Thursday, 28 July 2016

Anticipating Change in Zimbabwe: Understanding Expectations, Knowing Realities

 By Takura Zhangazha*

A Presentation to  the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) Public Seminar
28 July 28, 2016, Harare, Zimbabwe. 

Cde Chairperson Heather Koga,

I would like to thank you for inviting me to this important discussion forum at a time when a multiplicity of events and actors are expressing and acting out their intentions with regard to our country’s political economy.  

I have taken the liberty to alter the suggested topic for discussion which has been outlined as “Recent Popular Protests: Spontaneous Public Anger or Work of Third Force?” The reason being the fact that I do not believe that the recent, multi-faceted and in part disconnected protests in our country are the work of a hidden hand. 

I am persuaded they are the result of specific grievances of multiple actors with government policies and actions.  The most significant of these actors were the hitherto  little recognized  civil service associations and teachers unions who undertook one of the largest strikes/stay-aways in more than a decade on 6 July 2016 over the late disbursement of their salaries. 

They were accompanied in part  by the  Epworth commuter omnibus operators/workers who had earlier that week demonstrated against alarming levels of police corruption, and the cross border traders who decried the confiscation of their goods at Beitbridge border post.  Also important to these events was the internet and activists that utilized it, particularly via whatsapp and other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. 

These activists were not only limited to those that were part of nascent youth led platforms such as #Tajamuka or #ThisFlag.

 Due to its phenomenal reach and expansion, Whatsapp was used across  various social groups to spread messages of protest and support.  Some of these messages though exaggerated or downright untrue, helped create an anticipation of major actions that would lead to some sort of change for the various interests that have been involved in one protest or the other.

Other protests have excited more on social and mainstream media than in reality.  Others still have indicated  that there are class and Diaspora dimensions to our contemporary activism.

The entry of the war veterans, or at least the main faction of them, into the protest fray through their recent communiqué cannot be ignored. Both by way of their long standing attrition with the ruling party over succession but also more recently by their stated intention to withdraw their support for their patron, President Mugabe in future elections.

The common thread to all of these actions has been an anticipation of change(s)   that are peculiar to specific interests. 

The kombi operators wanted a reduction of police road blocks.  The teachers and civil servants want to be paid on time (for now).  The opposition wants to stop bond notes and the removal of the current government. Some civil society actors want a transitional government (i.e a removal of the current government and its replacement by a 'neutral' temporary authority).

Businesses and some churches want a more liberal and free market government. Social media activists want recognition for being braver than everyone else.

The Mutsvangwa war veterans want Mugabe to pass on the baton to one of their own, preferably the current  deputy,  Mnangagwa.     

Another faction in Zanu Pf and also its  women and youth wings  don’t want a change of government, though they are also clearly in the succession game with the 2018 harmonised election in their minds. We just don’t quite know who their preferred candidate is, though they are allegedly following the first lady’s lead.        

For the majority of the people of Zimbabwe however, it would appear that their major concern is their livelihood in direct relation to their different placement in the national economy.  Some may link a much anticipated change in their economic situation  to the departure of the current president, but I am certain that a greater majority, especially those in the rural areas , are no longer too keen on who changes their fortunes as long as they change for the better.  Bond notes or no bond notes.  They will accept drought relief, stands,  and any other forms of patronage that makes their ends meet.  This partly explains the immediate contradictions of why Zanu Pf still manages to win by elections, even with the participation of smaller opposition parties.

But again, the major political discourses will be about political change and its attendant mechanisms.  In reality changing this particular government or president before 2018 will be at least legally up to Zanu Pf. Using the constitution and its parliamentary super majority, it can do so.  It is however least likely to take that route unless something more dramatic than factionalism takes center stage.

With regards to the possibility of a major crisis in the national economy forcing a political transition,  that will depend on the reaction(s) of the civil service, teachers unions and in part urban working people who rely on the informal sector to make a living.  No doubt there will be further demonstrations but without a central and common thread whether in relation to ideology or coordinated action of the multiple interest groups, the people of Zimbabwe must prepare to vote in 2018 if they want a change in government.

