Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Thomas Mapfumo’s Golden Classics Album: A Reflection on the Historical Fabric of Zimbabwean Society.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Listening to Thomas Mapfumo’s new compilation album, Golden Classics is akin to undergoing a musical historical narrative on the progression of Zimbabwean society since the late 1970s through to the euphoric early years of independence.  It is an album that makes the listener not only aware of varying phases of Zimbabwe’s socio-political, economic history but also to appreciate the evolution of Chimurenga music’s instrumentation as a global music genre. 

It is however important to expand on these three socio-economic, political  and music  instrumentation aspects of this latest Chimurenga Music Company’s (CMC) album. 

To begin with, the Golden Classics album is reminiscent and celebratory of the 1980 liberation victory as well as the challenges that we faced at the onset of independence. These challenges were to be embedded in our collective anticipation, and lack of urgent  delivery  of popularly anticipated holistic changes to our socio-economic circumstances in the 1980s.  The celebratory component s were to be largely found in the great hope that finally we had arrived at the political freedom station that was independence.

In relation to the aforementioned, the album’s themes run from ones that talk to the end of poverty (Nhamo Yapera) through to celebrating ‘Mondays’ (Zuva Guru)  as, somewhat ironically, being one of the most important days of the week. Whether be it in good humour or patent seriousness, there is the running thread of an acknowledgement of the anticipation that now that Zimbabwe has come, there shall be an improvement in the livelihood of the people. One that would be a result of the hard work and support that the people gave to the struggle.  All expressed with an acknowledgment of the importance of laboring to make these liberation dreams a reality. 

These are themes that remain relevant to our contemporary socio-economic challenges whether viewed from a national or individual citizen standpoint.  Both of which are interspersed with narratives of love that was lost due to lack of money or a reckless disrespect of marriage as an important institution(John Wapera). 

The only specific difference between the time these songs were put on vinyl and now is that we are no longer as hopeful or as enthusiastic about the national economy being steered in a direction that addresses our collective economic livelihoods.  All the same, there is a moralistic and religious tone to some of the songs on the album that  bemoan social inequality and beseech God to intervene (Pamuromo Chete) with messaging that remains relevant today.  

Where it comes to the second aspect of the politics of Golden Classics , there are songs that reflect the popular political mood of the early 1980s as well as the disillusionment that began to set in as time progressed.  It would be ahistorical to attribute such songs as ‘Chiiko Chinotinetsa’ to the time of composition alone, as the song continues to be relevant to our contemporary politics today. It questions issues to do with what the problem may be with the country for it to be so poor.

It also further queries what may indeed be the cause of our never-ending national problems. Whether  it be a lack of money, general poverty, unemployment,  the country being  too ‘opaque’ or perhaps having committed a collective crime to be in such dire straits. This is where Thomas Mapfumo’s music particularly remains timeless. Such questions could be asked by any citizen of Zimbabwe at home or in the Diaspora experiencing either the pangs of exile or a lack of basic social services in 2013 and beyond.

There’s also the third aspect to the album that relates to the musical composition and its meeting with the lyrics. The instrumentation places emphasis on both base and lead guitar, a style that is peculiar to Thomas  since he pioneered Chimurenga Music. None of the songs sound the same. Each one represents its own creative uniqueness both in terms of lyrics as well as instrumentation. As a result, and from this earlier stage in his career, he is still arguably the best composer of  Zimbabwean music to date.

Both by geographical and cultural origin. This, by way of either working with other legendary composers such as the late Jonah Sithole or composing the music by himself.  Add Mapfumo’s voice and indeed we have the finished article.

To conclude, it would be important to recognize that Mukanya’s music reflects the very fabric of Zimbabwean society. Whether one goes back to the period in which the majority of the songs on Golden Classics were composed or skips to his last released album Exile and the pending World on Fire/Danger Zone one, we are blessed as a country to have such a talent still among us. Even though he remains  in physical exile and as has been written on the sleeve of this latest one by Blessing Vava, Mhondoro yeZimbabwe (Lion of Zimbabwe).

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you decide to use this article/blog. Please attribute it to takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

President Zuma, Think Like an African! (It helps.)

