Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Zimbabwe’s Politicized Public Intellectualism.

By Takura Zhangazha*

There is a silent but evident battle that is being waged in-between the political statements over and about the political state of affairs in Zimbabwe. It is an intellectual one. It is however not organic. Its primary characteristics are defined either by party politics or outright mimicry of intellectualism from elsewhere (or fashionable internationalism). Its most recent port of entry has been legalistic in tone after the controversial Constitutional Court ruling that our general election must be held by July 31 2013.  

The flurry of legal and paralegal arguments have not only been interesting but also thought provoking in relation to the democratic principle of separation of powers and academic or interventionist suppositions of international relations. The latter point more within the context of the recent SADC Maputo Extraordinary Summit’s recommendation that government leaders’ return to our Constitutional Court to seek an extension to the deadline for elections. 

The debate has been as vigorous as it has been accusatory. The accusations have been largely viewed through the prisms of political polarization, celebrating or denigrating political party principals and or judges of the Constitutional Court both intellectually or in social commentary.  What these conversations via the media or in court related documents have demonstrated is that indeed our contemporary ‘public intellectualism’ has not escaped the political culture in which it operates. 

It is however not a new development since our national independence. Various academic studies on intellectualism in Zimbabwe have been undertaken with the most recent (to my knowledge) being one by United Kingdom based Zimbabwean academic Blessing-Miles Tendi which uniquely links intellectualism and the media.

What is however peculiar to recent political developments over and around the new constitution, the recent Maputo SADC  extraordinary summit and the positioning of political parties is that the intellectual crescendo appears to have reached unprecedented fever pitch from all sides of the political divide.  Almost everybody who matters or mattered in one party or the other has played out an opinion on the matter, be they lawyers, social scientists or civil society activists.

Add to this the dimension of the social/new media and its commentary, however lay it may seem, and we have a conundrum of what renowned American public intellectual Noam Chomsky has referred to as manufactured consent. Except in our case we may be facing an era of manufactured dissent and on a multi-polar basis. This perhaps all depending on which political party one has sympathies with or in terms of particular differences with the general political establishment.

Were all of this occurring within a much more objective and democratic framework it would all be laudable. After all, we are all entitled to our opinions, intellectual or otherwise.  What has however become problematic is the straitjacketed nature of the public intellectualism and its presentation of patent political bias as objective fact, whichever way one looks at it. In choosing one side over the other, those that claim intellectual public space have been both selective in their understanding of the issues of the day or have played direct ‘rationalizing gatekeepers’. 

To the extent that this intellectualism has sought to support one political objective or the other, its primary fault has increasingly resided in its departure from organic intellectualism. And this perhaps is the most important of considerations given the fact that there are so many political nuances to the construction of knowledge in contemporary Zimbabwe. Be it in relation to the land question, the new constitution, our country’s international relations and our integration into the global economy via Bretton Woods neo-liberal economic frameworks. We are failing to view the whole and chose instead bits and pieces either in mimicry or without adequate contextual understanding of the hegemonic challenges of the day.

The definitive framework of organic intellectualism has been lost in the multi-layered framework that is the epistemological entity of assumed universalism and universal knowledge. All of this much to the detriment of knowledge production within national context and in the best possible public interest. Hence for example our very much borrowed (in relation to clauses and structure) new constitution which very few Zimbabweans have actively read or had sight of.

It is important therefore, in concluding, that I return once again to the issue I initially raised in this article. This being the challenge of ‘inorganic’ or overtly partisan intellectualism that the country is now faced with and its politics characterized by. 

Had this partisan intellectualism been within a context of a free media and academically uninhibited environment either via our media, universities and think tanks, it might be easier to argue to defend this state of affairs on the basis of everyone’s right to be a public intellectual or to at least intellectualize on behalf of political parties or positions taken. 

Unfortunately our polarized environment has led to suppression of divergent views and substituted the objective truths for partisan ones.  While we can’t all claim intellectualism let alone public versions of it, there is a huge responsibility on those that do to be much more honest in doing so. Even if they are in the throes of trying to establish a counter hegemonic presence, they must do so with the evident intention of ensuring that whatever they write, say or lecture on is based on fact and above all is not said at the altar of expediency or false intellectual urgency. 

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

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Zimbabwean lessons from the Whistle-Blown United States Prism Programme

By Takura Zhangazha*

The recent  revelations in the Guardian UK newspaper by American whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that his country’s National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly collecting phone and internet related data of its citizens has correctly sent shock-waves across the world. Particularly in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The levels of debate on the significance of the unprecedented level of a government allegedly spying on its own citizens or those of other countries may however not be as comparatively high in Africa let alone in Zimbabwe.  Both in relation to global outrage or in the defensiveness of local telecommunications or internet service provision companies.

This would not be because the arbitrary collection of private citizens data is not an issue but because it may just not be as high a priority this side of the Equator. To be specific to my own country of origin, Zimbabwe, it may not really matter at all since there is a general perception that our government gets information it wants, whenever it wants from phone calls, emails and internet usage patterns, especially when it is related to politics and not just ‘global terrorism’. 

Its only challenge may be in relation to not having the relevant (or up to date) technology  to snoop around peoples emails and mobile phones. But the will and the intention are undoubtedly there.  And it has tried to mitigate this by passing on the burden of snooping to the private mobile phone and internet service providers through legal instruments such as the Postal and Telecommunications Act and the Interception of Communications Act. For now, it however needs a warrant to get the private conversations and correspondences of citizens for use in legal prosecution.  At least formally so. We do not know what data it is collecting about us and whether it is legal. But given the example of the Prism programme in the USA, our government will probably want to fine tune whatever version of the same it has in place. Until such time a whistle-blower informs the media and the public. 

But apart from the ‘big brother’ state that we might have in Zimbabwe, the developments in the West are important in so far as they offer us a chance to reflect on our own internet and telephony usage vis-à-vis government policy and business models. I am sure that our national mobile telephony and internet service/access providers will be the first to state that they would never permit our government to do anything similar to what has occurred in the USA. That would be only if they were keen on democratic values as opposed to profit. 

The more urgent matter however is the fact that Zimbabwean society, while not being as connected via the internet as that of the USA, must also have a debate as to how it tackles the challenge of freedom of expression, individual privacy and new information communication technologies (ICTs).  This is because either way the inter-connected and ubiquitous phenomenon that is mobile internet is coming to all of Zimbabwe’s citizens. 

It may cost more now, but invariably it will get cheaper and because in economic parlance, our market is small, it will diversify in use and societal import sooner rather than later.  And government will want to control it not just in order to raise revenue as it does when re-licensing mobile telephone companies, but to manage political and social discourse in a partisan direction. 

This is however a debate that has had limited little takers within the ambit of placing ICTs in direct correlation to freedom of expression, access to information and the protection of privacy. The new Zimbabwean constitution though recognizing all of the above cited in its bill if rights has the overarching inference of the same being violable in relation to national security, public interest as well as public health in Section 86 of the new constitution. This, apart from a lack of the citation of the word ‘terrorism’, is a framework that will continue to give the government (and the information industrial complex) leeway to access individual citizens phone and internet records until such a time a court or act of parliament prevents it. 

When this framework is analyzed further, the political culture that informs it is more to protect the state than to promote either freedom of expression or the citizens right to privacy within the context of ICTs and their usage.  It is also a culture that has sought to look at ICTs from ‘safe usage’ perspectives such as development paradigms as the one that must be most promoted. And in part this is why our government’s ICT policy has tended to remain non-responsive to the massive technological advances in the same field and within the national context. 

The major challenge and lesson that the NSA Prism spying scandal has for Zimbabwe are that we have to manage our integration into the World Wide Web with greater caution and with a firm understanding of the democratic significance of the triumvirate rights of freedom of expression, access to information and the right to privacy. While this must be done taking into account lessons learnt from other countries (such as the USA), our pretext must also be contextual to our societies needs and with particular emphasis on our current freedom of expression and access to information socio-political deficit. 

Whereas the ‘whistle blowing’ organisation Wikileaks’ impact on our politics was much more direct (and more political), Edward Snowden’s revelations impact on us in relation to our own democratic values and principles. Its not so much what has occurred in the latter's country, but what will most likely occur in our own that is even more important.

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

Monday, 10 June 2013

July 31 2013: Arguments without the people.

July 31 2013: Arguments without the people.

By Takura Zhangazha.

There is a new-found abstract character to our politics in Zimbabwe. The heyday of political fervor for an idea or grand national vision seems to have become a thing of the past. The politics of our times are reserved for actors with specific proximity to power or those that are willing to be herded in one political party direction or the other.  

There also seems to be no particular persuasive belief in ideas or organic politics as would have been the case either at independence or in 1999 and in 2000. For all their statements, conferences or rallies, the leaders of political parties (including those that are not in the inclusive government) have failed to raise the national discourse to organically and democratically engaged levels on issues affecting the lives of our country’s citizens. Where there appears in the last two years, to have been a scramble to politics or political activity,  it has unfortunately been in order to access privilege and resources. Be these in either accessing indigenization and empowerment funds or seeking political office for the sake of personal aggrandizement. 

It is unfortunate that our recent contemporary politics no longer responds or follows the pulse of the nation, both within the context of its current challenges let alone those challenges that will remain or arrive in the near or distant future.  Furthermore, our national politics has tragically been  short-sighted and highly personalized in its approach to the challenges we face as a country.

Two particular political developments give evidence to this assertion. The first being that of the politics that surrounded and informed the passing of the new constitution by way of a controversial referendum, a muted parliament and an inorganic executive.  Whereas it would have been expected that in the aftermath of the passing of the constitution there would have been palpable joy (even if by the supporters of the political parties that wrote the constitution.), That did not in any way occur. Instead what we had initially were highly personalized gloating by some ministers, members of parliament as though they had written the constitution for themselves. 

Ironically, some of those leaders that were involved in vainglorious self-praise, are also on record stating that should their respective parties wield executive authority, they are most likely to amend the new constitution. So if anyone was to be asked to sum up this particular constitutional reform process, one can only say it was a process that remains devoid of organic political legitimacy.  It is only now, and in the aftermath of the Constitutional Court ruling on elections to be held by July 31 that members of the public are asking what exactly it is that is contained in the new constitution.

And it is this that brings me to the second political development that gives evidence to our highly personalized and inorganic politics. The controversies that have surrounded the Constitutional Courts ruling on the Jealousy Mawarire vs the GPA principals case, are to all intents and purposes now the subject of populist political grandstanding or undemocratic gate-keeping. 

In some cases these controversies have been akin to what the late renowned Zimbabwean academic, Professor Masipula Sithole would have termed ‘getting paid to be angry on behalf’ of one principal or the other. The fact of the matter is that the debate over and about elections and their occurrence is primarily about the politicians and not about the right of all Zimbabweans to choose a government of the choice. The level of debates and in some instances unfortunate derision of the judiciary were not witnessed in the run up to the constitutional referendum wherein the matter that was then being placed before the electorate was of even graver concern than elections themselves. 

Add to this, the murky political culture that has emerged from the primary elections processes of the politics of aggrandizement over and above the politics of principled democratic representation, then we will realize that the country faces a deadly cocktail of the politics of the belly and unprincipled political leadership.

Invariably there are those that will argue that we have to deal with what we have or alternatively, seek to define all of this within the ambit of ‘incrementalism’. The only problem with the latter is that in seeking incremental change, we have lost the wherewithal to understand that what we may view as ‘work in progress’ is more akin to an undemocratic permanent state of political and economic national affairs.

The end of tenure of the inclusive government is therefore an indictment on its leaders for they have limited little to show by way of performance legitimacy or leadership. What they leave (if they leave) in their wake is a country that no longer believes in the nobility and at a minimal level, the democratic values of leadership. From councilor to member of parliament through to those who would aspire to be president, we are faced with options that exude little more than the tragic culture of the politics of not only the belly but also of the vainglorious moment. This in a highly personalized manner that has more often than not clouded the real issues and challenges facing the entirety and fabric of Zimbabwean society.  Perhaps, one day, there shall be leaders who will be able, to paraphrase the African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral, ‘tell no lies, claim no easy victories’. It is most certain that no such leaders will emerge from the current crop who cannot think beyond their immediate survival and aggrandizement needs.

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

Monday, 3 June 2013

Remarks at St Ignatius College June 2013 Prize Giving Ceremony

St Ignatius College Chishawasha, 02 June 2013 Prize Giving Ceremony
Remarks by Takura Zhangazha. 

Representatives of the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture,
Father Phiri SJ, Rector of St Ignatius College
Chairperson of the School Development Committee
The Headmaster and Teaching Staff
Parents and Guardians
Administrative and Non Teaching Staff
The School Captain, Head Girl,  Prefecture and Sporting Team, Association Captains and Leaders
Colleagues, Comrades and Friends

Let me begin by thanking Fr Phiri, Father Rector of St Ignatius College, the School Development Committee, the Headmaster, Mr Madyangove, for extending an invitation to me to attend and be guest of honour at this important prize giving ceremony of this esteemed college and institution of learning.  As a former student of St Ignatius College, I am particularly aware of the importance of this event and prize giving ceremony not only because of the recognition that it gives to the sterling work done by parents, teachers, students and teaching staff over and about academic excellence.

 I must however confess to not having received as many prizes as my then fellow students who are largely now in the Diaspora either south of the Limpopo River or across oceans in Europe, north America and elsewhere.  

However, I am also happy to report back to this important gathering that my generation of former students in tandem with the words Ad  Maiorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG), has to the greater extent  remained true to working for the greater glory of God and our collective Zimbabwean society. This, in the various disclipines that we have invariably pursued both as result of the learning that we received here and furthered elsewhere. 

Indeed it has been a long time since I last sat in the last rows of St Francis Xavier classes from form one to four, and the arts section of the lower and upper sixth block. Time has also passed since I used to go to Mary Ward for what we referred to as ‘see me’ time then.

What has however remained indelible in my mind and I am sure in the minds of my then classmates (some of whom might  be here today in their capacity as parents/guardians) is the veritable truth that we were brought up on the values and principles of St Ignatius College, AMDG. I am therefore a son/child of this college. And for this I am grateful to my parents who saw it fit that I become a student here. Gratitude must also be extended to the teachers and all of the Jesuit and Mary Ward clerics that moulded us into not only academics but believers in the goodness of mankind and the imperative of contributing to the betterment of the societies in which we live. 

And back in the 90s we used to have a song that we used to sing in praise both of the college as well as our teachers. It was in Shona and titled, ‘Pamusoro pegomo panotenderera dzidzo’ ( translated to mean; ‘knowledge circulates on the mountaintop’). It’s a song that we used to sing with gusto on Parents Days. And again, as with all parents days, it was also sung in order to demonstrate our gratitude for the replenishment of our ‘tuck’ by our parents and guardians. 

But I must depart from my nostalgic ruminations and focus on the contemporary successes and challenges that the college celebrates or confronts respectively.  Over the years I am aware that the running of the college has been a difficult task. I am aware that keeping it afloat has been a challenging task and due to the reduction of government support to education across the country, the bulk of the burden of running the college has fallen onto the shoulders of parents/guardians and the Church. It is a task for which we must thank all stakeholders who have  worked hard to keep St Ignatius College up and running in these most trying of economic times. 

But even in these trying times we must always demonstrate conscientiousness, hope and belief that  through the hard work and commitment of all stakeholders, circumstances can and must get better.  Our optimism however must not be the stuff of dreams but of conscientious reality. I know that for most former students like myself, we tend to want to remember the college only when our own sons and daughters are either looking for places to study or we are involved in business that reminds us of market economics.

We need to revisit such a framework and demonstrate not only our gratitude but also our commitment to the values espoused by this institution by reviving our alumni association to make it more responsive to the needs of the college. With the necessary information availed to me and to my colleagues as former students, I pledge to participate in such a process and in collaboration with the current leadership of St Ignatius College.

Let me also turn to our parents who are here present. I am firmly aware of the difficult task it is to bring up children in difficult economic circumstances. My advice would be that parents, through the SDA must remain sensitive to the plight of other families. I say this because I remember a story that appeared in one of the newspapers last year. It was a story in which when a parent was asked about matters relating to payment of school fees, he replied in what I consider a rather callous manner and in accusation of other parents, ‘ if they do not have the money they should not bring their children to this school.’ I am glad to inform parents here present that this statement did not come from a parent at a Catholic or Jesuit School.

It is however a statement that made me remember that there are so many challenges facing parents and guardians at the moment that sometimes we may lose sight of the values and principles of St Ignatius College which would include empathy, not pity, for the difficult circumstances others may face.  Like the students here present, parents too are a community not only in relation to attending the calendar events of their children but also in relation to keeping the spirit and intentions of the motto Ignem Mtite in Terram alive not only for their children but in relation to the school, in and of itself. 

“Setting the world on fire” with ideas  is not just the obligation of the students who pass through the college, it is also the obligation of parents, guardians, teachers and non academic staff.
I mention the teachers and the non academic staff because they too are here to serve not only on the basis of assisting the students acquire the necessary academic qualifications but to grow the latter into people centered leaders in Zimbabwean society. And I will give an example of how I was personally molded into a people centered leader by Brother Fitz SJ, who advised us to assist the children of St Catherines in Newlands, Harare.  We used to sell freezits every weekend to raise money in order to purchase footballs and other learning based paraphernalia for the comrades at the same special school. 

Brother Fitz was at that time the bursar of the college, and apart from receiving notices from him concerning school fees, we learnt to view Zimbabwean society holistically. At that time, and I hope it remains the same today, we were taught by Brother Fitz that our education was not solely about the returns we got from Cambridge or Zimsec, but also about the society in which we live in. I must add that I also learnt some of my leadership skills from Br. Fitz SJ who was not only particular to a point but also taught me direct accountability through holding Annual General Meetings and keeping the finances in check for what we then referred to as the Young Christian Society
But in any event we are gathered here for the students and it is to them that I return to in this address. As I mentioned earlier in this address, I am a son of St Ignatius College by way of the decision of my parents to bring my elder brother, Fidelis Zhangazha, and I here. I am grateful they made that decision.

I remember the cross country races via Donhodzo, the football matches with St Peter Claver and the discos with our sisters at St Dominic’s Secondary School (particularly the slow tracks).
I also remember the special dinners we used to have particularly when Mudhara Harrison was the head cook on the silver jubilee of the College when the term ‘chitunha’ became so popular it made us salivate every time it was mentioned.

I am aware of the academic challenges and pressures that are faced by the students here present and those that will come after you. I remember the notice board at the beginning of the term, and how it was a ‘who’s who’ of the top ten in each class or alternatively an assessment of who was going to make it to university. A lot of years have passed since then. The universities are now many, and sometimes the professional aspirations are now ambiguous. But it remains important that you establish and work towards the attainment of your dreams to be an engineer, a journalist, a teacher, a medical doctor, an accountant (like my brother) a business person and/or a priest, nun like those who have assisted us thus far. In pursuing your dreams be careful not to get waylaid by the fashionable issues of the day.

I say this because back in the day we used to watch MTV, and also try and reinvent ourselves in the image of Will Smith especially after his extremely popular ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ TV series. We used to watch it in what was then referred to as the ‘Common Room’ or ‘TV Room’ on video cassette recorder. Some of us got carried away. We thought so long as we were watching the television, our parents will always look after us, even if we failed to meet our academic challenges.  Or even if we met them, we always wanted to leave Zimbabwe and claim academic and sporting excellence in other people’s countries.

The lesson that I have personally learnt, with the benefit of hindsight,  especially when I meet my St Ignatius College graduates, is that we should never forget the society in which we were brought up. Both by way of this college and also by way of the country in which we live. As an alumni of this college, my firmest advice given what I have seen and experienced in the aftermath of my gratefully qualifying for university is that while the world may be a difficult terrain to navigate,  it remains a terrain that can be conquered within the context of the values of St Ignatius of Loyola and St Mary Ward.  

In your studies, social activities and in respecting the aspirations of your parents on your behalf, please be cognizant of the society you live in and seek always to contribute to its improvement. Even if you are in form one, always keep in mind the end game of your education. An end game which relates to excelling  academically and socially.

Apart from making sure you strive to pass your academic exams, also pass your social ones. Join the chess club, the football, cross country, swimming, basketball, volleyball and netball teams. In doing so be conscious of the tremendous sacrifices your parents/guardians are making for you to not only be at this special institution but also in relation to your brothers and sisters who may be at other schools/universities  in the country.

In doing all of this, do not forget your shared academic, social and political environment. Next time you are on holiday always remember to thank God and to respect your parents for the tremendous sacrifices that they make for you to be here and for you to exist and continue to exist. Also remember that all those of other schools and students that you will compete with are your fellow Zimbabweans and while you will challenge and compete with each other you shall most certainly meet in the cauldron that is Zimbabwean society.

But above all, follow your dreams, believe in them and pursue them to the very end. I had dreams of being a recognized person for the common good in relation to my field. I am still pursuing these same said dreams and Insh Allah, I will achieve them.

Let me conclude my remarks by congratulating all of those that are recipients of awards today. I will also conclude by quoting the entirety of my favourite Catholic saints prayer. It is a prayer from St Francis of Assisi.
It is one that I hope that most of the persons here present will recall or will adhere to. And I must again confess to being very happy that the new Pope is of the same persuasion.
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
I thank you.