Friday, 26 February 2016

ZESA and the Transformers, Passing the Burden to the Customer.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) is a behemoth of a state owned and commercialized  enterprise.   Its remit, which is generating and supplying electricity to the country’s corporate and individual  citizens is an invaluable public service that should always connote urgency, efficiency and a people centered approach to its statutory functions.

When it was commercialized and split into at four separate but linked entities, namely, the Zimbabwe Electricity and Transmission Distribution Company (ZETDC), the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC),  Powertel and ZESA Enterprises, the assumption was it would become much more efficient and possibly profitable. 

In the public view, there is new found surprise at the fact that electricity supplies have generally gone uninterrupted over the last three or so months. 

This however is not testimony to efficiency.  It is more the benevolence, profit motive  and surplus electricity supply of the South African power distributor, Eskom.  It is also a phase which will inevitably see the cost of electricity rise significantly given the announced US$6,5 million a month that ZESA is currently paying its South African counterpart.

This does not change the fact that our electricity generation infrastructure is not only still based on colonial era infrastructure but is also continually incapable of meeting the national demand for power. 

What is however more astounding is the fact that apart from problems of supplies, there is the more direct one of maintenance of electricity infrastructure.  Many an urban resident will always have one particular story to tell about ZESA and the issue of damaged sub-station transformers.  

It begins with someone stealing transformer oil from a local sub-station.  Where the local neighborhood is lucky, the transformer may become damaged but still be somewhat repairable.  The worst luck is when the transformer is irreparably damaged and requires replacement. 

What follows if the transformer is irreparable is one of the most traumatizing  experiences of an  inefficient public enterprise that anyone could wish for.  First the fault center casually responds with the usual promise to send technicians who may arrive more than 48 hours after the fault report.

Second,  when confirmation of the transformer being irreparable is made, comes the explanation from ZESA that the community should act to secure the substation. This includes the fortifying of the sub stations doors with steel rods, all at the consumers expense and no contribution from ZESA.  The latter’s personnel return to inspect and approve the fortification but without a replacement transformer.

The explanation given is that there is a waiting list for transformers that dates back at least two months and so the given neighbourhood will have to wait it out until it becomes its turn.  This can take up to a month without electricity supplies .

In panic at the prolonged lack of electricity supplies , residents try to call relatives or friends who work for the electricity utility company in futile attempts to resolve the crisis.  Eventually they give up after prolonged social media networking and threats to go and demonstrate at the local ZESA office or even the headquarters.

What all of this points to is a parastatal that is functioning with an arrogant inefficiency.  Never mind the fact that electricity is to the greater extent pre-paid and borderline privatized.  It is as though the personnel who work for ZESA have been trained to have a habit of withstanding public clamour for a fault to be fixed. 

In the process they pass on responsibility to the organisation’s higher offices that in turn are not keen on either fully explaining reasons why there are no transformers in stock let alone where all the tariff revenue is going to. 

It is an unfortunate organizational culture that is fertile ground for favoritism and inevitably, corruption.  Public accountability and transparency are then considered as the aversion as opposed to the norm.  

For neighbourhoods affected by the loss of a transformer, while initially trying to find quick solutions to the problem, they eventually give up on expecting the best possible public service. And it becomes a waiting game while using other more expensive energy alternatives. 

In the process ZESA becomes part of the problem as opposed to being the solution.  And until such a time we change the management approach of this parastatal and others, we will always be the worse off despite paying through our noses for as basic a service as electricity. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Friday, 19 February 2016

War Veterans Last Act and Their Waning Exceptionalism

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) this week prevented the divided Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) from holding a public rally .  In a fashion similar to how mainstream opposition political and civil society organizations public gatherings have regularly been banned since national independence.  So there was teargas, random police beatings and the threat of arrest and arraignment.

Social media as is now its utilitarian habit exploded with a mixture of expressions of humour and shock  at the images of elderly war veterans being chased by young police officers holding baton sticks. Other reactions were a bit more analytical and related largely to how this latest incident affects and reflects on Zanu Pf factionalism. 

Evidently it appears as though the faction referred to as Generation 40 (G-40) is in control  of key political space through deciding who can organize, attend and even speak at their party’s rallies.  The other dimension is that the Mnangagwa faction now commonly referred to as ‘Team Lacoste’ despite having been prevented from holding this particular rally for war veterans, demonstrated beyond any doubt that it will not go down without a fight.  Albeit initially appearing contrived this war vets rally is the clearest sign of that.  Whether they continue with their rallies or survive expulsion and suspensions is yet to be seen. 

A third analysis that has emerged on social media was the quick comparison of this particular incident with the l997 demonstrations by war veterans as led by the late Chenjerai Hunzvi. And further speculation as to whether the current crop of war veteran leaders can take as great a risk as did those of the Hunzvi era.  The only fault with this comparison would be failing to recognize that the reason for the current mobilization of war veterans is the Zanu Pf leadership succession issue as opposed to demands for compensation.