In conclusion, Cde Chairperson, most of the protests we have been witnessing are emerging out of a primary frustration that specific interest groups have with the economy, the lethargy in opposition politics and in some cases as a consequence of Zanu Pf factionalism.  The national mood in the country anticipates the inevitability of political change in Zanu  Pf.  In fact the mood wills change on, directly or indirectly.  It is the nature of the desired change that we must consistently question.  Some want a change of government.  A greater majority want a change in their economic circumstances, without much consideration of who does it.  No one anticipates outright revolutionary change especially with regards to the economy.  Save for the possibility that they may misconstrue the latter term to equate a change of government or the removal of the president. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes/presents here in his personal capacity ( )

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

We Need To Talk About Class and Consciousness in Zimbabwe

By Takura Zhangazha*

We have stopped talking about ‘class’ in Zimbabwe.  Yet ironically our national and very real political contestations have generally been motivated by the ‘politics of the belly’  and/or  the state of the economy. Instead  our conversations have revolved around governance and patriotic history in their polar opposite dimensions. 

The results of which have yielded not only an inclusive government and an incremental constitution but also a very neo-liberal (free market) economic framework.  The latter, never mind the ‘nationalism’ of the ruling establishment, remains our default modus operandi. And its its results are self evident with the primary one being the individualization of our society, the withdrawal of the sate form looking after the basic needs of its people and a political economy that coughs when global capital sneezes.

We also have pundits that with relative ease support this framework, save for in the dimension of governance.  Not least because discussing ‘class’ relations in Zimbabwe is frowned upon as trying to take the country back to socialism (where it never was). In this, there is the envy of  other countries economic liberalism  than there is greater reflection on our own economic (and political) contextual needs and aspirations. In short, we like the bigger picture scenario more than we want to discuss the underbelly (warts and all) of our national political economy.  We want the immediate and not the long term.  So we hop from one immediate issue to the next and leave behind us a trail of disempowered and disillusioned citizens who wait for the next big hassle.

Where we decide to unpack our national underbelly we will find that we should be talking about class, classes and their attendant consciousness.  Within themselves and in their perception of not only governance but national being.  And contrary to general perceptions or intentions to underplay their existence we do have classes in Zimbabwe.

The most dominant being the comprador bourgeoisie. These are those that are closely linked to the state/ruling establishment and feed off it for tenders, contracts and commercial favours. It is a largely corrupt and self serving stratum that relies on the use of state sanctioned violence and cosmetic/inorganic democratic processes to stay at the top. It neither produces goods and services nor does it function in consideration of other classes save for its own preservation.  It espouses nationalism in order to give itself a veneer of popular legitimacy while auctioning off state assets to the highest bidder. 

Immediately following this we have the comprador middle class.   It is comprised of those that work largely for the ruling establishment and its offshoot companies or private businesses that continually curry the state’s favour. It is also very atomized/individualistic and keen on consumerism/materialism.  It is not a harbinger of new ideas and innovation because its reliance on the patronage of the comprador bourgeoisie limits its capacity to think beyond its belly.  It plays the mediation role of demonstrating to lower classes what their aspirations should be, so long they follow the rules.  In rare cases, where its interests are threatened, it will team up with private businesses/ capital to demonstrate its anger at the way the state is being run only to return to its seat once its needs are met. 

The third strata, in Zimbabwe’s case, is that of the urban based  working people.  Here we cannot refer to a working class because the outright Marxian term no longer applies.  This class is comprised of civil servants (including teachers), NGO workers, informal traders, the few but still formally employed by private business  and our tertiary level students.  It is the most active in the economy, moving from one end to the other in order to make ends meet.  It is also highly religious,  not easily moved to outright political action and is pliant in the face of state sanctioned violence.  It has no singular characteristic and is constantly in flux. 

It can take up political causes in so far as they further its livelihood objectives and do not hurt what it generally perceives to be the primary unit of society i.e family.  In this regard, it will unionise, form associations and if need  be utilize temporary mass action to further its interests or to resist sudden changes to the political and economic system.

