Saturday, 26 November 2016

Africa's Struggle History Absolves Fidel Castro

By Takura Zhangazha*

Cuban revolutionary Commandante Fidel Castro’s passing was not a sudden shock for the world nor for us here in Africa.  We already knew he was unwell and at his age, we knew that his revolutionary life was near its end.  He even let us know it and advised that the ideas of the Cuban revolution will go on long after he has passed.  Those ideals, much maligned by American media and its presidents bar Barrack Obama, were unapologetically socialist.  And by dint of their humane precepts also African. 

And Africa knows who Commandante Fidel was. And even if one is not part of the liberation struggle generation of the continent, his name was at some point whispered, his political exploits  and his colossal revolutionary reputation referred to in our schools, universities and progressive political organizations.  Even where we resided in our African countries that were avowedly anti-socialist and in the ambit of the West during the Cold War, we knew that if you mention Fidel, you mention a revolutionary. 

My first encounter with his world, his thought, his country was not through a book.  It was through a Zimbabwean teacher who had recently returned from Havana to teach us chemistry in high school.  Sometimes the chemistry was difficult but the admiration the teacher had for Cuban society was self evident.  In fact it was idealistic to a fault.  I didn’t understand socialism or communism proper nor why in any event, there was such a chasm between USA and Cuba relations.  Even after skimming through the history books of the Cuban missile crisis. 

Encountering Fidel at university was a different ball game. In the late 1990s, with the Cold War effectively over and all but one African country being free (remember the Saharawi Republic), it was all about Fukuyama’s infamous ‘end of history’ dictum.  We were taught, not all the time, that communism is dead and liberal democracy and economics are the definitive fulcrum of human (western) history.  Ye the lecturers couldn’t fully explain the stubborn island that was Cuba in this lexicon.  But we would debate it at International Socialist Organisation meetings at the University of Zimbabwe Campus.  As wannabe revolutionaries we would cite all the Lenins, Fanons, Nkrumahs but eventually end up referring to a living revolutionary in the form of Fidel Castro in awe at how he could possibly be holding ‘socialist fort’ on the island that was Cuba. 

Overwhelmed by economic structural adjustment programmes and forlorn about the receding global possibility of global socialism, we would debate Castro is smaller spaces and occasionally watch video cassettes of Cuban life and his very long speeches. 

The South African and Namibian cdes, that we would meet as activists at the turn of the century, would perpetually remind us of the painful but legendary battle of Cuito Cuanavale and how it was the Cuban defence forces that helped not only spur on their struggles but prevent apartheid South Africa from having a stranglehold on the region. 

And we were perplexed at why the American media at some point raised eyebrows about African struggle icon Nelson Mandela’s state visit to Cuba.  We knew the Cuban people had helped us throw off the shackles of colonialism, settler states and apartheid.  We knew of the Tri-Continental conference that occurred in 1966 that Fidel hosted in Havana after Che Guevara’s abortive trip to the then Zaire.  We know he met and was impressed by the African revolutionary  Amilcar Cabral at that meeting that re-enforced his revolutionary commitment to assisting African liberation struggles from colonialism. 

He was also to meet a majority of African liberation and post independence leaders inclusive of icons such as Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere among others.

And he didn’t end there. He continued, at great cost to his own country to assist Africa in health and education.  And he continued to be a moral voice against the imperialism, neo-liberalism, liberal interventionist wars and global unilateralism that has characterized the post Cold War global order. 
As Africans we knew that Cuba’s differences with America were not our creation nor ours to solve.  But like the solidarity that the Cuban people gave to us we returned it at the United Nations and other global for a. Not in obligatory gratitude but more form the lived experience of how our humanity binds us together regardless of race, colour, creed or continent of origin. 

And yes we read the biographies, watched the movies, documentaries and even witnessed a handshake between Raul Castro and Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. We saw the continually negative coverage of Cuba (as will be the case during Fidel’s memorial services) in the now global media and argued over why his socialism wrongly curtailed freedom of expression. But there is one thing that we as Africans will always know, from liberation generations to post independence ones and post Cold War ones. This being that African liberation struggle history is clear. To paraphrase his treason trial courtroom speech in 1953, ‘condemn him, it does not matter,’ our African struggle history absolves him.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Friday, 25 November 2016

Africa and the Global North: Limiting Admiration, Focusing on Progressing Better

 By Takura Zhangazha*

I once had a extended argument with a fellow African who vehemently supported the invasion of Iraq by the United States of America and its allies.  Not only that, he was a George W. Bush aficionado. He liked the gung-ho ‘you are either with us or against us’ foreign policy that the then American government was pursuing. 

When Obama was elected he was a bit more muted, but somewhat going along with the global admiration of the American political system that could against many odds choose a black person as president.  But he stuck to the idea of a rapacious America that where and when it chose, it would militarily annihilate its enemies.

I tried to find the source of his admiration of the military might of the USA. It turned out, like for many of us Africans, to be embedded in the images and representations of that society in movies, television, music, computers and other cultural products (clothes, religion and the like). 

And true enough, as Africans we rarely view the USA from ideological or even honestly analytical lenses.  In fact we rarely view the global north with an intention to objectively critique it.  Not that we don’t have opinions on what happens in America or Western Europe. 

They are however opinions that are more inclined to admiration, envy, entertainment and tragically to viewing those countries as the ‘promised land’. This ‘promise land’ view also explains why the Mediterranean has become a watery grave for so many of us Africans. It is also the reason why Europe and North America are voting for those that promise to keep not only us as Africans out, but also those from the Middle East, Latin America and South East Asia.

In dealing with these complexities we also turn to our comrades in the global north to help us understand what it is that is going on with their global superpower governments and systems.  As a leftist, I have also sought explanation from my fellow ideologues in the USA, the United Kingdom and mainland Europe.  Asking for example, why would ‘Brexit’ happen?  Or how the USA’s president-elect could have possibly won a free and fair election?  

I however don’t ask my questions in admiration. I ask with ideological empathy, with the full knowledge that the election of Donald Trump is indicative of how progressive ideas are on the back foot when they are subjected to popular democracy in both North America and Western Europe. The not so new nationalisms that are emerging there and acquiring power on the regressive basis of discrimination and exclusion of the non-white other are evidently a global concern.  They hark back to what Africans that are conscious of their continent’s colonial history have said ‘never again’.
And this is the key lesson for us as Africans to draw from the political events and trends in the global north.

While what happens in North America and Western Europe affects us politically and economically in relation to those regions’ foreign policies, we need to learn that we should not always mimic their domestic politics or political cultures.   

We don’t have to anticipate the emergence of a candidate similar to Donald Trump and call it a democratic process if they win an election on what are arguably racist, sexist and pretentious grounds. Nor should we allow our media to be captured by the elite few who seek more to believe their won lies than hold those that seek political power to account. 

And we should always undertake our politics with an honesty that understands that good, progressive ideas do not always move the majority of our citizens if they are not accompanied by organic mobilisation and actions. As Amilcar Cabral once wrote, ‘no matter how hot the water from your well is, it will not cook your rice’. 

Nor should we be in the habit of shunning those that we think are on the periphery of our political systems. Or those that we think are either ignorant or malleable to our views without either engaging them or seeking to take their views into political account.  And this relates in the greater parts of our continent to our rural citizens who are treated in part as though they are still colonial subjects.  Both by way of the attitudes of our political elites and the remnants of colonial administrative infrastructure. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Zimbabwe’s Civil Service Urban Land Offer: Capital and Co-optation?

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The Ministry of Local Government in consultation with Apex, the umbrella body of civil service associations, announced that it is rolling out a residential stands allocation scheme for government workers.  While not mentioning the commencement date of the scheme, the government  outlined that it had identified land that could be allocated for residential use by civil servants on the outskirts of some of our major cities.

The land will however not be free.  It will be given to those that are on the Salary Services Bureau (SSB) payroll.  Depending on the size of the residential stand that they want, they will pay a maximum of U$4 per square meter per month for the smaller stands that will be deducted from their monthly salaries. 

The task for the civil servants though appearing to be a 'no brainer' due to the severe shortage of housing in the country, is to accept this sort of ‘housing loan’ while at the same time having less money in their pockets at the end of the month.  

Given the fact that those already on the list are at least 113 000 (and probably rising), it would also mean that governments wage bill, in real cash, is reduced fairly significantly.  And also civil servants will feel, with ownership of urban land/capital, that their salaries are giving them fair returns for their labour.

The impact of this new government facility for its workers are multi-fold.  The obvious one is political.  Allegations of the ruling party seeking to endear itself with the civil service ahead of general elections in 2018 will soon, if they haven’t started already, emanate from the opposition political party ranks.  And understandably so. The allocation of land to so many government workers will not doubt have a significant political impact, not only in terms of establishing new demographics to the voters roll, but also inducing loyalty to the party that has gone the extra mile of providing elusive and expensive urban land/capital. 

It is also a loyalty that will spill over into the economic sphere by not just mitigating any intentions by the civil service to undertake national strike action similar to that of July 2016. 

