Monday, 30 June 2014

MDC Factions’ Fights over Victims of Political Violence Tragic, Symptomatic of Insensitive Leadership.

By Takura Zhangazha*

I read with great sadness, a story that appeared in a local daily, The Newsday, about the two MDC factions having a public spat about victims of political violence.  The Biti faction, through its spokesperson callously accused the Tsvangirai faction of having abandoned victims of political violence for ‘wives and houses’.  In turn, the Tsvangirai faction also through its spokesperson,  accused their newfound rivals of not only being elitist but also having abandoned victims of political violence.

While one understands that rivalry in opposition politics has been generally about petty grandstanding and name calling, this particular spat is not only tragic but callous.  It points to a political leadership that appears to have no sensitivity to actual victims of political violence.  Nor any sense of contrition for their shared failure to assist/rehabilitate the same. 

In the process there is a sense of desperation on the part of the factions to want to claim those sizable number of supporters who have long been feeling  abandoned after losing relatives, limbs or property through political violence.    These supporters are however not naive or simply victims.  Given the fact that a number of them are in positions of leadership in either factions, they do not have any intention of leaving their respective placements if their issues are not addressed. Instead, they intend to negotiate for a greater stake in the political processes of their camps. 

Especially by way of leadership positions based on the recognition of not only their suffering political violence but also their ‘staying the course’  with one faction or the other.

This is all understandable particularly for those members who are finding themselves in a position in which they are now important to their respective national leadership. They have probably found new leases of political relevance due to the infighting, but at least its a recognition that had been missing for some time in the then united MDC T.

The more serious reflections are however the evident intentions of the factional leaders to scramble for this one-time abandoned party constituency.  The fact that they have now decided to publicly accuse each other of allegedly abandoning party victims of political violence in favour of opulent lifestyles is not only political opportunism of a dishonest nature. It is also a politics that sacrifices the seriousness of the issue of political violence and its victims at the altar of short term political expediency.

It is most unfortunate that both factions of the MDC-T have embarked on a public blame game on this issue.  Thee end effect of such will be in two particular respects. Firstly that the entirety of the issue of victims of political violence will be weakened in national discourse due to its continued politicisation or its being viewed from the accusatory angel of one faction over another.  This will undermine its being viewed as a holistic national issue that must transcend factional party politics in order for it to be legally and culturally impermissible in our body politic.

Secondly, the very fact that being close to or being a victim of political violence is now possibly being  presented as a legitimating act in the pursuit of leadership, or at least viewed as a demonstration of authenticity, does not bode well for opposition politics in Zimbabwe. It is bad enough to be a victim of political violence, an occurrence that must be taken most seriously particularly in terms of the rule of law than expedient political grandstanding only for the purposes of garnering factional support.

Instead of name calling, it would be democratically preferable if either of the two factions placed generic proposals on transitional justice on the policy table for consideration by the Human Rights or the  National Peace and Reconciliation Constitutional Commissions.  Or any other legal body they find constitutionally fit to deal much more holistically with the challenge of seeking justice and compensation for victims of political violence. 

Finally, one of the key debating points around issues of political violence has been its one-sided nature, particularly where it concerns the ruling party supporters and state structure victimisation of opposition party members.  In this debate, it is emerging that a new trend of a shared  political traits and characteristic of a culture of violence might be affecting all major political parties. Both internally and in part externally.  Especially in cases where there are congresses or general elections to be held.  The issue therefore becomes a problem that cuts across the political divide, though at varying scales.  

It is therefore a problem that is no longer in need of opportunistic partisanship but a much more concerted and holistic approach. While its effects and structural occurrence will not be solved overnight, it would be a good start if the MDC factions demonstrated good and organised leadership in seeking to address it.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Banning ''Kombis'' for Buses Wont Solve our Public Transport Problems.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The Ministry of Transport has announced that it intends to phase out our most ubiquitous form of public transport , the commuter omnibus (kombis) in favour of buses. The main reason it wants to do so seems to be because it has a business proposition  for the acquisition of  a fleet of ‘Metro buses’ by a consortium of local transport operators.  The plan, if implemented, would require that either the commuter omnibus is forcibly removed from most urban transport routes or alternatively that it is allowed to compete with the new bus services.  

