Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Zim Labour Movement's Challenges In the Age of State Capitalism

By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s labour movement is in serious trouble and this is not an understatement. Recent Supreme Court rulings have left the Zimbabwean worker with difficult legal options in relation to their rights vis-à-vis those of the employer.  

The first  to be determined case, Don Nyamande vs ZuvaPetroleum has now been set for an appeal hearing at the constitutional court.  Media reports detailing dismissals of workers in the wake of this judgment point to an underlying intention by a number of large companies to summarily (and quickly) dismiss workers.  

The second and more recent case, that of the NRZ vsEmployees essentially defines workers allowances as a privilege and not a right.

The ‘shock’, as it has been described by the media, that that these two judgments have wrought on formal workers is completely understandable.  Not only because of the difficulty of getting a new or similar job after dismissal, but more because of the seeming lack of fairness to the worker. 

Moreso when we take into account the fact that the NRZ case has been long standing and heard against the backdrop of employees protesting and sleeping at company premises in search of a fair deal.

Until the pending appeals are heard and determined or the government amends the Labour Act to either conform to the judgments or change their import, workers can expect their employers to callously handle labour disputes with threats or actual dismissals. And government will play politics while claiming to respect the doctrine of separation of powers.

If there is anything that we can learn from these unfortunate developments is that Zimbabwe is now in a full fledged age of state capitalism/ neo-liberalism or as Naomi Klein ably puts it, ‘disaster capitalism’.  And our courts, by default, are interpreting the law within this ideological ambit.  

The latter is characterized by the withdrawal of the state from what should be an obligatory role of protecting citizens from the vagaries of the ‘free market’. In this there is rampant privatization of state assets and limitations on the labour rights of workers especially in times of endemic economic crisis.  Add to this a deliberately diminished role of trade unions and unionism and you have a recipe for an undemocratic laissez faire economic framework that benefits the already rich, those that are politically connected to the detriment of a majority poor.

Government will however not own up to such an economic policy. As South African academic Patrick Bond puts it in his analysis of his country’s economic policy, our government will ‘talk left, walk right’.  Cabinet has already discussed the matter and reports have it that there are some amendments that are going to be made to the Labour Act. The specifics to these amendments are yet be known but it is clear that there are no big ideological questions at play. Government has no intention of changing its overall ‘shock doctrine’ free market economic policy couched on the coattails of state capitalism as derived from the Chinese model.

In light of this unfair reality, the ball is firmly in the labour movements court. It is the struggling Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)  and its affiliates that has to redefine its agenda in view of the broader disempowering intentions of government.  The current period of labour rights activism by default has to come to an end if there are to be countermeasures to the unmitigated state capitalism that we are faced with. 

It has to walk the talk on its overall economic vision for the country in its own ideological terms. As far as I can remember, this would be a social democratic macroeconomic template where basic rights to services (education, health, transport, water, electricity and employment) and fair labour laws form the backbone of government policy where it seeks to interact with capital.

In order to be effective, the labour movement has to return to the source, that is the worker.  It has to re-organise its representative capacity from the work floor through to affiliates and touch base with young generations of workers and students.  All to be done in an organic fashion with direct organising, knowledge production and internal democratic accountability and contestation. 

The late 90s solution that had sought to address these challenges via a workers party in the form of the then MDC may still be on the table but it is no longer as serious an option as it should be. Not least because that former workers party has dabbled in so many other alliances and ideological ambiguities, it no longer represents the full interests of workers.

Labour union leaders have to understand that this basically means they have to go back to the drawing board and redraw their priorities in the struggles against this state capitalist reality.  To paraphrase the age old words of the Manifesto of the Communist Party (circa 1848), ‘workers of Zimbabwe unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains’.

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

Thursday, 23 July 2015

‘We Finish What We Started’ Reviewing Banning Eyre’s Mapfumo Biography, ‘Lion Songs’

By Takura Zhangazha*

Banning Eyre’s biography of legendary Zimbabwean musician, Thomas Mapfumo, is a welcome and honest read. Titled ‘Lion Songs, ThomasMapfumo and the Music that Made Zimbabwe, this biography is one of those rare narratives of a Zimbabwean icon who willingly participates in the narration of his life story. And there are few such biographies.  