It will also lead to increased economic activity and employment, depending on how transparent the tender processes of support services (engineering companies, mortgage giving banks/building societies,) or the ease with which small scale businesses can be allowed to flourish in the new ‘suburbs’.

Socially it will mean a rapid expansion of urban population and land use, a process which has been underway by default via housing cooperatives and controversial ‘land barons’. 

It will also make the civil service much more close knit socially (almost setting them apart as a distinct social group) because of geographic proximity. This may induce a strong sense of community among citizens that work for the government and with that may come a certain pride (or restoration thereof).  That is if the envisioned new residential areas for them can be immune from the urban vagaries of poverty, unemployment and lack of social service delivery.

Perhaps the more significant off-shoot of this policy is the conversion of the focus of the fast track land reform programme from agriculture to urban use.  It may not be as violent, racially and politically charged as its predecessor but it is a direct consequence of it.  And it has its fair share of violent evictions, demolition of houses, distribution by patronage and political affiliation (Norton, Harare South). 

With this new scheme the civil service is being sprung up the ladder of privilege. And even in that it is not necessarily all about equality.  The different categorisations of land size and probable housing structure/plans means that despite being blanketed as ‘civil servants’, they remain viewed through class and seniority lenses by government.  For the lower paid civil servants go the ‘ghetto’ size equivalent stands, while those that earn more get the ‘suburb’ size ones. 

So in essence while the civil servants and the leaders of their associations/unions welcome this particular move by government they must be wary of the fact that they are essentially being co-opted into a materialistic silence.  The land that they get should not be a political burden nor a sign of their specific uniqueness above other citizens through proximity to the state.  Every Zimbabwean should have the right to shelter.  We hope they know that. We hope they will remember that.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity)

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Harare City Council: Rule By Diktat, Worshiping at the Altar of Elitism and Money

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The Harare City Council (HCC) recently issued an odd equivalent of an edict or decree.  It announced, rather ominously, and like an arrogant overlord of our urban life, that it is shutting down house water supplies in at least eight residential areas of Harare. The reason it gave for doing so is that there are too many defaulters on paying not just for water but other charges such as refuse collection, sewerage and other amenities. 

It turns out that the announcement is intended to have at least two effects.  To scare residents/ratepayers at the prospect of having no water at all and therefore scramble to largely pay part of the amounts due. Even if they have queries or issues about the bills they have received.  The second effect is to ensure that with the fear of further water supply disconnections, residents of Harare will increasingly opt for the pre-paid water meter option (which is already in pilot phase in some suburbs).

It is an interesting strategy that is being used here.  It involves not only convoluted and abstract importation of ‘business models’ as to how to run a city and dismissing democratic values in favour of technocratic ones. The latter also includes statements from incumbent Mayor Manyenyeni that implied that he views elected councillors (who also elected him) as being too ignorant to run a city.  How he remains in office after uttering such remarks in the first place remains an oddity.  Such views are throwbacks to local councils that were run under the Rhodesian regime that continually refused majority poor residents of the then ‘African’ townships the franchise on the basis of ignorance, downright racism, assumptions of superiority by class and a lack of education.

This is the sort of attitude that informs decisions such as the one announced on water cuts by the HCC.  It is an arrogance that wrongly appropriates for itself a specific superiority based not only on irrelevant educational qualifications and the ridiculous assumption that having studied a business degree or worked in some sort of managerial position in a private company is what it takes to run a city. 

This strategy also involves the collusion of the HCC with central government and private capital.  The local government ministry protects council from further scrutiny and public accountability only if it does its bidding.  Especially with regard to the awarding of tenders and adhering to specific directives.  Private capital then wades into this undemocratic and opaque relationship by angling for the tenders that it produces.  And the big prize for private capital is that of the prepaid water meter supply and distribution tenders.  There is also that of the electronic billing system for rates that will be linked not only to mobile banking but also the internet. It would therefore follow that private capital would not want to upset its convenient positioning in the apple-cart.  

With all of this in mind, what the HCC, with the permission of central government and excited anticipation of private capital, has ordered is an assault on the right of Harareans to water. 
From whichever angle one looks at it, the threat of the denial of access to water in lieu of lack of payments for other amenities is an assault on human dignity and livelihood.  The actual act of disconnecting the water is an inhumane act that even if it occurs next door, it would make our own rainmakers weep and worry whether indeed their libations for rain will be heeded. 

Someone might ask but what is the solution? It certainly is not denying residents access to water  en-masse or even threatening to do so.  It lies in discarding elitist notions of what it means to be a resident of any urban settlement, shaking off our colonial hangover understandings of what is best practice of urban local government and integrating a people-centred and democratic approach to policy making and administration of councils.  It also means making the HCC abandon its neo-liberal privatisation projects that seek to turn what is public capital into private profit. 