Fourthly there is the perennially most important strata of Zimbabwean society, namely the peasants or communal farmer. While worn down by age and migration, this class for now remains the game changing one in our society.  Largely by way of numbers but also in relation to conservatism and susceptibility to violence (of any nature). It is also the causus belli/ reason  of many causes be they nationalism, fast track land reform programmes or democratic change (Mai Ezra from Dotito, anyone?) It is the harbinger of incremental change and conservatism.  It is malleable to what the urban says, only if its preservation is guaranteed.  It however is, in the age of state capitalism (bio-agriculture, rapid urbanization, mining concessions)  as led by the comprador bourgeoisie, a dying class in Zimbabwe.

The final stratum which cannot be ignored by way of our own contextual historical process, is the intelligentsia. These are the thought leaders who represent various ideologies and purposefully act to make thei ideas the most prominent.  In our country’s case, our intellectuals are sadly less ideological because they tend to behave as though the proposition by American thinker, Francis Fukuyama is final.  That is why they nonchalantly believe that we have reached the end of history in relation to ideological contestation.  And accept neo-liberalism as the panacea to Zimbabwe’s ills.

There are a few (and getting fewer) that believe in being organic intellectuals, not only in the Gramscian or Cabral sense, but also in relation to our particular Zimbabwean context. If you ask me, thats where you will find me. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Friday, 8 July 2016

July 6 Stay Away: Enter WhatsApp+ Mediating Zimbabwe’s New Consciousness

By Takura Zhangazha*
There are a number of causes and actors for the mass action that occurred in Zimbabwe on Wednesday 6 July 2016.  Some reasons being more immediate than others, and some actors being more key than others, but all contributing at varying levels to the national strike/shutdown (whatever you prefer to call it.)

The particular difference with this one day mass stayaway was that it was not quite like the ones some of us would remember from the late 1990s which were organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).  This one, though heavily involving the teachers unions and the civil service associations, did not require mobilization as of old. There were few public meetings, fewer physical paraphernalia such as fliers to be distributed on the streets and no ‘boots on the ground’ door to door campaigns.

A key question that then emerges is so what could have motivated so many to act in unison at the same time, even though for various reasons.  The easy answer for unionists would be that it was the issue of unpaid salaries for teachers and civil servants that made a majority of urban citizens stay at home.  Political, social media and civil society activists  would argue it was the intention to send a clear political message to the current government that citizens are tired of its incompetence amidst non-ending corruption scandals.  Others, still would argue that it was the fear of the unknown consequences of going to work that ensured the stay at home and wait it out strategy.

In all of these explanations there shall also be claims made by the various activists, especially the teachers unions and the civil service associations, the activists/social media activists (#ThisFlag, #Tajamuka, Occupy Africa Unity Square) of having provided the determinative leadership of the stay away. Or at least as to having been the most listened to by the majority of citizens that chose to stay at home.  For this, there is no one final answer, and it will always be contested terrain until the next planned, unplanned, coincidental mass action.  The contests however do not take away the full political import of the stay away.

But there is the one actor that, until the day of the mass action itself, was not viewed as a standalone factor.  This player is the internet and its offshoot social media platforms. Especially the Whatsapp application which was used by all actors and players in their calls for strikes, protests and stay-aways.  Not only because it was briefly shut down (neither government nor the mobile phone companies have taken the blame), but also because the very act of shutting it down, for the same period, became the major talking point on other platforms such as twitter and facebook.  Not that the strike itself was not important. But the medium also became the message. 

It was knowing about the strike via our mobile phones that became even more important.  The medium/technology we were using to communicate became not only key but also fundamental to how we perceived or understood not only the strike/stay away but also our roles in it.  All of this based on the fact of the speed with which the medium i.e the internet/Whatsapp/ mobile telephony allowed us to relay or receive messages, and how close, personal and beyond government control it is.  We determined what we wanted to read and what we wanted to believe on this social media platform as individuals, as groups and by default as people with access to this one aspect of the internet.

This to the extent that even where in some cases exaggerated/dishonest stories were received or relayed on the platform, a good number of Zimbabweans chose, quite literally, to believe these stories in aid of what they wanted the strike either to become, or to continue as. And mainly in either video or pictorial format especially when posting about something burning or equally dramatic.

