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 ( )