To do all of this, residents, either through their associations or other forms of community based organisations (churches included) with a special concern for the livelihood and well-being of not only their children but also their neighbours must question the HCC more than they are currnelty doing.  This means having a greter understanding of the city that they want, one that must be inclusive, welfarist, people-centered and democratic without the evoking of notions of a ‘qualified franchise’.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Friday, 4 November 2016

Zanu Pf's Complex Dominance Without Persuasion

By Takura Zhangazha*

A comrade in the academic world recently sent me a copy of a New Left Review article entitled ‘The Heirs of Gramsci’. Largely focusing on intellectuals who furthered the Italian philosopher’s thoughts and views on hegemony, the article brought Zimbabwe into vogue particularly through its examination of the ‘dominance without hegemony’ concept as introduced by Indian organic intellectual Ranajit Guha.  In this case dominance would relate to coercion while hegemony would point to persuasion of the governed outweighing their enforced submission to power.

In Zimbabwe this is a salient point that we must consistently analyse if we are to understand how the ruling Zanu Pf party has continued to hold power (dominance) for so long.

The simplest of explanations has been that it is because of the military and other ancillary security arms of the state.  Political violence, militarising of civilian arms of the state have been valid examples of the mechanism of power retention by Zanu Pf.  But to pursue that analogy on its own is not enough.

What appears to define Zanu Pf’s dominance is a combination of its ability to coerce, induce collaboration, submission with limited concern for democratic persuasion of those it currently governs.

Coercion comes largely through repressive tendencies of limiting freedom of expression, association and assembly through both political violence and the partisan positioning and use of state security.

Collaboration is through its own members who are also beneficiaries of state largesse through land redistribution, employment in the civil and security service, protection in the informal sector and allocation of urban land/capital as well as issuing of state tenders. 

Submission relates more to the fact that in the greater parts of our rural areas, there is resignation to Zanu Pf rule as informed not only by the threat of violence but also the political culture that is informed by a fear of challenging dominant power (traditional and political). 

This is however not to say alternative political parties and formations have not tried to challenge this Zanu Pf dominance without persuasion.

The opposition MDC-T has come close electorally to defeating Zanu Pf as evidenced by the 2008 harmonised election that eventually resulted in a SADC mediated inclusive government.  The co-option of the MDC-T into this government under regional pressure ensured that its counter-hegemonic project was to flounder at the altar of collaboration. 

It also fell victim to what Guha in the above cited article refers to as a ‘revenge of the repressed’ also took on characteristic of coercion that were key aspects of the very same party they wished to remove from state power electorally. Political violence, though not as prominent as in the ruling party has also reared its head in opposition politics while the prevalance of splits and factions has indicated a culture of intolerance of divergent views and an inability to focus on strengthening the counter- hegemonic project.

 In the opposition therefore, its ability to persuade has not overcome its preference for coercion and exclusion. 

While the blame for mimicry of the ruling party lies essentially with the leaders of the opposition, it cannot also be overlooked that the dominant political culture produced by Zanu Pf remains shared across the political divide.

Hence opposition leaders hold on to power no matter how small or big their political outfits are and retain a coterie of hangers-on while suppressing intra-party democracy.

For organisations that claim to be outside of the political realm and in the aftermath of the new constitution which they energetically campaigned to be passed in the 2013 referendum, they can only now collaborate with Zanu Pf’s dominance.  By way of supporting the implementation of the new constitution and also defending their own sectoral interests and shunning broader, inclusive counter-hegemonic agendas. 

And Zanu Pf understands the weaknesses of the political opposition and the fragmented, incrementalism of non-state actors.  Hence it is pre-occupied with re-arranging its own internal power dynamics in preparation for its own inevitable succession from the leadership of its incumbent leader Robert Mugabe.  Where protests have occurred, it has used coercion and in some cases submission (war veterans) to retain a relatively comfortable hold on state power. 

 Assumptions of the poor performance of the national economy compromising its hold on power may lead to the opposite. That is increased collaboration with the state in order to retain livelihoods, acquire capital (e.g. land).

To state the obvious therefore, Zanu Pf  does not have the hegemony that it would want.  Nor does it appear too keen on working on a key component of a democratic hegemony which is that of persuasion being greater than coercion.  And in this, it is being assisted by a weakened opposition that seeks more to mimic the ruling party’s understanding of power than it seeks to fully establish a counter hegemonic struggle for social democracy. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( )