Monday, 31 August 2015

African Cities and Journalism: The Past in Heated Conversation with the Future

By Takura Zhangazha*

The theme of this year’s Highway Africa Conference at Rhodes University in South Africa is ‘Journalism and the City’.  It is a theme that conference organizers have explained is intended to help expand the debate around the media’s  ‘urban’ narratives and representation of the poor ahead of the Africities Summit to be held later on in the year.

The particular importance of this debate resides in what we, as Africans, not only imagine but want our cities to be. Both by way of how the/our media reports on us the inhabitants and  how historical and contemporary global perceptions of them have set standards that we struggle to contextualize. 

What has been clear, through some of the debates I have listened to or participated in during this particular conference has been the understanding that contemporary African cities are a direct legacy of colonialism. Both by the way they are historically imagined as well as how they are geographically designed.

This means that the African city was initially designed to best suit minority racial elites and to control and exclude black majorities.  It is an historical reality that most African cities have found it hard to shake off in reality and in the imagined. And the best evidence of this has been how many years after independence, housing projects  for  low income families are still designed largely in ‘township style’ colonial format.

Or how in some cities, such as Harare, there is still the attitude of excluding the poor from housing through massive colonial style operations such as the infamous Operation Murambatsvina.
The media is however not immune from both this history  and continuing contestations about meaning and placement in African cities by Africans. A South African academic, Steven Friedman  speaking at this Highway Africa conference was quick to accuse the media of representing what he called the ‘suburbs’ against the township.

To put it in another way, the media may seek more to represent more the perception of where its bread is buttered, and that generally is the view of the media proprietor. And historically some media owners have tended to prefer ‘city order’ as viewed by former colonial authorities.  This has led to what can best be referred to as ‘city gate keeping’ reporting on issues.  Council by laws and actions are presented as paragons of order where and when in fact they can be sites of exclusion and discrimination. Hence reportage on slums, squatters and migrants tends to mirror the ‘ordered’ intentions of the suburban or urban political elite.

There therefore remains a challenge in perspective and narrating the city beyond colonial style exclusion or the image of the Western metropolis.  Not that the mayors of South African cities that attended this particular conference did not demonstrate their great efforts at democratizing their cities. 
However in the age of the disruptive tendency of the internet, there is evident need to retain greater democratic context to the African city.  This would include understanding that the global business and geographical  understanding of an eventual arrival at  ‘city states’ across the world to which the internet will  be instrumental.

So there is need for African cities and African media to begin to navigate much more democratic frameworks of local government that transcend legacies of colonialism.  Beyond electoral cycles and technical administration of provision of services, we need to re-imagine the African city in its democratic uniqueness and with a post colonial inclusiveness  that treats the city not as a site of privilege but one of endeavour. 

Such a departure point would however require a greater embrace and understanding that on our African continent, the city cannot be imagined, discussed, developed or democratized without imagining, discussing, developing and democratising the rural.  Where we fail to do so, we retain undemocratic colonial legacies to the African city. In the process our slums, squatters, ‘townships’ will still have the air of tragic permanence and be evidence of the legacies of colonialism. 
*Takura Zhangazha is a delegate to the Highway Africa 2015 Conference.  He writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Theatre and Arts ‘Must Remain to Be With the People’

Benefits of freedom of expression to peace, democracy and national development in Transformative Theater.

A presentation to the Edzai Isu Arts Project, Transformative Theater Training Workshop,
Zimbabwe Hall, Highfields, Harare, Zimbabwe
Thursday 27 August 2015,

By Takura Zhangazha*

Convener and Director of Edzai Isu Arts Project Cde Tafadzwa Muzondo and the facilitators of this very important meeting on Transformative Theater and its relevance to freedom of expression,
The facilitators of the specific training that this meeting is undertaking with the support of the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA)

The artists here present and among them I must include Cde Jingo James and Mai Masango with whom I have had a long association when together we were involved in organizing community driven theater and drama on the importance of broadcasting and community radio stations for development in Zimbabwe,

Comrades, colleagues and friends,
I have to thank you for the invitation to one of the oldest townships in Harare, Highfields, where arguably  the mustard seed of freedom of expression, association and assembly were initially sown by our nationalist heroes. Like Mbare, Makokoba, Sakubva, this township was witness to the first expressions of anti-colonial nationalism through, song, written word, transformative theater and other cultural activities that helped fortify the ideological beginnings of the struggles for our national independence. 