Given the media reports on the issue, it is likely that there will be an attempt at the physical banning of  kombis, particularly from specific routes. This move will however most likely falter based on the fact that public transport via kombis has become a industry (and even transport culture) in itself and employs a good number of young people who would find one way or the other of keeping their businesses running.

The major challenge with this recent major policy announcement by  government  is perhaps it's ‘knee-jerk’ response to symptoms of bigger underlying transport problems. 

This is also not the first time that such plans to introduce buses to replace omnibuses has occurred. Over three years ago, the City of Harare was in talks with a private company to de-congest the central business district through banning kombis and introducing buses.  All with the support of central government. For some still unexplained reason that policy intention was shelved, but that may have been a good thing.

The primary challenge about the intentions of  central government to re-introduce buses has been that they always appear badly planned. Or at least intuitive to a fault. 

While the National Transport Policy (2012-2016) emphasizes Public Private Partnerships in seeking investment in the transport sector,  it appears that government is willing to have any investor come up with a proposal and play it up in the media as though that in and of itself is progress. 

It is fairly evident that what is required in the public transport system in urban areas is an expansion of the transport infrastructure before one expands the number of users on it.  Given the fact that government liberalised transport services provision, it’s primary task, even with an investor is to look initially at the railway networks as they link with the road and come up with a much more holistic plan for the two sectors’ development. Especially if it is concentrating specifically on urban public transportation systems.  To introduce buses while banning already existing modes of public transport is not going to solve the problem of either congestion or road safety. 

The Ministry of Transport would therefore need to be more circumspect in its pandering to Private Public Partnerships as it has outlined in its national transport policy.  It must initially provide a holistic national transport framework  that emphasizes the linkages between railway and road infrastructure in the provision of public transport.  That is to say, should it require an investor for public transport infrastructural development, such said investors cannot come without a partner in one of the two, rail or road.

Furthermore, for urban public transport, the participation of local governments must be a priority in relation to not only the planning but also the shouldering of responsibility for its further development.  This would entail developing local blueprints for public transport development that are endorsed and accept by local councils as well as local residents.  Where possible these would integrate railway stations with road stations, buses and kombis.

Where it comes to rural and peri-urban public transportation, the same formula should apply, but with contextual circumstances also being taken into account. For example,  mining towns would have greater investment from the major mining company, but the standard must remain as people centred  and as integrated as elsewhere. 

As it is, the proposed buses for most of the major urban centres will not bring relief to either the existent road infrastructure, nor the lack of reliability of public transport. They will, as has been the case in the past, cause friction between private  transport operators,  congest roads further and lead to reductions in the employment of young people. 

What is more pragmatic is a holistic approach to the problem that takes into account how rail and road have always been integrated, particularly in the major towns and cities.  The holistic phasing of public transport development with the development of local level road and rail infrastructure, even if appearing complex, is a better way forward.  While Public Private partnerships are already part of government economic policy, it is the manner in which they are implemented that would determine their success. In the case of phasing out kombis in favour of private buses, the Ministry of Transport and its stakeholders are putting the cart before the horse. 
 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

EU-Zim Envoy's Dishonest Diplomatic Opportunism

By Takura Zhangazha*

The European Union  Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Dell' Ariccia was recently reported to have made some unfavourable remarks on how some Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs)  have been conducting themselves where it came to interacting with government.  His comments were obviously a delight to those that believe in a straitjacketed approach of how civil society organizations  must interact with government on policy issues.  

To be fair to the EU  Ambassador, he has made these sort of controversial public remarks before. Particularly in the aftermath of last year's harmonised elections.  I am sure this is obviously in keeping with his ambassadorial role of maintaining not only the interests of but also making new friends for the European Union in Zimbabwe.   And not necessarily out of any assumed frustration, which I am sure our government would have by now noticed with the intention of exploiting.

So his new-founded blunt public diplomacy is intended on demonstrating to the current government that the EU not only accepts the reality of the latter's tenure until 2018 but also has no intentions of doing business in the manner of old.  And in pushing this agenda, Mr Dell'Ariccia must be applauded.  In less than 11 months after last year's elections, the EU has moved from being state 'enemy' number 3 (after the Americans and the British) to a position in which it can gather a whole cabinet subcommittee to sign a preparatory document for a bilateral aid agreement. 

One would hazard to call the EU’s approach a pragmatic one. Or if one were in the ruling party, a sort of capitulation of the ‘imperialists’, as it's apparatchiks are wont to say.

Judging by the remarks made by the EU envoy about Zimbabwean civil society or NGOs and their conduct, I am sure he is persuaded that everyone else must function in similar fashion to what the  EU is now grudgingly doing with the Zimbabwean government. Even if without the influence and money that the former has to lure any serious government official to a negotiating table.

In different and less dire economic circumstances, even those in government or generally supportive civil society would have found such public statements either condescending or diplomatically dishonest.  Not least because the EU’s relationship with the then inclusive government was evidently one sided and therefore any current attempts at a public demonstration of ‘diplomatic pragmatism’ must be taken with a pinch of salt. Add to this, the general assumption that a foreign ambassador who respects the people of the country in which he is serving his country/region's political interests would prefer to state such opinions in private or with a bit less self righteousness.

However, given the fact that Mr. Dell'Arricia has the right to express an opinion on behalf of the EU (and even himself), it is also necessary to place a few issues concerning his reported public criticism of civil society or ngos into contextual perspective.

The first being that Zimbabwean civil society/NGOs function broadly on the basis of democratic principles of freedom of association and assembly, even if the government of the day differs with their opinions. Indeed where government disagrees with a governance or humanitarian aid NGO, that fault may not be because the latter is being 'senselessly oppositional' to the former. Neither is opposing of a government policy a declaration of an intention to topple a government, a fact that the EU conveniently evades. 

Secondly, the EU in its aid and donor related frameworks is known, like other donors, to be focused on giving assistance on the basis of the certainty of results. Hence the EU Envoy's intention to not only be conveniently 'pragmatic' but also to insist that others follow suit, even if without local context. This would also explain why government’s economic blueprint Zim-Asset is safely nuanced in donor-speak/language. The only catch is that even with results based matrices, diplomatic interests and the central characters that push them can be here today, and gone tomorrow.

It is the citizens of a country that have to grasp the difference between materialistic opportunism and functioning continually on the basis of posterity and principle.  That Zimbabwe (government, citizens and NGOs) is reliant on donor assistance from the people of the EU to undertake humanitarian work and expand its democratic culture does not mean a complete vulnerability to the opinions of their representatives here.  Especially where these diplomatic opinions are expressed specifically in relation to diplomatic opportunism without evident democratic principle.

Finally, it is probable that Mr Dell'Ariccia intends to redefine Zimbabwean civil society. Or at least make sure he plays a significant role in how it is perceived henceforth.  This would be fair enough where it not dishonest.  Zimbabwean civil society has had variegated approaches to large policy issues of the day. And if anything, in the era of the inclusive government, civil society and NGOs worked very well and quite closely with the government.  Even now, in the aftermath of the new constitution’s promulgation I know very few organizations that are on a real or imagined 'warpath' with government. 

To make such broad but shallow statements as Mr Dell'Ariccia did, together with the sectional applause he got from those that would have previously been most shrill in opposing his every word, is the stuff of diplomatic opportunism. It is unfortunate that in his case, it would appear to be patently dishonest.

*Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Africa’s FIFA World Cup Triple Burden.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Every time the FIFA World Cup tournament occurs, at least as far as I can recall, the question of ‘will it be Africa’s time to win it?’, recurs.  Not necessarily because expectations are ever high that an African team will lift the globally famous cup.  But more because African football players have been performing wonders at the highest levels/leagues of the beautiful game in Europe.  It therefore always baffles many an African mind why they cannot do the same for their countries (most often confused with 'continent')

But when the tournament kicks off, the questions are subsumed by enthusiastic optimism. The entirety of Africa’s football fans will watch, scream at television sets and even hug in bars, church recreation rooms in the name of one of the five African teams in the tournament.  Even if it was the one that relegated a home African country out of contention for qualifying for the tournament. 

And after the group stages, where we start counting the lower number of African countries left, we still cling to the hope that one will continue to the semi-finals. And we have come close, three times. With Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010, all of which lost at the quarter final stages of the sporting competition.  And if satellite images in each of these previous tournaments could pick up images of the anguish of a continent, it would only be those of Africa that would be spectacular.

The anguish is not without cause. Firstly as part of a global spectacle, and as I am sure has been noted by sports writers and  scholars, the World Cup is both footballing competition and affirmation of global ‘togetherness’ as well as identity (nationalism).  The latter may be more so for many of the established football powerhouses who coincidentally tend to be either the most ‘developed’ countries.  

For Africa however the World Cup appears to be primarily about both history and collective continental identity.  Mainly because the continent cannot shirk off the false global impression that it is somewhat backward, not only in relation to ‘development’ but as a result thereof, in football.

And that’s the first burden of Africa and the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Even after successfully hosting the last one in South Africa (though it had FIFA special courts temporarily replacing South African ones).  

Our teams, our players and ourselves have to get over the notions that inform our continental history of being assumedly backward or less than the other in order to succeed at the tournament. And this is what also informs our enthusiastic support for African teams, almost as though we are there to prove a point.  Hence, almost every African football pundit hints at needing to concentrate more and keep focused in the aftermath of an initial defeat for an African team. Not only in relation to the game that was played, but in relation to the strength of other teams in the same qualifying group. Especially if they are known and established football powerhouses. 

This general but given point, leads to the second burden. One which falls on the shoulders of the player.  Especially the star player who plies his trade in the best football leagues in the world. He has to contend with the fact that in another country he would have been in one of the powerful teams. And that his real teammates may not be good enough to challenge for the title since he knows the quality of the players and teams they are all up against. 

He has to commit what others in political circles have referred to as ‘class suicide’ and see himself as much a team player in his own national side than that which he usually gets very well paid for playing with. He has to believe in his own team, even against the odds, and this is a burden few players (and teams) have been able to shoulder.  Apart from Cameroon 1990, Senegal 2002 and Ghana 2010. 

This brings us to the third burden, that of the imperative of Africa having to learn to compete better in global tournaments through adequate and holistic domestic development of sporting cultures.

The tendency of most African states has been that of waiting for talent in various sporting disciplines to emerge by default as opposed to seeking it out and nurturing it.  And where we have been most successful, particularly in long-distance running, we have lost our most prodigious talents to other countries.   The burden of all Africans is to therefore invest in their sports, not at the whim of a corporations only but also through transparent state funding. As well as through the establishment of a sporting industry that respects and values talent across all sporting disciplines, economic classes and gender.

So, as the FIFA 2014 World Cup reaches familiar stages for African teams, the questions we must ask of ourselves are whether we are continually going to keep our fingers crossed and prayers consistently on our lips so that this time, a country from our continent wins it.  Even if by luck.  Or whether again we witness a faltering, not for a lack of talent, but for lack of holistic preparation.  And once again, hear a sports commentator mention, ‘Oh my, the Africans are coming’ during a game and not know the full import of such a statement. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Madzibaba Chacha, Social Media and Zim's Enthusiastic 'Big Brother'.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The recent arrest and conviction of Madzibaba Chacha, a taylor in Harare, for a picture that made waves on social media brings into focus key questions on the regulation and usage of the internet in Zimbabwe.  The background to the case is that Madzibaba Chacha had a picture of himself wearing a Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) uniform (at least the shirt) taken and subsequently sent on social media such as Whatsapp and Facebook.  His religious affiliation has been reported to be that of the African Apostolic faith, which has an offshoot sect that has recently been controversial for its violent clashes with the police in Harare's Budiriro suburb.  (This would probably explain his quick arrest after the picture emerged on the internet.)

It also turns out he has been convicted by the Magistrates Court for being a criminal nuisance and was fined $100 or three months in prison. 

This conviction is significant  in two respects. First that one can now be arrested and convicted for what one posts (or is posted on your behalf) on social media especially where and when it relates to government institutions.  Secondly, the police and other security services are definitely monitoring social media content and individuals on a regular and actionable  basis.   This monitoring may not be as advanced as that of the now infamous American National Security Agency (NSA) Prism programme, but it is surveillance all the same. 

So the evident warning to social media fanatics is that they must be careful, Zimbabwe’s version of ‘big brother’ is definitely watching (and reading). 

There are also larger considerations to understand over this ‘picture portrait’ incident.  They initially relate to the legal arena.  Madzibaba Chacha was arrested after a picture of himself in part police regalia was taken in his own house. Were that picture not taken and distributed, he would not have been liable to arrest and criminal charges. No one would have known that he wore that uniform except those that were in his house. 

Furthermore, while it is a crime to impersonate a security services agent or wear official police/army regalia without authorization, imitations of the same are generally used in the entertainment industry.  I do not know the extent to which actors seek permission to do so, but there has been very limited public  uproar or evident anger from the police when it has occurred. 
The ‘criminal nuisance’ that Madzibaba Chacha became was however based largely on the fact that his picture became a public one via increasingly popular social media.  If he had kept the picture to himself, he would not have a criminal record. 

If it had become popular via mainstream media, there is no doubt that the editor and journalist of the newspaper that would have broken the story would have been arrested.  Or to put it more directly, the medium and messenger would have found themselves answering questions at a police station and probably being charged under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) or the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

As it is, Madzibaba Chacha’s picture had only the medium of the internet, and social media applications Whatsapp and Facebook.  None of which can be charged. Instead they can be shutdown or stopped, if the state deems it necessary to do so.  In this case, the state chose to arrest the originator of specific content that was carried via the internet.  So the medium (internet/mobile telephony), in the eyes of the state, is not the problem. It is the user of the medium that is viewed with suspicion especially where it relates to content. 

What is apparent is that the state is very serious about keeping its finger on social media content. Especially if there is evidence of the originator of that same said content. 

This is new territory for the state and its regulation of telecommunications content.  Under the Postal and Telecommunications Act, one can be charged for phoning someone and insulting them.  In the case under consideration, Madzibaba Chacha did not phone or insult anyone. His was a mere picture of himself.   The inference that his religious background and hairstyle were linked to the Budiriro incidents while having been determined by the court that convicted him, is still hard to determine from merely looking at the picture.  Had the picture had a caption, it would have been easier to determine its intent. But it didn’t.  So the inference is entirely subjective and determined perhaps by political events elsewhere. 

The picture may have invoked humour or anger, depending on one’s biases, but it is just that, a picture.  It is therefore worrisome that the state reacted in such a heavy handed fashion.  It essentially means that Zimbabwean users of social media have to be cautious about what they say or images they post.  Where the state is not happy with a specific individual’s post, charges of being ‘criminal nuisances’ can be preferred against you. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Laughing at Power: Religion, Violence and Politics in Harare’s Budiriro Suburbs.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Religion has always been integral to Zimbabwean politics.  In fact it has been a launch pad for political consciousness in various phases of our national history. Whether one refers to the ‘Traditional’, ‘Orthodox’,   ‘Pentecostal’ , 'Islamic' or  ‘Apostolic’ these varying strands of religious persuasion have invariably had a direct effect on how our national politics is conducted or understood. 

There is probably no greater recent evidence of this than this week's  Budiriro incident where members of an African Apostolic church, Johanne Masowe Echishanu sect  violently clashed with the police in Harare.  And in somewhat revenge fashion, the ruling party’s youths descended, in the company of the police,  on the church’s shrine a couple of days later not only to denounce it, but to reassert some sort of political authority on religious practice. 

The public debate that has ensued, as reported by the mainstream media, has been largely characterized by sentiments reflecting a specific ridiculing of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). Mainly on the basis of the latter’s public profile as a police force that is considered as one that regularly violates human rights and functions on a politically partisan basis.  So the public sentiment has been aggregated, by the media, as being that of the ZRP getting its ‘comeuppance.’

Some civil society organizations such as the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)  and other legal experts have weighed in with  assessments of the unfortunate incident. They have argued in favour of the rule of law while also questioning the locus standi of the head of the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe to seek to ban another church in terms of the new constitution and other legal instruments. What is however evident is that the new constitution is neither known nor viewed with any popular seriousness as to its importance. 

The incident however has multiple meanings beyond the legal.  And that is why it has been such a hit on social media as well as the NewsDay website that first published videos and pictures of the violence.

There is however limited reason to doubt the connection of this specific church or those that sought to ban it to the political establishment. The finer and possibly final details of the connections or alleged abuse of children must be left to the courts to judge or the media to investigate in the democratic public interest. 

What is evident is that since the catastrophic economic meltdown that began in  1997, there has been a much more energetic phase of religious practice and conduct in the Zimbabwean way of life. A phase that is more publicly visible and even publicly defended/justified simply on the basis of faith. 

Such religious trends have been referred to by anthropologists as being part and parcel of millennial capitalism. Especially where and when such religious fervour dominates the social lives of a significant portion of a populace  and is characterised by political courtship of previously ignored religious movements/ sects.

 Hence in the run up to the last general election in July 2013 we were not too surprised to see the main presidential candidates sitting in the midst of popular African Apostolic church gatherings soliciting for votes. To the extent that we could not avoid laughing at the spectacle of what politicians can do to get votes. Even where it presumably involved faith and belief.

The social media angle has been that of humour and memory of how politics comes full circle. There is knowledge that the African Apostolic churches have long been the turf of Zanu Pf politicians.  

The humour however has transcended the partisan and become more akin to general ridicule at the political establishment.  Largely as a form of resistance to the same said establishment.  As argued by African academic  Achille Mbembe in his seminal essay/book, ‘On the Post Colony’, laughing at power or the ridiculous exposure of its vulnerability is a general habit of those that are oppressed.

The Budiriro incident is therefore evidence of how the state interacts with the personal.  Not from a legal perspective. But instead from understanding the current placement  of the Zimbabwean 'underbelly'.  

If one undertook an assessment of the life stations of those that worshiped at this shrine in Budiriro, it is probable that they are considered to be part of the ‘low rungs’ of the Zimbabwean economic ladder.

Together with the probable coincidence of their willingness to seek political protection via electoral support to political parties, these worshipers have become opinion cannon fodder for the purposes of entertainment.  And is typical of the poor in Zimbabwe, they are tragically regarded as a measurement of ‘how not to do anything’. In the process, their story is lost in the conundrum of self righteous judgment.

But back to the role that religion plays in our national political psyche.  The interaction between the state and Church has been laid bare in a glaring manner with the Budiriro incident.  The Church in its various forms is not a neutral arbiter in the affairs of the country.

Both by way of its complicity in electoral campaigns and results.  Or by way of the protection it expects from sitting governments. Be it ‘Orthodox’, ‘Pentecostal’, ‘Traditional’,  African ‘Apostolic’ or ‘Islamic’   where it avers from what the state wants, it becomes as vulnerable as the rest of us. Only to re-emerge either stronger or weaker in the next electoral campaign period. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (