Thursday, 26 September 2013

“The Future and Relevance of Opposition Politics in Zimbabwe after the 2013 Elections”.

“The Future and Relevance of Opposition Politics in Zimbabwe after the 2013 Elections”.
A presentation to the Mass Public Opinion Institute’s (MPOI) Public Seminar, Thursday 26 September 2013, New Ambassador Hotel, Harare, Zimbabwe. 
By Takura Zhangazha*

Mr. Chairman,
Let me begin by expressing my gratitude, as always to MPOI for inviting me to participate in this important debate concerning the future of opposition politics in Zimbabwe. As the title of the matter to be debated openly implies, it is a future that is being considered particularly in the aftermath of the July 31 2013 harmonised election. The reasons why the question is relevant relates to two things.

Firstly that the political opposition in Zimbabwe, which historically was at its strongest since 1999 and particularly in 2008, seems to be on the back foot.  Assumptions of an inevitable victory or alternatively, movement from opposition to ruling party status appear to have been quashed by the disputed but politically accepted  result of our most recent national election.  Secondly, the issue of the status of the opposition and its future is emerging not only in relation to the existence of the mainstream opposition , the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), but as a generalized query as to whether there can be a viable, vibrant and potentially election winning opposite end of Zanu Pf in Zimbabwe.

Both considerations will evoke political emotion in many an opposition party supporter. Some who may not want to have all their sacrifices appear to have come to naught will defend to the hilt the current mainstream political opposition parties. It is an understandable reaction to any attempts to seek to analyse the reasons for the current state of affairs in the opposing political parties. Others who are sympathetic to the ruling party will argue that where the opposition finds itself now is a political tragedy of its own making.

They will over analyze the weaknesses of the mainstream opposition and claim that it was not grounded in the people. Or alternatively that it did not campaign adequately for the hearts and minds of the masses. This is also an understandable assertion given the right of every Zimbabwean to an opinion even if it is a biased one.

A departure point however would be to assess the opposition politics with an understanding that it will always exist in Zimbabwe and that it will not always be victorious. In fact the key issue is that there must always be an opposition to whatever government in power, not only in order for the replacement of the latter but also for critical and popular oversight. So I must make this particular point with emphasis. The opposition does not exist solely for the purposes of power acquisition, except only in cases where it claims to be leading a revolution, particularly in the short term.

The opposition in Zimbabwe has never laid claim to leading a revolution. It has talked of democracy, the struggle, but not revolution. And therefore, it has fundamentally been a collection of those that oppose not in order to transform Zimbabwean society, but to replace those in power. This has been a key characteristic of the mainstream opposition since independence and it is not a bad thing in and of itself. 

The only problem that this tendency has faced is that of the long incumbency of the ruling party and its claim to be a revolutionary which in its own reasoning makes it somewhat unassailable. 

This has regrettably led to the contemporary opposition in Zimbabwe taking the well trodden path of them versus us and no other particularly issue to oppose each other about. 

It is an analysis that some will refute to the extent of bringing out manifestos to try and offer or prove  themselves as an alternative. The truth of the matter is that the lived political realities on the ground indicate that the practices and strategies of the parties are all too similar. That is why for example, the patronage component appeared to have triumphed in the last elections with allegations of vote buying being placed before the Electoral Court.  

In order to elaborate further, I will use the famous phrase from George Orwell’s Animal Farm novel.  In relation to lived political experiences of the masses of Zimbabwe over and about political opposition and ruling parties, the most apt line would be “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

This brief analysis does not however to imply that the opposition has no future in Zimbabwe. In fact it lays the ground for it. The mainstream opposition that has emerged from the electoral process must take up the role of formal opposition with whatever seats it acquired for itself in the last plebiscite. Even if it claims it does not recognize the electoral triumph of the once again ruling party, it must swallow its pride and fulfill the mandate it sought from the people of Zimbabwe within the context of a new constitution it helped construct, albeit in an elitist and undemocratic fashion.

Furthermore, where it claims it is leading a ‘struggle’ it must demonstrate the necessary contrition at why the objectives of its struggle are far from met, even after its participation in an inclusive government. And finally it must bring its party elected leaders to account on the basis of their performance.  If it is serious about its own future, it must reserve the right of political recall of the same said leaders.
But because the question posed here today is not solely about the mainstream and now formal opposition, it is important to explain the overall future tasks for the success of any opposition to the ruling establishment in Zimbabwe.  

For the opposition to remain relevant and eventually ascend to political power, it must exist as an organic alternative to the ruling party. Even if the consequences can be dire. This would entail that the opposition understands and explains its founding objectives and values not only to its membership but to all of the citizens of Zimbabwe, no matter their station in life. It must also avoid mimicking the ruling party’s tendencies in relation to political practice at grassroots and articulate those issues that affect both the idealistic as well as mechanical life expectations of the people of Zimbabwe. It must not find itself caught up in the elitist trappings of power and their attendant materialism and ‘kiya kiya’ politics. 

Mr. Chairman, if the question were not a qualitative one on the future of opposition politics in Zimbabwe, I would say with certainty that opposition politics has a future in Zimbabwe. It is only a question of whether it will be an organic and people driven opposition or one that functions again in binary terms, of them versus us. In my view, the future looks bright for any opposition that listens to and continues to heed the call of the people for a social democratic Zimbabwe. And one that also remembers the famous quote from  Guinea Bissau and Cape Verdean African revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, ‘Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.
Thank You.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you would like to use this article elsewhere, please attribute it to

Monday, 16 September 2013

Prepaid Water Meters: No longer Giving a Thirsty Traveler a Free Glass of Water.

Prepaid Water Meters: No longer Giving a Thirsty Traveller a  Free Glass of Water.
By Takura Zhangazha*

The Harare City Council  (HCC) through its Water Department was recently reported in a local weekly as intending to introduce prepaid water meters by year end. This, soon after the much vaunted but under- analyzed and ongoing installation of prepaid meters for electricity. This stated intention of the HCC is most unfortunate and tantamount to the privatization of water,  a development which would most certainly have the ancestors wondering what on earth our elected and appointed officials might be thinking.

While there can be no argument against trying to find solutions to the challenge of citizens' access to clean and running water, this latest proposal by the capital’s city council may be more a matter of seeking to address an illness via its symptoms. 

Introducing prepaid water meters will not solve either the resource problems over and about either water treatment or its direct access by Harare residents. Neither will it build a much needed new reservoir that is envisioned to supply greater Harare with water. Unless of course the intention of council is to clandestinely increase the council rates and water bills under the guise of what can only be misleadingly referred to as sustainable water usage via prepaid meters.

Some amongst the social and political commentariat have openly welcomed these newfound policy maneuvers of central and local government on the basis of either ‘able to pay’ comfort zones or poorly thought out understanding of market economics.

 And these debates began when the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) and its subsidiary commercialized units began implementing the prepaid meter system. The issue then as it remains now was in tandem with the ‘use what you can pay for’ dictum. And it all appeared logical except that it has had the effect of making electricity available to only those that can pay for it. And in paying for it, consumers must now not only be frugal with the commodity but also deprive themselves of what now appears to be a luxury of cooking meals via electric stoves.

The prepaid electricity policy of ZESA has neither reduced power-cuts nor increased our electricity generation capacity.  It has instead being a case of literally passing on the cost to the consumer without a proper assessment as to how and why electricity distribution has remained so inefficient.  For some consumers it may appear to be better to have the little electricity that they can afford than having no electricity at all (if there are no blackouts). This however does not make the policy any more democratic or responsive to the glaring need of improving the livelihoods of majority poor families.  And this is the elephant in the room.

The convenience that the prepaid meters has given ZESA has probably been akin to a sigh of relief for the parastatal where regardless of its own inefficiencies, it passes on the cost to the consumer, and remorselessly so.  For each transaction or top up of the prepaid meter, there are the fixed charges of the rural electrification levy together with a specific percentage of incurred debt that will have been accrued by the consumer.  So essentially there is no new democratic departure point in the prepaid meter system. Its just merely a smarter way to give the impression that it is the consumer that had always been a problem when the reality of the matter is that the challenges of electricity production in Zimbabwe do not begin with the end user.

It is this sort of archaic model that the HCC wants to impose on residents for water consumption, and by dint of the same probably export the model to other municipalities.  Given that access to clean running water is a basic human right and directly relates to the right of all Zimbabweans to health, it is a development that does not bode well for recently elected local authority leaders. Water, like electricity needs calm approaches of balancing both cost and access. Prepaid meters are neither calm nor cost effective for overall supply of either water and electricity (hence the blackouts and dry taps).

To seek to inadvertently privatise water under the guise of prepaid billing systems is patently undemocratic.  Water is already a lucrative commodity via mineral water companies which sell it at commercial rates. For the HCC to want to adopt such an approach demonstrates that they are seeking an easier but symptomatic route out of the water crisis at the expense of the majority urban poor in Harare. 

What the HCC intends to do is pass on the cost to the consumer while at the same time failing to resolve the overall water crises the capital city faces. And even then, the very problem of water supply does not have its genesis in the consumer, but in central and local government authorities who converted pre-2008 water bills from Zimbabwean to United States  dollars without evident  public consultation on conversion rates. 

Should the HCC go ahead with its plan either in pilot or full form, it will be a sad day for democracy in Zimbabwe. Of all the things to privatise, water must be sacred. But for some, they perhaps fail to realize that it is not money that makes us equal but common democoratic values and collective humanity. And it all begins with giving each other a glass of water without thinking of how much it will cost.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you would like to use this article please attribute it to 

Saturday, 14 September 2013

A Belated Opinion on Zimbabwe’s not so new Cabinet.

By Takura Zhangazha*

A colleague asked if I had an opinion on Zimbabwe’s recently appointed cabinet. It’s a debate that I had been deliberately avoiding because there are a lot of more important and controversial opinions on the matter. These range from outright praise of President Mugabe’s choices to downright dismissal of the same. All of these initial assessments have largely stemmed from partisan standpoints. Some of them self righteous in victory, others bitter in defeat.

The reasons given by President Mugabe for his appointments have also had the effect of allowing him latitude to outline what he expects from his cabinet. This,  with the caveat that if he feels any of the ministers are underperforming, he will dismiss them. How the President will measure under-performance is not publicly known. Suffice to say, cabinet ministers are rarely fired. Instead, they tend to have their ministerial portfolios changed.

So if there is any particular certainty about what will happen to the new or re-appointed ministers, it is that they may most likely not serve in the same capacity for the duration of the five year mandate of this government.

It is however necessary to try and glean some political meaning of both the expectations as well as the capacity of cabinet to undertake work that makes Zimbabwe’s politics either more democratic or makes the economy responsive to the people’s needs.

For all the private and public assessments of the capacity of specific ministers to be able to offer the aforementioned improvements in their specific portfolios, there is one thing that stands out for scrutiny.
This being that before cabinet is disaggregated into individual characters, it should essentially be judged on the functional principle of collective responsibility.  

This means before we seek to analyse this single party executive arm of government on the basis of the personal characters of the persons in it, we must not only look at its shared agenda (party manifesto) but also its ability to function as a collective. Both in relation to its ability to shoulder an organic responsibility for the successes or failures  of its policies.

Given the manner in which it was appointed, it is least likely the cabinet will function any differently from previous ones. True to fashion, this new cabinet will tend more to function fully on the basis of the individual ministers awareness that they are in it solely on the basis of the benevolence of the President. And therefore before they achieve anything else as part of a collective, they are most likely to function and work in order to retain their individual positions as opposed to maintaining a semblance of collective responsibility. Even in the aftermath of an inclusive government.  

So with the passage of time, it will be individual ministers who will be measured as being either good or bad, and not the entirety of cabinet.  Any transgressions or failures to deliver will unfortunately not be measured on the basis of a collective government programme of action. Instead the judgment calls will be on which minister is savvy enough or fits a particular civil society stakeholder lexicon. 

This is why for example, the comparisons of Ministers Kasukuwere and Nhema have centered more on their assumed personal characters than the policies that they, on behalf of the cabinet, pursued in their previous capacities.

An added consideration when analyzing our new cabinet is what has inadvertently been cited by some analysts as its ‘revolving door’ framework (though not in those words). There are not many persons who are new to cabinet in President Mugabe’s team in the executive. Most of its members, save for at least five, have previously served in cabinet in one capacity or the other. 

This means that there is most likely a sense of entitlement to cabinet posts wither by virtue of proximity to the presidency, experience or particular roles played during the July 31 2013 campaign period. This less in terms of what is intended to be deliberately and conscientiously achieved and more in relation to what gives the appointed ministers a modicum of justification for their appointment. 

It is therefore more likely that their performance will be more in keeping with the default tradition of previous cabinets.  This is a tradition which generally emphasizes marking and keeping one’s turf without stepping on the toes of the President. While on the other hand the Zimbabwean public will also carry on with its own tradition of creating sarcasm and humour over and about cabinet ministers performances or roles (a tendency which has already been evidenced by the dry humor about Minister of State, Josiah Hungwe’s portfolio)

As I stated at the beginning of this article, the new cabinet was a matter I was willing to leave to others to debate and analyse. The colleague who requested an opinion from me on the same matter perhaps views these matters differently. I am however of the firm view that the cabinet will not differ spectacularly from previous ones (inclusive or otherwise). The more important task for Zimbabweans is to bring this cabinet to account. Not only in terms of the ruling party’s manifesto but more significantly on the basis of social democratic values and principles.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you decide to use this article elsewhere please acknowledge that you got it from 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Zanu Pf's New-found but Fragile Revivalist Hegemony

By Takura Zhangazha*

When President Mugabe was sworn in on August 22 2013 some in his party’s circles and sympathetic analysts equated the inauguration ceremony as being the equivalent of the historical 1980 arrival of a newly independent Zimbabwe. In reality it turned out to be a comparatively less celebrated ceremony and more an immediate post-election event minus any euphoric expectations of the future. Almost two weeks after the inauguration, there is limited reason to expect that it still remains carved in the collective memory of a majority of Zimbabweans. What obtains is more or less a wait and see attitude about what the now singular ruling party can and will do for all Zimbabweans.

So as it is, its recent sweeping victory (contested and as real as it is) signifies, more than anything else, a return of Zanu Pf to singular political hegemony over our country.  And this is not new political territory for the ruling party or the people of Zimbabwe. The only difference is that it has occurred after a drawn out four year period of power sharing guaranteed by the regional body, SADC.  This makes the electoral triumph of Zanu Pf bitter sweet. However, that they had found themselves in a situation where they had to share power in the first place was (and probably remains) evidence of their weakened political hegemony.

With this electoral victory there are however signs of concerted attempts by the ruling party at a ‘revivalist hegemony’.  This was particularly evidenced by their quick reference to the recent inauguration ceremony as being akin to that of 1980. The reality of the matter is that it is not going to be an easy road for this new found  revivalism in Zanu Pf.

The reasons why it is a difficult task for the ruling party are many and begin with understanding that electoral victory alone is not enough to define hegemony. And that power acquisition can sometimes end up as being power for its own sake while counter-hegemonic forces (if there are any) work toward taking over.  

Perhaps the leaders of Zanu Pf realize this, even if by default. This ‘default’ mode was more defensive and in aide of their retention of their hold on power than it was organic. It relied fundamentally on three pillars. Namely, stubbornly holding onto the nationalist (liberation war) narrative and its justification for the use of violence; the compulsory acquisition of land and the ongoing though haphazard economic indigenization programme. All of the latter pillars are the ones that have in part led to some pundits (including a former South African President) explaining why Zanu Pf not only won the July 2013 election but also why they seem to be on the ascendancy again, even without internal leadership renewal.

It is however the aftermath of the victory that is most problematic for Zanu Pf’s hold on its new-found revivalist hegemony. The pillars upon which the election rested required a visible and lived counter hegemonic project in the form of the MDC-T as well as the inclusive government.  Going into the next five years without such an opposing view and action point is in itself a serious challenge for the ruling party.  Particularly with regards to constructing a new cultural edifice around not only the legitimacy of its electoral retention of power but also its usage of the latter.

The questions that emerge is how does Zanu Pf shift its electoral strategies into sustainable economic and democratic realities not only for those that voted for it but for all Zimbabweans? Or alternatively  Is it capable of overcoming its electoral contestation mode in order to govern without direct reference to a real or imagined opponent for the better of all Zimbabweans?

The answers to these questions, depending on where they come from, will be fraught with emotion and arbitrary defensiveness if not outright dismissal. What however remains apparent is that for all its victory celebrations (which we shall certainly be seeing a lot of in the coming months), Zanu Pf faces a monumental challenge in broadening and even democratising the imperatives of its hegemony.

Five years is not a long time in politics. It is most certainly true that Zanu Pf will not be able to sing the same songs over and about indigenization, land reform or the liberation struggle in 2018.  At least not to the same guitar or drum rhythms. It is party that is going to be judged less on the basis of its past or electoral rhetoric as pitted against a strong counter-hegemony. Instead the judgment calls will be more on the basis of its ability to perform democratically and in the best interests of all Zimbabweans.

So as it is, while many may be pleasantly surprised or thoroughly shocked by Zanu Pf’s victory in the July 2013 elections, a deeper analysis points to a fragility of the same. The ruling  party’s return to full government may be indicative of the revival of its complete hegemony over Zimbabwean politics but a return is not the final arbiter of its effectiveness. It’s the performance of the same that is. And on that, I am certain there will be new counter-hegemonies to challenge for state power in 2018.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you decide to use this article elsewhere, please acknowledge that you got it from