I have made reference to the somewhat religious term mustard seed because it is an historical fact that many of our African Pentecostal churches emanated from this important township.  These would include ZAOGA among others and their contemporary offshoots across the iconic Harare River, the Mukuvisi. 

It is the historically binding understanding of the democratic significance of freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information at urban grassroots level that not only brings us together but also helps to explain our understanding of our contemporary realities. Political, religious and cultural practices exercised with the stubborn intentions of exercising the right to  freedom of expression and association shaped our understanding of not only our struggles but also of our human development challenges.  

And I need here to therefore add what should be a truism.  There is no single nationalist, late or living who can claim that they had no influence culture  in relation to education, musical, theatrical activities into coming into full liberation struggle consciousness.  Indeed Marxism and Communism were to help militarise the struggle but we owe it to the broader cultural expressions of our identity in its unified but diverse forms that we came to understand freedom not only in its redemptive fullness but its pragmatic import for our own betterment as a people. 

It is in this context that the artistes here present have to place themselves. Not that they are war veterans or political national heroes leaders but more because we must understand the historical significance of our right to freedom of expression as is now universally given. 

Even the topic of this presentation, where it relates to national development and the role of freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom cannot skirt this historical fact. 
Therefore when we talk of freedom of expression and its benefit to national development we are essentially talking about our past, present and future. There are therefore no PhDs required here. Just our collective understanding of who we think we are as a people, country and as citizens.

To this end our theater, music, novels, paintings and all other forms of artistic expression are of the utmost importance. They all help to define what can be referred to as our national character across political economic and social spectrums. It is this binding and democratic national character that then helps keep us at peace with each other and assists us in our collective understanding of what our national development should look like. 
But there are many contemporary challenges to this definition of our national character and national consciousness. 

This is because freedom of expression has been relegated to the periphery of our national values. Indeed it is found explicitly recognized in the new constitution’s Bill of Rights but faces the monumental tasks of overcoming the unfortunate cultural perception that it remains a privilege and not a right.  That is why it is still a criminal office in our statute books to express yourselves as artistes in a manner that is deemed to compromise national security or malign the office of the president and various other government institutions. Or even send what is viewed as a malicious letter, text or voice call to another citizen.

This is why there remains a culture of not just caution, but fear and self censorship among even specialized practitioners of freedom of expression such as theater companies, journalists and musicians.  Not to say there are no exceptions to the general rule but these are too far between have a broader and consistent national impact on this negative aspect to our national development agenda. 

So there are key tasks to mitigating this that must come from important theater companies and collectives such as yourselves.  Initially we must learn to believe in freedom of expression as a key aspect of development.  Even where it becomes uncomfortable or causes consternation, it should just generally be a given that we all have this important human right. 

Secondly artistes must combine their belief and support of this right with that of seeking the protection of not only the law but the people from being hindered in their professional work.  This means artistes must demonstrate not only professional integrity but also, as the late national hero Maurice Nyagumbo used to say, ‘must remain to be with the people’. 

Thirdly, in order for important historical knowledge of the development of theater and its importance to development, there must be continued organic knowledge production about the work being done by theater companies such as yourselves. In other words, plays have to be written before they are acted, recorded where they are acted, and safely stored in libraries and learning institutions for posterity or the passing on of knowledge from one generation to the next.

Fourthly, there must be active collaboration between all freedom of expression professionals (FOXP) to defend their right to work without undemocratic, undue and unnecessary state interference and in the best public interests of our democratic national consciousness.  Journalists, theater companies, musicians and television actors/producers have to find this common ground or else the state will continue to defiant it negatively for them.  Or ignore them altogether as has been the case with the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry Report of last year.
In conclusion, we must have a firm understanding that our liberation struggles, our post independence development are all predicated on the right of the people to initially express themselves about their grievances, pain, joys and successes.  We should never lose sight or let go of this historical fact in determining our democratic national consciousness.
Thank you comrades.

*Takura Zhangazha speaks here in his personal capacity ( 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Mugabe's 2015 State of the Nation Address: A Brief End to Ideological Ambiguity

By Takura Zhangazha*

It was never going to be an inspirational state of the nation address. President Mugabe rarely does government speeches that way.  Briefly but carefully crafted to assuage the fears of the international community, this state of the nation address appeared more like a somewhat politically correct business plan. Hence the ten point plan that indicates what should be pretty much obvious in government planning the world over. 

Despite this, the speech by the president to our parliament is of national importance given the fact that it outlines governments policy intentions.  At least for the next twelve months.

There were no controversial references to the issues of sanctions, indigenization and the fast track land reform programme. Instead the language was an attempt to present an organized government that is working systematically to make the national economy ‘business friendly’ or as the president put it, to ‘enhance the ease of doing business’.

For radical nationalists, indigenization supporters this speech will therefore be a disappointing one. For liberals and free market advocates, it will be sweet music to their ears because it confirms what those of us on the left have always feared.  This being that government's economic template is essentially neo-liberal.  This with the added caveat of state capitalism as exemplified by China and more closer to home, Angola.

The broad focus of government therefore appears to be that of creating an economic environment that suits or at least lures foreign direct investment.  The familiar intentions of establishing public private partnerships was to be found in the speech indicating a planned processes of commercializing public services.  This will largely be undertaken through the reforms that the president stated would be done to state owned enterprises (parastatals). This would also include reviewing the salaries of the heads of these enterprises, a point that one would be forgiven for defining as closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

The phrase and term ‘modernisation of labour laws’ was rather interesting given the fact that we have seen the loss of jobs by thousands in recent months.  Apart from stating that there shall be the amendment of the current Labour Act to remove its common law provisions, the president did not take what would have been the populist side of the workers.  Instead he claimed that government would seek a win-win approach in labour relations between the employer and the employee. Again, an indication of the clear plan to make the ‘ease of doing business’ apparent for investors.  These investors tellingly and according to the President include the Diaspora which he implored to invest in the country.

On social service delivery, the President mentioned with gratitude how health services provision has been assisted by the Chinese government through a special loan. He however did not mention the extent to which government would act beyond this particular loan to address the high costs of medical treatment and the continual lack of  modern medical equipment in our hospitals.

The reference to the digitization programme in the speech is an important one in relation to the envisioned changes to what remains of Zimbabwe’s media industry.  The $125million dollars that government has committed to this is the largest investment in telecommunications infrastructure in our country’s history. Perhaps out of international necessity but one cannot doubt that government regards the media with great importance.  Media stakeholders would be well advised to follow this particular development keenly as it will eventually deal with issues of media ownership, media content expansion and regulation of cyberspace. The signs are already there in relation to the tiff between mobile phone company, Econet and Minister Mandiwanzira over the sharing of infrastructure. 

The other issue that is important to flag out was the president’s reference to climate change as one of the key causes of our frequent droughts and maize shortages. What was however lacking  was an explanation of governments climate change policy and solutions to these frequent droughts. Especially given the fact that there is the global conference on climate change scheduled for Paris, France this November.

There were however important national issues that were starkly absent from Mugabe’s speech. These include his governments plans for the young people of Zimbabwe as well as how it intends to make the new constitution more democratically relevant to the country’s citizens.

In the final analysis, the state of the nation address, brief as it was, reflected a government keen on pleasing international investors more than the people of Zimbabwe. And this is the stark reality of its neo-liberal intentions under the aegis of state capitalism.  We would do well to ask for social democracy sooner or suffer the burden of our ongoing economic downturn coupled with general political repression.

Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Mugabe's SADC End of Tenure, A Troubled Regional Diplomatic Effort Comes Full Circle

President Mugabe’s tenure as  chairman of the Southern African Development Community  (SADC) ended with little fuss in Gaborone,  Botswana this week.  When he was appointed chair at the 34th Summit in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe  in August last year, his government undertook regionally unprecedented self-celebrations. 

The state controlled media was awash with praises of the milestone import of such an appointment. Government officials also began to refer to the Zimbabwean President by all of his full regional office bearer titles which incidentally also included, as of January this year, chairing the African Union.

Such excitement could be viewed, with hindsight, as understandable.  Zimbabwe had been a crisis spot for SADC since the turn of the century and had never been accorded such a role since then. 

In fact the regional body had to establish a mediation process under the aegis of former South African President Thabo Mbeki in 2007 to help solve the political impasse between the ruling Zanu Pf party and the mainstream opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).  This mediation led to the establishment of an inclusive government in 2009 after disputed elections in the preceding year. It was a government that was to be under SADC supervision for the next five years while the belligerents Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai shared power. 

So Zimbabwe had not been in any political position to be granted the ceremonial role of SADC Chairman.  It is only in the aftermath of the surprising but regionally endorsed 2013 electoral victory of Zanu Pf that this became a possibility.  With the country off the regional crisis agenda, the Zimbabwean government was only too happy to insist on being given such a role.

So the essential success of Mugabe’s full tenure as SADC chair has been to bring Zimbabwe in from the cold.  And even then, with diplomatic caution.
This is because his tenure is more a SADC diplomatic victory than it would be his own or that of the Zimbabwe’s ruling party.  No matter how the latter tries to spin it. 

The regional body demonstrated its intention to solve its own crises as far as possible without being put under pressure by the broader international community.  Zimbabwe’s return to what are essentially routine regional roles were the final fulfillment of this intention. At least from a regional perspective.  This would also explain why again Southern African states were willing to allow Mugabe to become their candidate for chair of the continental body, the African Union. 

Some evidence of this can be found in former mediator Thabo Mbeki’s assertions that at one point during the height of the Zimbabwean crisis, former British premier Tony Blair had asked about the possibilities of a military intervention. 

Furthermore a former South African presidential advisor, Frank Chikane in his memoir makes the inference that the broader international community was not happy with the SADC mediation process and expected it to fail. 

So there was a  lot at stake from a SADC perspective at a time when liberal interventionism was a key aspect of global superpower foreign policy. That it eventually occurred in Libya with now unforeseen consequences vindicates SADC in terms of its diplomatic efforts to keep the region relatively stable.

This however does not make SADC as radically Pan- Africanist as its member state, Zimbabwe.  Most of the programmes and protocols it has been signing are in keeping with global trends of free market economics and infrastructural development.  Even under Mugabe’s now ended tenure.  Nor has any other current member state followed Zimbabwe’s example of radical fast track land reform and indigenization policies.

They have however stuck by their seemingly stubborn mantra of ‘African solutions to African problems' when it comes political crises in the sub-region. 
It is in this light that as Mugabe’s term of office as Chairman of SADC ends that the majority of member states will want to be acknowledged.  And it is a template that regional political powerhouses such as South Africa, Angola and Tanzania may want to use elsewhere, if the need arises.

For all the attempts at demonstrating his tenure as SADC Chairman was deserved, Mugabe’s government would be better reminded that it was more an intention to keep the international community at bay. Especially from the region in what with hindsight must be viewed as an exercise in stubborn diplomacy. Even if at the cost of delaying the further democratization of Zimbabwe. But for now, in the eyes of the region, Zimbabwe is firmly back to being a normal country again. 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Rural Zim’s Never Ending Urban Burden (For Little in Return)

By Takura Zhangazha*

In the wake of the massive layoffs of workers and the heinous destruction of 'illegal' homes by the Harare City Council,  public debate has focused on what options are left for victims of such state sponsored/sanctioned economic cruelty.  More often than not, these options consider migration. And not necessarily from the country.  Instead the option is to go back ‘kumusha/ekhaya’ if all hope is lost.

Although the latter option is said with the most distasteful humour, it is now as important an option as it was during the callous year of the infamous ‘Operation Murambatsvina’.

Except that kumusha/ekhaya is also no longer the same. During the recent Heroes Day extended holiday there were no media reports of an avalanche of the urban citizens travelling to visit their rural homes as is the tradition. The immediate reason  for this would be that there is no disposable income to afford such age old visits.  In fact, they have become an urban luxury.

A more nuanced assessment would be that our rural areas are now more desolate, poverty stricken than ever before. Regardless they continue to carry the burden of the travails of urban home dwellers who become suddenly destitute, fall ill or even require a decent traditional burial ekhaya/kumusha. 

This is despite the fact that the rural political economy  has come to rely on donor aid for food/agricultural projects, missionary hospitals for health and in relation to commerce, exploitative cattle/grain and cotton buyers coming from major urban centers.

Further still, generations of younger Zimbabweans (both urban and rural) do not hold ekhaya/kumusha in the same high esteem as  did or do their fathers and mothers.  If they live in the urban centers, they tend to not want to go there.  In reverse, if they are rural area based they are keen to leave for the bright lights of Harare, Bulawayo and even Johannesburg (South Africa). 

All of which points to a gradual but economically forced neglect of rural homes by many urban residents. At least those that would still have their parents and extended family still eking out a living from small scale subsistence farming. 

Whereas prior to our long standing economic crisis, visiting the communal lands from the urban was to be a sure sign of success, in the majority of present cases, it is a sign of financial and economic troubles. It can be as simple as returning home to sell some cattle (fair and fine) except that that specific income by and large goes back to the urban economy. Or if such sales are done locally , they are not done for commercial purpose but in order to either pay for basic necessities such as school fees, health costs or travel to the urban.

And there is the burden of our national politics where our rural areas face the brunt of political violence every other election year. And since the year 2000, this violence has note been atoned for.
So this is the historical burden that our rural areas and our fellow citizens who reside therein are saddled with.  While its not always all doom and gloom, (there are happy life moments such as weddings, children passing exams under difficult circumstances, the successful return of an urban based daughter/son), there is need for a change in our country’s rural development policy.  

The first departure point from the current is that while commerce reigns more supreme in urban centers, all people residing in either the latter or rural areas have a right to equally prioritized development.  From basic services through to respect of human dignity and freedom from want.   Secondly, it is of urgent necessity that there be a review of the colonial hangover administrative infrastructure that still obtains in our rural areas.  

This would include a review of land allocation roles given to both traditional and local government authorities and integrating much more democratically their social service delivery mandate in relation to education, health, transport, water and sanitation.  This would and should include better security of tenure (minus large scale corporate/elite privatization) for peasant farmers, much more equitable. organised land distribution and integrating to greater effect customary and common law.

Finally, it is abominable that thirty five years after our national independence largely won on the basis of peasant support for a Maoist guerrilla war, the rural remains subservient to the urban. This is despite the fact that the rural historically and in the contemporary remains the baseline of the livelihoods of millions of Zimbabweans.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Zim’s Political Elite and PhDs, Waiting for the Knowledge to Show.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees are viewed with great respect across the academic world and with general awe in Zimbabwe.  Largely undertaken in fulfillment of demonstrating greater and intrinsic knowledge on an academic subject matter, this qualification is usually the professional terrain of those that would most probably pursue academic careers.  Or as the ancient Greeks once put it, such qualifications are conferred on those who have a specific ‘love of wisdom’.  It is also anticipated that those who acquire such ‘wisdom’ will continue being part of academic knowledge production in their chosen field of expertise.

In recent times, the PhD while retaining its lure for those Zimbabweans that are academically and intellectually minded has also now been keenly pursued by political elites, senior civil servants and security personnel.  

The most publicly debated acquisition of this academic qualification by politically linked persons has been that of the First Lady, Grace Mugabe and her now erstwhile rival former Vice President, Joice Mujuru. Not just because they acquired these simultaneously (same graduation ceremony) but also because of the suspicions over the time it took the first lady to complete hers.

It turns out that there are a number of other politicians (across the political divide) and senior servicemen that have successfully completed their doctoral studies. The latest being that of Zimbabwe’s National Police Commissioner, Augustine Chihuri who recently had his doctoral graduation ceremony at Chinhoyi University of Technology.  There were also previous media reports that the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Chiwenga also acquired a PhD qualification from the University of Kwazulu Natal.

Not to mention a greater number of politicians and senior civil servants who are in the throes of acquiring similar qualifications or have already done so.  Some via the arduous route of actually studying for them and others by way of being awarded honorary doctorates, in some cases controversially so.

The key question that emerges is why would Zimbabwe’s political elite be so keen on pursuing higher education while in office, even on a part time basis?

Given the cultural value Zimbabweans have historically placed on education and furthering it (even on  a part time basis),it is arguably  understandable that key decision makers in our society are keen on furthering their education.

There are however some points to ponder as to this unprecedented keen pursuit on their part.  The first assumption an ordinary citizen can make is that perhaps these influential citizens are not too busy with their day time jobs of managing our society. And also that they are probably doing such a wonderful job of it, there is no need for us to expect them to concentrate solely on the task of governing us democratically.

For others there would be the realization that it is an onerous task running a government department, ministry or even holding a parliamentary seat while pursuing equally onerous academic qualifications.  And they would therefore be curious as to how time that should be spent concentrating on government business is swapped for time in classroom lectures.

Were our country one that does not face a myriad of social, economic and political challenges, perhaps it would be excusable for our leaders to be acting like private citizens and pursuing PhD's out of professional necessity and personal career advancement. Where they are not professional civil servants proper, one however has a right to query their priorities in office or the extent to which the time they spend reading copious amounts of academic writings does not affect their performance in office.  

What stands out is the fact that our government is not explaining this newfound academic fervor among its ranks. Particularly for what are essentially intensive three year study programmes.   
Even if we assume that these influential persons are within their right to take time off their already busy schedules to pursue part time studies, one would hope that their future actions would be influenced positively by their newly acquired knowledge. In most cases it remains difficult to discern the policy changes informed by these laborious knowledge acquisition processes.   

These PhD's are rarely reflected in word or action.  In fact most often, there are no new streams of consciousness or paradigm shifts that are reflected in the political and policy realm in the wake of such qualifications. This is perhaps because they reflect more political ambition than substance, even if one does not need a PhD to be a politician. At least not at law.

But perhaps it may not be so much about organic acquisition of knowledge while on the job for these influential persons. These may be cases of having the time and money to pursue these studies. But more politically these are probably intentions at getting good old ‘recognition’ of personal achievement even after holding important policy office which should be achievement enough.

I don’t begrudge these colleagues for their personal achievements or the awarding universities for the publicity and money they get by it.  However I am persuaded that we should also ask that our influential citizens’ ‘new’ knowledge be applied to their public office roles with greater evidence of the progressive thinking and ‘love of wisdom’ that it implies. Or else someone will begin the process of studying for a PhD on why Zimbabwean leaders are now pursuing PhDs. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( He does not hold a PhD.