What is clear in this is that the war veterans have been at every key point of political rapture in the post 1997 period.  They have continuously leveraged their revered liberation war role and statuses in times of political and economic crisis. Both within their party Zanu Pf or without where it comes to (violently) mobilizing for national election campaigns or controlling the fast track land reform programme (FTLRP). All of this predicated on their given relationship with the security services.

Their current role in the succession battles of the ruling party may be their final ‘vanguardist’ national political act.  This is not only because of their ages but also because there are new intentions at controlling their influence by their fellow ruling party members who either were not involved in the liberation struggle or are pushing what they have referred to as the generational factor.

In this the most significant issue to consider is the national import to not just the Zanu Pf factionalism but the consistent political change agent role of war veterans in the country. 

The first would be that the war veterans believe in their own national political exceptionalism.  That’s why while they are shocked and disappointed that they have been tear-gassed and stopped from meeting like everyone else, they still firmly believe they shouldn’t be treated like everyone else.  It is a view that has generally been accepted in public discourse, more out of fear than it is out of respect.  This exceptionalism has now come to be directly challenged by the first lady and strongly defended by the minister responsible for war veterans.

The second aspect which is much more difficult to place and argue on is the fact the war veterans have failed to address the issue of generational consciousness/praxis with clarity.  They have continued to be the most radical within our society while at the same time stymied the consciousness of young Zimbabweans to do the same.  Their sense of exceptionalism and continuing radical political acts has essentially meant they have served as a key political tool in preventing the full flourishing of newer visions of what the state should be as well as a much needed leadership renewal in the ruling party. This has made them directly complicit in the long-duree leadership of President Robert Mugabe and the suppression of the opposition.

The third aspect is that within the context of the reality of their waning influence by way of not only age but also the current succession battles, they are not necessarily  viewed as being part of a democratic solution to the country’s problems.  That they have been treated as everyone else through the police banning their march does not make it likely they will want to join forces with broader pro-democracy organizations. The latter would also find it hard to organically collaborate with those they have also perceived to have been part of the undemocratic tendencies of the state. 

As to their waning national political exceptionalism, the war veterans, should they win the Zanu Pf leadership succession battle, will have to prove that theirs was and is not a fight solely for their interests. Because what remains at stake is not only their liberation war legacy, but their post independence democratic posterity. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Zim Fast Track Land Reform: Let the People Judge

The minister of lands and rural resettlement, Douglas Mombeshora in a recent interview announced that the fast track land reform programme (FTLRP)  had come to an end.  The announcement got front page coverage in the Herald newspaper, though not as the prominent story. 

The pronouncement was however not accompanied by the usual celebratory pomp, fanfare or rally  in characteristic fashion  of the ruling Zanu Pf party.  This is probably because the statements from the minister are probably not a government declaration even though the media headline implies so.

But it most certainly points to the fact that government holds the view that the FTLRP is now over.  It does not anticipate that there shall be either groups of landless peasants, war veterans or youths that shall forcibly settle themselves on the remaining commercial/private farms.  It also means that there shall be no direct state support for the establishment of new re-settlement schemes. In fact those resettlement schemes that were more political than administrative will probably face the eviction brigades.  The latter being true for both rural as well as urban areas. 

And the hints at this have already been witnessed in Mazowe where resettled farmers were arbitrarily evicted and the new conflict of land ownership on the outskirts of cities where offer letters were used to turn farms into unrecognized residential areas only to have the courts return the land to the original private owners.

All of these processes have been referred to by government as ‘rationalisation’.  It includes the now long delayed ‘land audit’ as well as the still being mulled ’99 year lease’ policy.   It’s a rationalization that by name betrays what essentially was the haphazard nature of the FTLRP.  It is also intended to be a means through which to not only protect existing private investment in land eg, the Chisumbanje ethanol plant but to also attempt at building investor confidence in land.

The popular perception as to whether the FTLRP is actually over is probably a mixed one and is yet to be nationally measured by agriculture experts.  Furthermore, the fact that the land audit has not been completed means that the minister may have spoken too soon.

The given assumption however, especially by those that were and have been at the forefront of the FTLRP will be that whether its actually over or not, it has been a success. For those that are in the political opposition or even in civil society and agricultural labour unions, they may still argue that it has not served its stated purpose of land for all.  These and other views are going to be with us for a very long time.

What remains pertinent is that we have the broadest possible public debate about the full import of the FTLRP beyond its politicization.  This will entail examining the facts and the figures of who was settled where, why and the actual impact on their livelihoods.  Such a process must not be for government bureaucrats and political apparatchiks only.  It must be a public and people centered assessment of the realities and perceptions of the FTLRP. 