More significantly was the fact that in the build up to what was initially a civil servants planned strike, the various incidences that occurred at the Beitbridge border post, at Africa Unity Square, at Rainbow Towers Hotel, in Chitungwiza had all been varyingly posted on social media. On Whatsapp they were posted and re-posted to various ‘groups’ thus extending the reach of the information/knowledge about sometimes unrelated events/actions.  In the process, Whatsapp replaced what would have been routine/ regular mobilization strategies of bigger meetings and mainstream media campaign strategies.  The Whatsapp groups became the small town meetings and gathering points. And here I mean all sorts of groups, from those related to churches, families, sports, social clubs, informal traders, formal companies and human rights/civil society organizations.

The particular significance of this is that the mobilization strategies of old are not always going to be as effective. And that the existence of social media, where it is an integral part of combining evidently direct causes such as those relating to late payment of salaries, will always find credence particularly because of the speed at which information can be shared and above all, owned and believed in order to be minimally acted upon by millions of citizens at a time. That on its own, is a potential revolution waiting to happen.   Hence someone wanted it shut down. Even if temporarily.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Debating the Changing Writing, Cultural Intellectualism in Zim

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Last week the inaugural ‘The Write Affair’ discussion forum was held in Harare at the Zimbabwe German Society.  The topic for discussion, the State of Writing in Zimbabwe, was ably handled by the discussion panel that included renowned Zimbabwean poet Chirikure Chirikure, novelists Virginia Phiri and Robert Mukondiwa, new media editor/journalist Stephanie Kapfunde and journalist Percy Zvomuya.  The audience was comprised largely of young creative artists (writers, musicians, poets, visual artists, playwrights, new media writers).

In the discussions that ensued it was apparent that the state of writing in the country was not where the majority of participants wanted it to be.  Of the many issues that emerged from the discussion, I flagged out at least four that are key to addressing the discouraging state of writing and cultural intellectualism in the country. 

The first was the reference made to the lack of a reading culture in the country.  Not that people are not reading to pass examinations. More in the context of what one panelist questioned anecdotally as how can we expect new better writing if you have potential/new writers who do not read? This was backed up by another colleague who insisted that writing also requires research and hard work. 

References were also made to the post independence years where not only the mainstream media but also schools and state sponsored cultural institutions insisted on a culture of reading beyond the syllabus and thus contributed in varying ways to new literary and artistic perspectives on our society.

The second aspect that I found to be key was the relation between writers and the publishing industry. Or put in another way, writing and livelihoods/profit. In this, it was apparent that the publishing industry is not only diminished but functioning under difficult circumstances. The writers also do not trust the industry and have embarked on a strategy of self-publishing their own work.  Both in order to avoid censorship or to also seek recognition by publishers outside of the country who may be more professional. 

The third aspect that was inevitably going to emerge was the discussion on the relationship between the internet/new media and literature. The one view was that the arrival of the internet was a good thing for writing in Zimbabwe.  The other was that there is a difference between what appears on social media/internet and literature. Suffice to say, there is an ongoing interaction between traditional literature and emerging forms of expression.  Though a tweet or Facebook post is definitely not a book and vice versa.  More importantly was the unanswered question of whether in both cases, the medium may eventually affect the message, form and meaning of writing. 

A fourth reflection point was the issue of writing in its generic creative form.  That is writing that goes beyond literature in the form of song-writing and script writing or even painting.  This was the element of the holistic cultural dimension of writing and its importance to Zimbabwe’s variegated but collective creative imagination. It is a dimension that is often overlooked but literature has always been linked to other spheres of the creative arts such as songs, traditional music, dancehall music, film, radio and television. 

This symbiotic link should be re-examined and where possible re-established within a democratic framework that is fair to all in the creative industry. 

A final emerging issue from the discussion was the need for cross generational exchange of writing knowledge and experience between older and younger/emerging writers and creative artists. This salient point remains a cornerstone to continuing with the diverse tradition of Zimbabwean writing and creativity that transcended not only politics, but also language and genres. 
In all of these key issues, what also emerged was the issue of the way forward for writing in Zimbabwe.  The easier recommendation was that there be more meetings to discuss various issues affecting the writing element of the creative arts industry.  The harder recommendation was on the need to structure the way forward around actions that also link up with other stakeholders in order to restore the dignity, pride, belief and hope to Zimbabwean literature and cultural intellectualism. 
While the urgency of the latter cannot be disputed, it will always emerge from concerted but free discussions by writers in literature and other cultural spheres of our society. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (