Friday, 30 September 2016

‘Capital’ and Inequality in Zimbabwe.

By Takura Zhangazha*

A friend who lives and works in the Diaspora recently gave me a copy of the highly regarded French economist Thomas Piketty’s bestselling book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’.   Because of Zimbabwe’s Marxist/Leninist ideological history, the term ‘capital’ consistently rings a socialist bell in the consciousness of a greater number of political actors of the liberation struggle, the 1980s and 1990s.  Mainly because their first encounter with it was probably through Karl Marx’s writings and the subsequent left leaning scholars and leaders it helped spawn.

Reading Piketty’s work however may not be taken to with as much enthusiasm as in the past.  Largely because in the age of neo-liberal/ free market economics,  fewer activists, intellectuals, entrepreneurs and political actors have the patience to read between the lines of globally accepted economic orthodoxies in Zimbabwe.  And that is fair enough given the fact that the left has receded in its global influence.

This however does not mean Zimbabweans should not talk about capital or as defined by Piketty in his book, the ‘national wealth’ or the ‘capital/income’ ratio.  The latter is defined as being equal to the combination of  public capital (what is owned by the state) and private capital (what is owned by individuals) and the ‘national income’ that is derived from both.  

Nor should Zimbabweans shun from debating and acting upon who, between private and public capital, takes the greater share of ‘national income’. Especially where we know the private capital to not only be that acquired by way of inherited wealth but also as it relates to transnational corporations (mining, financial services, internet) or public capital (land, state enterprises) as being the preserve of political patronage. 

The most important question we must therefore ask is, who owns Zimbabwe’s national wealth and why?

Where we examine public capital in our national context we know that the state owns most of the physical land that we inhabit.  This state ownership of land  was rapidly expanded by the fact of the fast track land reform programme (FTLRP)  that took away private capital from individuals on the basis of rectifying colonial social and economic injustice.  The FTLRP has however not been exactly that in effect.  The Zimbabwean government has recently pledged to compensate some of the private owners of the land (capital) that it forcibly took. 

And there is an increasing tendency toward changing the use of the same land/capital from agricultural purposes to real estate and private land use. That is to say, this initial public capital is increasingly being converted to private capital through the issuance of residential estate on the peripheries of every urban/peri-urban center in Zimbabwe.  So the primary claim to ‘public capital’  which is given as land by the state, is increasingly no longer as public as assumed. Instead we have an increasing share of what should be public capital in the hands of private capital as a result.  And the private component here is not necessarily without political patronage. It is ruling party officials that are scrambling over what is considered public wealth (land) for private profit.

The state’s wealth however does not end there.  It also owns capital in the form of public enterprises that it is increasingly ceding to private ownership via ‘public private partnerships’ as learnt from the World Bank and IMF.  The contribution of these public enterprises to national income in Zimbabwe has not really been measured.  Instead it has been derided as not being enough and must therefore be privatized. 

With regards to our national income tax which also contributes to public capital, there is too little of it due to evasion and externalization of income by private capital as well as the diminishing numbers of taxable incomes.  So where our taxes are at least meant to guarantee access to basic infrastructure and services such as health, education, transport and water they are woefully inadequate in that regard. The ‘public’ in public capital therefore diminishes in democratic effect in that regard. Public capital in Zimbabwe is not longer effectively serving the very public from which it is supposed to come from.  Nor is private capital contributing effectively to a democratic distribution of what should essentially be national wealth.

For private capital, we are witnessing corporate and private individuals that are keen on retaining their top earning status within the polity.  These actors are largely involved with the mining/extractive industry and the financial services sector.  As is the case globally, most of these have generally had an increasing share of national wealth.  Peculiarly this wealth is not necessarily re-invested into the national economy to contribute to a more shared national income but externalized to tax havens and other investments that the Zimbabwean government has failed to keep track off let alone circumvent. 

Private wealth in Zimbabwe also means that which is owned by less influence, working class  private individuals.  Often we talk of the ‘middle class’ as a key component to economic advancement. We don’t really have one in Zimbabwe. At least not in terms of what is globally given.  But we do have those that want to be and in some cases are a minimal ‘cut above the rest’ in relation to their property and savings (capital).  They generally work hard for what they have and think globally in relation to how they must save their capital (largely houses, cars, pension savings). Their share of the national income, on the face of it, remains minimal and disproportionate to those at the top tier or the politically connected. 

The  common person found mainly in the rural areas and the urban ghettos does not understand the full import of ‘capital’.  Largely without real ‘savings’ they depend on the ability of the state to at least provide education, health, transport and water, an expectation that has since become a fantasy.   Living on the economic periphery, they are susceptible to being at the mercy of the wealthier tier of society for jobs and patronage. Even where they are part of the informal economy, they rely on economic elite supply networks for good and services which are both domestic and foreign.   Either to re-confirm, by default, their oppression or to pander to elite contestations that  help their livelihoods in the short term. 

In conclusion therefore, ‘capital’ in Zimbabwe is largely controlled by those in political power, those with inherited businesses/wealth, those linked to the political elite and their collusion with global actors often without democratic local context or pursuit of a modicum of economic equality.  Even where we look at the FTLRP which should have changed the dynamics of inequality we will find that it has not.  Instead it has led to a new replacement capitalism that still, as in colonial times, expropriates capital to the elite few and perpetuates inequality. Both by way of inherited wealth and continually limiting social mobility.    This is the same with what is essentially an abortive indigenization programme.  We would do well to heed the advice of Piketty.  Not only globally but more significantly to our national Zimbabwean context. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The State and Status of Ideology in Zimbabwe

By Takura Zhangazha*

The recent economic policy contradictions that emerged in the aftermath of the mid-term fiscal policy review by Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa were odd but familiar.  The minister had announced that the government is going to trim down the civil service and forego bonus payments at the end of the year.  Less than a week later, his colleague and assumedly cabinet spokesperson and minister of information Chris Mushowe announced that government had no intentions of doing so. 

Political and economic pundits veritably and correctly took to social and other media to explain how dysfunctional this all appears or really is.   Especially because the executive arm of government was presenting something that it must have collectively approved to the legislative arm, Parliament.
The arguments are however run of the mill global ‘best economics’ discourse as advised by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  These range from issues to do with limited government and reduction of the civil service wage bill through to the privatization of essential services such as provision of health, education and transport. 

The debate that is however not occurring both in public and private is one on the ideology(ies) that informs these proposed and now rejected economic measures.  And its not out of ignorance but more for political and economic elite convenience that this is not happening. 

For the Zanu Pf political elite, the political ideological framing is a radical black nationalism that is really an embrace of neo-liberalism when it comes to how society should function, especially in between elections.  Hence Chinamasa will accept the frameworks prescribed by the World Bank but never contradict the populist nationalist narrative that has emerged after his presentation to parliament.  This ruling party embrace of neo-liberalism as a functional ideology however does not connote an equivalent liberalism with regards to the political framework.  It is couched in retaining political power at all costs, including repression, while reducing the economic role of the state and embracing the ‘free market’. 

Beyond the arguments of the size of the civil service, the realities point to the prevalence of a nasty ‘state capitalism’ .  This includes but is not limited to state ‘tenderpreneurship’ (thanks to South Africa), the perversion of the fast track land reform programme to establish an urban and rural  crony capitalism, the externalization of huge sums of money to offshore bank accounts (Panama papers), corrupt manipulation of the mining and extractives industry and finally the exploitation of the petroleum industry. 

The opposition political elite having emerged, just like their counterparts, from a leftist ideological perspective, have long abandoned pretense of commitment to the same.  

Having begun as progressive leftists with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and keen social democrats when there was class amalgamation for democratic change, they have drifted to the neo-liberal right (not even center).  From their time in the inclusive government, through to their current economic policy pronouncements, including Zimbabwe People First’s ‘Build’ , they seek more to be part of a global neo-liberal ideological narrative.  Their search for international support and funding has made their ideological propositions lack context and contrary to popular expectations.
But because of the long duree nature of neo-liberalism and the attendant real-time negative economic effects of the withdrawal of the state and its current lack of popular legitimacy,  we are living in an increasingly individualistic/ atomized society.  One in which the public democratic interest is personalized and framed in messianic as opposed to pragmatic, contextual solutions. 

As a result we do not measure our aspirations against a truly social democratic vision and ideological context.  Our struggles become ones in which the agenda shifts from being about one personality or the other and short term issues that also change with each passing day/week/event.   

