Tuesday, 26 May 2015

10 June By-Elections and My Five Reasons for Not Voting.

By Takura Zhangazha*

I am registered to vote in Harare’s Dzivaresekwa  parliamentary constituency.  It is one of the poorest residential areas in Harare and like most urban constituencies in Zimbabwe has over a decade of regularly voting for the mainstream opposition.

I have exercised my right to vote quite religiously since the year 2000.  Every major election, notwithstanding numerous difficulties, I have diligently  joined a queue and cast my vote. Whether the vote would be for a referendum or parliamentary, council, presidential or as recent as 2013, a harmonised election, I have performed this core national duty to the best of my abilities and within democratic reason.

This year and unexpectedly so, I am called upon to again exercise this democratic right in a by-election scheduled for 10 June 2015.  The previous MP, Solomon Madzore,  did not resign, become incapacitated nor has he been convicted of a crime during his term of office .  

He was removed from the National Assembly following the invoking of Section 129 (1k) of the constitution that allows his original party to write to the Speaker advising that so and so is no longer a party member and therefore cannot represent the party as MP.

I cannot vouch for his parliamentary tenure and its popularity with his former constituents.  Nor am I privy to the internal party shenanigans that led to his dismissal apart from what has appeared in the newspapers.  What I do know is that as a result of his former party expelling him, I am being asked to cast my vote to help resolve an internal party problem.

This is probably the same for all voters who will be casting their ballots on 10 June 2015 in their respective constituencies.  And for those that have already undergone or will undergo by-elections for similar reasons.

With a heavy heart, and in my own personal capacity, I have decided to exercise my right not to vote on 10 June 2015 for the five distinct reasons outlined below:
  1. Firstly, voting is an issue I consider to be a serious act that, in turn, should also reciprocate serious explanations by the powers that be as to why it must occur  in-between general elections. In this case, the fact that individual members of a political party disagree is not a democratic enough reason.  That political parties have internal disputes is a given. To have these disputes then translate with such ease into whole elections is symptomatic of a lack of seriousness on their part and not mine.  I have no particular obligation to demonstrate a willingness to help solve what are essentially personality and not policy clashes in political parties. Had the sitting MP resigned or become incapacitated, I would have readily cast my vote for a new one.  In this case neither applies to the Dzivaresekwa constituency and others.
  2. Secondly, I then had to ask myself what my vote will possibly change apart from giving one candidate or the other ascension to the privileges that come with the office of being MP. Our current parliamentary system is a convoluted first past the post and proportional representation system in which one major party, Zanu Pf, currently has majority and centrist command of the legislative agenda. This with the fact that even if an opposition MP won this pending by-election, it would not affect the ruling party’s two thirds majority in Parliament. So this exercise becomes one in which I will only be participating in abstract and pretentious expressions of democracy with no expectations of any policy changes as a result of my vote. 
  3. In the third instance, I am thoroughly persuaded  that during these harsh economic times, our politicians should be seeking to address our socio-economic plight.  The fact that they have time to continuously (and unnecessarily) campaign as opposed to solving economic problems does not solve the challenges of the national economy let alone boost investor confidence and much needed foreign direct investment/assistance.  That  political party leaders are comfortable with perpetual electioneering can only be indicative of either their  incompetence, lack of a clear national development agenda or a combination of both. There are reasons why there are five year terms, and key among these is performance legitimacy as opposed to elections in perpetuity. 
  4. Fourthly, I know that in the long run these by elections may be part of a political game plan around Zanu Pf succession politics or consolidation of internal power in the mainstream MDC-T. All in supposed aid of total victory in the 2018 harmonised elections. It is however not a burden that must be passed on to the voter without democratic reasoning both internally within specific political parties or in broader external and national terms. Party leaders must not avoid key internal debates only to claim to be either ‘brands’ or ‘infallible’ leaders in the eyes of the electorate.  The fact that they have all let their issues get out of hand to the extent of invoking by-elections is an indictment on their individual capacities as leaders of their respective parties.  It is also a further indictment of the crass opportunism of political parties that are not currently represented in Parliament and are seeking vaingloriously to rationalize the ineptitude of the leadership of their rivals. In this, they perpetuate the ‘big man’ syndrome and negative materialistic culture of our national political culture.
  5. Finally, I am of the view that the new constitution, in its elitist incrementalism is thoroughly devoid of a holistic and organic intention to democratise our society.  It can only be viewed, in the final analysis, as another power sharing document that will be subjected to continued abuse by those in power or even in parliamentary opposition. At some point, and hopefully soon, the people of Zimbabwe shall have a truly people driven, organic and democratic constitution. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

