By Takura Zhangazha*
There are some not so new sounds of footsteps on the streets of some of Zimbabwe’s biggest cities.
In the last month, the main opposition and the ruling party’s supporters have taken to the same to express above all else, their support and loyalty to their respective leaders. The opposition will deny this initial assertion and argue that it was ‘real issues’ such as the missing US$15 billion announced (ironically) by the ruling party’s leader to be missing from the national diamond revenue state balance books that made them place peaceful boots on the ground.
The ruling party’s marchers will, contrary to their counterparts, argue that they have no problems demonstrating on behalf of their long serving leader’s ‘lion’ status on the African continent (and in their view, beyond our continental land mass).
In other instances, the religious movement has also held a march against what government refers to as the ‘national pledge’, This is combined with references to the latter’s failure to recognize the importance of the Scripture Union in primary and secondary schools in building a Christian national culture.
And it may come as a shocker, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, with some judicial persuasion (also read as orders) eventually let all of the non-ruling party’s marches proceed as planned.
Some state newspaper columnists have lauded this not so new era of marchers on our city streets. This by exhorting a previously reluctant state security sector to allow the marches to go ahead.
Social media pundits have generally had a jolly good time asking when these marches will all end. They argue that if one march is held in Harare, another in Bulawayo we might as well proceed to having a national ‘march and numbers' competition.
In all of these attempts at claims to political superiority via numbers on the streets or good-natured humour as to the meaning of it all via various media platforms, it is only fair to say that whatever one’s own personal political persuasions, it is good to have Zimbabweans marching. Whatever the cause, whatever the reason. So long it is done peacefully, fairly, justly and transparently (which remains a hard ask in the country).
It’s not that Zimbabweans were not marching before. They were generally beaten up and arrested for it if they differed with the ruling party. And protected if their causes were in politicized congruence with the latter.
It’s the newfound ‘march cause’ and its new impetus that needs a bit more scrutiny. The MDC-T marched in Harare. Zanu Pf also marched, at least two weeks later, in Harare. And recently the MDC-T marched, again, in Bulawayo. The churches haven't done so, at least recently. They have just limited themselves to social media for now.
All of these marches can be argued to be driven by these mainstream political parties being in a conundrum as to how to continue or begin to capture the popular imagination in pursuit of either retaining power or acquiring it. For this, they all need to meet Zimbabwe’s young, voting generation’s ambivalent desire for a new radical, and sadly so, benevolent politics with borderline religious, charismatic fervor.
What is increasingly emerging in our nation’s collective quest for some sort of inevitable political change is an understanding that we have all been marching and demonstrating in pursuit of one cause or the other.
The labour movement, as led by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) marched against Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). The war veterans marched against the failure to have their pensions paid. The students marched against the removal of student allowances as led by the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) and the Womens’ Movement also marched against many (many) discriminatory laws and practices in various feminist and gender equality struggles.
All of these marches have met and continue to meet police resistance, especially where they were/are not affiliated to the ruling party.
In contemporary times. The national police force is a bit more understanding and permissive thanks to the sterling efforts of Zimbabwean civil society.
What however remains apparent is the fact that the current marches in favour or against the ruling regime are mired in protecting and promoting the reputations of individual leaders before they are about explaining what the urgent, broader national concerns are.
This does not make the marches in any way misplaced. While they are a reflection of popular sentiment of support for either the ruling or the mainstream opposition, depending on whose side you are batting for, the remain a pantomime show of numbers. All with 2018 in sight. They however do not reflect a popular understanding of the complicated political realities that a majority of Zimbabweans (political or non political) will have to face. With or without cogent explanation from their respective national leadership.
From bond notes to African Union leadership (and legacies), national pledge issues were always going to be issues that catch the populist political culture we are now confronted with as a country. Especially where and when it is integrated with our newfound political materialism.
What we must however accept as Zimbabweans is that either way, in this moment we are better off with our fellow citizens taking to the streets for their various causes. Even if we disagree with them. Even if we are more worried about the state of the economy or how some of us are trying to get the next foreign job placement with all the risks of human trafficking that our government has dismally failed to deal with.
So, if I was to be asked my personal opinion I would say, "go ahead Zimbabweans of every hue and persuasion. March on. To whatever corner suits your fancy. Even if just for political catharsis. Let your marches be learning processes or phases. That better things can happen if we find common ground, believe in our country, believe in our common humanity, understand the necessity of eventually coming to terms with not only our repressive colonial past but also our post-colonial repressive legacies. Warts and all."
^Please also see 'Keep on Knocking. History of the Labour Movement in Zimbabwe. 1904-1997' http://www.amazon.com/Keep-Knocking-History-Movement-Zimbabwe/dp/177909003X edited by Brian Raftopolous and Ian Phimster
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)