By Takura Zhangazha*
The 'extractive' approach of the Zimbabwean government towards its citizens has never been more glaring. From the increases in toll gates, through to the further taxation of vendors and continued eviction of new farmers for grand projects and the default privatisation of education or health services at all levels, it is evident that the state is in no way people centered.
It is functioning like a big corporation that looks at its citizens and their economic placement more as cannon fodder for not only economic experiments ala carte the state capitalist models imported from China but also in order to reign in potential political dissent or a desperately needed new political consciousness.
The unstated intention is to develop a system of indisputable permanence of not only the ruling party’s reign in power but also making allegiance to it the only way one can either have an economic livelihood or at least political protection.
Put simply, the intention is to make peaceful resistance and active objection futile or at least token. Whether it be from opposition political parties (who in their current state are too disorganised to win any foreseeable general election.) Or with civil society where it seeks to enhance human rights which are increasingly appearing to only be granted not in terms of democratic principle but by arrogant government benevolence.
This also extends to private businesses that have to contend with dealing with a state patronage system to acquire tenders or even stay afloat. Where government has been in crises it has sought funding on the basis of extending either operating licenses or threatening to cancel them if businesses refuse to comply.
So even if a company sought to function on the basis of transparency and the law, it would however need to consider its profit motive as a priority and therefore find it easier to comply with whatever demands government puts to it.
The media is also no longer spared, particularly after the formation of the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI). It is navigating a difficult terrain in relation to seeking reform but only at the benevolence of government.
To this extent the media has had its ‘fourth estate’ and ‘best public interest’ role undermined by its new found proximity to the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services. Unlike previous years, it is no longer just the state media, but also the private print and radio media that has now also sought, especially in terms of its own business interests, expansion via multi-media ownership.
While the quantitative expansion of the media in Zimbabwe is welcome and long overdue, its lack of a qualitative dimension leaves a sour taste in the mouth over media independence and credibility. A development that makes democratic principles that should govern our society compromised.
As it is, the combination of our government’s state capitalism economic model (ZimAsset), its patronage system with business, occasional benevolence toward civil society and editorial interference with the media, one can discern a revived systematic intention to make dissension futile or token. Especially if the dissent challenges the structural frameworks of the current system as determined by Zanu Pf.
In order to stem this new approach to socio-political and economic developments in Zimbabwe, there is need for citizens, civil society organisations, the media and opposition political parties to return to the democratic principle source.
This would entail a shift from ‘incrementalism’ (the new constitution) and short term opportunism (reacting to crisis e.g house demolitions, extended taxation) to longer term principle based planning and civic engagement to stem the impunity with which government is functioning. It also means providing organic and therefore alternative frameworks to existent government policies which feed into a holistic social democratic assessment of our country’s challenges going forward.
In all of this, we would need to get over the politics of entertainment, even if most of our celebrities are political leaders. There is more to our existence as a country that transcends pending but predictable political party congresses, succession debates and character assassinations based on no more than malice.
While we are permitted to enjoy and entertain ourselves as to the factionalism in most political parties and the evidently overdue succession process to President Mugabe, we should be wary of losing sight of the real issues negatively affecting a majority of the population. Where we do so, we contribute to the establishment of a hegemonic permanence in similar fashion to Angola, where whatever bad thing the ruling party does, it appears, resistance is either futile or token.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)