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 (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)