Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Ups and Downs of 2015 and a Prognosis of 2016.^

A Presentation to the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) Public Meeting
26 November 2015, New Ambassador Hotel, Harare
By Takura Zhangazha*

Cde Chairperson,

Reviewing the political developments of the year  2015 initially appears to be an academic exercise. That is to say it may be more for the purposes of recording history than it is for learning from our national successes or mistakes.  In some instances remembering the last twelve months may be more for entertainment than it is for serious reflection and mapping a way forward based on lessons learnt from the passage of not only time but also political acts.

In preparing for my contribution to this important discussion I sought the help of colleagues and comrades via the new phenomenon that is social media.  I did so because no matter how much expertise one is deemed to have and as our own local proverb implies, one person alone cannot encircle a hill (rume rimwe harikombe churu).

The  feedback that came via these colleagues was apparent.  The year 2015 in their views was largely about electricity shortages, vendors, Grace Mugabe rallies, succession within Zanu Pf, the splits within the mainstream opposition MDC-T; the impact or lack of it of new media and digitization; ineffective political opportunism via small opposition political parties; the effects of the bond coin on Diaspora remittances; unemployment; the dire state of the economy; the parlous state of our national reading culture and the elephant in our national room which is the national drought that we are faced with.  

Overall however there is no sense of optimism for Zimbabwe’s 2016.  There is the general assumption and prognosis that there is no silver lining in the cloud for next year. 

There are several dimensions that must be examined for the purposes of this discussion. The first is that of the national economy, the second being the political state of affairs, the third being civil society, the fourth being generational praxis, the fifth as  our national environment and finally the social democratic way forward.

In relation to our national economy the most significant development has been the abandonment of the people by the state.  Over the course of the year we have definitively become a free market economy. That is, we have become an elite centered economy where we, in neo-liberal fashion, place the ease of doing business as the cornerstone of our economic development and prosperity. This is evidenced not only by President Mugabe’s sole state of the nation address in August this year but also the general courting of the world Bank/IMF and other investors to our country.  We are a country that is on the borderline of being for sale to the highest bidder, so long they leave something for our political and business elite.  While it is a given that our country is in desperate need of foreign direct investment, it is the lack of a people centered economic baseline in our international begging that will eventually be our undoing.  

Furthermore, we are faced with high levels of formal unemployment which government wants to dispute on the basis of the reality that most Zimbabweans are trying out of a lack of choice to be self employed.  Its economic blueprint, ZIMASSET has in the course of the year been shown to be largely for pontificating purposes with no progress being made.  Our economic infrastructure largely remains embedded in the colonial settler states development plans particularly where one considers electricity supply, road networks and industrial capacities.  An ironic indicator of this lack of infrastructural development is when President Mugabe recently  officially opened the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo airport road.  This is a road that should have been completed in 2010 for the South African edition of the FIFA World Cup.

Further to this, we have failed to consolidate any benefits of the fast track land reform programme (FTLRP).  Instead of ensuring people access to this precious resource, what has emerged in the course of the year are land barons and new land taxes that essentially point to privatization and elite re-capture of land. 

And privatization of state services appears to be a key component of our governments economic master-plan.  It is keen on ensuring that it shed responsibility for the provision of social services such as access to water, transport, health, education and electricity.  The most fervent attempt at privatization is currently that of energy where we have all sorts of tenders for the supply of either solar or coal power stations being awarded without publicly acknowledging the future increase in the cost for our majority poor citizens.  Government will also pursue its state capitalist model through for example acquiring private companies such as Telecel and then distributing ownership to those that are politically connected.

The expansion of ICTs and internet reach will essentially remain slower and more costly than in other countries primarily because government views this sector as one of its key cash cows.  This will also include the digitization project where government has already announced its policy intentions but with the intention of keeping the latter more commercial than it is about open access for all. Furthermore these new technologies will continue to negatively affect the profitability of the mainstream media, a development that inevitably leads to less public accountability of government. 

Another key component to consider about our national economy has been the rise of our non-currency, the bond coin.  Initially meant for utilitarian purposes it has become a default means of exchange of goods and services at levels that many ordinary citizens had not foreseen.  Pegged to the US$ via a loan from the AfreximBank, the bond coin is currently the preferred ‘currency’ of choice over the South African Rand. There will however be no return of a local currency in the proper sense because this state of affairs remains quite profitable to parallel money market operators who have proximity to state power.

The civil service, not necessarily the security services, will be downsized significantly in keeping with the requirements of the IMF staff monitored programme. This also coming against the dramatic backdrop of the court case that changed the rights of employees to benefits upon termination of contracts. This however will not mean the government  intends to be leaner, it just requires balance of payments assistance from global financial institutions.

So if one was to gaze into Zimbabwe’s economic horizon, the probable reality for 2016 is that if the economy improves, it will improve for the politically connected. It will be a neo-liberal economic template characterized by political patronage and cementing of elite but primitive accumulation of the few. 

Where it concerns our politics, this has been the year in which Zanu Pf internal politics has dominated the everyday narrative. Not only due to the purging of senior Zanu Pf leaders but the continued flexing of political influence by First lady Grace Mugabe.  It is an influence that she will take into 2016 though with less alacrity as was the case when she maneuvered for the ouster of Joice Mujuru.  President Mugabe, will however increasingly demonstrate who he trusts to take over within the course of the year.  This person is most likely to remain current vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, though he must demonstrate indubitable loyalty to the first family and its interests.  

What is certain is that Zanu Pf hegemony is not in any form of direct crisis.  Its internal purges of 2014 and beyond are essentially the worst that it will face until its next elective congress. 
However the jostling for political influence in a post Mugabe era has brought into play one of the most dangerous dimensions to our national politics. This being the rise of crass materialism as a key value in politics.  Distribution of goods, services, tenders and turning of blind eyes to corruption (as is the case with the Public Services Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) shall increasingly become intrinsic to our politics if left unchallenged. 

Where we consider the mainstream opposition, there will be little left to say save for the fact that it appears to have been hoist by its own petard. It has split once again to no real democratic benefit. These splits have cost it seats in parliament as well as hemorrhaged its share of state sanctioned funding.  It is least likely to recover its form of 2008 even with a coalition. At best the opposition will continue being exactly that, the opposition in the coming year.

This latter point brings me to the Joice Mujuru factor as regards her ability to effectively challenge for political power.  The fact that she has taken so long to launch her envisaged People First political party while pointing to caution, is essentially underestimating the importance of being clear, forthright, principled and consistent in the eyes of the Zimbabwean electorate.  Indeed there are various factors at play that would make her bide her time, especially the possibility of a Zanu Pf without Mugabe at its helm, but the longer she bides her time, the more likely her impact will be minimal. 

The third dimension of a prognosis for 2016 is to view the functioning of civil society in Zimbabwe.  This with particular reference to civil society that actively lobbies government and broader society for democratic and human rights reforms.  In the year under review it has been on a serious backfoot that stems largely from the fact that it no longer has a common agenda.  It is divided into disparate sections that seek to curry the favour largely of the donor community and in part government institutions before it seeks to embed itself with people-centered strategies.  With the new constitution, it is faced with the primary challenge of picking up from where it left off in its elitist ‘yes’ referendum campaign  to make the constitution not only known but appreciated by the country’s citizens.  It will also face the evident dilemma of dwindling donor funds and will inevitably compete among itself for whatever funds that will be availed.  All of which will point to an activism that is increasingly disconnected from the masses and more keen on satisfying the multiple intentions of donors and government institutions.  So in 2016, civil society will function to achieve elite incremental progress with regards to major democracy issues.  It will however not reach as popular levels of support as that which characterized the period between 1999 and 2010. 

The other dimension to be considered in analyzing the year 2015 is that which I refer to as generational praxis.  This is to do with the young people of Zimbabwe and their understanding as well as expectations of the country in which they currently live.  These young citizens who have not known a sensitive and caring state are being captured by elitist and materialist tendencies that emphasise individual than collective well being.  As a  direct result of the state of the national economy , especially unemployment and expensive education, their ability to be good standing citizens is several compromised.  Hence you will find that a majority of our youths are increasingly seeking either to depart the country, work for the security services, become hired political activists or immerse themselves in various other vices that afflict Zimbabwean society.  I would however hazard to say that they remain our country's best hope going forward.  Whoever mobilizes the young people of Zimbabwe in 2016 on the basis of democratic values and principles is certainly set to change the country for the better. Especially if they include fostering a reading and knowledge acquisition culture that goes beyond formal qualifications.

Penultimately I must make mention of the environmental aspect of the year that is coming a close.  We are faced once again with a drought. The levels of its severity are yet to be officially measured or announced but as the case almost every third year, the drought shall negatively impact our environment and our livelihoods.  Furthermore, the generally accepted fact of climate change shall increasingly show itself as we go forward.  Where we do not undertake clear and strategic interventions over and about the pollution of our rivers, bio-agriculture, fossil fuel consumption and preservation of our flora and fauna we are set for harder times in 2016.

In conclusion, I may have painted a rather bleak picture for both 2015 and 2016 but the way forward appears to be fairly clear. We have to confront our realities with intrinsic social democratic values and principles.  We have to understand that progressive, peaceful but revolutionary change, will come from an activism that is contextual and people centered.  If anything all of us must heed that famous quotation from the global revolutionary icon, Che Guevara who once said, ‘at the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.  It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.’ It is democratic love for our people and our country that will move us toward a better 2016 and a social democratic future. 

^With special thanks to colleagues and cdes who also contributed to this presentation via social media

*Takura Zhangazha spoke here in his personal capacity (