 By Takura Zhangazha*

South African President Jacob Zuma is generally a man who harbours little fear of the negative consequences of his words or actions. Or if he does, he exhibits a certain confidence that he will overcome any such problematic effects of what he says or does. His reported utterances at a meeting organized by his party the African National Congress (ANC) about what was essentially a domestic matter, however went on to betray his unfortunate attitude toward Africa.

As reported in the City Press newspaper, he jokingly advised the meeting that on the matter of ‘etolls’ in his country, South Africans must not “ think like Africans in Africa generally, we’re in Johannesburg.” He is reported to have further added that the Gauteng highways are ‘not some national road in Malawi’ to further buttress his distasteful humour.

If these statements were being attributed to an ordinary citizen of any African country, they probably would not have made any headlines. But coming as they are from South Africa’s President, they cannot be swept under the carpet.

 Being a Zimbabwean, I am acutely aware that humour has a general role in politics, particularly where it is used for comparative assessment of progress between countries. Or even domestically as it relates to freedom of expression. I however do not agree with humour being used to connote false stereotypes of others let alone being used in such an abrasive and far reaching manner by a sitting head of state and government. Moreso, by an African one,  at a time when the continent remains on an international back-foot due in part, to the perpetuation of uninformed stereotyping of some countries as being more 'equal than others'. 

Mr. Zuma’s regrettable comments have the specific import of implying two issues. Firstly that he believes that his country is ‘exceptional’ and therefore cannot be viewed from the prism of  being a sister African country. He may be correct in the eyes of his supporters but the premise of this argumentation is however politically misplaced.  South Africa is indeed an exceptional country but not by way of narrow, self serving comparison to the status of the development of other African countries. It is exceptional in the sense that it owes its liberation not only to the current ruling party but the contribution of many African countries and peoples that its current president finds fit to deride.

Furthermore, assumptions of any economic/development superiority of South Africa must also be premised on the knowledge that due to the colonial development of forced (political and economic) circular migration in Southern Africa, contributions to its current status are also historically grounded in the peoples of the sub-region. This is why one of the most tragic colonial institutions were the Native Labour Associations, inclusive of the notorious but heavily utilized Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (commonly referred to as WENELA by us, the African locals.)

In singularly claiming a specific un-African uniqueness to his country, President Zuma is being dishonest to himself and the legacy of African liberation struggles that his own party, the ANC, proudly lays claim to. His utterances are borderline disheartening confirmation of the unfortunate myth that the more an African country was colonized the better it turned out in development/modernisation. If that were to be true, we might as well thank the settler colonials for getting us to where we are, a development that would be a treasonous betrayal of the liberation struggles whose challenges and objectives we are still trying to overcome and achieve in contemporary time.

A second and final effect of the statement attributed to Mr. Zuma is its import on xenophobia in his own backyard. The consistent and violent “othering” of fellow Africans by poorer South Africans cannot have found better endorsement than in the utterances of its head of government.  Because there is a misconception that citizens from other African countries come to take local jobs, any insinuation, particularly at the highest leadership level, that South Africa is rich beyond the imagination of the rest of the continent does not serve to promote peaceful co-existence in volatile communities. Instead it gives wrong nationalistic premise to poorer and disadvantaged South Africans to want to falsely but violently gatekeep wealth that they do not control anyway.

Indeed South Africa is exceptional  (as is any other country) and its roads are not like those of Malawi. It however is an African country on the African continent and with its historical umbilical cord in Africa.  While we can forgive the ignorance of musicians and other artistic celebrities, President Zuma’s unfortunate attempt at humour is not funny.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you decide to use this blog, please attribute it to takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

University of Zimbabwe: Seek ye first Academic Freedom (and everything else shall follow)

By Takura Zhangazha*

Writing in the Zimbabwe Independent (11-17 October), journalist and colleague Herbert Moyo, aptly pointed out the problems that are afflicting Zimbabwe’s largest university, the University of Zimbabwe (UZ). In his report, Moyo makes reference to how over a year ago, the former Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara had set up a fundraising committee of the institution’s celebrity ex alumni. The latter committee’s first act was to invite former South African President, Thabo Mbeki to be a key note speaker at a fundraising dinner.  