The argument against such a  people centered assessment from the state will be that there is no money.  This would be an inadequate argument because if the state claimed that the FTLRP was in its essence a people centered exercise, it should be up to the people to judge its success, failures or lack of continuance.

The real reason why the state may avoid this route is because it knows that there will most probably be a clamour for fairer methods of land distribution beyond political partisanship and a call fro greater certainty of tenure.  The latter point would have a direct bearing on political control and power over those that do not have full legal ownership of the land they live on.  

Furthermore we must examine the ambiguous ideological pretext that informed the FTLRP then and now.  From the radical nationalism within a highly politicized national framework to the now ever apparent state-capitalism and neo-liberal framing of land use (bio-agriculture, contract farming, multiple farm ownership) it is clear that the common fact in both is a the controlling a political elite that protects its interests. These could be economic, over and about land ownership itself and also poised to utilize land grievance for political instrumentation.

This brings forward the dilemma of the continuing debate of how positively revolutionary were the intentions of Zanu Pf when it embarked on FTLRP which it is now saying has ended.  This includes issues to do with the structural dimensions of land ownership, use, and the now increasing interaction between urban and rural (peri-urban) land use.  These and many other questions can have scientific, political, social and economic answers. They however point to the fact that the FTLRP is not viewed as having a sudden end both as policy and in relation to its societal impact.  In the final analysis the determination of its end, success or failure remains with the people of Zimbabwe, not by default, but by way of direct judgement. A referendum anyone? 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Tweeting Factionalism: Zim Social Media's Democratic Importance

By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s  Commissioner General of the Police Service, Augustine Chihuri recently told a pass out parade that he is worried about the negative impact that social media is having on peace in our society.  While not citing specific instances where and when social media has affected peace, he did not hide his dislike of the fact that even his officers are also using the same to communicate what he referred to as ‘nonsense’. 

I am not sure why he chose to talk about a subject that is probably not quite within his mandate.  But he has a right to his opinion. Even if it is received via the same social media platforms that he deplores. 

Coincidentally, on the same day that his views were made public, Zimbabwe’s constitutional court delivered a judgment that determined criminal defamation law to be unconstitutional.  This is a development that means the state will not have the right to arrest and institute criminal charges against someone for what they publish or say about anyone else.  And the immediate assumption is that this also includes things said or published via the social media platforms that Commissioner Chihuri finds to be ‘full of negative things.’

Defamation is therefore now a civil matter where people can sue each other for perceived damages to reputations without anyone ending up behind bars or in criminal courts.  

But beyond Commissioner Chihuri’s opinion, which I politely disagree with, social media is of the utmost democratic importance to Zimbabweans.  Even if they are not all connected to it for reasons that vary from a lack of resources to limited connectivity in rural areas or general mistrust of the platforms.

The contextual democratic significance of these platforms is to be found in the fact that they allow everyone to communicate and express themselves much faster and at less cost. They are essentially tools that enhance the democratic right all of us have to freedom of expression and access to information .  Their only primary limitation is that they must not infringe on our shared right to privacy or to be used in the commitment of a crime.

While the content carried on these platforms can be acerbic, unpleasant and even defamatory that does not make them deplorable or against the national peace. Even if they are used to express an opinion different from that of the next person.

In the current political environment social media use in Zimbabwe has also come to be used as a means through which prominent politicians express their opinions.Even if it is against party directives banning the use of such platforms for members.  The recent publication by the Zimbabwe Independent of a Whatsapp conversation between the Minister of War Veterans Chris Mutsvangwa and presidential spokesperson George Charamba is a case in point.  Other examples include the use of Twitter by the Minister of Higher Education Jonathan Moyo to publish his views of some of his cabinet and government colleagues.  

In these examples what social media has allowed to get into the public domain, without compelling any of the cited users to do so, is the fact that there are serious differences in the ruling Zanu Pf party that border on the personal.  And also that factionalism is currency within their party especially where it relates to issues of succession.  That we know this via social media does not make these same platforms a threat to peace.  Far from it. In fact it is in the public interest for us to now that all is not well within the ruling party.  

Furthermore, for us to know that key players in the same enjoy using social media as much as the rest of us in aide of their right to freedom of expression and access to information.  Except that we may not be in the invidious position of using it to attempt to settle personal and political scores.

What is apparent is that rise in the use of social media applications in Zimbabwe is inevitable.  And so too will their ability to impact on people’s political and social views as well as lives.  It is an impact that will largely be positive in Zimbabwe’s information and freedom of expression starved context.  More-so for young Zimbabweans who have taken to it as ducks take to water.  It has become an extension of not only how they can express their views but also how they perceive our society and what is going on in it.  That is not a bad thing.  It is a welcome and democratic development. And where someone differs with this view they should go ahead, tweet it, facebook it or share it via a Whatsapp group.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (