*By Takura Zhangazha
In the last three months there have been at least two articles by renowned academics outlining how Zimbabwe is either undergoing the ‘politics of despair’ or alternatively how our ‘darkest hour is not before dawn.’ These articles were penned by renowned academics Brian Raftopoulos and Joost Fontein respectively. This article is however not a riposte to their arguments despite the pessimistic tones they infer.
Indeed there are things that all Zimbabweans have to now think about. Even if they do not or did not want to. And they should do so by way of at least three criteria. By way of their age (generation), station in life (rich, poor, unemployed, ) and the future they envision as part of a struggling, fragmented but still somewhat holistic society.
Yes, the lived reality of many Zimbabweans is bleak. But in these hard times of unemployment, further economic hardships for both urban and rural based families, expensive social services, political uncertainty laced with the real and continued threat of repression, and difficult but regular emigration, our only option remains that of being optimistic. It is an optimism that however cannot be premised on desperate 'pie in sky' wishful thinking.
Instead it must be based on a contextual understanding of our realities together with the knowledge that despite the challenges we face, this country remains our home. Such an understanding would help us come to terms with the historical truth that it is again only ourselves that can lead the country out of its present predicament.
In this vein there are fife realities that we have to come to terms with beyond the everyday politics of division and personalities of the ruling and myriad opposition parties, or the general haplessness of a greater majority of civil society organizations (including business concerns). These can be identified as follows:
Reality Number One: The division, purges and attempts at reinvention of leadership in Zanu PF are not going to address national questions but internal party ones. These fights are essentially those for the country’s political throne and do not bode any meaningful potential for changes to our current political and economic system as we are experiencing it. Accusations and counter-accusations of betrayal, assassination plots and allegations of impropriety have been the main course of ruling party politics since our national independence. They tend to distract focus on structural questions as to the performance legitimacy or the fulfillment of the constitutional mandates of incumbent leaders.
Reality Number 2: The opposition in its experienced (MDC-T et al) and yet to be launched (Zanu-People First) formats have been mimicking their rivals to the extent of losing focus on the broader picture of what one hopes they view as their historical tasks. Even if the electoral system has remained in favour of the ruling party, the fact that in between general elections the opposition has tended to split, for reasons more personal than they are principled, points to not only disorganization but a patent lack of seriousness and commitment to their own cause. Let alone the people and supporters that have placed hope in them as democratic alternatives. Furthermore, it is also unfortunate that their divisions are beginning to take on a slight tone of ethnocentrism in allocation of posts and pursuit of state power.
Reality Number 3: The national economy, which must be read as the political economy due to the direct linkage of our politics to the manner in which our economy functions, is not set to improve in the short term. Not only because of the usual predetermined factors that make an African economy falter such as lack of Foreign Direct Investment, lack of fiscal discipline, corruption and poor infrastructure but also because government does not have a workable economic plan/blueprint. ZimAsset, by now is no longer in vogue with a number of intended targets already having been missed and we are almost halfway through the term of this current government.
The only thing that will be accelerated is that those that are politically connected will continue to accrue wealth not only at the expense of the majority but with impunity. They will share state tenders, partake in the privatization of social services (in return for poor services) and distribute patronage to those they think will maintain the status quo. In the process unemployment and lack of access to affordable social services will continue to bedevil Zimbabweans of all ages with the young and old being the most vulnerable.
Reality Number 4: Because of the lack of improvement in the national economy, politics will become an expensive business. The poor in such circumstances become more vulnerable to patronage and materialistic considerations in who they vote for. They will accept maize and financial donations, flea market and vending permits, farm inputs, urban or peri-urban residential stands in return for the vote. The economic realities and these consequences will be further augmented by a media that is struggling to stay afloat let alone protect its editorial independence especially where it seeks a mass market reach. This will create a false reality of the impossibility of seeking change by any other means and will serve the ruling party well in 2018.
Reality Number 5: The new constitution of Zimbabwe will show its true character as one that protects more those that either yield or are close to political power. Especially as the country approaches the 2018 general elections. It will also be emblematic of a political incrementalism that is neither understood nor organically appreciated by many Zimbabweans. It also definitely does not signify any form of democratic arrival both in legal terms or in popular perception.
Optimism is not Only Key, It is Fundamental: These five realities are however not albatrosses that the country cannot unchain. Especially if it seeks to solve them with thought processes and actions that demonstrate that optimism is not only key, it is now fundamental. And that to do so will require at least the following three interlinked and holistic action frameworks:
The first being that there is need to balance national anticipation/expectations of populism in our politics with democratic values and principles. Indeed we can be caught up in the factionalism of political parties, but it is our lives that are ebbing away without any guarantees of a better and sustainable democratic future for generations that will follow. If this is kept in mind, and we try to think beyond the 'now' in order to articulate a workable vision for the future then we will be able to galvanize enough momentum to bring any government of the day to social democratic account.
Secondly, political leaders, civil society activists and ordinary citizens can no longer engage the state in isolated, haphazard or unstructured ways. The state only responds seriously to those that are organized both in thought and in action with a holistic understanding of the placement of issues within the country. The economy affects the politics just as much as the media and entertainment industry manage or create retrogressive or democratic perceptions of reality in our society. As a result, we must function as a symbiotic whole that links generations and critical policy issues in order to seek and find a social democratic way forward. Isolating issues such as the new constitution from the economy or general unemployment from what government refers to as 'mega-deals' from Russia or China.
The third framework is for us to re-examine our national political and economic policies in relation to regional and global trends. Not only to attract FDI or chair the African Union or SADC, but to contextually learn from other experiences. We must pay attention to detail where we juxtapose our domestic political economy with global trends and new inventions in order to understand what the future holds for the country. In the age of the 'internet of things' we will most certainly be inundated with global models of lifetsyles and economic programmes that if we are not careful will cripple the country as was the case with the World Bank's Structural Adjustment Programmes. We must therefore no longer be in awe of the West or the East and the attendant baggage they carry with them. Instead we must learn to negotiate better and within our own defined social democratic contexts.
To conclude, the plight of Zimbabwe and its citizens is largely bleak in outlook. Especially if one projects their potential station in life 10-15 years from now. For the youth, they are not sure if they will have an education, jobs let alone a decent entry into adulthood. For the middle aged they are not sure they will have pensions, affordable health care or if their offspring will even be in the country to look after them. For those approaching retirement age, they are aware of the sad reality that they will have to continue to find means of earning a living if they are to stay alive, even if they should be enjoying their pensions.
But if all of these demographic groups, civil society organisations and social movements put their ideas together with optimism, then thinking, acting and leading together, there is always hope for Zimbabwe.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)