If I was to be asked if there is an ideological framework that can counter this current state of affairs I would answer that we require a clear social democratic framework.  One that is characterized with a stated intention to give every Zimbabwean a fair start and a fair chance at a decent life regardless of race, gender and class.  Accompanied by an understanding that there can be no economic fairness let alone prosperity without the enjoyment of human rights by all, our contextual social democratic framework should promote innovation, entrepreneurship, accountability and transparency.

Where counter ideological persuasions occur, as they persistently will and should, the key challenge is not that they imprison us from progressing as a society, but be put to democratic test via free and fair elections.  But the fundamental values must always be that everyone gets a fair start or is pulled up to a fairer place in relation to living a decent life where education, health, transport, shelter, water, security of person and basic employment are not a pipe dream but a reality. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Augmented Political Realities in Zimbabwe.

 By Takura Zhangazha*

There is always interest in assessing how the interaction of new technologies affects everyday human realities.  In the age of the internet, this is referred to as ‘augmented reality’.  It refers in part to how computer and internet based technology has with the advent of the smart phone and attendant applications, influenced our senses of feeling, seeing, hearing and smelling.  

In Zimbabwe’s case we are not yet at the stage where we can fully claim that we are in any full  throttle experience of this ‘augmented reality’.  This is not only because we lag behind in newer technologies and applications such as Pokemon Go but also due to the limitations we still have with accessing the internet. 

But in our urban and peri-urban areas we certainly have our realities being increasingly mediated by social media applications that come with smart phones, especially Whatsapp.  And there are certain signs that depending on the expanded reach of mobile telephony, these technologies will be available to our rural areas sooner rather than later.  

And it’s a good thing that many more Zimbabweans are able to receive, impart, feel new information as it relates to how they perceive their own realities.  With social media, as I have noticed over the last few months, it is a combination of the reality that one experiences or wants to experience that urges people to use these platforms with new vigour and energy.  So much so that Zimbabwe’s government has issued serious threats against those that would use it for human rights activism or even political ends and purposes such as calling for the resignation of the current president.

The latter point is indicative of the emergence of augmented political realities. That is to say, political perceptions and actions that are increasingly supported  by social media platforms and access to the internet via mobile telephony. 

At the moment social media is much used by civil society and political party activists to express varying views on the state of human rights or political affairs in the country.  It is also used to widen the reach of the target audience of their actions, who are within the country as well as in the Diaspora. All done via the medium of social media.  Very few civil soceity activists now undertake any activity or action in the absence of a smart phone that has access to the internet. 

Those that dispute these particular versions of 'augmented' political reality have also been trying to augment their own using similar platforms.  These are largely pro-ruling establishment/party supporters who though not having as significant an internet reach as their opposite numbers, are indeed also acting out what they know, perceive or wish to be real using social media.  Some members of Parliament have taken to showing images of themselves in rural hinterlands to demonstrate their political legitimacy and what they consider 'real' politics. 

There are also others that want specific realities in their own right and that have used social media to augment these.  These realities are not evidently political though they remain the primary targets of political actors.   The actors here, largely defined by class interests, are composed of family, church, financial savings groups, traders associations, teachers unions, civil service associations, artists and student associations using social media platforms, especially Whatsapp.

Their political interests tend to be ephemeral/temporary as driven by what they see, read or feel in the immediate about issues such as bond notes, non payment of salaries or violence via social media. They are also not consistently politically active and tend to lean more toward familiarity than radical or holistic change.  They just want their lot not to be interfered with.

All of these outlined 'augmented' realities are about what is in effect 'real' and also what is 'desired'.  The pro-opposition and pro-ruling party political perceptions/understanding of reality will ratchet up their contests for dominance.  In these, it is the augmented reality that takes care to closely link up what occurs off line with what is preferred online, that will be most successful.

This is because however we are using social media and newer technology (when it eventually/inevitably arrives here) to augment our respective political and other realities, it is not the singular sum total of the same.

To achieve whatever it is that we are pursuing, social media alone is not enough.  It needs to be grounded in lived reality more than it is about outlining a desired future.

Hence the success of the not so political augmented realities of church, school civil service associations, informal trade and family related social media groups.  They clearly combine value systems, principles, institutional capacity, physical organisation and planning with social media applications.  The latter does not replace all of the former. It augments it.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (