age and by political consciousness as I have tried to articulate in this brief essay. The key point must however be that Zimbabwe is not an ‘arrival society’ where its people live in organic symbiosis with their liberation struggle history. It may be a matter that relates to our time related proximity to 1980 and the fact that we have had the same leadership from the liberation struggle to present day. Regardless, 33 years after our independence we are now in the throes of a clash of generations, less significantly by way of age but by way of political experience and understanding of the values, objectives and principles of our national independence. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. This essay was written as a submission to the Committee of the Peoples Charter's 'Notes on 33 years of Independence'. https://www.facebook.com/groups/219234921456749/

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Elections, Fuel Increases and the Grass That Suffers

By Takura Zhangazha*

The inclusive government, prior to the March 16 2013 constitutional referendum, decided to pass on the cost of holding elections to Zimbabweans in a rather unorthodox manner. Through the Ministry of Finance it increased the excise duty on fuel imports and as a direct effect thereof, increased the costs of both public transport as well as goods/services. The logic given was that these increase would raise revenue to fund both the constitutional referendum as well as the pending harmonised elections. That decision was not only insensitive to the plight of the poor majority in the country  but sadly indicative of a lack of seriousness in policy implementation by the government. 

Democratic reasoning as well as budgeting would normally indicate that periodic national elections (in our case every five years) are events that are budgeted or fundraised for well in advance and with anticipation of the much vaunted ‘electoral cycle approach’.But because the inclusive government has been politicizing the entirety of not only its existence but also the duration of its term of office, there was never any thorough or focused planning on the inevitability of either the referendum or elections. 

This particularly so where and when it came to the annual budgets that have been presented since 2009. The point is not that the budgets did not allocate money for a perceived election, which they generally did. The key issues however remain two-fold. Firstly that these allocations were inadequate and secondly that with each passing year, why were the allocations never cumulative in relation to shortfalls for years that the elections were budgeted for but never occurred?

This is a debate that would initially appear to be abstract or more for the economists and political scientists if it did not have a bearing on the livelihoods of ordinary citizens.  This is in one primary respect. The government’s decision to increase the surcharges on fuel imports has almost immediately caused the evident increase in at least public transport costs for the ordinary civilian. 

It will most certainly, if it hasn’t already, cause further increase in the costs of basic commodities and other services on an already financially strained consumer. This would mean that while it would be assumedly noble that Zimbabweans are funding their own political processes by default, it is highly insensitive on the part of government to make the citizen pay for its mistakes and planning shortcomings. Such a development is indicative of the no longer shocking arrogance of our political leaders when it comes to matters that affect Zimbabweans directly. It is an arrogance that borders on dismissing the challenges the citizen faces regularly in favour of massaging the electoral egos of the few in government.

Another angle to look at this development is assessing the bigger picture of whether or not the processes Zimbabweans are now funding in an unorthodox manner have had democratic meaning in their lives. Where one looks at the constitutional referendum there is a distinct imprint of the same sort of arrogance that informs an almost knee jerk instruction to increase fuel import tax regardless of the views of the people. As a result, the process of the constitutional referendum became more an imposition than a democratic one . And the process still appears not to have ushered in any new and popular ‘democratic era’ as the political parties still in the inclusive government would have us believe especially with the continuation of a repressive political environment and a government that functions with limited little oversight. So if one does a cost-benefit analysis, Zimbabweans have been short changed while their economic circumstances have taken a turn for the worse.  And this by their own government.

It would also be important to take into account the new contestations about harmonized elections between the MDCs and Zanu Pf. Again, the potential of the persons carrying the dual burden of economic hardship and a polarized political environment being short changed is high. The message from government to the people of Zimbabwe is literally ‘fund our fight even if it will not have any direct economic benefit or new democratic meaning to you’. In any event, the government is firmly persuaded it can do what it wants without further or adequate public explanation necessary as it did with the constitutional referendum.

In the final analysis, the people of Zimbabwe have been asked to carry yet another undemocratic burden on behalf of the three parties in the inclusive government. With each party probably assuming it will win the election, it is a burden that will be politicized and have limited further meaning to democratic processes in the country. This while the government is attempting a pretense at democratic honesty via the undemocratic means of trying to cover up for its shoddy electoral planning processes and budgeting. 

By passing on the buck to the ordinary Zimbabwean in such an abrupt fashion, the inclusive government has shown its true character of elitism and smugness at never being challenged or brought to account on democratic value and principle. For this, Zimbabweans will have to suffer the circumstances described in the proverb, ‘When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers’. In our case, the grass may no longer exist.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. His Essay on Notes on 33 years of Independence will be online on Wednesday 17 April 2013 (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Zim-China Economic Relationship Needs Democratic Review

By Takura Zhangazha*

When the Chinese President visited Africa last week, the 28 March-4 April 2013 editorial comment of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent was correct to criticize our government’s ‘look east policy’.  Its main criticism was essentially to point out  that for all our government’s self praise for its ‘look east policy’ the fact that the Chinese leader did not visit the country can be described as  'a diplomatic snub'. And that after all is said and done it appears we are bit part players in luring long term and mutually beneficial economic foreign direct(FDI) investment from China. Particularly so where we now have the added dimension of the holding of the Brazil, India, China, Russia and South Africa  (BRICS )Fifth Summit  in Durban, South Africa at the end of March 2013.

While there will probably be counter arguments about whether President Jinping passing Zimbabwe by is a diplomatic snub or not, it is of importance that the nature of our relationship with China and Chinese foreign direct investment be reviewed democratically. This review would be in order to measure the national benefit to Zimbabwe and in relation to global trends in trade and development issues. 

The same said review would however need to move away from the dominant narratives of either viewing China’s role in Africa or Zimbabwe as the 'new imperialism' because either way, African  countries have interacted for hundreds of years with global superpowers of one form or the other. And this is not going to change in the near future. What will and must change is the nature of the national/domestic responses to these global hegemons and their financial/developmental aid and its attendant conditionalities or lack thereof. Moreover, it is also the dangerous nuances of xenophobia that have found dominance in nations such as Zambia that must be stemmed not in order to sweep anything under the carpet, but to deal with the causes and not the symptoms.

These are key departure points in analyzing Zimbabwe’s contemporary relationship with China. Whereas our narrative of our relationship with China was initially and historically a political one via the latter’s direct military and technical support for our liberation struggle, it is now largely an economic one. The little politics that remains today has come more from our own national leaders than the Chinese themselves. This is whether one looks at our economic ‘look east’ policy or our requests for vetos against sanctions resolutions at the United Nations Security Council.  In these requests the political leadership’s major challenge has been its inability to negotiate on firm ground and in the interests of the country.  

In saying this, I am aware that there will be consternation particularly over the sanctions issue but the counterargument would be, it never had to get that far in the first place. And in any event, the national political leadership need not refuse its complicity in the national crisis we faced then or we face now though to a less internationalized extent.

Given the fact that this year we will most certainly have a new government (of sorts) for the next five years it is important to outline a number of organic principles or rules of engagement for our foreign policy particularly where it concerns our relationship with China. And that these principles may at least be considered by those that will contest or support contestants in the pending 2013 elections. 

Broadly spoken for we must acknowledge and recognise that the historical and positive assistance given to Zimbabwe by China during the liberation struggle is beyond dispute, both here and in the SADC region. This however must not be reason for us to think or act out of economic context about the same said country's    'economic interests' driving motive (inclusive of their historical upper-hand over the West in the region)  in their contemporary relations with us. 

This does not make Chinese investment and aid packages any worse than that received from the traditional Western powers. It merely means any future government need not look at Chinese investment from a binary perspective of East/West, but fundamentally to seriously consider how such said investment best serves the social-democratic interests of the country. In doing so, it would be imperative that government stops the over-politicisation of what in the final analysis is now a relationship that is based largely on principles of economic cooperation in a highly competitive global economy. This, as opposed to the days of old where it was mainly about political and liberation struggle support only.  

As they have been doing in South Africa and Ethiopia, the Chinese are willing to negotiate with national leaders on the sort of assistance required. In the instance of South Africa the investment deals that  they recently signed are related not only to direct aid but joint infrastructure development projects for the benefit of that country’s majority and not the few. What is therefore important is how and what our leaders negotiate for in return for investment deals whether in relation to a 'state-capitalism' understanding of African markets or in dealing with minerals extraction ventures.

Unfortunately, our Zimbabwean leaders in the inclusive government have failed to understand this point and a new thinking is needed. It is most regrettable that none of the deals that we have entered into with either the Chinese, Indian or other governments have not been informed by a progressive and social democratic negotiation framework. And hence very few if any of the investment deals signed in the last four years of the inclusive government are anywhere near being described as being fully functional or running as scheduled.  

We may have a history of direct solidarity with the Peoples Republic of China dating back to our national liberation struggle era but even this important and historical solidarity alone is not enough in dealing with that country’s contemporary global interests. Neither is it enough in addressing our own socio-economic challenges here at home. We must negotiate much more firmly, based on sound mind and social democratic values and without getting angry on behalf of either East or West but on behalf of the interests of all Zimbabweans. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)