'Vending' and Zimbabwe’s Economic ‘Shock Doctrine’ and ‘Socialism of the Rich'

By Takura Zhangazha*^

Ever since this year's  workers day commemorations on May 1, there has been a lot of social media debate and attendant dry humour concerning whether Zimbabwe is a nation of vendors or workers.  Not that this debate was particularly new given a good number of stories in the mainstream media concerning how the streets of Harare (and other cities)  are now dominated by informal traders that are negatively affecting ‘formal’ ones.  The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), not to be left out, has also announced plans to tax the informal sector more ‘formally’.  

This, in addition to the licence fees that are already paid to the Harare City Council and the skirmishes and fines that the municipal police regularly occasion on the traders.

There is obviously merit to a debate that looks at the expansion of this informal trade. The somewhat fashionable argument is to say that this development is indicative of the collapse of the formal industry and is evidence of mass unemployment in the country. The government however disputes unemployment figures or at least tries to describe  these activities as a form of actual and measurable employment. 

The reality of the matter is that indeed a lot of people across the country are finding ways to make ends meet however they can.  Calling these activities informal or vending does not change the fact of their importance to those that undertake them and their dependents. 

What is worrying is that this issue may be used to cloud economic issues that are more structural and long term than a person who is struggling to make ends meet as a direct result of a untenable macro economic framework. 

The structural question is more to do with the fact that the causes of this ‘informalisation’ do not begin with either the fast track land reform programme (FTLRP), sanctions, and even liberal definitions of ‘bad governance’.  The causes are historical in the shift of the state from social democratic economic policy frameworks to neo-liberal, free market structural economic structural adjustment ones in the late 1980s. 

This is a point that is rarely flagged out because in essence where we have sought to analyse our economic challenges we have sought more to explain them from global economic knowledge systems that fit more the narratives given by those that have contributed immensely to our current state of affairs, namely, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

It is largely the rampant privatisation of the state and opening up of our local economy to patently unnecessary global market competition that not only stymied our ability to maintain a vibrant economy but saw thousands lose their formal sector jobs (public and private).  It also saw the declining of social services provision through private public partnerships that today are touted as panacea when the truth of the matter is that they have been failing dismally since ESAP was made government policy.   

Indeed the central government is liable and complicit for this long duree economic decline through not only accepting without contextual thought economic structural adjustment but also through embarking on what is essentially a ‘socialism of the rich and politically connected’. In our specific national context this is also generally referred to as state capitalism.  From obscure concessions to land barons, through to corruption at publicly owned medical aid societies and state parastatals as well as private banks being let off the hook, our government has been distributing national resources to the already rich few and not the majority poor. 

These circumstances however have a familiar global refrain.  In times of national crisis as has been argued by climate change activist and writer, Naomi Klein, capital colludes with even the most unpopular governments to ensure that inequality remains in society.  She refers to this as the ‘shock doctrine’.  This is where the state seeks to dismantle its key role in the livelihoods of its citizens and outsource it to rampant profit driven capital that is in no way democratically accountable. 

So the vendors and informal traders are not a problem, let alone the problem.  They are citizens of Zimbabwe exercising their right to not only associate but also to earn a living even though they still barely manage to make ends meet.  And in this case they are ‘workers’ because they are doing what the state will no longer do.  They are working to send their children to school, try and get them the best possible healthcare, pay other ancillary bills and at least make an honest living.  It will be hard to find someone in government or some of the increasingly monopolistic companies doing the same.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)
^'Shock Doctrine' as derived from Naomi Klein's book 'The Shock Doctrine. the Rise of Disaster Capitalism
^ 'Socialism of the Rich' as derived from Owen Jone's  book, 'The Establishment and How they Get Away With It' 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Are We Paying the State to Protest? Public Order and Processions in Zim

 By Takura Zhangazha*

In Zimbabwe citizens are not allowed to embark on public demonstrations/ processions without prior notification (and agreement) of a  'regulatory authority' of a geographic area.  This regulatory authority is generally a Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officer commanding a police district.  This is in terms of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA- especially sections 23-28). The requirements thereof are rather cumbersome but are to be adhered to in terms of the law. 

They include but are not limited to written letters of notification to the regulating authority, names and addresses of at least two persons organizing the procession or march.  Further Meetings with the police also have to be held as and when circumstances surrounding the public event change. Such changes can be on the part of the organizers and also the regulatory authorities and must be put in writing.

For many a citizen, civil society group or corporate body intending to undertake such processions or marches this is a familiar tale.  Not only in terms of their having tried to either have the act or sections of it amended via Parliament/government, but also by having to follow its requirements in order to avoid being accused of having ‘dirty hands’, a legal principle that appears to be firmly entrenched in our jurisprudence.

The catch to all these procedures however is that the police as the designated regulatory  authority save for instances where someone launches an appeal to the minster of home affairs or goes to court, have tremendous powers to permit or refuse permission for people to exercise what should to all intents and purposes be one of the most enjoyed democratic rights in the country. 

Apart from the fact of the outlined legal process of acquiring what is essentially permission to hold a march/protest, there are other not so publicly spoken of requirements.  It turns out that there are other costs that come with police clearance letters.  These include the requirement that those intending to hold processions pay a remittance fee for police escorts during such events. 

This however is not in terms of POSA itself and one can only assume there is some statutory instrument that allows the police to then ask for some form of payment.  I know of specific permissions for police to do so where and when it concerns weddings and other entertainment related public activities.  These however do not fall under POSA. It is however intriguing that a final hurdle toward getting the permission to hold a public march would be the requirement of a payment. Such a requirement would probably need the input of our Constitutional Court if indeed it is law. 

But it appears that in relation to public gatherings and events that are defined in terms of the Act, there is now the added pre-condition that there should be some form of payment to the police in order for there to be a guarantee of the event in question being permitted to take place.  

From narratives I have received from colleagues who have been holding public processions they have been asked to pay for the costs of being escorted by the police.  This is in the case where the general permission to hold such a protest has been given but with this added conditionality. 

Now it is obviously cumbersome enough to get the initial permission with all the procedures that the act requires. To then be asked for a payment or else not hold the march is to worsen an already undemocratic state of affairs. It is tantamount to saying, formally, if you have no money, but a decent public issue such as raising awareness on public health matters through a procession/march, you can’t hold it. Or if you are poor, then you cannot organize a march that will be permitted by the regulating authority.   

This is therefore an assault on the rights of Zimbabweans to assemble, associate and express themselves.  Not that POSA does not already limit this right but to do so on monetary terms is to appear to want to strangle this right further.  The obligation of paying police officers for doing their duty resides with treasury and not citizens.  The provisions of security of property during processions is already catered for in terms of section 28 of the same act which addresses issues of civil liabilities.

For those that have to exercise their right to protest in order to be heard and understood, such payments may seem necessary or even pragmatic given the general repressive attitude of the state toward the same.  The only problem is one should not pay money to exercise a constitutional right. And this is an issue that must not be swept under the carpet.  Dialogue and a request for answers must be undertaken with the ZRP, the ministry of home affairs and every other Zimbabwean that cherishes the rights to assemble, associate and express themselves.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Youth, Media and Democracy in Zimbabwe

A Presentation to the CORAH Chitungwiza Community  Meeting.
St Mary's,  Chitungwiza. 
5 May 2015, 

By Takura Zhangazha*

Cdes and Colleagues,
I have been asked to come and discuss with you issues to do with the new constitution and the media in this the week that World Press Freedom Day, 03 May occurs. And it is only fitting that I thank Community Radio Harare (CORAH) and the Youth Forum for extending such an invitation for me to share ideas with the young people of Chitungwiza or ‘Chi-town’ as it is referred to by many. Incidentally I also grew up for a while in this town and attended what was and I understand is still called the Early Learning Center.  So I would argue that I owe my initial consciousness of being a Zimbabwean to Chitungwiza, never mind the fact that I was also cast in a nativity play as a ‘donkey’ in the barn.

I refer to consciousness because that is essentially the baseline of our abilities to express ourselves and our own experiences.  It is from individual and shared experiences that we begin to articulate personal and collective views in order to seek progressive change in our societies.  In order to do this, we require both democratic values and the relevant media platforms and technology.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the media exists in both its traditional and newer internet based forms. The mainstream media ideally functions to serve the broad public and democratic interest by reporting on public issues fairly and accurately. The newer social media largely works more to allow individual citizens to express themselves on their own platforms, share information, get entertained and also access information in quicker fashion.  

Some of the views expressed or shared on these platforms are however not necessarily journalistic or in keeping with the professional standards of the mainstream media. 

For young Zimbabweans today this ability to express themselves is obviously much easier and ever faster.  Unlike the way some of us over 35 year-old citizens grew up, the youth of today have various means to not only express their opinion but to receive information via not only the traditional media such as television, radio and newspapers.  They now have the added communications capacity that comes with owning a mobile phone especially one that is referred to as a ‘smart’ one. 

While it may all seem just like technology there is a human rights perspective to this flourishing (and expensive) mobile phone based communication among young Zimbabweans. In terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, this right is guaranteed in Section 61 of the Bill of rights which allows everyone the right to express themselves.  Section 62 also strengthens that right in relation to allowing all Zimbabweans the right to access information.  These rights are key to the free and democratic functioning of all media forms (both mainstream and social).

So using your mobile phone is in keeping with your rights as given in the constitution, even if the constitution never really comes to your doorstep.  And this is a point that we must never lose sight of because however much we entertain ourselves via the mainstream or new media, we have to understand the seriousness of the rights that underpin it. This will help us not only defend such rights but also actively promote awareness of the same. 

This brings me to a key consideration that young people must make about the media and its attendant technologies. 

There is need to increasingly respect the voice of young people on issues that affect them and their own views of Zimbabwean society.  The mainstream media has generally paid scant attention to the thoughts of young people on key issues.  Not because of a lack of trying but more because young peoples voices are rarely allowed to flourish in our paternalistic political culture as it currently obtains.  Stories of young people are covered in the mainstream media tend to be largely related to entertainment and education.  And such coverage is rarely frequent or in-depth. 

The options that are therefore available to young Zimbabweans are that they pursue better editorial policies in mainstream media with regards to how their issues are covered. 

But perhaps more importantly, there must be a concerted effort to work at establishing organic social media platforms that talk and relate to the everyday concerns of the youth.  And this must be done largely by young people themselves.  These social media platforms, some of which already exist, should however not limit themselves to entertainment but also be primed to raise consciousness and action over and about the rights of the youth to employment, education, health, transport and a clean environment. 

Such action would lead to not only the media and its attendant technology being an important part of the everyday lives of young Zimbabweans but also give them an ability to express their views on matters that other demographic groups tend to want to monopolise. 

To conclude, let me cite the fastest growing use of social media by the youth.  And this is in relation to entertainment.  I occasionally listen to ‘urban groves’/ ‘dancehall’ and watch the videos that are posted via whatsapp and YouTube. I always try to measure the consciousness and opinions raised in either the songs or the choreography of the videos.  It turns out, most of them are about love or turf wars between popular singers.  What I have however come to conclude is that while this level of consciousness among the youth may be fun and entertaining, it is however not enough to raise the voices and concerns of young people via  increasingly popular social media and mobile internet. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Friday, 1 May 2015

Southern African Migration and Xenophobia.

A Presentation to the SAPES Policy Dialogue Forum
By Takura Zhangazha
Thursday 30 April 2015

Cde Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by thanking the SAPES Policy Dialogue Forum for inviting me to share my thoughts on issues to do with African migration and xenophobia.  I have changed the topic slightly in order to better suit our regional context by making reference to Southern Africa.  I have however written on the issue of the perilous exodus of our African brothers and sisters to Europe for the continental news website thisisafrica.me

The topic under discussion when one takes into account recent and tragic incidences of
 xenophobia in South Africa becomes not only relevant but urgent and serious for the region.

 This is because the statements coming from South African President Zuma concerning the cause and effect of xenophobia in his country will have far reaching connotations for migration in the region.  Mainly because his statements laid primary claim to south African ‘exceptionalism’ after he accused neighbouring governments of causing increased influxes of their citizens to his country due to bad governance. By implication, this can be interpreted to mean that such a similar accusation cannot be pointed at his own country.

Statements also made by the current chair of SADC, Zimbabwean President Mugabe who used the ‘bright lights’ syndrome by explaining that emigrants to South Africa tend to view Johannesburg as the ‘urban’ have not helped either. By inference, this would mean that the rest of the region should be perceived as a rural backwater. An assertion which does not reflect reality nor  adequately explain why we are in this current conundrum. 

It is these two responses of Presidents Zuma and Mugabe that must give cause for reflection beyond collective condemnation of the tragic xenophobic attacks. Knee jerk responses, closing of borders, harassment of travelers will only alleviate symptomatic challenges around the issue which does not appear to be showing signs of long term dissipation.

As has been cited by a number of academic and specialist human geographers, migration is an historical fact of Southern Africa. While it has been analysed in terms of pre-colonial Africa, the greatest volume of studies on the same subject, are for Africa’s postcolonial period.  Not least because the colonial era saw marked increases in migration through forced resettlements but also introduced what academic Deborah Potts refers to as ‘circular migration’ in sub-Saharan Africa.  This term refers largely to the lack of permanence in the migratory patterns of peoples across borders. 

Causes and theoretical explanations for such migration cut across historical, political and economic spheres of analysis.  Theoretically they are also structuralist (modernization), radical (Marxian) and ethnographic. The  common motivation for people crossing borders in all of these instances is economic or related to the political economy of a specific period and time. From colonialism through to post independence economic structural adjustment programmes, political conflict (refugees and forced departure) and individual pursuit of better livelihoods over time. 

What is beyond dispute is that migration in Africa is not only an historical fact of our lived realities but it continues to inform our regional cultural, political economic livelihoods. In other words, in and of itself, migration is not a problem.  Mainly because the legacies or direct effects of its causes are still amongst us today. 

But herein lies the problem.  That we are still grappling with these issues is an indictment on our inability to address the key legacies of colonialism and inorganic post-colonial leadership.  Not for a lack of trying but more for a lack of collective effort and consistency. Tremendous efforts have been made to deal with continental development challenges through the transformation of the OAU into the AU and the launch of NEPAD.  
These efforts are however falling short of their intended objectives let alone their expecting beneficiaries.

Especially where one considers the contemporary continued gravitation to the in similar fashion to that established by the Witwatersand Native Labour Association (WENELA (minus the infamous ‘Chibaro’ system.)

The luring factor of the South African economy is, as was the case when our forefathers/mothers  trekked the forests or got on the railway wagons toward ‘egoli’, remains apparent. 

The only marked difference is that in the same country of destination we are no longer all Africans in relation to the political consciousness of the anti-colonial struggle era.  That country now has its own citizens who have a greater sense of entitlement to what their country has to offer  them as opposed to what it can give the rest of us as Africans’ 

This means therefore, they cannot be expected to assume their country is the repository of the region’s economic challenges, even despite the historical liberation solidarity that we all share.  This is because while the past is important to acknowledge and analyse, it unfortunately is not the sole determinant of a better future for all Southern Africans.

What is required is a holistic understanding of the causes for both the migration and its violent domestic resistance in the destination country. 

This would mean that all SADC countries, if they can have agreement on industrialization roadmaps must clearly have agreements on minimum standards of social service delivery to their people in tandem greater commitment to democratic values and principles.  It would entail a shift from blunt neo-liberal and state capitalist frameworks as dictated by either western or eastern financial institutions all of which have led to the failure to localize the regional political economy for people centered development in Southern Africa.  The result of which has been the retrogressive bifurcation of the region and continent by rampant global capital and the tragic pitting of brother against brother, sister against sister for a pittance share of the pie. 

Furthermore, it would entail increasing the popular legitimacy of regional and continental bodies together with their programmes beyond inorganic summits of heads of state and government which are viewed more as events than serious policy discussion platforms by the people of the continent.
To conclude, there are a multiplicity of reasons as to why migration and resistance to it in Southern Africa are becoming an thorn in the flesh of the liberation struggle’s progressive legacies.  These include the impact of colonialism on African societies the inorganic leadership of  the region on real matters by our post independence leadership and the elite nature of our regional and continental institutions.  It is easy to argue that all of these are work in progress, but the sad truth is that there is little to show, apart from the historical legacy of our liberation struggles. 

As the revolutionary Amilcar Cabral once wrote, ‘Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.”
If for once, SADC and African leaders understood this, especially from a regional perspective, then perhaps African migration, in whatever form, would be more welcome and not dehumanizing as it appears to be today.