Thursday, 10 December 2015

Harare City Council’s Inhuman, Cruel Home Demolitions Even on Human Rights Day

By Takura Zhangazha*

Harare City Council’s (HCC)penchant for cruelty cannot be stopped or stemmed.  Even on December 10, 2015 when the world pauses to remember international human rights day.  It was business as usually cruel for Harare’s City Council.  It undertook yet another housing demolition. It has been doing so with renewed fervor over the last half year.  Its argument, a legal one, is that the houses, some of which have been standing for more than a year were built without council permission or on land that it argues is allocated for purposes other than housing.

On the face of it, this appears to be perfectly legal. HCC however will not own up to the fact that its legalistic arguments do not for once explain or justify its thoroughly cruel and inhumane actions.  The houses that were demolished on international human rights day, together with those that are regularly being demolished almost as habit are the houses of the desperate for housing in Zimbabwe.

And there are many other humanitarian arguments that can be made against the cruel actions of HCC. The first is obviously a political one.  The eviction and demolition of housing or squatters is a characteristic of colonial administrations.  These demolitions and evictions regularly targeted unwanted persons in urban areas. They would use such arguments as planning and health considerations in order to exclude others from shelter and other ancillary amenities.  This while never providing cheap and affordable housing for a majority poor rural-urban migrant family.

Fast forward to today and a council led ironically by a party referred to as the Movement for Democratic Change (Tsvangirai) is spearheading a return to the past.  Using legalistic argumentation and in part colonial Salisbury’s urban plans, they are undertaking what essentially is potentially as heinous an operation as Murambatsvina.

Insensitive and probably housing secure pundits and opinion makers tend to argue that there must be law and order in the city. They are however not being entirely honest.  It is well known that some of these now destroyed  residential  stands were built on the basis of political patronage, especially via some Zanu Pf and MDC-T  activists who used influential positions in councils to undertake their own version of an urban fast track land reform programme. They collected money in a fashion similar to housing co-operatives that also had  political linkages.  After elections, these housing co-operatives are no longer seen as useful to a political agenda and there is quick resort to legalistic arguments and going back and forth between courts.

Yet the issue is very clear.  It is cruel, inhuman and degrading to destroy someone else’s housing and shelter without  offering them an immediate alternative safe and clean  place to reside. Especially after you have allowed them to reside at a given place for a period in which they manage to actually build immovable structures.  At the same time while the council in some instances, was collecting not only rates but also accepting building plans. 

These all being key traits and hallmarks of the infamous Operation Murambatsvina.  The fact that the demolitions  appear phased or a result of agreement between central and local governments, Zanu Pf and the MDC-T, does not make them any less cruel.

All of this while at the same time allowing bigger tracts of property to be leased to what are now referred to as land barons and baronesses.

The big lesson that has clearly emerged is that there is no major difference between MDC-T and Zanu Pf approaches to local government.  It appears that both parties intend to milk it for what its worth, and use colonial style eviction and demolitions to appear to be solving problems that they themselves created.  Zanu PF with its borderline stands for votes strategies in urban areas, inclusive of land barons/nesses and the MDC-T with its stand soliciting, selling and shockingly  neo-liberal councilors.

In the final analysis, what is now very evident is that we need to urgently democratize local government beyond issues of harmonised elections and token decentralization or devolution. We need to redefine the specific democratic value that local government brings to both the urban and rural poor in very basic, fair and people –centered terms.  We need to take back local government to the people and not leave it in the hands of oligarchs, inept and patently undemocratic political parties who see with each poor urban Mai Ezra, an avenue through which to expand their feeding troughs.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. 

Monday, 7 December 2015

Prepaid Privatisation of Water is Wrong Mr. Chinamasa

By Takura Zhangazha*

The recent announcement by the minster of finance, Patrick Chinamasa, on the compulsory pilot placement of pre-paid water meters is a declaration of intent by government to privatise water and water supply in urban Zimbabwe.  It appears rational, even somewhat sensitive, especially when the minster in his made it clear that this rolling out of prepaid water meters will start with industries and what he also referred to as low density areas. The latter are assumed to be the harbingers of the well to do in Zimbabwean society.  The given assumption being that those who live in these areas will never share political values with the majority poor who live in what can also be referred to as the ‘high density areas’.  Or that they will never mount a protest against these new undemocratic measures. 

The intention is to pretend to be sensitive to both assumed low and high density areas urban class interests. That is, to demonstrate some affinity to the moneyed few who would have no problems with paying directly for water so long it is supplied while telling the urban poor that they will be initially treated differently. Or that they will not see prepaid water meters arriving at their doorsteps within the short term period or at least until the initial ‘pilot’ installations are complete.

This is all despite the fact that there have been a number of protests against pre-paid water meters by residents associations. The latter are spread across our cities of Harare, Mutare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Masvingo and the town of Chitungwiza.  Though disparate and sometimes in part over reliant on donor funding to function, these associations have been the most legitimate aggregation of popular dissent at the intentions of government to privatise water.

The demonstrations should have been a key sign to central and local government authorities to halt any plans they had already announced over privatizing water. I have also previously written on this blog about the six steps that begin with the pre-paid meter system and eventually end up with the wholesale privatisation of water. Globally there have also been media reports of the problems that come with water privatisation and the overall verdict from those countries that have tried it to those that are considering it, is don't. 

The authorities undemocratic insistence is predicated on an argument that rests on the challenge of low revenue collection from ratepayers as opposed to safe access. (Just listen to the radio programmes and adverts sponsored by the Harare City Council for proof of this).   Not that  citizens of Zimbabwe do not want to pay nominal fees and rates for council services.  They do and they have been doing so ever since we inherited urban settlements from the colonial state.  And the rates they pay are not only for water supplies but also other services.  The major challenge is that a majority of them do not have the readily available or disposable income to pay.  That is essentially the heart of the matter.

Implementing the privatization of water will however  not resolve this serious challenge of paying water bills by residents and ratepayers. It will essentially mean that already meager resources will no doubt be utilized to purchase bare minimum water supply, a development that is  not only dangerous to our collective health but also patently dehumanizing. The end effect will be that water as an historically communal resource will become an individualized one.  To the extent that it may sadly become possible for one resident to refuse another a glass of drinking water in order to save their prepaid supplies.

There are however those that will support pre-paid water meters largely out of convenience or with the intention of profiting from the tenders that will accompany their installation. These colleagues do not do their cause any favours through expecting the implementation of the privatization of water to be protected by the heavy hand of the state in suppressing debate and protests in order to ram the policy down the throats of citizens. 

Even where they seek to argue that prepaid water meters are about billing, then they should have predicate their arguments less on revenue collected and demonstrate how it essentially benefits access for all regardless of income. Besides, it is not necessarily a pre-paid meter that can accurately measure the amount of water used per household. There are other unexplored and smarter ways of doing so. It is dangerous both politically and in humanitarian terms to subject people to the mantra and tragic reality of , ‘no money, no water’. 

There is therefore need for community based organizations to renew their efforts at mobilizing residents for further debate and peaceful protests against the privatization of water.  Furthermore this is a debate that should take on  a national dimension which must question the broad neo-liberal direction that our national economic planning is taking under the current government.  In doing so, we should be guided by the fact that our country, Zimbabwe, is not for sale. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

President Xi’s State Visit to Zimbabwe, Realities In the Aftermath of Fanfare

By Takura Zhangazha*

The immediate effect of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recently ended state visit to Zimbabwe has been to bring in that country in from the international cold. It had been a while since a leader of a global superpower had visited the country. Against the backdrop of United States President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya the Zimbabwe government was no doubt going to milk this visit for what its worth.  And the overall message that it intended to give to the country’s citizens is that its ‘look east’ policy works.  And what more evidence than the fact of a full state visit by the leader of the worlds second largest economy.

The state visit turned out to be exactly about economics and trade much to the delight of  a desperate for financial aid host government.  There was to be no mention of human rights, good governance from President Xi.  Instead the major highlights were predictably the signing of bilateral investment agreements on energy, telecommunications and a significant one on ending double taxation of Chinese investment companies.

The details of the deals are not quite in the public domain.  Suffice to say, they are about business more than they are about direct political solidarity.  While the Zimbabwean government may emphasize that it is  because of historical ties that Beijing has a soft spot for it, I am certain the Chinese are reflecting more on the opportunities and profit that they will gain from the bilateral agreements.  Not just in monetary terms but also with a keen eye on geopolitical interests given the centrality of Zimbabwe in Southern Africa.  Or alternatively, the gateway that Zimbabwe appears to be in doing business with the rest of the region.

So after the fanfare, the intentions of both governments may not be in complete tandem. 

Zimbabwe as the recipient of the loan facilities and investment  obviously had to concede a number of issues that normally its radical nationalism would not allow.  A quick example being the rather odd one of cancelling double taxation for Chinese investors.  This is not in keeping with its indigenization policy where even the 49% permitted for foreign investors has not been exempt from the taxman. In all likelihood, even the 51% compulsory state acquisition of foreign companies will not apply completely to those owned and operated by the Chinese.

The risk that the government of Zimbabwe has taken is that its major economic policies will no longer be as contextual as it or its citizens would prefer.  It will have to pursue economic policies that are in general keeping with the Chinese state capitalism model.  Even if the Chinese have got a policy of non-interference in the political realm of countries that they seek and establish trade agreements with, this state capitalism eventually comes with the necessity of a repressive state that prioritizes benevolence than it does human rights.  

The Zimbabwean state is however neither benevolent nor a keen advocate of broad human rights in the liberal sense but the state capitalist model suits its new found intention to create an environment characterized by what it calls the ‘ease of doing business’.

This development, though not particularly new to Zimbabweans after experiencing years of IMF and World Bank sponsored structural adjustment, is unique in that it is now shared by our Chinese counterparts. Both as an economic development template, but also as a long term strategy to retain political power.

So after President Xi’s visit, the Zimbabwean state is likely to step up  its withdrawal of social service provision and favour the path of privatization or its euphemistic version of public-private partnerships (PPPs).  It will do so in a fashion similar to its current  largest benefactor through ensuring opposition to its policies and rule are kept in check and businesses tow the state and party line. 

It will however face key challenges in its new found endeavour to somewhat mimic Chinese development models. These will be issues to with the problem of corruption and elite accumulation as well as ensuring\ that its leadership succession for a post Mugabe era runs smoothly. Furthermore, it may face the challenge of political dissent from a revived civil society or opposition which may call for resistance to these China inspired economic measures.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

VP Mnangagwa's Problematic Courting of 'Capital'

By Takura Zhangazha*

Last week I attended the National Peace Trust conference on Pillars of Peace where the keynote and official opening address was delivered by vice President Mnangagwa.  His speech made a number of assertions around the importance of peaceful societies with some historical references to his principal's then independence reconciliation speech.  

He also made further mention of the importance of redistribution of resources via the fast track land reform programme as having been a key pillar of the establishment of the peace the country is, in his view, apparently enjoying.

What however struck me the most about his presentation was when he mentioned, with limited evidence of doubt that Zimbabwe needs to create an environment in which ‘capital feels at home’.  This was a sentiment that was also echoed by the minister of War Veterans, Chris Mutsvangwa who emphasized as has President Mugabe, the ‘ease of doing business’.

On the face of it, these assertions are run of the mill.  In fact they also talk to one of the key pillars of peace as defined by the National Peace Trust as chaired by former cabinet minister Sekai Holland and also shared by the Institute for Economics and Peace.  This pillar is defined as a ‘sound business environment’ which could equate to the equivalent of the issues raised by the vice president.

What is however missing is a pertinent lack of context to Zimbabwe’s national economy.  This is not to dispute the easy fact that whatever our ideological pretexts, we are in desperate need of foreign direct investment (FDI).  The only catch is whether we are negotiating on fair and contextualized grounding?  From the vice presidents statement, one gets a sense that government believes its ‘radical' nationalist appropriation days are over. Particularly where it concerns land and negation of property rights.

The courting of FDI is probably  predicated on the belief that after the fast track land reform programme, there is no further need to ruffle the feathers of foreign capital. Even with indigenization, the assumption remains that local Zimbabweans can be partners in a new free market economics that creates some sort of comprador bourgeoisie class and therefore gives the connected elite a slice of the cake.

The only problem with this is that there is no demonstration of how it all applies to our context. And that it would appear as though we have learnt nothing from our historical interaction with capital.  Particularly after our experiences with economic structural adjustment. Instead of protecting our small markets and promoting local innovation, we opened up to the global capital and hemorrhaged our economy of not only its material resources but also undermined the legitimacy of the state as a key player in the provision of services and welfare for its people.

And the apparent danger is that we are now turning back the clock full circle with this desperate intention to court capital.  We are not asking the right questions concerning what it actually means for the everyday citizen.  For investors, even if they are Chinese, their primary concern remains profitability.  And they will not undertake corporate social responsibility where they are not making money. Nor will community share ownership trusts yield the necessary resources to address key issues of social welfare.   For the ordinary citizen what this means is that their livelihoods will be subjected to severe austerity or state cutbacks in funding for social services. 

What the vice presidents remarks indicate is that Zimbabwe is now in an era of neo-liberalism and austerity.  Not necessarily by consent of the governed, but by insistence of capital and global financial institutions. The state, as led by the ruling Zanu Pf party, is no longer keen on people centered government development and livelihood programmes. It is an intention that fits smugly into global financial and economic institutions narratives of how the free market is the panacea to all our problems.

The reality of the matter is that this approach has been historically discredited within the context of Southern Africa.  Even its newer version in the form of state capitalism has the same free market intentions where the state fails to protect its citizens from the vagaries of profiteering over and above equitable opportunities and livelihoods.

Indeed, a sound business environment remains a key aspect of a democratic and peaceful society.  It is however not enough to claim that Zimbabwe must be the ‘home’ of capital without a contextualized framework that understands that before we become that, the state must serve its citizens' basic needs.  If the vice president had been willing to take questions from the floor at the conference, I would have politely disagreed with governments intentions. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capcity (