Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Struggle for a Social Democratic Zimbabwe Continues. It has to and it will.

By Takura Zhangazha.*

When the inclusive government came into existence, discourse over and about the ‘struggle’ shifted significantly. Whether this discourse was about narratives of ‘arrival’, or alternatively, ‘continuity’, the conversations that were had were always inconclusive. In the aftermath of the July 31 2013 harmonised elections, questions that are now coming back to haunt or even re-focus many comrades relate to fundamentals. What is the struggle? Where is it placed? Has it come full circle? How does it continue (if it still exists)? All of these questions can only be answered on the basis of self knowledge, organic values, and democratic principles.

In saying the above, I am aware of the ‘judgment calls’ that will be made on any assumed self righteous assessment of the state of affairs in the mainstream national political opposition .This is because the answers are in and of themselves judgment calls on those that were leading the struggle .A struggle which I remain persuaded exists and does not end with the 2013 electoral defeat of the MDCs (and components of civil society) by Zanu Pf. This is because the struggle for a social democratic Zimbabwe has always been much more holistic and more important than all of the parties that were part of the July 31 2013 electoral contest.

At this juncture, it becomes important that I define the ‘struggle’. Our post independence struggle has been a struggle for social democracy in Zimbabwe. It is a struggle that has its roots in the values of the liberation struggle wherein, social and economic justice was the key deliverable for a majority of the people of Zimbabwe (even if by default).

 It is a struggle that celebrated the achievement of national independence and a joyous desire to participate in the return of our people to the making of Zimbabwean democratic, people centered and self determining history .Where we welcomed our first majority rule government we remained cognizant of not only its challenges but also its primary mandate which was to fulfill the aspirations of the liberation struggle. This was and remains a mandate of all subsequent post independence governments.

 In our collective understanding of these matters, we measured Zanu Pf (as the ruling party) on the basis of its ability to address and achieve the aspirations of our nation’s founding values and principles.

 A decade after independence we were to find it necessary to challenge the political narrative of Zanu Pf and the fundamentals of the manner in which it was  governing the country. We were there both in spirit and form at the formation of the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) and sought to challenge the ruling party’s hegemony. We sought to initiate a narrative that the country did not belong to one party or specifically that the collective understanding of our national liberation was not singular.

Interpretations of the values of the liberations struggle were always going to be varied but without undermining the revolutionary historicity of the same. Similarly, the fact of participation in the liberation struggle was not the singular prerogative of the right to govern as regularly argued by our former liberation movements. Contrary to this view we recognized the posterity component of the struggle.  One in which we knew and felt that the progenitors of the same said struggle knew and know that the ‘baton stick’ will be carried forward by subsequent generations. 

Unfortunately, this latter understanding of our national politics let alone of the significance of the liberation struggle did not find resonance in the ruling Zanu Pf party .This was where and when it had  disembarked from the revolutionary path and undertook elitist policies that negated the values of the liberation struggle.
Key among these elitist policies was the implementation of the World Bank initiated and sponsored Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAPs),which were to come to affect those of us born in the years preceding independence and those of us who are now collectively referred to as the ‘born free’ generation. Particularly in relation to employment, education, health, public transport and a democratic future.  
The issues that emerged in the decade after our independence were no longer about towing  any specific ‘party line’ but leading the country to social democratic prosperity. A challenge which the ruling Zanu Pf party was to prove incapable in tackling. 

We therefore, and correctly so, took to exercising our liberation struggle won rights of assembly, association and expression, to oppose the hegemony of Zanu Pf .  This was done through not only opposing ESAP via the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade unions (ZCTU), but also challenging the systematic narrative of political and human rights abuses stemming not only from our new found knowledge of the tragic events and state brutality  that occurred in the Matebeleland regions in the early 1980s but also the failure of the state to meet socio-economic performance legitimacy requirements.

 We correctly began to question the meaning of the liberation struggle for the majority. We remained aware of the ineptitude of government but were even more significantly aware of the challenges and responsibilities of alternative national leadership.

 That is why toward the 20th anniversary of our national independence the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was formed.

The primary mission of the MDC was to embark on the historical path of fulfilling the remaining social democratic aspirations of the liberation struggle. Formed against the backdrop of a National Working People’s Convention, the MDC sought to re-engage Zimbabweans on the outstanding liberation struggle aims and objectives (including the outstanding matter of the land question).

True to its founding intentions, the MDC went to the people and began the process of reclaiming the country from the elite and back to the masses. This is why, in the elections of the new millennium, the MDC was to gain ground in both Parliament as well as eventually end up as part of the Executive branch of government with the assistance of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2009, only ten years after its formation.  This ascension to national government office, controversial as it was, became evidence of how and why the MDC had gained national legitimacy in relation to being viewed by a majority of Zimbabweans as the movement to fulfill the remaining intentions of the liberation struggle.

In this, the MDC was not a creation of the West as Zanu Pf would want to allege. Instead, it was an evident demonstration of the people’s sentiment, one which was seeking political alternatives, hence the rise of the MDC to executive national office in a short space of ten years.

It was however not an easy road to effective and power acquiring counter-hegemony for the MDC. Mistakes were made, and most of these relate to the departure by the mainstream MDC leadership from a social democratic historical path and narrative of the people centered pursuit of political power and office. Both in terms of their internal genesis as well as the national understanding of the initial intention to fulfill the aspirations of the liberation struggle. The lack of historicity to their presence on the national political stage has been in part their undoing. And  this against better advice.

Where discussions about their agreeing to the SADC mediated Global Political Agreement (GPA) have tended to justify their electoral defeat, these can only be described as exercises in political dishonesty. The reality of the matter is that the latitude that the MDCs had during their tenure in the inclusive government was intended to allow them to demonstrate their ability to not only govern but to demonstrate greater commitment to the holistic aspirations of the liberation struggle. Both as envisioned in the past as well as in lived reality.

 The above is a key point to explain, because, whereas it was and has been claimed that the mainstream opposition did not have any ideology, the truth is that its genesis was premised on the basis of social democracy.  Both in relation to  its articles of constitution as well as in its political origins via the labour, womens’ and student movements. That the leaders of this counter-hegemonic project failed its own aspirations is an indictment of their ahistorical approach to it.

This point brings me to the particular issue of the struggle as I have defined above. It continues. It has to. Not because of individual egos or particular party aspirations. But more because this struggle for social democracy has and still belongs to the people of Zimbabwe. Therefore whether this generation of leaders genuinely and organically takes it up or not, it shall certainly be taken up by subsequent ones. Its new path however must be one that acknowledges past successes and failures, and one that specifically departs from celebrating cults and individuals instead of principles, values and objectives.
The struggle therefore continues but only in the sense that it must renew itself both in relation to its recommitment to its founding values and principles as well as in relation to its leadership. And this should be taken to mean that no one, no matter how many scars or wounds they bear, is above the struggle. Even founders of the post independence struggle for social democracy cannot claim to be beyond criticism. This is why, in the aftermath of July 31 2013, those that were tasked to lead the social democratic movement(s) must demonstrate the necessary national contrition and step aside.

Those who take up the mantle of leadership of the renewed and organic social democratic movement must now think more in the long term and holistically about both the prospects of the struggle as well as those of the country. This entails taking into account the fact that the setback of 2013 is less about elections and more about the lack of articulation of an organic democratic alternative for the people of Zimbabwe. They must go back to the masses, engage them on the most basic of issues and restructure the struggle, less in the pursuit of international recognition, but in the interests of the majority who are the ultimate judges of what national and local changes they both need and want.

In leading this necessary next phase of the struggle for social democracy, the new leadership must pursue organic intellectualism and outright respect for the everyday citizen as opposed to the arrogant and inorganic leadership that was demonstrated before and particularly during the tenure of the inclusive government.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Money, not Mind Occupies our Universities.

By Takura Zhangazha

The pursuit of knowledge of the academic kind is generally viewed as a virtue/arete. By this the inference is not a just a moralistic one but one that also resides in Plato and Aristotle's understanding of the pursuit of knowledge. Therein knowledge is not knowledge for its own sake but for the good of society in a non-ambivalent search for truth. 

Zimbabwe’s tertiary institutions and to be particular, its universities have been traditionally viewed as institutions that should be doing just that, pursuing virtue. It is this impression that generally lends anyone who has acquired a doctorate in one academic field or the other everlasting reverence from adoring relatives, friends and work colleagues. In fact this admiration expresses itself in the truth that once one is referred to as a doctor or professor, it is a perpetual social title even in non-academic conversations and circles.

The assumption is that these qualifications have been acquired from institutions that are not only credible but ranked among the best and most competitive in terms of academic excellence and academic freedom. The reality is that our universities are no longer the harbingers of the unbridled and open pursuit of knowledge or virtue. This, for a number of reasons.

The foremost of these reasons being that none of our present (and even planned) tertiary institutions value the all important principle of academic freedom. It is a principle that is the sine qua non of any decent institution of higher learning and entails the unfettered pursuit of knowledge both for its own sake as well as with the intention of improving our understanding of the societies in which we live, for the common good. Where this principle is recognized and enforced, students, academics and non academics will be able to associate, assemble and express themselves freely. 

Unfortunately, not a single academic institution in the country, at the moment, has demonstrated the above cited characteristics that are key for the enjoyment of academic freedom.

Most campuses are literally like prison compounds with students and staff being monitored as to who they associate with, what ideas they peddle and who they invite from broader society to interact with the university. Student unionism, staff associations are either prohibited or severely restricted or only permitted where and when they parrot central university administration’s political and policy preferences. As a result of such an environment there has been no active pursuit of knowledge as a virtue in all of our universities. Instead what obtains is the pursuit of knowledge merely as a qualification to the extent that the oft repeated phrase by students is that ‘one is better off if they keep quiet and finish their degrees’ no matter the injustices they experience or witness.

The second and equally debilitating reason as to why our universities are no longer citadels of academic excellence or virtue is their unbridled pursuit of profit. This at the expense of most things academic. Ever since the government significantly reduced funding for universities, their new-found business models treat students and lecturers like commodities off a factory production line. Except that the commodities pay to be on the conveyor belt without a specific guarantee that they will be the full article after production. 

What this has led to is a culture of profiteering at the expense of knowledge production. This particularly so where and when it comes to what most universities refer to as the ‘parallel programmes’ for undergraduates. These, coupled with the now ubiquitous post graduate programmes in Business Administration and Development studies are the new university ‘cash cows’. This would not be a problem were these fundraising models being utilized for the promotion of academic freedom. Unfortunately however, they function in tandem with the repressive academic environment at the universities where the most visible and most critical element of university administrations remains the uniformed and punitive security guards.

Where arguments have been made about the right to education, this fundraising model remains one that limits the enjoyment of this right by citizens. It prioritizes the ability to pay over and above the right to an education to the extent that students more often than not fail to complete their studies due to financial constraints. Where they scrape through it is at great cost to not only their purse but also their academic aptitude and freedom (especially with the cadetship scheme).

In the final analysis, our universities perhaps are the default victims of state ineptitude and indifference toward higher education. But this does not absolve those in charge of them of complicity in the demise of academic freedom and the prioritization of inimical profit above all else. It would do well for vice chancellors to have that two line poem by Dambudzo Marechera posted on their doors, ‘Pub Conversation: My name is not money, but mind.’
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Zimbabwe’s Social Media, Elections and Mobilisation

Zimbabwe’s Social Media, Elections and Mobilisation.
By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s social media has had an ambiguous role in political events in the last twelve months and particularly with the yet to end July 31 2013 harmonized electoral period. Local ICT experts have lauded the expansion of mobile telephony and 3G internet as signifying definite improvements in citizens access to information and freedom of expression. Given the fact that the country faced a highly contested electoral period, the use of social media applications came to be dominated by matters related to politics and the targeting of voters. In other spheres such as in the mainstream media, social media was used to increase online readership and in part re-brand their titles into trendy multimedia publications. Civil society organizations also utilized the increasingly fashionable social media for voter education campaigns as well as to communicate variegated positions on the state of affairs in the country.

For those that were the end receivers of news received via Twitter, facebook or whatsup (among others), they took to it less to act on information received and more to express their own opinions on anything (from the religious to the political). In most instances it has become a platform more for information, entertainment, rumour-mongering and sensationalism that has transcended levels never seen before in Zimbabwe’s media and communications history. This ,to the extent that social media has left many a user upset, confused, seeking legal recourse or trying to contact the complaints email of one social media company or the other.

But perhaps what is of immediate concern are its political dimensions in Zimbabwe. Its arrival signified a major shift in how political news and events in the country are received and interpreted. Because it does not have a specific journalistic ethos as regards its content, the news that social media users put into the public domain were more for communication of opinion, personal matters than serving to professionally and ethically inform a somewhat unlimited number of persons.  This would then point to the fact that the arrival of social media led to the expansion of the right of Zimbabweans to receive and impart information in a manner that was more personally empowering and without direct censorship.  It is a right that in this electoral period Zimbabweans enjoyed all too well (if they could afford to get connected).

The overall impact of such usage of these media platforms on the overall election is something that pollsters and academics will take some months to give a verdict on, but it is important to place a few matters on the table.

The first of these is that social media usage and its evolution in Zimbabwean political matters was largely one of mimicry. Its political utilization was framed within the framework characterized by the Arab Spring, particularly the Tunisian version of it.  Except that here it was more for incremental change than any perceived or anticipated revolution. So the initial political usage of social media within the context of elections was more or less framed within the ambit of access to information and not action on information. This means that its usage in Zimbabwe was not in the aftermath of a specified injustice but in anticipation of a political event and therefore it had to be introduced and not enhanced.

This introduction of civic/political education and mobilization social media platforms literally unleashed a stream of what I would like to call ‘immediate/defensive consciousness’ related to various but specific political affiliations. And this is the second point to place on the table. More often than not, social media did not necessarily change the political viewpoints of users, it gave them a platform on which to reinforce or defend them against rival ones with greater urgency and immediacy. In the process it also served as a medium of rivalry even beyond political parties but also between differing civil society actors.

The penultimate issue relates to the emerging question of whether in Zimbabwe’s case, social media leads to action from the virtual and into reality. When one looks at the electoral period, beginning with the March 2013 Constitutional referendum, social media was important in generating public interest in various political issues but did not however significantly replace the direct need for either door to door lobbying, campaigning or political rallies. It was used more often than not after a major event and not as an event in and of itself. The campaigns to lure the youth to register to vote and eventually do so via social media could not be left merely to the internet by way of mobilizing. There had to be a prioritisation of physical mobilization and accepting the social media as ‘toppings’. Emphasis had to be placed on the real before turning to the virtual.

The final matter to be placed on the table is a rather controversial but necessary one to make. This being whether social media platforms have created new platforms for critical engagement or have merely extended the reach of propaganda. In the case of our country, for now, social media has reflected not only the mainstream views in our society but also the rival mainstream ideas about elections and/or their results.  This binary character to the ‘critical thought’ one encounters on these platforms means for now, whatever the hegemonic and counter hegemonic trends in real society, these will come to be represented in the new or alternative media.

So as it is, and during our electoral period (which has not yet ended) social media has been most useful as an alternative source of information for many citizens. It has also allowed greater participation by citizens  in debates that their opinions may have never seen it into any newspapers, radio or TV stations. It has not however, been as great an agent of direct change. For now, it remains direct and real mobilization that works.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (