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'.