The book narrates the life and times of Thomas Mapfumo with an historical context that weaves its way from colonial Rhodesia, the liberation struggle, the euphoria of post independence, protesting injustice and his eventual exile in the United States of America.  Its candid narration of Thomas’ life at various stages in the evolution of his illustrious musical career is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the book.  It gives not only Mapfumo’s side of the story but also that of those that were or are still close to him at every major turn in his life.

In outlining the creative development of Mapfumo from childhood, Eyre is careful to explain the influence of not only his loving parents, religion but also the bustling township culture had on the musician.  The latter included Mapfumo listening avidly to the radio, getting his first performance doing Elvis  Presley impressions and being informally trained in music by  Kenneth Mataka with a band called the ‘Cosmic Four Dots’. 

Eyre outlines Mapfumo’s rising star to the popular Springfields and the superb future bass guitar player for the Blacks Unlimited, Allan Mwale.  It was the same Springfields band that was to have the single, ‘Shungu Dzinondibaya’ their first using Shona lyrics. 

The book also ably explains key life events from when Thomas left the Springfields to be part of the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band in Mhangura where he was to experiment for the first time with mbira music in tandem with Joshua Dube and Elisha Josham to produce the single, ‘Ngoma Yarira’.
It was also at this early stage of Mapfumo’s career where the prospect of the banning of his music for the political inferences it contained would begin with the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation. 

However Eyre also intersperses these early developments with more personal occurrences in the musicians life. Such as the time when he was arrested for allegedly abusing his Mhangura mine account, the sad moment where in his absence his biological father, Tapfumaneyi Mpariwa had passed away. Or also the time when Thomas had to deal with a woman who brought a child she claimed to be his and caused a row at the family premises.  It took his mother, Janet, to handle the situation.

According to Eyre, Mapfumo was to later join the Acid Band which incidentally also had the great James Chimombe and went on to release perennially likeable songs such as ‘Pamuromo Chete’ and ‘Pfumvu Paruzevha’, ‘Tozvireva Kupiko?’ among others.’ The Acid Band was to go to produce the album ‘Hokoyo’

There are more gripping parts of the book that look at the time Thomas gained great popularity because of his different approach to his music that linked Shona folklore, mbira and modern instruments. The most depressing of these periods however were the time Mapfumo was incarcerated by the minority government in 1979 and then had to perform at a Muzorewa rally in Bulawayo.  This did not endear him to the nationalists and Eyre vividly explains Mapfumo’s regret at briefly being accused of being a sellout by some in the nationalist ranks. A charge Thomas vehemently denied.  

At the onset of independence, Mapfumo’s star was waning with the former freedom fighters according to Eyre and as a result he had a torrid time at the independence day celebrations where he had to perform long after all the dignitaries had left.  According to the book, he was only to regain his popularity with nationalists when he performed at the Prime Minister’s luncheon and belted out the hit song, ‘Chitima cherusununguko’.

The biography goes on to outline Mapfumo’s tours of  the United States and Western Europe regularly in the 1980s and sign record deals with international music companies. Eyre however does not shy away from explaining the many challenges the Blacks Unlimited faced with contractors and tour expenses (including the high costs of weed). 

It was the song ‘Corruption’ that was to become the protest song that saw Thomas change from being merely a struggle cultural icon to a post independence social justice legend.  There were to be many other albums with Thomas now becoming a key protest musician in the country in difficult circumstances for the band. These circumstances included tragic deaths of band members, disagreements over money and the dire economic situation in the country. It is these dire economic circumstances and new wave of political consciousness that turned Thomas into a Gill Scott Heron to Zimbabwe’s youth, according to Eyre.

