Thursday, 27 February 2014

Mr. Speaker Sir. Parliament is not a University

By Takura Zhangazha*

The Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr Mundenda recently made some startling remarks when he addressed students from the National Defence College.  He is reported in the media as having  decried the ‘limited academic qualifications’  of some Members of Parliament (who incidentally elected him to office).

He is of the view that his colleagues are not educated enough to understand bills that are brought before the House. He has therefore  announced his office’s intention to undertake  some ‘strategic programme’  to enhance their skills.

Apart from falling short of telling our MPs to go back to school, the Speaker has demonstrated an unfortunate superiority complex that has been the bane of our politics since independence.

Nay, since colonialism. This being that it would be preferable (though rarely said even in the nationalist movements) to have those that are coherent/ informed/ sophisticated by way of education in the modern day order of things being closer to power.

In his evident preference for educated legislators he makes reference (with disdain)to  the fact that there is no specific qualification required to be an MP except that one has to be an adult and a registered voter. (This being one of the basic reasons for the waging of the liberation struggle in our country.)

Given the political gravity of his public opinions, it may be necessary to  outline some basic standing orders and rules for the Speaker. Only in order for him to understand and possibly reconsider the premise of his flawed argument.

Firstly Parliament is a receptacle of the peoples representatives through direct elections of individuals via our constituency based system.  The persons that win such elections are essentially chosen representatives (regardless of the ongoing legal challenges to some of their seats) by ordinary citizens, and dare I say, people who wouldn’t understand the three stages of a bill.

To publicly state that these representatives are not up to scratch when they become members of the legislature (even if it’s the Lower House) is to inadvertently denigrate the peoples verdict. Or to seek to judge it unfairly.

The processes that led to their elections may have been callous, money driven and in some cases, riddled with allegations and victims of political violence. But until a competent court of law overturns a specific MPs election, then the Speaker essentially has no business seeking to qualify, on the basis of educational qualifications, a verdict he has no mandate to do so.

Secondly, the Speaker conveniently phrases his opinion in the language of capacity development  of sitting MPs while somehow hinting that if he had his way, there would be a qualified franchise for one to be a legislator in the future.

While he does not specify whether he thinks one needs Ordinary or Advanced levels to be one, given the fact that he is a lawyer, one would be forgiven for speculating that he would most likely insist one becomes a paralegal to run for a seat in Parliament. And in the process defeat the whole point of representative democracy.

Thirdly, our politicians have taken on the habit of making statements that appear well thought out but in effect not reflective of our political realities. The Speaker in making disparaging remarks about his colleagues unfortunately made the vainglorious mistake of thinking he is above the fray of those that elected him.

He forgot that Parliament reflects the political inclinations of our society, warts and all. To call some of his colleagues ignorant is tantamount to referring to Zimbabwean society as being the same. Or at least missing the evident point that the electorate's decisions can only be referred to as ignorant by the electorate itself. And with hindsight. Hence we vote every five years.

The greater truth of the matter is that no matter how uneducated you might be, if the intention of a Bill of Parliament is brought before you, you will be able to decipher its meaning. Perhaps slowly but inevitably on behalf of the best interests of your constituency and country. Even if these interests were limited to those of your political party's principles and values.

Finally, the tasteless remarks by the Speaker forget the fundamental constitutional task of Parliament. There will be many MPs and Speakers of the House of Assembly as has always been the case. Some will be rich, others will have university degrees while others still only their community and people centered track record to show for it.

But so long as there is a professional and competent civil service Parliament will carry out its democratic constitutional mandate even as a full reflection of the true (educated or uneducated) character of our country.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

President Mugabe @90: Leadership by Symbolism

By Takura Zhangazha*

I last wrote about President Mugabe when he turned 88 in 2012.  In the article/blog that I wrote, I took the risk of defining him as a ‘revolutionary by default’.  I wrote those words with a bit of trepidation. Firstly because I could have been arrested for writing that. Secondly because I felt it would get me into some sort of trouble with my then employers who were a bit prickly about not only my history of political activism but also because of my inability to steer clear of political controversies. 

I would have left it at that until I came across a picture montage of the president in the United Kingdom’s The Telegraph newspaper early this week. 

It came across more as an obituary, a general narrative that is anticipated by the global media. Though they wouldn’t descend on our small landlocked country with as much enthusiasm as they did when former South African President Nelson Mandela passed on. 

As it is, President Mugabe turns 90 this week. And yes, a number of colleagues in the media have asked me to make some comments on what political feelings it invokes having a 90 year old as president (even at the risk of being accused of ageism).

My answer has been consistent. We might not deserve to have a man of such advanced years determining our next five years as a country, but we deal the hand that we have been dealt.  A hand that we have been at sixes and sevens to explain how it is that we have come to have gone against the global grain. (Italy has a 39 year old Prime Minister)

The truth of the matter is that President Mugabe at 90 no longer represents himself. He has become more symbol than he is leader of the day to day governmental activities of our country.  He, instead, and to much international chagrin represents our country’s history (and not triumphantly) for better and for worse. 

At 90 he has come to a sort of political Rubicon, where he knows, inevitably he has to let go of power. Even where he has argued that he must stay on in order to keep his party united, it is his impending departure from office that keeps it divided.  In any event, prior to the July 2013 election, where it was argued that he was the only one who could take Zanu Pf to an election victory, that same said victory in its occurrence to a two thirds majority in Parliament, means that argument holds little water. At least until 2018. 

So there are no immediate essential threats to his party’s tenure in government office. And while it is not my brief to justify a call for his departure from office,  I would still stand by the argument that he has no specific justification as to why he should not pass on the baton stick to someone not only younger but also capable of understanding our country’s domestic and international placing with greater urgency. 

Beyond his own personal political considerations, President Mugabe, at 90, has come to symbolize a number of issues about our country, nationalism and Pan Africanism.

In Zimbabwe, he is probably the last of the liberation war generation who could articulate the cause with a specific populist consistency. He is also the only one who has been at the helm of the same said cause without demonstrating any intention of passing on the leadership mantle. Almost as if time has stood still for him.  And in the process he has made many mistakes.

From Gukurahundi, through to Economic Structural Adjustment, the economic meltdown of the late 90s and repressing the opposition, in being prime Minister and eventually executive president, Mr. Mugabe has failed to understand the passage of time and the limited impact an individual human being can have on it. 

On the African continent, where there is applause for him in stadiums, it is less a celebration of his persona than it is a desire for political movements that do not negate the values of the struggle.  The applause therefore becomes that of Africans in general wanting political movements that are organic and people centered. They would like movements that speak to their collective history and the pain it entailed to be where we are. 

When the state controlled media celebrate the applause given to him, they misunderstand the very fact that Africa is in a bad place, politically and economically (don’t believe the hype about Africa rising).  We are in need of leaders that are less enamored to global hegemonies and more committed to the betterment of their peoples. President Mugabe is neither of the latter.  He remains a revolutionary by default. And the party that he leads, though much more organized than the mainstream opposition, remains one that has its major indictment, an inability to renew its own leadership. 

Because the country faces so many challenges, it can no longer rely on political rhetoric.  It needs committed and ‘fingers on the button’ organic leaders.  At 90, President Mugabe can no longer do this.

*Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

5 (Sad) Reasons for Violence in Zimbabwe’s Largest Opposition Political Parties.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Any political opposition to a long standing ruling party will always suffer the burden of being scrutinized in greater detail than its nemesis. In the age of social/new media, this tendency becomes even more widespread as many citizens and even supporters can generally express either their support or disapproval of the actions an opposition party takes in pursuing political power. 

In the case of Zimbabwe’s largest opposition, the recent major outcry, and correctly so, has been its seeming (re)embracing of internal politically motivated violence to resolve what has been largely character based leadership differences.  Or if the leadership denies such allegations, then it is the easy resort of components of its membership to violence that is a cause for serious consternation.

But in order to move beyond disapproval, shock and condemnation, it is also important to begin to analyze potential reasons for this sort of undemocratic opposition politics.  Particularly in Zimbabwe’s largest opposition parties.

I have tried to narrow down the reasons to five short ones as follows:

1.  Mimicry: In Zimbabwe’s post independence politics, there is a general pattern of what academics have referred to as ‘the past being in the present’. In most post independence opposition politics, because of the resorting to violence by Zanu PF to suppress both grassroots and general dissent, the mainstream opposition has tended to take on the character of its political rivals. Both internally and in how they interact externally with the electorate or their rivals.

In their being victims of brutality at the hands of the state, power comes to be ultimately viewed as the ability to mete out violence. Even if it was towards one’s political own.

So at two levels, internally and externally, the system established by a longue-duree ruling party comes to be viewed as ‘successful’ political organizing, especially by those at the helm of also long suffering opposition parties or movements.

Even more so when they have harrowing experiences, not unlike those of the ruling party in acquiring power, of being arrested jailed, tortured, violently displaced or losing their loved ones/comrades in arms in the name of the specific cause which they were involved in founding. 

Especially  where and when these opposition leaders feel they are being ‘unprocedurally’ challenged without due recognition to their ‘brave’ or ‘founding’ status’.

2. Leadership’s Sense of Entitlement and Borderline Messianic Tendencies:  This is a point that is directly linked to the first one above. Contemporary Zimbabwean opposition leaders have referred themselves to be leading a ‘struggle for democracy’. They have however sought to justify their continued presence of leadership to their ‘struggle’ movements by claiming, and unfortunately so, that you cannot change the captain of the ship before reaching the destination.

What this has led to has been a sense of entitlement to leadership ostensibly on the basis of the opinionated assumption that it is only the captain that set off on the journey that must complete the journey.

Well, even at sea, depending on whether the captain is staying the original course, this is not a cardinal rule.

 What this has done, and again unfortunately, is to inculcate into the membership the development of ‘cultist’ opposition leaders whose primary task has remained that of being exactly that, opposition leaders.  In the process they construct systems of patronage that come with either political party or donor funding and where they need to do so, employ the age old tactic of mobilizing their members to act only when there is money or material benefit. 

3. Lack of Intraparty Democracy, Inconsistent Ideological Pretexts and Inorganic Membership: Interlinked with points 1 and 2 is the fact that in order for opposition leaders  to remain at the helm they therefore must have a membership in  name or for the purposes of a founding elective congress, a rally or a protest.

Beyond that, the membership is generally idle and left to its own devices. This makes the membership not be clear, from grassroots upwards, of the specific causes for which the party stands for and its broader vision for Zimbabwe. 

Where elective congresses or issues of leadership renewal occur, there is a huge tussle and unfortunately in most instances, a violent contestation for control of structures that will have at best been skeletal or in the end,  purchasable by the highest bidder.  It is a common characteristic of many an opposition party to claim to be on the proverbial ‘ground’ when in fact the ‘ground’ does not even know it exists beyond the next event.

In all of this there is a consistent disjuncture between ideas articulated by the national leadership and those experienced or mobilised for on the ground. 

4. Scrambles for Resources without Accountability: With opposition parties come donations. Both from within the party and from without. Leadership in most of these opposition movements becomes a personal quest to control whatever resources are raised or thrown at the party, especially after a publicly anticipated launch of the same. 

Mechanisms of accounting for the resources are made secret ostensibly to keep rivals in the dark, but instead these resources are used for both personal aggrandizement and keeping ‘reserve armies’ of activists ready for times of political contestations for power. 

Even membership fees, the basic token of commitment to the opposition party rarely get audited or reported back on as to their utilization. This creates an atmosphere of mistrust and competition that feeds into the above cited three points and an evident lack of the principle of collective responsibility both in political and financial transactions.

5. Poverty, Unemployment, Generational Praxis  and Predatory Capitalism: There is always the broader fact that political formations reflect the character and ‘real’ values of the societies in which they are not only formed but also operate.  Zimbabwe’s contemporary opposition has emerged from the politics of disempowerment through both a repressive state and a national economy that was dominated by what in present day parlance is referred to as predatory capitalism.

In articulating its founding, our mainstream opposition spoke to the existential circumstances of the late 1990s in both social democratic and popular terms. With time, and given the gravity of the economic crisis at the turn of the century, the latter people centered narrative was allowed to be reversed with the complicity of the then and current leadership to one that was more acceptable to global capital than it was to its own progenitors, the people of Zimbabwe. 

In the process, society took on a character of its own without the guidance of the opposition (and not even the ruling party) which has come to be more a ‘survival of the fittest’ framework while viewing politics as not part of the solution but part of the problem.   Instead, opposition politics then becomes an initial avenue for young people onto the gravy train and therefore, it is in most cases all or nothing in pursuing patronage in order to get a job, a meal or the $1 to make it back home and try again tomorrow.  

Hence where there are reports of violence, elections , there is always fervent participation or evident apathy, respectively,  from what are referred to as the ‘youths’.

Either way, politics is now fitting the unjust economic and social system more than it should redress it. And with that, unfortunately, there is always the specter of politics by way of aggrandizement and sadly, without the people.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Friday, 14 February 2014

The Pitfalls of Our Ephemeral Political Consciousness*

By Takura Zhangazha^

Political consciousness of one sort or the other is something we all eventually aspire to.  Even if it means shunning political activity altogether or alternatively  taking to it with enthusiasm or self righteousness.  In what I would refer to as ‘arrival societies’ also known as the ‘developed world’ (North and East), political consciousness is more or less established as a given.  Mainly because the ideological  fundamentals of these societies are generally established. That is to say, there is an acceptance  (at least by an active political majority)of their existent political systems that goes back for decades or in some cases centuries. 

In the certainty of their political systems and the attendant almost uniform understanding of progressive political consciousness,  they have greatly assisted in the coming into being of  a broader global consciousness on the significance  of the universality of human rights. In many cases they have also been the founders of many an ideological basis for initial revolutionary moments in the histories of other countries during liberation struggle against colonialism with Zimbabwe not being an exception.

But whereas our country has moved on, at least according to our government,  taking in its stride, the political consciousness and activities that are universally accepted as democratic, we still have to grapple with the fact that our country is not yet an ‘arrived one’.

And this is an important point where and when we consider the status of our national political consciousness in Zimbabwe.

 In broad terms our political consciousness as citizens has depended on the narratives of those that are in ‘arrival societies’. Be they in the West or the in the East.  That is why in most cases we have wrongly assumed we can argue as though we live in their metropoles where and when it  concerns issues of our political, democratic or socio-economic development. Even if on a partisan political party  basis. 

A long standing example of  has been that of the current and previous governments policy of  , ‘public private partnerships’. This has been neither a home grown or contextual economic model.  Instead it has been  a policy derived from the depths of neo-imperialism that would never have it so easy in its own country of origin.  Neither would the countries or institutions from which this particular model is derived, implement it to the detriment of the livelihoods of their own peoples. Yet in Zimbabwe we would, in our temporary political consciousness, celebrate not only the seeming sophistry of its wording by high sounding government officials, while it is used as cover to privatise as basic a commodity as water.

Unfortunately our contemporary and ‘past’ political leaders have pursued this path with unassuming naivety or simplistic populism. Hence we had our copied first ten years of what the post independence government called ‘scientific socialism’.  Immediately thereafter it made one of the most shocking  policy  volte-farce that came to be euphemistically referred to as economic structural adjustment. 

We didn't leave it there though.  We then opened up our cultural spaces to the global media to the extent that our leaders’ tastes for profligacy far outweighed our ability to remain true to ourselves.

And this is where we have come to the state of ephemeral national political consciousness.  It is a national political consciousness that is premised on the temporary and in mimicry to the politics of those that we assume we must mimic and admire (again, be they in the East or the West).  So we will lap up issues of free market economics or predatory  state capitalism depending on who is our global (or individual livelihood) benefactor at the time. 

We will join a cause today and abandon it on the morrow. Depending on either the global or fashionable trend of the next 48 hours.  Or depending on the ridiculousness of rumours being peddled via the new/social media. This, unfortunately, is not the material that societies seeking to arrive are made of.  

Zimbabwe’s national political consciousness falls into a category where it is the immediate that makes the most political sense. Not the politics of the whole let alone those of the future, even in the absence of those that are currently in charge of the country. 

We will get (nationally) angry at what occurs today, in so far as it occurs and nothing more. We will however not query the shaky fundamentals of our society. Nor the fact that we cant claim arrival as much as those nations we meet at the United Nations General Assembly do.  

So we will wrongly want to be up there with the wrongly termed ‘Arab Spring’ yet we do not have an organic understanding of either the realities of Egypt, Tunisia or Libya let alone our own national realities before we lay claim to be doing the right thing.

We will vaingloriously claim US President, Barrack Obama,  for our African own without understanding that his presidency is not an individual but historically institutional one for the American people.  One that is also  based on his own ambitious knowledge of his society and of an understanding of the historical genesis of the same. (He had to arrive. And he did. But not on behalf of Africans let alone Zimbabweans)

In Zimbabwe we therefore have neither an ‘arrived’ society or  visionary individual political leaders to put us on the path to arrival. We function largely  from what is politically fashionable on a day to day basis. Hence our current government leaders will claim a country size diamond field that doesn't really exist. All in the name of an immediate politicized socio-economic development programme called ZimAsset.

Where  opposition  political party leaders claim they are the only ones who can lead this country to a democratic Utopias defined by others, they still fall into the same trap of wishing they were living in  countries other than their own.  Hence their criticism of contemporary government policy is limited to their personal experiences in ‘arrival countries’ or alternatively ‘arrived’ knowledge production systems which they are in awe of while understanding limited little of the same.

The greater challenge is perhaps that we should learn to be more circumspect and holistic in analyzing our country’s problems. That does not mean we cannot entertain ourselves with idle banter about how much senior government workers earn. Entertainment and rumour mongering are an essential part of politics. Unfortunately, they remain only an epitome of temporary political consciousness.

What is required is a holistic and organic political consciousness that, while functioning in the immediacy of the ‘now’ understands that Zimbabwe is not an ‘arrival’ society and that in order for the struggle to continue, our political consciousness must be for posterity.

* With apologies to Franz Fanon
^Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity (

Monday, 3 February 2014

Zimbabwe’s Elite Underbelly and Symptoms of an Unhinged Political Economy.

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Recent media reports on the salaries of individuals working in state related corporations and public services have brought issues of public accountability, transparency and corruption to the fore. Opinions have ranged from complete disgust at the levels of decadent opulence to general politicization of the matter. This latter point  in relation to Zanu Pf factions slugging it out in the media in a tit for tat battle at damaging personal but faction related expose's.  Even if  rather muted but all the same remaining a staple of the contemporary national political rumour mill.  

 In some instances, the shock at such profligacy has come from new or recently reappointed cabinet ministers. When explaining themselves in Parliament they have sought to distance themselves from the scandalous remuneration figures and promised to deal with the matters with the requisite seriousness. 

Some of the ministers have taken on a ‘crusader’ role in the matter. They have issued ultimatums and statements of intent for media consumption with limited little changing in reality. 

 The bigger issues however remain how these shocking revelations are indicative of an exposure of our society’s elite and corrupt underbelly.  And the probable truth that all the special utility vehicles, humongous houses in the leafy environs of Glen Lorne, Borrowdale Brook or Chishawasha Hills, are not necessarily premised on honest hard work.  

In all of the matters being reported, the central player has been the state and its resources.  Be it at local, national or public-private partnership levels.  What this points to is a culture of the use of the state/government to acquire wealth beyond reason and with shocking impunity. 

The problem therefore ceases to be just about dishonest individuals or their particular factions in Zanu Pf.  It takes on the character of a state that steals from its own people. How else can one explain the fact that individuals entrusted to serve the public good end up benefitting beyond measure from the same? 

The elephant in the room however is not the amount of money that is being paid to individuals in the public or commercialized state sectors. Instead it is how the state all along turned a blind eye to such profligacy.  And only to have these issues emerging in the heat of Zanu Pf factionalism. 

There is no way the government did not know of these salaries and benefits.  Even where there has been action that includes suspension from office of individuals concerned the reality of the matter is that public office has unfortunately become a place where one can get rich quick.  And this at unexplainable levels. 

What it all eventually comes to mean is that we have a state within the state.  Or that our country is living two political and economic realities. One in which those few that are directly connected to higher echelons of state office live in phenomenal luxury. While the majority that are materially cajoled to cast votes live in a poverty only alleviated by the latter’s benevolence.

Hence there are occasions of rather odd philanthropy, such as the personal sponsoring of the national football team (and even team fans) when essentially it should be largely paying for itself.  Or alternatively shockingly high donations during elections campaigns that when analysed further are indicative of literal vote buying than seeking public office on the basis of leadership merit. 

What is then observable is that we have a political economy that has gone off its hinges. Not only due to individual corruption but  more to do with a state that rewards the mediocre for political loyalty. 

And this is where the rub is. Ever since the adoption of what we have referred to as public private partnerships and the wholesale adoption of the commercialization of public corporations, public accountability has become murkier.  The motive of making profit has been reduced largely to monetary terms and not service provision.

And the monetary terms of reference have been limited to how much the heads of these chief executives earn as opposed to how much is actually contributed to the betterment of the infrastructure or systems that improve an actual public service.  Hence for example the debate over the PSMAS still revolves solely around what individuals acquired as opposed to the dilapidated public health service that the country has been experiencing in shocking decline over the last twenty years. 

These developments are however a combination of both the public and private sectors of the national economy.  Especially where and when there has been an interaction of what are deemed best practices in corporations that are primarily motivated by a pursuit of monetary profit.  To use the same model for public service related endeavours has unfortunately ended up with heads of public  corporations wrongly assuming they are in similar situations to their private sector colleagues.  That is to say, assuming a profit sharing framework even where there is none.

As it is, there will no doubt be more ‘revelations’.  Some of which will appear like politicized vendetta but will however be in the public interest. The bigger question is how to remedy these symptoms of a state that has become an arena for self aggrandizement . And unfortunately, as with everything else, it is the politics of it that will triumph with loyalties bring traded off until such a time a ceasefire is reached.  Then is probably back to state-business unusual.

*Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity ( Please ask for permission to use this article by emailing