For at least trying, were he not a senior government minister, Mutambara cannot be faulted.  Except that in this particular case he was. The fundraising dinner , as outlined in the report by Moyo had celebrity politicians/businessmen pledging millions of dollars in cash or kind. To date none of these pledges have materialized. Or are even being talked about by the authorities and former government leaders that fell over themselves in praise of a dinner they vaingloriously felt was the epitome of public private partnerships. As is now apparent, the efforts by Mutambara and co have turned out to have been attempts at addressing symptoms and not the actual ailment afflicting the UZ.

To put it bluntly, the root cause of the problems affecting our country’s largest university is the lack of academic freedom.  This has been the deliberately overlooked and ignored key cause of the malaise of the institution since the effecting of the University of Zimbabwe Act in 1990. 

It is a problem that became more compounded with the decline in the national economy with a simultaneous reduction of government funding for higher education. Both of which were caused by central government's embracing of now infamous Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) austerity measures.  It is these financial woes that were and have been used by both the government and central university administration as convenient excuses to stifle academic freedom both in the past and in present day.

It became a case of economic and academic blackmail driven by the undemocratic and deliberately stated threat of suffering  the loss of academic freedom or face/see the closure of the university to both students and staff. This threat was to be made even more startling with the undemocratic expulsion of student leaders and loss of employment for outspoken junior lecturers and academic/non academic staff.   

It is the same repressive culture that obtains and was deliberately ignored by those former students that hosted that now infamous fundraising dinner over a year ago.

For those that have an interest in the return of the UZ to being an institution of academic excellence, they  must begin by fighting for it to have academic freedom. They must do so on the basis of seeking first academic freedom and everything else will follow (to borrow from Kwame Nkrumah’s political maxim). It is an academic freedom that should be taken to mean the recognition of the right of all students, academic and non academic staff to freely associate, assemble and express themselves and to pursue research and study without undue interference. 

All of this achieved within the context of an environment in which the necessary services such as student loans/grants, accommodation, health, transport, academic resources, student and  staff unionism, the reduction and re-orientation of the university security from being akin to a thought/repression force to merely providing basic security on campus and the placing of direct funding obligations on government for all of these essential components of a democratic and excellent university.

Where this is done with competent honesty, the UZ will be able to begin a process of courting the investment it requires to compete both locally and globally. It is an investment that will reside in the confidence that the university is being governed in a manner that conforms with the highest standards and expectations of academic freedom and excellence. This would also serve as being  contrary to the current framework in which the UZ is being portrayed as a mere corporatist marketing platform for a few academic departments in order to give prominent individuals in Zimbabwean society assumptions of philanthropy.

Furthermore, the whole concept of running the UZ like a private business runs contrary to the right of all Zimbabweans to an education. While financial self reliance in certain aspects of a public university are expected, to seek to make profit on the basis of parents ability to pay tuition reflects an unfortunate comfort with a bottleneck approach to higher education by both the UZ central administration and its parent government ministry.  And most of those in charge of the institution did not have to pay a single cent to get through their university studies, a development which they cannot justify to those students that they continually refuse either results or entry into examination halls.

As I wrote earlier in this blog, the initiative by Mutambara and co may have been well intended but it was ill thought out. It skirted the underlying cause of the general crisis at the UZ, this being that of the lack of academic freedom. It is the establishment of the latter at the UZ that will lead to more organic resolutions of the crisis at the college.

Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you decide to use this blogpost please acknowedge that you got it from takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com

Monday, 14 October 2013

The ICC's problematic 'heart of darkness' approach in Africa.

  By Takura Zhangazha*

The African Union’s extraordinary summit to consider its relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC)on 11 and 12 October 2013 has been received with two different strands of debate. The first being that of an ‘its about time the AU talked back to the ICC’ approach. The second element, which was more prevalent in Western media and via African or Africa focused human rights activists, was concerned with decrying what has been referred to as African leaders’  “culture of impunity”.  

Both of these arguments, correct in their own way,  are not necessarily at polar ends of each other. They will however be played out in the media for political reasons. And this is perhaps where the primary challenge of the relationship between the ICC and Africa lies.  In practice, and with particular reference to Africa, the ICC has turned out to be more a global political player than a court of justice.

 Not only because, as cited by the AU, it targets African leaders ‘unfairly’ but more due to the perception that it selectively applies its rules to the world’s weaker states.  By default, the ICC therefore becomes a reflection of the global balance of power. While some Global South leaders will wax lyrical about how and why the ICC ignores those leaders that for example instigated the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, they know the reality to be that the ICC will never act against those same said leaders. Not for lack of justification but more as a reflection of global geo-political realities.

For those that actively support the work of the ICC in Africa, this is the conveniently ignored elephant in the room. These colleagues tend to have a noble and idealistic view of the role of the ICC when in fact it is merely an extension of the sort of politics that informs the United Nations Security Council. This is regardless of whether the Chief Prosecutor is of African origin. The political rules do not change. With the ICC it is not pragmatic for us to assume that globally all will be equal before the law. It is the easier ones to ‘catch’ that will always be hauled before the court for alleged crimes committed against humanity. 

The latter point must also be examined within the context of our understanding of what has been called the universality of human rights and global equality. From an African perspective, we have been more eager to earn our place in international forums and organizations than those who have set the standards themselves.  Not only as equals but as capable leaders or nations in meeting our global obligations. 

These are characteristics that can be traced back to the liberation struggle era where we were able to straddle both the Eastern  as well as  Western global power blocs in order to further our noble causes. Indeed some of us became more socialist than the socialists and more capitalist than the capitalists, in as much as some of us have become more human rights oriented than the super-powers that selectively apply  the global  discourse and practice of the same.

 Where we fast forward to today and take the example of the ICC’s attitude toward our continent, we might need to revisit what we mean by global equality. Apart from the ideals that are outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human rights and other attendant UN documents, we must engage with the Global North with more firmness in understanding who we are as opposed to basic mimicry.

 To explain further, where we have sought to be human rights defenders/activists, we must not do so without application to our own domestic/continental context or act in order to get approval from colleagues in the West.  We must challenge any actions that portray Africa as the only continent where human rights  violations occur or are in need of a ‘colonial style’ center in the north for validation and remedy.

Representations of what we consider and know to be human rights violations or crimes against humanity should not be done in order to whet the appetite for a Conradian ‘heart of darkness’ Western understanding of our continent. They should be done to re-assert our shared and equal humanity with the rest of the world, not in order that we perpetuate the myth about gross human rights violations being the specific preserve of Africa and Africans. The ICC must actively give the impression that it intends to implement the same rules to everyone regardless of their continent of origin let alone their status in global geopolitics. 

The AU is therefore politically correct to raise specific concerns with the United Nations about sitting presidents having to travel to The Hague for trial during their terms of office.  It is a necessary political position to take given the subservient role in global affairs Africa has had to be subjected to since the liberal interventionism in Ivory Coast, Libya and Mali. It is also significant that in its resolutions, the AU also committed to ending the culture of impunity and bringing all perpetrators of human rights violations to justice through the African Court of Justice and Human Rights. It may appear as though this is a case of the leaders club protecting its own members, but it is however a step in a more organic and equal internationally justiciable human rights direction. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you decide to use this blog please acknowledge that you got it from takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Professor Moyo's ambiguous carrot (and suspended stick) to Zimbabwe's Media.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The new Minister of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, Professor Jonathan Moyo together with  his deputy Hon. Super Mandiwanzira appear to have come good on their promise to ‘hit the ground running’. Apart from calling meetings with a diverse spectrum of media and media related stakeholders in Harare and Bulawayo in the last month or so, they have kept themselves quite busy touring media operations and meeting media players from both the private/state sectors.

This cannot be faulted. In fact it is to be expected. Most new, re-assigned or re-appointed cabinet ministers are either on some sort of national/local tour of facilities or persons that they believe to be within their ministerial purview. And it helps to be seen to be getting off on a good and consultative initial footing. The same said ‘good footing’ departure also has an unfortunate tendency to cloud real issues in benevolent camaraderie.

And if stakeholders take this camaraderie as opportunities for policy reform , they must also be mindful of the fact that, after all the hugs and kisses, this newfound relationship with victorious single ruling party policymakers remains one premised on the latter’s benevolence as opposed to common democratic principles and values.  In other words, they do not have to meet media stakeholders. But they would like to. In part to listen to them, but largely to ‘consultatively’  co-opt them into frameworks that they will inevitably not be able to democratically participate in or influence.

Be that as it may and as various media organizations have indicated, engagement with the slightly changed (by way of name) Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services (MMIBS) is as necessary as it must be cautious. ‘Necessary’ because one can only lobby a sitting government of the day for immediate policy changes.  ‘Cautious’ because of the general historical tendency of MMIBS and its predecessor titles to act as undemocratic gatekeepers of freedom of expression and media freedom in Zimbabwe.

It is the media matters on which to engage the MMIBS that I would like to focus on. The first issue that must be apparent in engaging the media ministry stems from its interpretation of the constitution. Professor Moyo has already argued that he views Section 3 of the new constitution which has  provision for the upholding of the values of the liberation struggle as perhaps the most important.  It would therefore appear that for the minister this is the particular section through which all others sections such as Section 61 on freedom of expression must also be interpreted.  

While it is a matter of either taking the matter to the Constitutional Court as well as subject to the interpretive actions of the MMIBS,  I doubt if anyone fundamentally disagrees with section 3 as written. The somewhat stern reminder by the Honourable Minister of its existence (in part response to a Media Alliance of Zimbabwe statement) is more a drawing of the boundaries than an addition to the debate.

A better  departure point to these matters of interpretation would be to at least find emphasis in the universality of these rights for all Zimbabweans, regardless of our varying  interpretations of  them, while leaving it up to the Constitutional Court to decide on final interpretation, if the need arises. So as it is, while the MMIBS may have its own views, it must respect the right of stakeholders to have and enjoy differing perceptions of the same in terms of Section 61 of the constitution.

Secondly, in parts of the interactions I attended at the behest of the MMIBS, the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Charamba emphasized a plethora of points. One that seemed to be apparent and probably explained the multi-sector attendees of the meeting, was what he referred to as intending to turn the media into or to at least treat it like an ‘industry’. It points to an intention by MMIBS to view the media as a key sector of the national economy and treat it as such. (And this may also explain why a number participants made reference to the importance of indigenisation and economic empowerment).

It is important that the media always be viewed from the perspective of its ability to contribute to employment creation, foreign direct investment, technology/ knowledge transfers and communication for development.  Such a perspective however should not subsume the media to the motive of profit at the expense (quite literally) of the right of all Zimbabweans to receive, impart and access a diversity of opinions. 

So it may be commendable that the MMIBS intends to embark on this 'industrialisation' of the media course but it must not exchange principles of media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information for profit. Neither must it present cross media ownership/ monopolies as if they represent diversity.  Especially if they supposedly make a profit. Furthermore, there is need to balance the matter of industry and profit at the state funded and controlled broadcaster ZBC with the issue of public service information  broadcasting that recognizes all the country’s diverse views and does not substitute those with propaganda for (political) profit purposes.

It could all begin with Mr. Charamba asking his  principal to debate in cabinet how the cumbersome multi-layer regulatory systems for media players across the technological divide hurts both MMIBS’ envisaged ‘media  industry’ as well as the right of all Zimbabweans to receive and impart information. All in terms of structure, levies, cross-monitoring, ICT multiple supervision and registration, multiple levy payments and downright red tape media management as embodied by constitutional and statutory bodies such as the Zimbabwe Media Commission, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, the sister Ministry of ICT, Courier and Postal Services as well as other arms of the government that rely on POSA, AIPPA to stifle media freedom and sustainability.

A final point that I must mention is that when the Deputy Minister, Hon. Mandiwanzira states how he views his new role as being to serve everyone, including media players who at one point may have referred to him as a Zanu Pf apologist. This is all well and good if it were less a political point. Bygones must indeed be bygones. Not, however for the convenience of the political moment of appointment, but for the articulation of a shared vision that is less about the cameras, and more about the achievement of expanding freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information for all Zimbabweans. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you decide to use this blogpost please acknowedge that you got it from takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com