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 takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com