Tuesday, 30 July 2013

In praise of Thabo Mbeki.

By Takura Zhangazha.*

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki is rarely acknowledged for the positive role that he played over and about mediating the Zimbabwean political crisis from 2007 to 2009.  In making this assertion I am aware there are those who have controversially and without direct evidence accused President Mbeki of being sympathetic more to Zanu Pf during his tenure as the SADC appointed facilitator/mediator of our political crisis. I prefer to consider President Mbeki’s role in our country from a more objective standpoint.

The Global Political Agreement when it was eventually signed in September 2008 was not the sum-total of SADC mediation under Mbeki in Zimbabwe. The mediation process, for those with shorter memories, began in earnest in March 2007 when SADC after meeting in Tanzania and in the wake of the brutal assault of members of the opposition on March 11 of the same year, seconded President Mbeki to Zimbabwe.  

The secretive character of the mediation correctly raised eyebrows in civil society circles but to all intents and purposes, the responsibility for Constitutional Amendment number 18 which brought into being the holding of harmonized elections resided with the political parties. Mbeki merely provided an engagement framework.

By the time we held our first harmonsied elections in 2008 the impact of the SADC mediation was all too apparent, and where the Presidential election result was in dispute, it fell upon President Mbeki to assist in resolving the impasse. The different opinions over the eventual GPA that was signed after three months of negotiations are well recorded and known. 

What would however be unfair is to put the blame for the inadequacies of MDC-T’s placement in government on the shoulders of the mediator. Our national leaders had to etch out an agreement at some point given what they had all referred to as their non-negotiable matters. That Mbeki demonstrated the relevant patience with these same said leaders and kept ‘liberal interventionists’ at bay must be applauded.
The essence of Mbeki’s mediation was guided by what may appear as a dictum, but was of fundamental importance. The principle was that Zimbabweans and their leaders had the capacity to resolve their problems without direct intervention or by way of international dictat. 

That is why the responsibility to lead was not so much with the SADC facilitator but with the political leaders in Zimbabwe and their supporters. As the SADC facilitated inclusive government comes to an end, there are many questions that are left for historians and political scientists to answer or address. A key one would be whether or not the government worked. Because its primary mandate was initially never intended to last a full four years or even be in tandem with the constitutionally given five year time-frame for elections, the blame for its continuation resides at the doorsteps of its principals and not with President Mbeki.

 For added measure, its eventual long duration was to indicate that indeed the political parties in the inclusive government may have agreed to get along for longer than had been stipulated. The dragging and regular politicization of the constitutional reform process is the best possible indicator of this assertion.
Disputes that emerged within the context of the inclusive government were Zimbabwean ones and not engineered externally. 

This is a key point to make because while in its initial stages the inclusive government was an unpopular entity, the reality that it became over the years has vindicated Mbeki’s approach. This in the sense that there was need to ensure that the country remains stable and that reforms that were to be made were to be done collectively by the three political parties represented in our Parliament. That the reforms undertaken by the inclusive government have been inadequate and elitist in nature is not the fault of SADC let alone President Mbeki.

In my assessment the inclusive government failed to be organic in its leadership of the country and missed many an historical moment to change the course of the country toward less disputed elections and a democratic culture. The outgoing government undertook its tasks without the requisite seriousness that was necessary in order for its tenure to be more meaningful and less politicized.

It is however the framework that was provided by Thabo Mbeki’s mediation role as facilitator that must be praised as the inclusive government’s tenure comes to a close. It was a framework in which all parties could demonstrate their commitment to democracy as well as their specific ability to lead both as members of cabinet and as national leaders. How they have fared is not an indictment on SADC or on President Mbeki. The latter did what was pragmatically possible, given the circumstances. And for that, I salute Thabo Mbeki.

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

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The 2013 Watershed Elections: Will they Produce a Free, Fair and Indisputable Outcome?”

The 2013 Watershed Elections:  Will they Produce a Free, Fair and Indisputable Outcome?” 

A Presentation to a Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) Public Seminar
Thursday 25 July 2013
New Ambassador Hotel, Harare
By Takura Zhangazha*

Mr. Chairman, Ladies, Gentlemen, Comrades and Friends,

Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to MPOI for inviting me to share a few thoughts on the important national matter of our country’s harmonised elections scheduled for next week on Wednesday July 31 2013.  The primary question that the organisers of this meeting have asked me to address relates to the possibility that the  results of the elections after their occurrence next week will be undisputed, free, fair and credible.  It is a pertinent question that emerges from the precedence of June 2008 wherein, there was serious local and international disputation about the veracity of the both the results and the conditions in the run-up to the Presidential election run-off of June that year.

So the question being asked both in relation to the topic of the day as well as in speculative conversations in our country’s intellectual as well as social circles is a valid one. It stems from the lived political experiences of the immediate past as I allude to above as well as the general expectation by a majority of the people of Zimbabwe, particularly since the 1990s that elections/election results tend to be manipulated in one way or the other. These perceptions are perhaps the sum total of what our society has come to inadvertently express as political culture, just as much as the of given phrase, ‘kupinda muvanhu’ (to be with the people) is used for mobilization as well as legitimating of political candidates.
In the case of the elections that we are anticipating in the next few days there is a patent uniqueness to them in that they are being held with the context of an outgoing inclusive government which itself was the result of a disputed Presidential election and a hung parliament in 2008. This same said government was also a direct creation of external Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediation, a development which remains unprecedented in our post independence history as a nation.

As a result of the foregoing, where and when we consider the entirety of the issue of whether or not these pending harmonized elections will be free and fair, let alone undisputed we must not lose sight of the fact that the outgoing government is the result of a disputed election result and a closely hung parliament.  It was therefore a government that was formed not only in order to keep the country politically stable but also with the written and unwritten mandate to ensure that such a situation or circumstance as that which the country found itself in with the June 2008 presidential run-off must not be repeated again.

And this is the initial departure point where and when we wish to analyse the question that this important public debate wishes to address, though not with finality. The finality will eventually emerge from the electoral results and processes as announced and determined by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

The inclusive government had a specific mandate to democratize electoral laws particularly via the drafting of a new constitution amongst other less holistic reforms that were to occur in the interim. The first persons that should be brought to account on the basis of the subject matter at hand in this meeting are the leaders of the inclusive government. The criticism would be on the basis that they were the ones who were mandated at further democratizing the general political and particular electoral environment with the explicit intention of preventing any further disputes over and about either results or the credibility of a national electoral process.
From my own personal perspective, the inclusive government failed to satisfy the pre-requisites of ensuring a framework in which the people of Zimbabwe have confidence in the electoral system. And unfortunately a key evidence of this failure was the constitutional reform process which ended up in a referendum where people were instructed by the very same leaders to vote yes to a document that they had not read let alone integrated into their understanding of how electoral processes had been improved.  

This in turn, after the much celebrated passing of the new constitution in parliament by the very same parties that crafted it, was to shock a number of us when there were clear disputes about the date of holding elections as well as post-cabinet disagreements about amendments to the electoral act to suit the new constitution. The constitutional court challenges together with the SADC extra-ordinary summit can therefore be viewed as the initial laying of the ground for the disputation of the electoral results as well as trying to frame the electoral process as not being credible enough. All of the latter issues were raised largely by the MDCs and may need no further elaboration as these were extensively covered both in the local and international media.

A second issue to consider when analyzing the possibility of elections being considered free and fair, and it’s a key one, is the perception and role of the international community through its international observers. Broadly spoken for, the Western side of the international community have already indicated that they are willing to recognize the victor of a credible election process. There is no heavy insistence on the term ‘free and fair’ for reasons that are still yet to be publicly announced but be that as it may, it essentially points to the fact that should the election be viewed as somewhat fair, somewhat free, they will accept the result. 

Our own African brothers and sisters are however the most significant determining factor in assisting the world to come to a determination on whether to dispute whatever results are announced by ZEC. And this is a key departure point from the June 2008 presidential vote count. The AU and SADC have come here in large numbers not just because they have been invited to do so, but also because they intend to ensure they avoid pre-emptive allegations of not having monitored the process well enough. Their intention is to send a message to the main contenders that they are here and they are watching. This will most likely contribute to the minimalising of disputes around election results let alone processes themselves. Their presence in the country at the moment contributes significantly to a free and fair electoral environment for the elections as well as a the acceptance of the final results.

Having said all of the above and  in fulfillment of what I would assume are some of the main issues that the organizers would have wanted addressed, I now turn to the most important measurement of legitimacy of the elections next week. This measurement was, is and will always remain the people of Zimbabwe. There is a lot of ambivalence on their part as regards the freeness and fairness of the election. There is also a lot of confusion. For example, given the fact that only a few of them have read and understood the new constitution, there are going to be many challenges over and about their knowledge of how exactly they are meant to vote. I say this with particular reference to the proportional representation system that will inform a quarter of the National Assembly seats and majority of the Senate.

So in the announcement of results there shall be a significant amount of confusion and in part a mathematical usage of mobile telephone calculators to try and found out what exactly the outcome is in relation to vote counts, averages and percentages. This will however not compromise the integrity let alone acceptance of results but will inevitably demonstrate what some activists have referred to as a ‘ democratic deficit’ where it comes to popular and informed participation in important national processes.
It is these doubts that will lead to questions being raised also about the fairness of the Presidential vote count by varying party supporters and depending on which candidate wins.  These disputes however will not necessarily lead to particular instability depending on how well ZEC transparently announces results and allows for review of the same.

My penultimate point in this presentation relates to the whispered issue of whether or not the security services will accept a result that favours the mainstream opposition. This against the backdrop of previous announcements from commanders of the armed services before the inclusive government was formed that they will not accept a person who has not gone to the liberation struggle as their commander in chief.  The political reality of present day points to a somewhat different circumstance. Given the reforms made with the consent of all parties under the aegis of SADC, any serious commander of the security services knows that they will have little or limited moral and political ground to reject the results.

In any event SADC will not accept it, not even if it happens against the backdrop of massive demonstrations by one party or the other. Whatever their misgivings, whichever party they individually support, members of our national defence forces will have to take the electoral result on the chin and act professionally. They would also do well to remember the lessons taught by Political Commissars, that in the struggle, the gun must always follow the politics and not vice versa.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate a number of points I have mentioned above. All elections are generally characterized by disputes over and about results and processes. Our elections are already minimally disputed both by the mainstream opposition and components of civil society organizations. Evidence of these disputes have spilled over into our courts of law.

These disputes however are short lived given the presence of SADC and AU observers, including the visit by the Chairperson of the AU Commission. The ability of ZEC will be key in determining the perceptions around these elections and unlike with the special voting system, the disputes will invariably be minimal. It is the contestants to the elections that are more likely to raise the tempo and seek disputes. The people of Zimbabwe will indeed vote, wait and anticipate that their will be respected, even if in part they do not know the electoral system as well as they democratically should.

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

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A non- politicized take on Chombo’s Debt Relief for Residents and Ratepayers.

By Takura Zhangazha

The outgoing Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development, Ignatius Chombo two days ago issued what amounted to a controversial edict. In it he instructed all local authorities to essentially write off all the service provision debt that has been accrued by residents and ratepayers since the introduction of the United States dollar to council billing systems. 

The instruction from central to local government is controversial mainly because it was issued a week before the holding of harmonized elections and also after Minister Chombo  had dissolved all elected councilors and replaced them with appointed commissioners. In some circles it has been described as an 'electoral' debt relief. 

In announcing his decision, the minister cited sections of both the Urban Councils Act and the Rural District Councils Act. The legality of this is perhaps something that some residents and ratepayers may take up with our courts of law, but the long and short of it is that in this case, it’s the politics that count. Moreso given the fact that the edict is probably seen from a Zanu Pf perspective as being a vote acquisition strategic move for most urban areas. (I am however sure that they know that it won’t ultimately win them seats but may marginally increase their vote count in MDC strongholds.)

The MDC-T has in turn politically defined the move as a vote buying gimmick that betrays what it calls ‘desperation’ on the part of Zanu Pf.  The Newsday editorial also defined the move as ‘populism at its worst’ while the Daily News one called the move catastrophic. The Herald was the only paper to have a front page headline story on the issue thought it is yet to write an editorial on the same.

There is however a socio-economic mechanics to the announcement, particularly if effected. Ever since the ‘dollarisation’ of the Zimbabwean economy, major parastatals and government departments converted what was owed them by users of their services into US dollars. This was before the full formal expansion, availability and integration of foreign currency for  ordinary citizens.  As a result payment of utility bills, be they for electricity, council rates/rentals or even medical aid was and remains erratic nationally. This is why in most instances every other quarter one parastatal or local government authority would either announce or re-emphasize what they referred to as ‘payment plans’ for end users of their services.

Such a  development indicated an inability of the said government related organizations to re-coup their revenue and not for lack of trying. Closure of water and electricity has been fairly commonplace even with the effecting of ‘payment plans’ which a good number of citizens can still not meet or strictly adhere to. The end effect has been that either way, even if a bill states an amount owed, it would still not be paid either in full or in terms of the payment plan. Either way therefore the councils or parastatals even with payment plans have been unable to recover a greater percentage of what they are owed.

The big factor in all of this, apart from the inability and not intransigence of a majority of ratepayers, has been the changeover from the Zimbabwe dollar to the US dollar billing system. This left many residents with debts that they cannot pay in the immediate or the long term.  The blame for such a state of affairs lies with those who, in central government were in charge at the time of the economic collapse of 2007. It also however lies with those that joined government in the aftermath of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and who have since failed to resolve the matter. And this pronouncement by Minister Chombo will essentially relate to a bit of mathematical assumptions. 

It is generally agreed that most of our urban and rural district councils are living from hand to mouth particularly where it comes to paying salaries of employees and immediate running costs for water treatment as well as refuse collection. Now the jury may be out on the direct impact of  not having revenue for July 2013 will have on councils but the bigger issue is about the debt owed prior to this month (and for many years). The onus of proving this however resides with both the relevant ministry and the local authorities in question.

What is however forgotten is that the debts are cumulative. Whatever one owes does not mean one is not charged for services utilized for the month in question. This also means that the councils do not stop charging residents and ratepayers in the next month for services rendered. What is lost therefore is essentially one month of revenue which was in any event not going to be paid in full. Therefore either way, whatever payments were being made prior to the announcement local councils have revenue in their coffers.

It is the continual large debts that are owed by residents over the years that will not be reflected on the bills come next month. And that can only be a good thing for social and economic justice. No matter who propositions it.  The government, which made this pronouncement, has an obligation to meet the shortfall that will emerge as a result of its directive. It will have to foot, among other costs, the wage bill of council workers for this month.

In the final analysis, this is a matter that remains controversial but talks to the challenges residents and ratepayers have been facing. That it has been politicized by an outgoing Zanu Pf minister is cause for concern, but that does not take away its resonance with a majority of economically disadvantaged citizens in various urban and rural district councils. It should have been done well before the elections by elected councilors and not by way of edict by a minister.

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

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Zimbabwe's 1st TV as an Indictment of Government's Failed Media Policy

By Takura Zhangazha.*

The launch of a new free to air satellite televison station 1st TV at least 12 days preceding Zimbabwe’s harmonized election on 31 July 2013 sent a lot of tongues wagging. This particularly so after the scrambling of SABC channels broadcasting into the country via Wiztech. The owners of this new (satellite) television station cannot be faulted at seizing an opportunity, be it for business or as insinuated by the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity, for political reasons. 

Essentially the owners of 1st Tv saw an opportunity that they were and are within their right to take. Both in relation to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) regulations as well as within the context of the law of whatever host country their relay transmitters are to be found.

The statement issued by the proprietors of 1st Tv  also states that their station has not been launched not only in order to broadcast during elections but more as a long term alternative to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). Even though they are not physically broadcasting from Zimbabwean soil, this is an issue that the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity together with the national transmission company, Transmedia have raised opprobrium about.  

Whether the latter company can actually stop the 1st Tv signal from entering Zimbabwean airspace has thus far been proven to be an exercise in futility given the fact that it can be viewed on channels to be found via DSTV decoders.

The broadcasting of 1st Tv into Zimbabwe is however not the main issue to be considered in this article. What is more important are the reasons as to why this new channel, owned as it claims, by Zimbabweans  (based both here and in the Diaspora), had to take the route of broadcasting via Wiztech. The immediate answer to that question is that regardless of  whatever successes one accords the outgoing inclusive government, the broadcast media, particularly television, have not been democratized. Both with reference to transmission as well as in relation to broadcasting diversification of stations or even their content.  

This lack of progress in the broadcasting industry is something that many would correctly want to put on the doorstep of Zanu Pf as a sole governing party before the formation of the inclusive government, but where one is more honest, it is an indictment on all the parties in the same four years after its formation in 2009.

Throughout its tenure and against better advice the inclusive government remained muted on the important issue of broadcasting diversification and reform. The fact that it licensed two private national free to air radio stations is not only inadequate but evidence of how wrong an ‘incremental’ approach to media reform was and will always be in Zimbabwe’s context.

The ‘privilege’ premise accorded the media in Zimbabwe by all political parties that signed and approved the new constitution is unfortunate and betrays a patent misunderstanding of media freedom by those that are in the outgoing government. And this is across the board.  Media freedom remains a right that should be inviolable, but the new national charter while recognizing the same in section 61, takes it away not only through establishment of a constitutional media commission to licence and supervise journalists (within the ambit of potential criminal punishment) but in similar fashion to the Lancaster house constitution by providing for media freedom to be curtailed by not listing it on rights that have no limitations in Section 86.

This is also the same political culture of control and propagandizing of information that characterizes the structure and editorial policy of our state broadcaster, much to the denial of alternative views to the mainstream or ruling party and its associated organizations in the country.

It is this culture of controlling the media that has left the democratic media reform agenda not only shortchanged but to be viewed as an abstract matter by all of the major political parties both in this election and those that may emerge thereafter.

This has been the reason why in effect broadcast media environment remains undemocratic and lauded only on the basis of incrementalism as opposed to substantive democratic progress.

Even where the MDCs have decried the conduct of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), they have only done so on  the basis of personalities and not on key principles such as those that are to be found in the African Charter on Broadcasting. To argue against the chairperson-ship of Dr Mahoso at BAZ is fair politics but is unfortunately a far cry from addressing the fundamental challenges of the archaic broadcasting and technological frameworks that bedevil the media in Zimbabwe. 

It is futile to discuss personalities and not policies over and about the media at a time when media technology is changing rapidly both in terms of its convergence and its global reach. International diplomacy may stall the ability of externally based television and radio stations from broadcasting into a country, but this is always a temporary measure if the country in question has neither the technology nor the democratisation of its own media environment.

In effect therefore, the launch of 1st TV, more out of the frustration at the lack of opportunities to broadcast from Zimbabwe by its proprietors, is a direct result of an undemocratic media environment in Zimbabwe. That the station was launched less than two weeks before the holding of harmonized elections may raise some eyebrows but it cannot be faulted both in terms of the ITU and neither can the government absolve itself of the sin of incompetence.

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

Monday, 15 July 2013

Econet Wireless@15, A Non-Corporate View.

By Takura Zhangazha.*

Zimbabwe’s largest mobile telephone company Econet Wireless celebrates it’s 15th anniversary this month. I must confess to not having remembered or noticed this same said anniversary were it not for the advertorials in all of the country’s major newspapers. Reading through the latter, there is evidence that the corporation is not only run by a determined leadership but that it intends to continue providing varying and diverse services that come with mobile telephony. And that cannot be faulted whether when discussing Econet Wireless or any other company in the same field. What is however unique about this particular entity is its history as a corporation that the then government did not favour nor support at infancy.

It was to take a Supreme/Constitutional court challenge on how the monopoly of the state in telecommunications infringed the right of the same company to receive and impart information (and subsequent legal battles) for it to be allowed to operate in the country.  Add to this the public expectation and anticipation that it was to be one of the first companies with the intention of bringing the mobile phone as a communication accessory to ordinary (not just elite) Zimbabwean citizens.

It is these two points that make Econet Wireless not only emblematic but an important gamechanger where and when it comes to reflections on Zimbabwe’s history of interacting with new telecommunications technologies. Admittedly these technologies were not as new in the Northern hemisphere, but the truth be told, it is Econet that brought them into the popular communication culture and practice of everyday Zimbabweans (anyone remember ‘Liberty Lines’?). The arrival of Econet Wireless, therefore, was an epochal shift in the manner in which Zimbabweans communicated.

It is little remembered that the expansion of the cellular phone services in our country came via a protracted legal battle against the backdrop of a government that sought more to inhibit private telecommunication players before it entered the market via its parastatal, the Postal and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC). The reasons given may have been many, and those privy to the court processes may know better, but the overall impression was that government was averse to technology it felt it couldn't control directly in relation to content or profit. It was to be the Zimbabwean Supreme Court (sitting as a constitutional court) that put the matter to rest in favour of Econet Wireless. 

What the dispute however showed was either a misunderstanding of global technological trends on the part of government or a direct approach of seeking a monopoly on an idea/issue which cannot function on that same basis. (Even the eventual attempts to license Telecel Zimbabwe before Econet were to be turned down by the Supreme Court.)

There is also an important component to the Econet Wireless' success story besides that of its infancy. This has been the impact of its spread and reach over the telecommunications market in Zimbabwe and the attendant societal change it has ushered in. While initially some may argue  that given the general intransigence of government toward it, the company initially entered the mobile telecommunications market on a tide of public sympathy. Its main ticket to success thus far has however been its ability to stay ahead of the pack technologically by offering newer telephone ancillary services in keeping with global trends. And this is key.

While initially mobile telephone accessories had been hugely expensive (like buying a phone sim card for $100 back in the 2000s, whichever of the three mobile companies one subscribed to) the roll out of greater connectivity on its part has led to more Zimbabweans being connected in one way of the other via mobile telephony. And the impact has been massive. 

Particularly where Econet Wireless was among the first and still leads in rolling out (third generation) telephony and as a result all mobile phone subscribers can now connect to the World Wide Web and social media applications such as whatsup. This has meant that Zimbabwean society has not only joined global information sharing trends but is also able to communicate at a cheaper cost than  before. And the latest product that the company has been offering, ahead of the pack and much to the chagrin of mainstream banks, has been Ecocash, the mobile phone money transfer system. 

But the sum total of it all has been the fact that for all our politics, Zimbabwe does not operate in isolation from the rest of the world. And telecommunications, inclusive of mobile telephony as well as satellite television are evidence of the fact that it was a mistake by government to either seek to monopolise or to reign in the industry as regards technology transfer, content and other ancillary services it offers.

While Econet Wireless is not the only player in the mobile telephone business in Zimbabwe, its background and history warrant some reflection. Not out of favour but more out of honesty. An honesty which resides in the fact that for all its pursuit of profit and functioning as a business corporation, Econet Wireless was eventually founded on the pretext of Section 20 of our then constitution, which read inter alia, ‘everyone has the right to receive and impart information without hindrance’. And therefore, one can only wish that company, a happy 15th anniversary.

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

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Ten Point Guide to Reading Zimbabwean Political Party Manifestos in 2013.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The two main political parties in Zimbabwe have launched their manifestos for the harmonized elections scheduled for July 31 2013. Other parties will most certainly do the same, though with less pomp and ceremony. Given that there will be a lot of insistence on which manifesto is better, please see below some brief pointers as to some criteria on how to read these much vaunted documents.  

1. Incumbency: All of our major parties have the fault/strength of having served in the outgoing inclusive government. One of them for more years than others but all the same, their manifestos cannot be read as though they are all completely new to government. In essence the manifestos must be read on the basis of all incumbent parties' performance in the outgoing government, acknowledgements (if any) of their mistakes and a realistic assessment of what they claim to have been their successes.

2.       A complete/holistic reading: Party manifestos, much like a constitution cannot make good sense in isolated parts. They must be sequential and each part must reflect the stated ideological framework that the party in question espouses. Nitpicking sections that affect ones social or class grouping may provide a feel good moment but either way the manifesto will be meaningless without its wholesome parts.

3.       Realistic vs Ridiculous Propositions: In election periods most parties vying for office make the most ridiculous of proposals. Assess them against the political and economic realities that you know to be faced by the country and its citizens. As the perennial election joke goes, some parties may promise to build bridges where there are no rivers.

4.       Devil in the detail: Party manifestos tend to gloss over the details of what they identify as the problem or how they quantify the solution (eg unemployment figures and projected solution timeframes). If you have time, cross check the figures and qualitative assertions in the manifestos. If you don’t have time, take it all with a tablespoon of salt.

5.       Cross-check local government proposals: Most parties talk big in their manifestos and this normally means they concentrate on central or national power. They tend to skim over local government. A party’s democratic ethos is generally shown by how seriously it takes lower levels of government that have an immediate impact on people’s lives (water, health, education, transport et al). If a manifesto does not talk to these issues with relative seriousness, think about it.

6.       Cross check proposed policy on media and freedom of expression: Most party manifestos will talk about their commitment to the rule of law, human rights and the separation of powers. They will however be muted on committing to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom. Their approach tends to want to retain control of the media and leave what they say about the latter as ambiguous as possible. The more ambiguous the proposals the more likely they intend to curtail freedom of expression.

7.       Watch out for tokenism and mimicry: Party manifestos tend to be characterised by a lot of tokenism and 'copying and pasting'. Paying lip service to much quoted phrases without substantiating them on paper. E.g. The ‘market re-capitalization’,  ‘public-private partnerships’, ‘foreign direct investment’ ‘job creation’ ‘gender equality’  ‘youth empowerment’.  These are normally written out of context and as though they have been copied out of a World Bank handbook.

8.       Mark out immediate deliverables: Each party tends to promise  quick deliverables upon assuming power. Mark these out and hold them to account on their first day in office. Even if you did not vote for them.

9.       Be time conscious: Whichever party’s manifesto best impresses you, be mindful of the fact that it will potentially be in charge of Zimbabwe for the next five years. So if you have doubts, think about the impact of those doubts on the country. The elections are both about 31 July 2013 and also about 31 July 2018.

10.   Take note of all that was omitted: It is also not always whats in the manifesto that is important. What might be missing/omitted will perhaps be the most significant indicator of the party’s intentions.
Good luck in reading the manifestos (if you have time)
Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Saturday, 6 July 2013

On a Zimbabwean SADC withdrawal I Politely Disagree Mr. President.

By Takura Zhangazha*

At the launch of his political party (Zanu Pf)  manifesto for the July 31 2013 harmonized elections, President Mugabe made some rather shocking remarks as regards the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The statements may be forgivable given that they were made within the context of our never ending electoral campaign season but they would still warrant reasonable critique.

 When President Mugabe intoned that SADC was after all a membership organization and that Zimbabwe reserved the right to withdraw its membership if it felt its rights as a sovereign state were being violated, it was as though he was speaking about the Commonwealth or our membership of some abstract nostalgic colonial organization. These same said publicized opinions of President Mugabe, on the face of it, may appear to be fair statements were it not for the fact that Zimbabwe owes components of its liberation struggle and achievements to the then Frontline States and subsequently the Southern African Development Coordinating Committee (SADCC,  now referred to as SADC).

Given the fact that SADC is not an ahistorical let alone simplistic geographical grouping of nations, President Mugabe’s statements were unfortunate. Moreso  because they are statements that come from a liberation struggle icon not only in Zimbabwe but also in the Southern African region.  This is an important point to make because even if Zimbabwe’s inclusive government was established via the facilitation of  SADC, the meaning of the political importance of the latter cannot be downplayed on the basis of an ephemeral  diplomatic tiff.

As has been widely reported in the media,  when President Mugabe accused members of the SADC facilitator’s mediation team of being ‘street kids’ he probably meant President Zuma’s international relations advisor, Ms. Lindiwe Zulu.  While one cannot argue with the President in finding fault with the manner in which Ms. Zulu has conducted herself as regards the Zimbabwean political impasse, the fact that he then had to intimate that our country would possibly ponder a withdrawal from SADC was to say the least, an overreaction.

Disputes with the SADC appointed facilitator’s representatives cannot be allowed to undermine the historical political integrity of SADC.  Zimbabwe’s independence would not have been won without our neighbours. Agreed the same can and should be said for South Africa which has found itself in the unenviable role of a post-colonial hegemon which attained its independence after a collective regional putsch for the freedom of its people from the clutches of apartheid.

It is trite to note that the visionary leadership of the late Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere as well as the living Kenneth Kaunda remains evidence enough of the significance of SADC to Zimbabwe’s liberation as well as that of  the country with which President Mugabe appears to have differences with (both as a facilitator and a pretender to the Southern African political throne).
It  therefore becomes important to emphasise that Zimbabwe has an umbilical cord with the Southern African region. It’s independence and that of those states that attained liberation after Tanzania and Zambia was contrived from a unique African regional solidarity that not only united liberation movements but the peoples of Southern Africa.  Dar es Salaam and Lusaka were liberatory cities, not in and of themselves but more because the Southern African peoples thought and felt them to be the cities of our liberation from colonialism. It is therefore borderline (and can only be) moot to wish to withdraw from a regional organization that represents our rich liberation struggle history.

Perhaps latter day leaders do not understand this history as much as President Mugabe given the fact that he too is a product of the same said regional history of struggle. It is however key that the Zimbabwean President understands that he is one of the key harbingers of this same said history which he cannot dismiss with angst. All because of  a regional facilitators assumed misdemeanors.
Southern Africa, when the truth be told, is the sum total of its liberation struggle related historical past and its organic present. 

To put into the public arena, the thought of a Zimbabwean withdrawal from SADC is thoroughly ahistorical and unfair to the narrative of peoples struggle solidarity across borders.  In contemporary times, the revolutionary solidarity of old may no longer exist and neither is the world as binary as it was during the Cold War. And frankly speaking,  in our region national  leaders will react differently to various issues depending on their political aptitude as well as their domestic challenges. Whoever they are and whatever their challenges they cannot easily dismiss the history of Southern Africa’s people centered struggle for liberation  and the attendant regional solidarity that accompanied it.

It has been said elsewhere that South Africa’s president Zuma may not have as nuanced let alone as organic a view of international relations but that does not mean his perceived mistakes are tantamount to an outright dismissal of the political significance of SADC. Indeed Zimbabwe has been on the backburner of global and regional hegemons, but in the case of SADC, no matter how upset we might get with whoever is interacting directly with us, we cannot ever think of withdrawing from it.

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

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Wiztech, SABC and the Grim Television Reality of Zimbabwe

By Takura Zhangazha* 

South Africa’s broadcasting signal distributor Sentech recently  scrambled Wiztech decoder satellite channels in accordance  with a court order in the same country.  These channels have been popular not only in Zimbabwe but in a majority of Southern African states. As a result, and for Zimbabweans in particular, there has not only been anguish and gnashing of evening teeth since a significant urban majority had taken to watching the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) channels available on these Wiztech channels. 

The first indications of the disappointment at this move for Zimbabweans was to be found in humorous posts on social media about how they will now be forced to revert back to our very own Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) programmes.

In true Zimbabwean fashion, we are using dry humour to cope with this new development as we tend to do with a lot of our political, social and economic challenges. I am also sure that in the next week there shall be some seriously good debates about the import of the public outcry over Sentech’s actions. The issue might even make it to a SADC summit or find itself within the lexicon of outstanding issues in relation to media reforms as we approach elections.

The reality of the matter is however much more grim and a serious indictment on the Zimbabwean government whichever side of its ending ‘inclusiveness’ one supports. This is because having had a state broadcaster in the form of ZBC since independence there has been not only a patent failure to democratize it’s public service broadcasting function but also a failure to subject it to domestic/national competition. Hence the outcry at the loss of SABC channels.

And it is these two points that I wish to explore in this brief article. As regards the failure to reform ZBC, the informed argument that has been given by colleagues at organisations such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe Chapter) have related to how structurally flawed the corporation is. Particularly where it comes to the fulfillment of a Public Service Broadcaster mandate, MISA Zimbabwe and others have found that ZBC performs more as a state than a public service broadcaster.  This is mainly due to a general lack of editorial independence of the corporation from the government of the day and the over-politicization of its functions.

 It is also now generally accepted that the same said lack of editorial independence of ZBC has directly affected the content of its broadcast output through its five radio stations (one on Short Wave) and two national television channels (thought TV 2 does not cover the entirety of the country).  This content has generally been viewed as politically partisan where and when it comes to the determination of news stories or even programming for entertainment and ‘edutainment’.  Principles of fair coverage for all, adequate remuneration for production houses and value for public TV licence fees have not necessarily been adhered too and therefore, the public impression ZBC has had over the last ten or so years has been that of a partisan state media corporation.

Naturally there will be disputations of this latter assertion, perhaps from colleagues at ZBC or elsewhere but it is one that can only be viewed as contributing to the decision by some Zimbabweans to decry the ‘scrambling’ of foreign TV channels on Wiztech decoders.

The other reason that explains the current state of affairs vis-a vis ZBC and the growing pull of foreign television channels has been the lack of alternative commercial or community domestic television channels.  In the period of the inclusive government, incremental media reforms saw the introduction of two free to air national radio stations (with all the controversies alleged by some quarters) but when it came to national free to air television, the process either stalled or is awaiting a ‘re-run’ by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ).  

This lack of domestic options for our country’s television viewers (who have increased greatly over the years) has led to ours being an easy television market not only inadvertently for SABC, etv or Btv but also for the increasingly ubiquitous DSTV.

In essence therefore, the outcry over the loss of Wiztech channel frequencies may be understandable but it’s also a direct result of us trying to ‘reap where we did not sow’. Our government has not undertaken the holistic reform that is necessary to make ZBC a respected public service broadcaster and where the parties in the inclusive government have argued for its reform, they have sadly done so on a partisan and personalized basis. Even where ZBC was going to be difficult to reform, the lack of domestic commercial or community television station  alternatives has left us the worse off and in some sort of shock over losing access to channels we neither own or deserve at law. 

There is therefore an urgent need to reinvigorate the pursuit of the reform of ZBC beyond the partisan interests of parties in the inclusive government and in order to usher in  a new era of public service broadcasting. There is also an urgent need to insist on the reform of the Broadcasting Services Act and its undemocratic pretext while simultaneously seeking the realistic diversification of our television and visual media production industries. This through an urgent but democratic licensing of new commercial television channels that can compete with both ZBC and any current future television channels available via Wiztech or elsewhere.

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