The decision that Thomas made to go into exile is handled with rare honesty by Eyre.  Thomas had decided in favour of the safety of his family after the police questioned him and his wife over vehicles he purchased. He took his family out first and then followed for long periods at a time but kept returning home to do live shows until 2004.  

The main reason for the stop in the holding of his annual shows is given as the fact that Thomas Mapfumo reluctantly applied for political asylum. His coming home would therefore have led to a lack of a guarantee of his being able to return to the United States. And Eyre makes it apparent that exile has not been easy for Mapfumo. 

His creativity and commitment to Chimurenga music has however not been diminished.  There at least five albums that are now imbued with his stay in exile, namely, Chimurenga Rebel, Toi Toi, Rise Up, Exile and his 2015 latest offering Dangerzone. In these Thomas has remained true to his cause and as he is quoted in the book, ‘We finish what we started’.  And I take that to mean the ongoing struggles for democracy, social and economic justice in Zimbabwe.

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

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Africa’s Struggling Left and the Greek Economic Crisis

By Takura Zhangazha*

Claimants to the African left had been excited over events in the European Union and its financially troubled member state, Greece.  The rise of the Syriza party (never mind its anti-immigration coalition partner) against the backdrop of popular resistance to tough economic austerity measures as given by the EU was obviously appealing to those of the global left.  Not just because of Greece but also the extensive euphoria that was (and perhaps still is) the rise of the left in Europe. Ditto Spain and Podemos.

It however appears, after the referendum that voted ‘no’ to austerity in Greece, the battlelines were not so much ideological in the global sense.  The fact that Greece still signed what the global media refers to as an equally bad if not worse austerity package means that the lessons to be drawn from these political events are not as positive as expected.

I am not sure if the Greeks, in their political actions were aware the extent to which the Global South may have been watching in order to learn from them. Or even if they cared.  The point of the matter is that, at their own government's admission, they cannot get out of austerity even if they wanted to. 

The refrain across their borders and continent would pessimistically probably be, ‘resistance is futile’.
Such a refrain would probably be less problematic for those in Latin America who find themselves in countries where there is a semblance of social and economic justice for their poor majorities. 

As for us in Africa, the examples of Greece make for depressing reading. Not least because we have been undergoing austerity since the turn of the cold war ala carte the Wold Bank and International Monetary Fund but also because alternative social democratic economic policy frameworks are not an agenda our governments or opposition political movements are organically keen on.

The reasons for this are essentially down to a lack of contextual, historical and organic application of learned or imported political and economic ideas by most of our leaders, teaching institutions and religious movements. This has led us to a conundrum where the more we do our politics, the less we reflect our ideals within the realm of our lived realities.

That is why we find that most African governments take to neo-liberal economic models when they should instead be embracing social democratic ones. We literally follow the money, only is so far as it suits the whim of those from whence it is coming from.  And our one time left leaning friends during our liberation struggles, the Chinese and the Russians, having made the shift to their own version of economic imperialism via state capitalism, no longer brook social democratic values as the raison d’être for their aid.  Hence the ease with which they introduce their own version of a world bank in the form of the BRICS Development Bank.

In light of this, every successor African government has steered clear of rocking the ‘free market’ boat. Even in the immediate aftermath of an independence struggle or a ‘velvet’ revolution as was the case in Tunisia.

Political capital, as in the case of Greece, counts for little in our circumstances.  It would almost appear as though resistance is futile.  But as always, we have to have a specific fortitude that transcends liberation struggle generations and begins to contextualize what were previously globally shared struggles for justice for all. 

In order to do this, Africa needs to be increasingly specific to its context and overcome given historical epistemology of what ‘economic progress’ may mean in European history.  We may still borrow ideas, economic models, but they must have a new historicity to them that understands that while we have had liberation struggles and  their all important legacies, our economic struggles require greater circumspection and imbuing with a value system that places the majority poor at their heart.  We may be ‘free markets’ in the lexicon of the Economist’s ‘Africa Rising’ neo-liberal narrative but we must not lose sight of our political capital, which remains the fact that the majority of Africans are struggling for a better life before they become profit figures for extractive governments and international corporations. 

So there might be some dry humour concerning how Greece was almost like Zimbabwe concerning the closure of its banks or inability to meet its debt requirements.  The predicament is however no laughing matter. Most African countries have suffered the bluntest of the effects of austerity for decades and are highly indebted. The reasons are many including generally inept political leadership and inorganic politics but also with the complicity of an exploitative neo-liberal global economic system. The differences with Europe may now reside in how we, as Africans, people position our political capital against such a system. The struggle, regardless of what has occurred in Greece, must continue.

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

Monday, 13 July 2015

Zim Media’s Ongoing Dilemma After Moyo's 'Carrot and Stick' Tenure.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s media, though not publicly stating it, is smarting from the recent cabinet reshuffle. Not least because the previous minister responsible for information, Professor Jonathan Moyo, was a rather larger than life character, but also because he had taken great control of the media reform agenda or a lack of it.  From his now muted Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI), through to his statements over and about broadcasting, media ethics and statements against criminal defamation, Moyo curried the media’s favour (and rare anger) through what can be only described with hindsight as a 'carrot and stick' method.

Not that the media did not appreciate the seeming open door policy that Moyo offered.  It actively participated in overtures such as IMPI (and the monetary benefits attendant thereto) despite the latter's sketchy legal mandate.  Others took advantage and also applied for local commercial radio station licences which were to be duly granted to those that have been accused of being close to the Zanu Pf establishment or at least having close links to Moyo.

Key questions that emerge however relate to whether in fact Moyo’s tenure at the ministry of media, information and broadcasting services achieved much or at least addressed the structural challenges faced by Zimbabwe’s media.

A closer to the truth answer would be that the media can argue that there is the IMPI report as a clear sign of some sort of progress, at least where it proposes media policy changes.  The only problem with this remains the fact that it is a report that as it was began, awaits the benevolence of the now acting minister to be implemented.

Furthermore, the continued government ambiguity over and about criminal defamation essentially means that barring a constitutional courts pending determination on the matter, the qualitative democratization of our media environment is yet to be realized.

Even media owners (print/electronic), independent television and film producers though having been promised improved functional conditions, are still waiting for that aspect of a ‘media industry’ that was much vaunted at the beginning of Moyo’s recently ended tenure in that ministry.

So if there is any immediate lesson that the media as a whole has to draw from Moyo’s tenure in that particular ministry is that it is not enough to rely on the ambivalent benevolence of a singular  government official.  This should not be taken to mean that ministers or policy makers cannot be lobbied successfully on a singular basis. But that such lobbying must remain cognizant of cooptation into policy processes over which the media itself eventually has little or no control for their lack of transparency or statutory posterity.

Add to this the fact that the media must avoid bifurcation where government claims to be addressing its concerns.  There should be common ground principles and values established by media stakeholders in a holistic fashion before getting head first into government reform frameworks. So for example there is need for media stakeholders to clearly define their parameters of interaction, their anticipated roles in broader social, cultural and economic development frameworks and any other pertinent issues of their fields of specialty.  

This is not an easy task and often times it is easier to wait on government but the latter has no problem of playing easily variegated interests against the other.

Essentially Zimbabwe’s media must learn to be much more honest with itself going forward. And such honesty cannot include negating its true ‘fourth estate’ role to the whims of government or just the pursuit of profit.  What is required is a balance between editorial values, profit motives (media owner editorial interference), safe and freer working conditions for journalists and respecting government from a constitutionally given but safe distance.

Where the media fails to do so, there will be other seemingly ‘distant from the center’ cases such as that of Chiredzi journalist, Patrick Chitongo, who is out on bail pending appeal on his one year jail term for publishing a newspaper without a license.

The Zimbabwean media must increasingly stand its own ground on its own terms which are informed by organically arrived at democratic values and principles that help maintain its editorial independence and serves the best democratic public interest.  Whatever its incremental gains or losses after Moyo’s ‘carrot and stick’ tenure, the media must regroup and define itself much more holistically for its own sake and for that of the country.

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

Monday, 6 July 2015

Cde Freedom Nyamubaya: We will meet 'On the Road Again'

By Takura Zhangazha*

I first encountered the late Cde Freedom Nyamubaya (Cde Freedom as we affectionately called her) via the poetry section of the Waterfalls District library.  It was her collection of poems and short stories, On the Road Again, that won me over to her clarity of thought and particular ability to explain her anguish through the pen.  At that time, I was naively keen on writing poetry and needed a Zimbabwean writer to learn from.  And learn I did, though I never took my passion for poetry and prose to the sky high levels that Cde Freedom did.

I was to encounter Cde Freedom again at the turn of the millennium in Marondera, and this time in person, where an organization she helped found, Management Outreach Training Services for Rural and Urban Development (MOTSRUD) was part of broader civil society activities on the campaign for a new constitution.  While we never actually conversed, seeing her at meetings and explaining her passion for rural development and farming was inspiring.  Moreso because it was my first time to have seen her, a famous Zimbabwean writer and also activist (a side to her character I had thought was confined to her role in our liberation struggle) in person.

It would be a while before I talked to her directly, much to my delight, at the Quill Club in Harare. And it is there that we talked about her writing, including her published 1995 collection of poems and short stories, The Dusk of Dawn.  I was also fortunate to get signed copies of both her English books!

In our conversations, she was always consistent in narrating that the liberation struggle was not only tough but its ideals were increasingly betrayed in the post independence era.  And that in part, she found solace in expressing her views through her writings. 

And these views were most ably expressed in some of her poems including one of her most stellar ones, ‘A Mysterious Marriage’ in which she laments,

Independence Came
But Freedom was not there
An old woman saw Freedom’s passing shadow
Walking through the crowd, Freedom to the gate
All the same, they celebrated for Independence’
(From “On the Road Again” by Freedom Nyamubaya, 1986, Zimbabwe Publishing House)

These sentiments that she expressed were however not left to her writing alone.  She was involved as far as she thought practically possible with the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association and  the Zimbabwe Liberators Platform.  She said she got involved  in order to at least ensure that her comrades from the struggle days were not forgotten. And that her fear was that most of the political leaders had forgotten those that were at the frontlines of the struggle.

After also taking a brief political role in the Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn movement she confided in 2010  kubatana.net Inside/Out Interview   that ,

“I've decided to concentrate on things that I can achieve. Politics is no longer about any ideologies, or policies, it's not about building the country. I would like to be remembered as somebody who contributed to the development of the youth, or the development of Zimbabwe. Or even as someone who contributed to the literature on the war.”

Her assertions, to me at least, continue to ring true when one examines the political parties that our country is saddled with.

She however had a keen interest in pursuing her own activism and two weeks before her passing had gone on a training programme to Switzerland under the auspices of the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Trust (she was also a  trustee of the same organization).  In her narration to me of the visit, she joked about how once they were on an electric tram ride through one of the hills, a fellow Zimbabwean delegate had said ominously, if this was in Zimbabwe and there was a power outage they would all be in serious trouble due the inefficiency of ZESA!

She was however very excited about her role with ZPST and the peace building initiatives she was involved in. 

She however had not negated her passion for writing and farming.  This despite the hectic pressure she always expressed to be undergoing in ensuring that her son would begin his university education. She would still show me poems that she wrote and was to recite a great one at the funeral of one of her dear departed commanders the late Wilfred Mhanda, aka, Dzinashe Machingura. 

The one thing I will however cherish the most in my limited personal interaction with her is the realistic optimism she always exhibited. And the seriousness with which she took the task of talking to and building the consciousness of  the younger generations that never went to war.

It is this realistic optimism and continuing political consciousness that I will remember Cde Freedom by. And I know that her struggle to go on, goes on through her contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe, her conscientious writing and her work in agriculture. As she says in her poem, On the Road Again’,

Schools have holidays,
Workers days off,
Dogs rest too,
But struggles to go on, go on.
Still on the road,
One endless journey. 

Thank you for the consciousness Cde Freedom. 

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

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Zim Diaspora's Changed(ing) Political Character About 'Home'

By Takura Zhangazha*

Recent media reports have indicated that in the last two years, Zimbabwe’s Diaspora  has remitted at least US$ 1, 4 billion dollars into the country. The majority of these Zimbabweans reside in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, the United States of America and Canada. The veracity of these statistics lie in the fact that it was the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe that announced them with the caveat that such remittances show confidence in the national economy (also to be read as the political situation in the country). 

As to the latter point, I am sure a sizeable number in the Diaspora would probably express some reservations at such an assertion. 

Since the turn of the last century, our Diaspora has generally had a tendency to remit money for the purposes of assisting family to mitigate our harsh domestic economic environment.  It would be hard to argue that in the last two years these economic circumstances have significantly  improved in order for the reasons for the remittances to have changed. 

It is more plausible to argue that while the Diaspora has  tried as much as is possible to invest in movable and immovable property back home, their remittances still play a large part in assisting friends and family to attempt to overcome prevalent economic challenges.  Not that the Diaspora is fundamentally altruistic. The remittances are also used to shore up investments in property and smaller business concerns such as public transport, small scale farming and mining. In most cases this can be viewed as more the giving of the ‘fishing rod’ as opposed to the ‘fish’ to relatives back home. 

What is however of greater significance are the changes in political perspectives  of the Diaspora.  Over the years it has become less invested in the politics of the country. 

There are fewer meetings of Diaspora political party branches and less activism on issues directly related to Zimbabwe in the foreign countries of residence. With this has also come lesser inclination to fund raise for political or civil society outfits that are based in Zimbabwe. 

The reasons for this state of affairs are varied. Among them is the fact that countries of destination have become a lot tougher on migration and are less inclined to grant political asylum.  This limits the activism let alone political umbilical cord the Diaspora has with the country. Furthermore, there are younger generations that make up the Diaspora, likely with citizenship of the host country, that do not have as organic a link with Zimbabwe. They are not able to understand the necessity of continuing political, let alone, familial linkages with the country their parents originate from. Especially if they are already citizens of the country they are already living in. 

Thirdly, much more difficult economic circumstances in host countries and the foreign multi-currency monetary framework in Zimbabwe has led to a change of livelihood priorities. It has also led to significantly less interaction between home and abroad due to the fact that help that was easy to give both in economic or political terms is much harder to do so.

And then there is the seeming lack of hope for initially envisioned democratic political change and the intransigence of both ruling and opposing political establishments.  The Diaspora has always wanted recognition and a role, primarily because of its contribution to the economy, but also its ability to transfer knowledge and experience it has acquired over the years back home.  

Neither the mainstream opposition nor the ruling party have structurally granted this wish.  Even in the new constitution, the ambiguity of dual citizenship, which would have been a trump card were it clearer, remains a key disappointment for the Diaspora. It is also a dual citizenship that has not seem a deluge of applications, despite its ambiguity.

 Not that, there is no semblance of continuing support to either of the mainstream parties, it is just no longer at the same levels or as intrinsically important to the Diaspora. Its more or less a wait and see attitude that has come to also be characteristic of many Zimbabweans at home.

A key question that therefore re-emerges is that of whether the Diaspora can be re-engaged beyond its remittances? The democratic answer would no doubt be in the affirmative.  What is required is a direct re-engagement of the Diaspora beyond political party affiliation. That would entail the Zimbabwean government establishing a holistic Diaspora policy beyond trying to ‘formalise’ remittances, which would include their right to vote, clearer and democratic dual citizenship and transparent economic investment frameworks. 

Civil society organizations that have an interest in the Diaspora have to also embark on wider consultative processes on a holistic Diaspora national policy which understands long term political, demographic and economic realities as they exist.  Where minds are put together, the Diaspora can reclaim its shared rights to the country with domestic national support and understanding.

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