Friday, 9 October 2015

Grace Mugabe's Crude Materialism, Attempting to End Politics by Ideas

By Takura Zhangazha*

There were no new shrill attacks on rivals by the First Lady, Grace Mugabe at her Chimanimani rally this week.  I am certain  that to the surprise of many, she did not mention former vice president Joice Mujuru or engage in what had become trademark attacks on those that she ensured got expelled from the ruling Zanu Pf party.  So if one was looking for the usual political entertainment (because that’s what it essentially is) she was disappointingly reticent.

She went through the motions of not only explaining governments ZimAsset economic blueprint but also elaborately explaining what most of us learnt in our early years of secondary school, the water cycle . 

The undercurrent import of the rally was however not to be found in the speech in and of itself.  While she mentioned that she is the equivalent of a referee in Zanu Pf, it  is the theater of the  rally that demonstrated her current power.  The fact of having vice president Mphoko introducing her with great deference should  be enough evidence of the power hierarchy in the ruling party.  That is, that party’s vice presidents are only third in line after the President and his wife.

The more important element  of the rally is the materialist element that the first lady has continued to impress upon her supporters and potential voters.

And she made it very clear that she was not just in Chimanimani to talk.  She had brought ‘gifts’ for the people of Cashel Valley.  IF she was not the one donating, at least she had made sure others donated at her behest. 

The list of these gifts was astounding.  From heavy duty items such as tractors, tonnes of cement, roofing material through to cooking oil, soaps, handbags, shoes, school bags and maize it was a veritable charity fest.  To the extent that the thousands that had gathered were to sing in unison ‘amai vanopa’ (mother gives) at the end of it all.

This crude political generosity has serious consequences.  Since the 2013 harmonised elections, the ruling party has been unapologetic in using materialism as a key mobilization strategy.  It went beyond the traditional t-shirt and cap to include spoons and cups, as unbelievable as that may seem.
The first lady is therefore pursuing her party strategy but this time not for a broad election campaign but a demonstration of power and political control within her party. 

In order to do this, she needs money.  And she appears to have plenty of it either personally or via donations. 

What this however implies is that there is the creation of a new materialist culture to our national politics. It affects all political parties and leaders as it affects ordinary citizens and voters.
At grassroots level, politics is being redefined by this crude materialism which is shifting it from being about values and more about what benefits a candidate can bring even before they win an election. 

So what you say at a rally may not be most important element of the political campaign.  It is what you hand out that becomes of key value.  And sadly the material expectations are mutual.  The recipient and the giver understand politics as being about the proverbial belly. 

These new dimensions of our politics and the first lady’s ongoing material benevolence are intended to end the democratic assumption of politics being a Platonic virtue or a public good practice. It intends to make politics the practice of the privileged and rich.  Or at popular grassroots base, politics as being the profession of those connected to those that have money or resources to hand out. 
It is an emerging culture that must be circumvented if we are to still have a country that relates to values more than it appears to be for sale.  

What the first lady  and the ruling Zanu Pf party are doing is to make politics a very expensive and exclusive endevour. In the process they intend to create the impression of a reality in which Zanu Pf becomes undefeatable in the minds of ordinary citizens. Especially if they do not have access to the kind of  resources that the first lady so easily gave away in Chimanimani. 

For those that remain committed to the fact that the country belongs to all who live in it and not the political elite (even as they squabble over factions) they would do well to counter this renewed attempt at materialistic political hegemony as led by the First Lady.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (