Thursday, 17 August 2017

Africa and Threats of Global Nuclear War: Its Time to Talk Back. This Time Bluntly.

 By Takura Zhangazha*

When the first Gulf War occurred in 1990, there was limited satellite television access for many a Southern African, let alone a Zimbabwean.  I was in my last year of primary school at that time and our headmistress, walked into the class with a seriousness that we would only come to understand with the benefit of hindsight.  She pulled out a map of the world and pointed somewhere to what we now know as the ‘Middle East’ and talked of something referred to as ‘nuclear war’.  Or at least the dangers of it and the potential ‘global apocalypse’ that would occur. 

Her warning, for the age we were, obviously had a very religious tone. But she did make mention of a ‘dangerous cloud’ that would move all the way from the Middle East to where we were in Africa, killing everything in its wake. 

It is a primary school ‘lecture’ that always pops up in my mind whenever there is talk of nuclear war or where nuclear powers are reportedly at loggerheads.  Ditto the recent and hopefully subsiding diplomatic rows and military threats between North Korea and the United States of America. 

They had me in a silent panic. Not only because the leaders of the two nuclear countries are reportedly erratic and prone to act on whim. But also because of the catastrophic devastation to not only human but all forms of life that a war of that nature would bring on to the world. 

Another thought that struck my silent panic mode was the reality that the general imagined narrative where a monumental catastrophe occurs in the Global North, there is always the option of mass movement of survivors to, you guessed it, the Global South or in some specific cases, Africa. It’s a narrative that is found in some movies on climate change, where after massive flooding, ships find themselves docking in some Africa port or the other.  And in most cases Africa will have had a minimal role in causing a specific climate crisis (this is also the reality, Africa has a comparatively miniscule role in causing global climate change).

And again where we look at the current nuclear power impasse and its consequences, Africa and African countries will be nowhere near trigger ‘red buttons’ or special codes and keys. In fact, it would be trite to note that no single African country has a nuclear warhead. The last and probably only country to have these was apartheid South Africa which got rid of them in the run up to national independence in what some have described as controversial circumstances. Suffice to say we have a non proliferation treaty to show for it.

I am glad no African country has these weapons, even if by default or in keeping with the interests of global superpowers.  Even if some will argue that having them may keep liberal interventionists away, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is an absolute ‘no-no’.

The key consideration however is that given the reasonable probability that should a major man-made catastrophe such as nuclear war occur between the belligerent USA (plus allies) and the even more stubborn North Korea (plus allies), there would be an initial global trek southwards.  At least to where a liveable environment would still exist, even if temporarily. This, I might add, is a point that has been raised by renowned Australian journalist, John Pilger in one of his most recent articles.
This is why Africa has to talk back to the nuclear superpowers.  And very loudly so about any threats of ‘fire and fury’ from the world’s  holder of nuclear weapons. 

Our talk back, in keeping with the progressive world would, as we have always done, be calling for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  But it would also be diplomatically to say, we know what will happen to us and our people in the event of nuclear war decimating cities and populations in the global north.  It would be a return to occupation and depending on what of the superpowers remains, a return to colonialism.  Not as an option, but as a life and death matter. 

This is because in Africa’s placement in the world, we are not negotiating hard enough to make our own interests and stance against nuclear war patently clear. On paper and in practice.  Sometimes to the extent of viewing or thinking that its well-nigh impossible that there would be a nuclear war. Or that it would only between those that have these dangerous weapons or those that live in close proximity to them.  In extreme cases, I know and regrettably so, some colleagues who have viewed wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia) and threats of wars (even nuclear ones where this is no winner) as though it were like watching a random American movie. 

We must therefore deal our own hand before we are dealt with. We need a united people centred voice that says no to nuclear war not only because of its decimation of humanity but also because it is never going to be in our best interests as Africans.  Nor have previous wars of global super/nuclear powers.

Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

'Smash, Grab and Profit' Zimbabwe's Local Government Elitist Collusion with Private Capital


 By Takura Zhangazha*

The Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing recently held a national ‘Local Government Investment Conference' which it conveniently dubbed with a catchy acronym, LOGIC.

It was pretty high profile with a brief opening address by Vice President Mphoko and a keynote one by finance minister Patrick Chinamasa.

According to the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe's (UCAZ) organising committee for the event, the theme was ‘Local Government: Promoting Investment and Industrialisation for Socio-economic Development.’

The underpinning ‘logic’ of the conference was as its title suggested, ‘investment’.  And this, from a very corporatist (World Bank) perspective.

This was evidenced by the announced themes of the conference which included, ‘embracing the ease of doing business’, ‘investment opportunities in urban local authorities’,  ‘SME’s as engines for local economic growth’ and ‘gender mainstreaming in promoting investment for socio-economic development’. 

I am sure a myriad of other types of ‘investments’ were discussed under the pretext of the much vaunted but clearly private-profit motivated ‘public private partnerships’( PPPs).

Judging from the key note speaker's address, the most keenly followed type was that in housing or property ownership.

Even though Minister Chinamasa  called for a stop to what he referred to as ‘land barons’, he would know all too well why the former are the greatest investment that local governments (urban and rural districts, including some chieftancies) are in most cases conveniently accepting despite allegations of corruption.  

This is largely because of downright greed and distribution of political patronage.

More significantly it is because ever since the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP), farmland in close proximity to urban or peri-urban (inclusive of 'growth points') has become easy money for those that are politically connected.   

Or in some cases, as evidenced by the developments in Mazowe district, those at the highest levels/levers of political power such as the president and his family can convert vast tracts of land, ostensibly with the state’s permission, into an orphanage, animal park and as announced recently, a university (to be named after the president).

All this while conveniently close to some more former agricultural land, once controlled by a rural district council, that will be converted to national government use due to the pending re-location of the Parliament of Zimbabwe.

What we essentially have, even under the guise of ‘orderly investment’ as being prescribed by 'Logic', is a ‘smash, grab, own and profit’ privatisation of public capital.

A 'public capital' which should have been democratically primed to be converted into public wealth.

Land barons, politicians, politically connected elites are angling to divert public capital (land, water, flora and wildlife) from public wealth (health, clean water, education, transport, communications) into private capital and private wealth.

And they are not hiding it.  All the while taking a cue from what’s happening at the national level with the ongoing privatisation of electricity/energy, national health services (government is considering allowing doctors to advertise their services as the best), education, transport (including the national railways) as well as land (bio-agriculture and Chiadzwa).

But the softest spot for this neo-liberal approach is local government.  At national level the elite of the ruling party prefer a state capitalist model (i.e to have a direct stake in major state capital with an aim to make humongous private profit).

So local government is essentially a 'share of the spoils' of those that would leverage public capital for private profit. 

The main reason for this and  why this trend has emerged and continues to do so is that the ruling and opposition parties clearly function from the same neo-liberal and private wealth accrual template. By way of ideology and also by way of practice.

The ruling party as the one that oversees local government and the mainstream opposition MDC-T as that which controls a majority of urban councils. 

Furthermore, the fact that civil society while being aware and in part fighting against corruption in local authorities, has not put up a clear counter-ideological narrative to neo-liberalism ala-carte Zanu Pf.

Not necessarily because they cannot mount cogent arguments for alternatives such as democracy or democratic socialism.  They can but they will not for reason that vary from fear of loss of funding or  not really wanting to ruffle the feathers of private capital.

And this is the same for 'public intellectuals' and a majority of academics. 

The end effect of these approaches to local government is that there is no social and economic justice for a majority of poor Zimbabweans who are the worst affected. 

It will not only be government extracting from them through rates and taxes, but private companies that receive tenders to supply pre-paid machines for water as well as those that win opaque land development tenders even if the state owned Urban Development Corporation (UDCorp) claims that it is overall in charge of the same. 

At the moment, there is little or no democratic public interest in the way our local government is being run. Even if  state and private capital collude under hollow sounding acronyms such as ‘Logic’. 

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

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Amending a Constitution Using a Constitution: Basic Politics’ Triumph Over Law in Zim

By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s Parliament had to be divided to vote on constitutional amendment bill number 1 of 2017.   And it was pretty much a foregone conclusion as to how it would all turn out. Zanu Pf has not only a two thirds majority (required to change sections of the constitution) in the National Assembly but a currently unassailable ‘super majority’. 

Unless it had turned on itself, that the bill was going to pass did not need further analysis.  And true to its form, Zanu Pf did not turn on itself at a crucial political moment.  Especially when the Minister of Justice and Parliamentary Affairs who also happens to be the country’s vice president and one of those eyeing the national presidency in a post Mugabe era, had a political point to prove.  A point that specifically would be to prove that he is able to cajole enough Zanu Pf MPs, ministers included, to tow the party line and come to Parliament to vote on a crucial matter.

The opposition was always going to put up a Parliamentary fight.  Not least because they wanted to be in the news headlines but also in order to lay some sort of claim at being on somewhat ‘holier’ constitutional(ism) ground.   And they did try.  From resisting adjournment of a debate on the budget review statement by the minister of Finance through to requesting a secret ballot (which was rejected by the Speaker) and asking for Parliamentary vote recounts. 

The actions of the opposition MDC-T MPs turned out to be of limited political import.  But credit to them for doing what they had to do, that is, to oppose the amendment. 

Except that there are intriguing issues that are emerging over this amendment. 
The first of these is that the argument over the appointment of the Chief Justice (which is what this amendment no.1 is really about) was never not going to get a ‘push back’ from the executive arm of government.  The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) had decided to stick to its guns and insist, under the leadership of the late Chief Justice Chidyausiku, on presiding over the process of the latter’s successor.  The executive conceded (at least sort of).  And it returned, as promised in written letters to the JSC, with an amendment to the supreme law of the land.  And for this, it used another arm of government that it directly controls, the Legislature/Parliament. 

Requiring a two thirds majority (which it already has), Zanu Pf decided to change the rules of the game and demonstrate to the judiciary that the latter’s moment in the sun was effectively over.  When President Mugabe signs the bill (as is expected) into law, it will be apparent that politics can always trump the law. And with a great deal of disdain too.

The second alarming issue that emerges is that a newfound idealism that the constitution represented  (sort of)  when it was supported by the political parties in the then inclusive government, has come to naught.  Whereas the opposition would have had Zimbabweans believe that a new ‘democratic’ era of national politics had emerged in the aftermath of the 2013 constitutional referendum victory (warts and all), they forgot to mention that it did not signal a revolutionary moment in Zimbabwean politics let alone in our national history.  As the saying goes, ‘the old is always in the new’ in political narratives and this is where we are.  Euphoric moments of assumed complete victories are always drawn back by a more organized and long ruling establishment.  Especially if the opposition has no follow through actions and has a false sense of political arrival. 

The third lesson from amendment number 1 is that there is a difference between understanding  political reality and having your head in the clouds.  The 2013 constitution is essentially an incremental change document.  Not just by way of wording (crosscheck the sunset clauses on presidential elections in schedule 6) but by way of the intentions of those that wrote it.  At least those on the side of the ruling Zanu Pf party.  It was a way in which to mange expectations of change without delivering change.  Hence when the opposition agreed (after a lot of haggling as reported by the mainstream media) to its final contents, there was none the happier than President Mugabe. 
This is because in its actual intent the new constitution was intended to be a ‘transitional’ document for the political parties involved. And this transition was meant to be, for all parties, a ‘transition to full power’.

 For Zanu Pf it was a way to manage as well as weaken the mainstream opposition and retain unbridled power. For the MDCs (divided as they were and still are) it was a way in which to call Zanu Pf’s bluff and win the election and manage their own internal succession politics via sunset clauses (again check Schedule 6).  As it turns out the opposition lost (controversially) dismally in the 2013 election. And by that, the opposition had been hoist by its own petard. It was to make this worse by firing its own members from the National House of Assembly after yet another spit in its ranks and refusing to participate in by-elections it had caused. 

But this amendment number 1 of the constitution is not one in which I, as a person who voted ‘no’ in the 2013 constitutional referendum, can claim any self righteousness or have a ‘we told you so’ arrogance.  After that referendum vote, I accepted defeat and sought to understand the new constitutional reality better and pragmatically.   From the new rules on the separation of powers, through to the bill of rights and devolution, there was one thing I kept in mind.  And that was that in the final analysis, this is an elitist incremental ‘change’ constitution whose progress or lack of it would be determined by whoever would be in power (which was the opposition’s hope).  And true to form the ‘victor’ ruling Zanu Pf party has used its power to make the constitution exactly what it is, a document for the exercise of power.  Not for the realization of ideals or perpetuation of truly democratic values.  And for this, we have the opposition to thank, no matter how many points of order they raise when the constitution is used to amend the constitution.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Zim Govt's 'Comfort + Control Zone' Over the Media

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The Zimbabwe Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services is in a comfort zone that its leaders probably didn’t think was realistically feasible a couple of years back.  This can be explained by the recent statement that the responsible cabinet minister Chris Mushowe made threatening to withhold parastatal advertisements from 'critical private media'. Or oddly that he would encourage Zanu PF supporters not to buy any private papers (I am not sure how many supporters of the ruling party actually do that voluntarily.)  

Whichever way one looks at it, the minister is making these statements not without elements of being in a comfort and control zone over the media but also with an arrogance that belies his mistaken perception that media freedom is a privilege and not a right. And it is fair to ask where is the government getting this arrogance from?

Or where the rather snide language of the permanent secretary in the same ministry to equate commercial radio stations with community radio stations comes from?

In some circles there has been debate in slight mimicry of South African political parlance, of ‘media capture’.  Not only along factional lines in the ruling or opposition parties but also in relation to business interests that affect editorial policy.  The jury is still out on the validity of this ‘media capture’ assertion but suffice to say it is worth looking into, even if briefly.

It all began with what it referred to as the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI), then under the leadership of the another minister, Jonathan Moyo who was officially the progenitor of the notorious Access to information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). 

He had sort of resurrected from his initial label as a ‘media hangman’ and with IMPI sought to endear himself with the mainstream media, an endeavour that on the face of it, was quite successful especially with the private media.  Never mind the stories and disputes that emerged from those members of Zimbabwe’s media profession that were to eventually be part of the panel. 

Beyond IMPI, which Moyo’s successors at the ministry are yet to allow to come to full policy implementation, there was another element that brought a new comfort zone to government in its relations with the mainstream media.  This was that of media ownership. 

The most recent example has been the launch of a couple of local commercial stations owned by AB Communications.  The others that are also now broadcasting are owned in part by the government controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (Zimpapers). And in media analysis circles this is called multimedia or even cross media ownership especially if we consider the fact that Zimpapers also has a dominant newspaper division and that AB Communications has made public its intention to start a newspaper.

And both companies are angling for the yet to be issued national television licenses.  And they do have the makings of television production divisions, a sign that they have enough confidence (I don’t know from where) that they are likely to also acquire these licenses at a date to be determined by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ)/ government.

The other major player in Zimbabwe’s media industry Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) tried to branch into radio, particularly the local commercial aspect but was denied a license in what it considered controversial circumstances.  I am not sure if they are going to also try for television (a much more costly endeavour).

The end effect of these processes is that Zimbabwe’s media is under siege by existent and soon to be ‘media moguls’ in the form of Zimpapers and AB Communications. And due to serious challenges of viability and sustainability of private media as a business, independent and objective journalism is getting harder by the day.  Even those journalists that would wish to be effective freelance reporters and pursue their democratic public interest role to the hilt are now stymied by economic challenges and lack of resources to effectively do so.

It is those with resources that are not only spreading their wings across differing media platforms (newspaper to radio to television) but are also beginning to have uniform editorial policies that disable media diversity and in the final analysis determine what is ‘news’ in favour of their own political or economic interests.  While at the same time lauding ‘converged newsrooms' as technologically progressive when in  reality they stifle news diversity and place greater commercial pressure as opposed to public interest on the shoulders of editors and journalists. 

The immediate latter points are also then responsible for allegations of ‘factional capture’ of the media.  This is where it is a combination of business and political interests that determine news content.  Hence Minister Mushowe’s threat that linked a purportedly ‘over critical’ of government media with blanket advertising bans.
This is the background that informs central government’s media  ‘comfort and control zone'.  And the media has to urgently shrug this government off its back sooner rather than later in the interests of democratic free expression in our country.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Monday, 10 July 2017

Zim Opposition in the 2018 Election: Class, Consciousness and Normalisation

*By Takura Zhangazha

Zimbabwe’s opposition political party landscape has, as expected, become much more interesting as the 2018 harmonized election approaches.  And approaches at relatively breakneck speed though very few of us are noticing this.  Especially because a lot of political actors are essentially pre-occupied with the immediate than with broader strategic considerations as to the full import of the election itself.  By this, the general approach by many an election stakeholder outside of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission  (inclusive of political parties) is that they will handle each day/event as it occurs.

And a lot of events are happening especially for those that would run for political office via being in opposition.  From the still to be resolved issue of coalitions and now to the emergence of independent candidates for the presidency , opposition politicians have a lot to work on. Especially if they are going to be in a perpetual panic about the impact of social media and individuals that are using the latter platform as a key mechanism of trying to reach out to younger voters.

There are some clear patterns that are however beginning to emerge around the opposition as the harmonised election in 2018 draws closer. 

These are as they relate to how the opposition is configuring or reconfiguring itself.  And this is not just in relation to what is officially the mainstream opposition in the form of the MDC-T.  But also new players (at least via public announcements such as that by former cabinet minister Nkosana Moyo). 

The main opposition MDC-T has some officials who are clearly not too pleased with the latter type of candidates.  They have accused them of attempting to split the opposition vote.  And given the 2008 experience with the Simba Makoni presidential candidacy, their concerns are quite understandable if not logical. 

But so are those of those that are arguing against the MDC-T having a culture of entitlement to the opposition vote.   Indeed the more the candidates, the more democratic things may appear.  But sadly also the more opposition parties/candidates there are, the least likely it is that they will defeat even a faction riddled Zanu Pf.

These squabbles over ‘entitlement’ or ‘splitting’  the vote point to the lack of a unified understanding of the primary purpose of the mainstream opposition.  Whereas in the 1990s and early 2000s being in the opposition was viewed as being a ‘virtue’ or a ‘people’s struggle’ against dictatorship, now it is seen more as a competition to be the first or most popular individual or party to confront Zanu Pf.
That basically means that the current opposition leaders including the new ones and those that will certainly emerge as the election draws much more closer are no longer bound by a ‘struggle’ unity but more by rank opportunism and political brinksmanship.  The reasons for this are many but I will hazard a few.

The first is that our opposition leaders no longer share a similar consciousness.  Very few of them come from a similar background by way of political experience and motivation.  Even fewer of them exude any sense of self confidence that transcends desiring international recognition and mimicry of other sort of revered opposition leaders elsewhere.  And even fewer of them adhere to a set rules of political principles or values.   This is both for their internal and external political actions.  But they all, perhaps correctly, want to be recognized for ‘having tried’ and in most cases for ‘continuing to try’ to fight the ruling  party.

The second emerging issue within our current opposition ranks is that of class.  Its relatively subtle but it was something I noticed with every major split in the main MDC-T.  It would always be those leaders with a somewhat well to do economic or educational disposition that would be the first to announce a split.  Those that are not necessarily of the MDC-T but have also set up political parties/outfits definitively  have the same well to do backgrounds, even if they may have initially been part of the liberation struggle.  In short, they can afford it (at least the initial stages of their movements/parties).  

Even a majority of their followers will come from our still wannabe middle classes and upper classes (religious leaders included). 

The third interesting element is that of age becoming a ‘wow’ factor in the opposition ranks.  Not necessarily that you will find a young person seeking the highest office in the land via the opposition.  Instead, what has emerged is an increase in young people in opposition ranks wanting to seek office in either parliament or local government.  And its not just in the mainstream MDC-T but in a whole host of political parties and with efforts from some independent candidates.  This will be especially the case in urban constituencies that are deemed ‘safe’ seats for the opposition.  It is least likely independent candidates will win many seats but again no doubt they will undermine opposition numbers in any previously safe seat. 


In the final analysis what is occurring, probably by default, is the normalization of our opposition rank and file.  There is no major ‘struggle for democracy’ to talk about as of old.  At least not with so many nodes of leadership that would lay claim to the same.  Its all about electoral contestation and seeking political office for its sake.  Hence the diminishing demand for the actions of the opposition to be couched in the virtuous language of ‘struggle for democracy’ or being ‘people-centered’.  Its not a bad thing that this virtue has gone away.  It is however na├»ve to act as though the current electoral framework is indicative of arrival.  Or that by merely mimicking the ruling party, electoral victory can be had.  But as always, one can only wish all political contestants all the best. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Prez Mugabe's AU Donation, Addressing a Symptom to Avoid the Cause


 By Takura Zhangazha*

President Mugabe recently donated US$ 1 million to the African Union (AU) reportedly in his personal capacity. And no, the money was not sourced from Zimbabwe’s national treasury.  Instead it came from auctioning at least 300 head of cattle from his own personal herd. At least we are told.  It is a promise he had made two years ago when he was serving as the chairperson of the African Union as well as SADC.

I remember asking myself, how does he promise cattle to the AU?  What would the latter do with them? Or even more significantly how would he get the cattle to Addis Ababa and where would then AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma put them?

It turns out he had a plan. First of all add to the herd by asking for donations from chiefs in his own country and other well wishers.  Then cash the herd in.  And shock everyone by keeping a promise made in what was initially deemed to be populist posturing. And still get a populist result by appearing to be true to your pan Africanist intention of working to make the continental body financially self-reliant.

I am not sure what the AU is going to do with the US1 million it received from President Mugabe.  I also do not know how much Zimbabwe officially contributes to the continental body.  Or to SADC. (yes I also tried to Google it). 

What is however beyond doubt is that I agree with the principle that our continental bodies must seek to be self sustaining and that their member states must demonstrate their commitment to their existence by regularly contributing to it.  Regrettably they do not make regular contributions.  Or their contributions are completely overshadowed by those that come from other continental bodies, countries and non African philanthropists.

On the face of this is acceptable because it fits the global characterisation of Africa as poor.  Not only in material terms but also as the ‘other’.   

It also turns out however that the myth that Africa is ‘poor’ is beginning to be challenged.  A number of researchers point ot the fact that we are quite well to do. Its just the multinational corporations that make the profits.

And our political leaders and comprador bourgeoisie that externalise the dubious breadcrumbs that they are given by the lauded ‘investors’.

So the primary problem with President Mugabe’s donation is not that he made it despite his own country facing may economic challenges.  It’s that it addresses a symptom, not the actual problem. And even then, still after a long time of asking. 

The actual problem is that whereas during the liberation struggle the Organisation of African Unity was probably the most popular continental organisation on the planet because it exuded values that resonated with the people, many functional governments deliberately contributed to its sustained existence, the AU is not.

Where we have the post liberation AU we have a rupture of popular support and understanding of the raison d’etre of the reformed continental body.  Wrapped in corporatist language and neo-liberal intentions, the AU has lost a greater part of its liberatory value to many an African.  And that is why someone needs to advise President Mugabe that his gesture, even if well intentioned, does not begin to address this larger ailment.

And its not just with the AU.  Regional bodies generally face popular legitimacy challenges and again and again, fail to live up to popular expectations.  SADC, which is the former liberation struggle alliance that we knew as the Frontline States does not exude people centered values. Its major projects after South Africa’s independence have remained couched again in neo-liberalism and seeking to protect members states sovereignty without taking into full account the wishes of the people. 


So its no surprise that our own continental bodies are generally dependent on foreign funding.  It is a primary result of the challenge of their depreciating popular legitimacy. And how global political and corporate powers have deliberately taken advantage of this to seize greater control of  what should have been a continually emancipatory agenda. Indeed the world changed after the end of the cold war and international relations, interests sought to control our continental agenda.  But it remains a hard truth that we have to return our continental bodies to their source. That is the struggle for freedom,  And I promise, we will not be begging nor will we have presidents donating personal cattle to a body that would not need such a gesture.  No matter how symbolic.   
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Are We Valuing Death More than Life in Zimbabwe?

 By Takura Zhangazha*

In some regular conversations with a colleague discussing the state of the national economy, we make mention of one of the striking ironies that one of our country’s most successful companies  (at least visibly) is a funeral services one.  And so is its marketing (yes, it has the audacity to sponsor football teams). 
And that is not a bad thing in itself.  Its just ironic.

It regularly brings me to my own personal reflections on how we, Zimbabweans perceive of life and death.  Not in the religious sense.  But just what we value more. 

I once attended a meeting a while back where there was a discussion about workers' welfare.  This had been spurred on by the sad fact that one of the workers had passed away and there had been difficulties laying him to rest because he hadn’t had funeral insurance.

So it was sort of a given that all workers would henceforth be required to have funeral insurance.  Or at least be required to make a part contribution to it via deductions from their salary. 

That was fair enough I remember saying in the meeting but also quick to ask if the workers were on medical aid/insurance.  Regrettably it turned out that they did not and it was an anomaly that was immediately rectified. 

I however mention this incident because it has stuck with me ever since it occurred.  And it has repeated itself in other ways which are not obviously similar to it. 

For instance we all know that the likelihood of getting immediate life saving treatment in a medical emergency is very limited in Zimbabwe. Especially if you do not have money.

And the harsh reality of the matter is that it places ‘life’ and ‘death’ in stark contrast.  And one of the most obvious reasons why people would opt for funeral insurance is that its simply cheaper than medical aid.  By far.  Accompanied of course by the culture trait of  funeral policies wherein the refrain as one pays for it is ‘At least I will not bother my family’.  And that’s all fair enough. 

What is significant is how this attitude to the inevitability that is death has come to cloud our collective sense and value of the importance of life itself.

That it was always going to be more expensive to live than to die is a global given.  But that the majority of causes of the loss of many lives in Zimbabwe are glaringly due to human error is something we must seriously reflect upon and urgently seek remedial action. 

And it begins with a people centred assessment of our everyday lives.  Especially the social welfare aspects of the existence of the people of Zimbabwe.  This assessment must be driven by social democratic values that shun the withdrawal of the state from being the guarantor of the well being of the people. 

This means we must take back our social services from those that are privatising them for exactly what that infers, private and not public profit.  This entails having the state providing up to standard social services and not outsourcing them to what are evidently not so competent private players at every other turn.  Whether its for electricity, water, health, education, transport, communications and social support, the state must not be allowed to continue its extractive and dehumanising privatisation of public services.

This is what’s getting us to where we are.  A situation in which hope for the better is no longer collective but individualised.  Where your urban neighbour is potentially a person that you may not offer free water for fear of cost (if anyone mistrusts the water billing from the city council, fix the billing system, do not privatise water).

Or a situation in which you may have a relative in hospital when they should have been discharged because they cannot pay the bill. Or where they are still unwell and in hospital  but cannot afford the requisite treatment at what should be a public hospital.

And where we have horrendous road traffic accidents that point not only to the brazen inhumane treatment of passengers but also a state that will not take the basic responsibility of re-introducing train and bus services that are secure, safe and affordable.
So where we are is a bad place.  And try as we might to shrug it off, to wish away, our reality is not only depressing but dehumanising. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Zim 'Big Business' + 2018 Elections: Peddling Capital for Political Protection and Power?

 By Takura Zhangazha*

It may sound odd to many but Zimbabwe has ‘big business’.  That is big companies that make significant profits on a yearly basis.  Even in such an assumedly ‘hostile’ environment.  And there are some major companies out there. Zimplats, Delta Beverages, Econet Wireless, Meikles Limited, Greenfuels, Innscor and a number of significant others that are listed on Zimbabwe’s Stock Exchange. 

Some of their end of year profit figures are pretty high too though we do not always get the actual figures or know the true goings on in some companies.  Hence the now infamous and very politicised catchphrase of the ‘missing US$15 billion’ from diamond mining by private and state controlled companies in eastern Zimbabwe. 

This is not to say these companies deliberately seek to hide information.  On the contrary a majority of them do ensure they follow legal requirements outlined in the Companies Act of publishing in the press their annual audited financial statements for public scrutiny. And also to indicate to their shareholders that they are viable and going concerns. 

But beyond the regular or routine aspects to the operations of big business, there is also that relatively unknown interface between government and big business.  Or between a ruling party and big private capital. 

Especially where it concerns elections and the retention of power.  And there have been a number of examples of big business or at least their leaders supporting political parties.  Where it concerns the ruling party it was reported by the media how the Meikles Limited chairman John Moxon donated a fleet of vehicles to Zanu Pf ahead of the 2013 harmonised elections. 

The same was rumoured but never quite confirmed with regards how Econet Wireless chairman Strive Masiyiwa was providing some support to the then united main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) n the early to late 2000s.

This is however not peculiar to Zimbabwe.  In the global north and more startling gin the Untied State of America, there is evident collusion between private capital/big business and political parties where it concerns elections.  And in part why it usually those with the most donors or the biggest donors that tend to win the elections. 

The fact that it happens in the global north should not make it acceptable in the global south. 
In Zimbabwe we know that big business portrays itself as obeying the law.  But we also know that there is a culture of collusion and exchanges of patronage between state actors and those that are large in the private sector. 

And not just for elections. 

An interesting development in the last year has been the direct relationship between government and Sakunda Holdings for ‘Command Agriculture’.  The latter company is reported to have funded this government programme to the tune of at least U$199 million according to media reports.  What it gets in return is not very clear but the fact that it has various other interests in fuel supply means government may be giving it some forms of tax or other concessions.  This is despite the fact that the President’s spokesman George Charamba has argued that the proprietors of this company ‘are committed Zimbabweans bound by the love of their country’.

Whatever the facts of the matter, it would be the right thing for any also ‘committed’ Zimbabwean to raise eyebrows and seek greater accountability from government on the quid pro qou of this relationship. Especially in a year prior to the holding of harmonised elections.

What is however more paramount is the need for Zimbabweans to understand that their national wealth cannot be the preserve of political parties and big business.  Whether this be by way of tenders, non-transparent mining or other concessions, or electoral manipulation through material donations that are clearly a form of either vote buying or peddling for political influence in a ruling party or one that has potential to become one.

The challenge therefore goes beyond trying to make ‘big business’ transparent about its role in elections and the electoral cycle.  Instead it becomes how we reign it in before it contribute to a cartel of key decision makers about who can become a presidential candidate.  For now it appears to be molly-coddling to the ruling establishment. 

But that’s a shoo-in. The closer the relationship between it and the ruling establishment the more likely it will determine who leads the country and which party rules or at least whom it will provide with herculean resources to win an election.  There is little reason to doubt where its current sympathies lie. Especially when the government and ruling party’s mantra has become the neo-liberal one of ‘ease of doing business’. 

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


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

No Corbyns In Zimbabwe's Political Ranks (And Regrettably So)

 *By Takura Zhangazha

The surge of the British Labour party in that country’s recent snap general election has passed for abstract conversation on this African side of the globe.  Even in a former colony of the British Empire such as Zimbabwe apart from curiosity as to what the fuss was all about after glancing at global news networks, there has been no extended discussion as to what a hung British parliament would mean for its placement in global politics let alone its approach to foreign affairs.  The latter which would have a bearing on Zimbabwe’s long standing acrimonious relationship with previous Labour governments and a preference by our own ruling Zanu Pf party for the Conservatives.

But beyond issues to do with potential (and relatively speculative) changes to foreign policy between Zimbabwe (or Africa) if Labour had pipped its Conservative party rival, its equally important to reflect on the Labour party’s campaign as led by its popular leader, Jeremy Corbyn. 

And no, this is not stretching it.  Not least because what the British elections represented for some of u has been the evident shift from celebrity style politics and campaigning as shown by the phenomenal rise in support  for the British Labour party.  More importantly, there is an ideological dimension to the result wherein the more social democratic aspects of the Labour Party’s manifesto appeared to resonate with a greater number of voters, especially younger voters. 

My own immediate reaction was to compare our local politicians and political actors with the Labour party campaign and its leadership style during the same.

I began with the manifestos and saw that in Zimbabwe’s case none of our major political parties have a people-centered and welfarist manifesto.  From the ruling Zanu Pf through to the largest opposition MDC-T and any others that have bothered to write a full manifesto, they have all remained enamoured to neo-liberal propositions. 

Their manifestos read more like they seek to impress not the voter but some obscure investment brokering bureaucrat  on any of the opposite ends of global financial power (New York or Beijing).
Where they appear, as in the case of the ruling party with its current spate of provincial youth rallies, to be popular, its not on the basis of broad democratic values and appeal.  Instead it is on the basis of patronage, patriarchy and an intention to quite literally utilise state resources in order to get votes. 
Or where it’s the opposition and its recent rallies, it is to make public shows of support and then excoriate young people for not voting and not seeking to fully understand the reasons why they have limited confidence in political processes.  And some of these same reasons lie squarely at the feet of the opposition’s perpetual ineptitude and inability to embrace internal party democracy.  AS well as its single message mantra of ‘Mugabe must go’.  

Any ruling party or opposition party activists will obviously rush to defend their own campaign methods as we trudge along to next year’s harmonised election.  They will argue about different contexts/realities between the UK and Zimbabwe.  But that will be to miss the point.
While no one can import wholesale the strategies and tactics of the Labour party in their last campaign, we can certainly draw key lessons from it. And I will outline just three key ones.

The first being that in electoral contests, people centred ideas really do matter.  Not just by way of populism and purchased media but by way of democratic values and re-establishing a state that is ‘for the many, not the few’.  While the global north is beginning to counter neo-liberalism and austerity through for example supporting Labour in the UK or Podemos in Spain.

In the global south and in Africa in particular we are regrettably still falling victim to the fallacies of free market economic policies.  Especially where it comes disguised in radical nationalism such as that currently utilised by Zanu PF to, in reality,  implement state-capitalism through privatising the national capital.

The second key lesson is that ‘generational praxis’ matters when articulating progressive social democratic policies.  The young, the middle aged and the mature can share the same progressive, people centered political values and work together to ensure change for the better occurs.   Ditto Corbyn being backed by a mixed demographic buoyed by young people’s new energy for politics.

The third lesson to be drawn from the energetic turnout for the UK’s Labour party is that context and direct interaction with the public still matters in political action.  This includes relating to the very real concerns of people such as those of public services, unemployment and pensions as they apply to lived realties and seek solutions that are most readily understood. 

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

Thursday, 8 June 2017

BVR Post-Tender Wars: Closing Stable Door After Horse Has Bolted

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Until Zimbabwe actually votes in 2018, the biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise is going to perpetually rear its controversial head.  Not least because its about elections and who gets power next year but also because it still regrettably remains little understood.  

This is until either the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) or an  elections management related body and political contestants begin to explain it to Zimbabweans through what can only be a massive public awareness campaign.

The latest assumed controversy is around the awarding of the tender for supplying, maintaining and operationalising the BVR kits to Chinese owned firm, Laxton Group. 

The initial disagreement with the awarding of the tender came for MDC-T secretary general Douglas Mwonzora who argued that the awarding of the tender to a Chinese owned company was likely to scare away voters but that his party would still soldier on with the process.  Other opposition parties were to also condemn the awarding of the tender on yet to be proved allegations that the winning company Laxton Group may be politically partisan or compromised.

Election support organisation the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network (ZESN) in its statement on the same argued that contrary to a media report saying it supported Laxton Group, it held no brief for it or any other involved in the bidding process.  It argued that what is imperative is that there be openness and transparency around the finer details of voter registration personnel, data storage and the nature of the equipment utilised in the BVR process.

Its counterpart the Elections Resource Centre (ERC) in its statement on the same issue asked that ZEC proves it was not arm twisted into awarding the tender to Laxton Group by central government.  And in this ERC urged government to fully align the Electoral Act with the new constitution. 
The fact that there has been no official statement from the ruling Zanu Pf party on this issue is indicative of the probability that it has no problems either with Laxton Group or with the process’ outcome.

There is also no popular public outcry against the BVR kit tender process.  At least for now.  That may also indicate either how distant the issue of BVR is from the public’s priority concerns or that it is invariably not understood until someone somewhere starts explaining what exactly it entails. 
The different positions or lack of them on the issue of which company provides not only the BVR equipment but how to use it effectively is also indicative of a number of issues.

The first and most important one is that the voting public does not know or understand what BVR is.  Because if they did there would have been great public outcry merely on the basis of the allegations against ZEC by the mainstream opposition parties. 

This lack of public outcry even after the opposition identified the winning company as Chinese also means that the identity of the company is not as big a public issue or again, the public does not know the full import of this BVR process. 

This latter point would require that we also understand the general suspicion the opposition has of the Chinese government and its relationship with the ruling Zanu PF party. 

The reality of the matter however is that the opposition to varying degrees actively participated in some of the processes that led to the awarding of the tender.  And has been part of ZEC’s consultative processes.  So it’s a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. 

For election supported organisations  such as ZESN and ERC the key element might be that they avoid being drawn into either hasty or too politically correct statements without first analysing what they would consider to be the merits or de-merits of a specific electoral process.  Almost as they are wont to do when covering an actual election as it occurs.  

And this is why it remains important that their oversight role is maintained at the highest possible levels and not compromised in aide of maintaining a good working relationship with ZEC.   It should essentially be about democratic values and principles as they relate to the electoral cycle and fact based assessments of all players in the same.  

The essential point that must be made is that barring a miracle or a volte-face from central government, BVR is now an electoral cycle reality in Zimbabwe.  Even if we dispute a tender after it has been awarded.  Or if the media or whistle-blowers make it publicly known that there was something opaque about the awarding of the tender.  All stakeholders must concertedly work to let the people know what it is all about as the top priority as opposed to borderline elitist sparring and short lived moments of political angst in the media or on social media.

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

Monday, 29 May 2017

ZanuPF is Not a Revolutionary Party. More Conservative, Repressive and Elitist

By Takura Zhangazha*

The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) Zanu PF has regularly made claims that is a ‘revolutionary party’.  It has buttressed its arguments on the basis of not only its role in the liberation struggle but also a default land reform exercise that it undertook in the face of a strong labour backed opposition movement in the late 1990s. 

Recently its leader and president Robert Mugabe stated, at a commissioning of the colonially planned Tokwe Mukosi dam in the south eastern low-veld of the country that it was only his party that could have thought of such a project.  This as it turns out is not true.  It was a result of what was then referred to as the Rhodesian  Save Limpopo Basin Authority in order to ensure there was enough water  for a very ambitious settler state sugar and wheat agricultural irrigation scheme.  

This is what instructive to this particular blog. 

We need to have a candid national debate as to what Zanu Pf means when it claims to be revolutionary.  In the first place leading a liberation war for Independence is a revolutionary act in and of itself.  But it is not enough to claim the same after  independence or reaching a settlement with a former colonial power for the transition of power to the majority.

In post independent Zimbabwe, Zanu Pf is not revolutionary.  Even by a stretch of the imagination of its supporters and leaders.

Upon attainment of national independence, the ruling party became conservative, even if measured by the complexities of international relations and the anti-apartheid struggle.

Andre Astrow wrote a book titled, ‘Zimbabwe, A Revolution that Lost its Way?’ to buttress this point concerning the domestic policies of the first post independence government.   While claiming to be of the left they violently repressed workers strikes against capital and sought to perpetuate their political power through the same method of repression (inclusive allegations of ethnic cleansing through what has come to be infamously referred to as Gukurahundi). 

What we must contend with is the fact that despite this evidently neo-liberal, conservative and repressive history, Znau Pf still claims some sort of revolutionary intentions with our post independence state.

It’s a false claim.  It is not a revolutionary party by any measure and that includes its default fast track land reform programme (FTLRP).

Putting things into perspective is important.  Zanu Pf has not sought to change the political economy of the country in a democratically organised and people centered manner. It has remained an opportunistic power colossus over the people of Zimbabwe.  It pursues neo-liberal economics with a populist rhetoric that claims redistribution but is instead elitist in intent. Hence we have the emergence of state capitalism in which only those connected to the center of power in the ruling establishment are in control of the greater majority of national wealth.  Whether this be in the form of mines, bio-agriculture, state tenders, FTLRP gained swathes of land for individuals and privatization of public services .

And it makes sure that much more serious public debate over its policies is limited through perpetually controlling the editorial content of our most ubiquitous media, radio.  

The essential point therefore is to examine the post independence ‘revolution’ that Zanu Pf claims it is leading.

In the first place it is conservative in its approach to leadership by retaining the same single leader since national independence. And fawning over him while the rest of the country, including its own supporters, know full well that such an approach is wrong.  This includes having cabinet ministers that have served in government since national independence (1980).  A party that cannot reform itself regularly or at least within a generation is in no way revolutionary.

But if we forget the politics and consider the national economy, the template that the ruling party in its long tenure has used is essentially neo-liberal.  That is to say to protect private capital before it protects the state and its people’s economic interests.

It perpetually courts new capital from for example the Chinese and the Middle East not in order to improve the lives of the people but to redefine the bourgeoisie in its own favour.  Hence state tenders for electricity supply, water privatization, transport, education rand health are such key components of its current political approach to solving straightforward economic problems. And economic reforms are increasingly encumbered by factional ruling party battles over similar 'state capitalism' models such as Zimasset and Command Economy.  

A further instructive element as to how Zanu Pf is not revolutionary is the extent to which it plays to a populist Pan African gallery that is based on a binary (black and white) understanding of African politics.   But very few Africans will agree with the state of Zimbabwe’s national economy let alone its repressive state apparatus as a justification of a so called ‘revolution’. They are more entertained by Zimbabwe than they would directly agree with how we have handled the land question.  

The key question then becomes what makes a revolutionary political party?  In essence it is a party that is organic, people driven, ideologically grounded and one that accepts changes in leadership after the end of a specific political time cycle, particularly elections. 

In contemporary Africa, a revolutionary party is not a party that is at perpetual odds with its people. Or one that seeks to continually deceive them by way of patronage and a crass materialism that limits democratic free expression and public services and goods.  

It is a party whose ideas are bigger than the individuals that lead it.  And Zanu Pf does not in any way fit into this specific criteria.  On this I have to quote the revolutionary Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde revolutionary Amilcar Cabral at length,

“For a man who has an achievement that only he can carry on has not yet done anything. An achievement is worthwhile to the extent that it is an achievement of many and if there are many who can take it up and carry it on even if one pair of hands is taken away” Amilcar Cabral Part 1 The Weapon of Theory. Party principles and political practice' 19-24 November 1969
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Africa Day 2017: Context, Consciousness, Action (Not Dividends)

 *By Takura Zhangazha

Africa Day is perhaps the most politically conscious of all of the continent’s public or commemorative days.  On its own, before we even analyse what African countries, their leaders and others have done over the 54 years that have lapsed since the formation of the liberation struggle oriented Organisation of African Unity (OAU). 

This is because by just remembering the continent’s struggles and history we are performing a complete act of contextual consciousness.  Even before we act upon it or if some of us Africans are reluctant to acknowledge the monumental task that was the struggle for national and continental liberation.

The African Union has themed this year’s Africa Day’s commemorations “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investments in Youth”, is not so much looking to the past but the future.  And this is an important aspect despite challenges with democracy and progressive social democratic economic policies.

An important aspect that should however never be overlooked is that while the past is not enough to mitigate the challenges of the present, it is integral to a very necessary liberation struggle consciousness that must be bequeathed from one generation to the next.

In this regard, while being a young African is important, it is not enough if one is not only historically and politically conscious of the many progressive struggles that have brought the continent to where it is today.  Warts and all. 

This is why it is key that where we commemorate Africa Day in our various countries and in the global Diaspora, we must remember that our liberation was driven not just by youthful anger, but also ideas that remain valid as they were in the past, as they are today and as they will be tomorrow. 
These values are many but can be summed up as people-centered social and economic justice via popular and democratic political and economic participation.

While they may appear a though they are just slogans, they are values that require continual application of rigorous thought (both intellectual and non-intellectual), actions and commitment to improving the livelihoods of all our continents people. 

These three aspects of thought, action and commitment however must not be undertaken with simplistic mimicry of the ideas coming from outside of the continent.  They need to be applied with specificity to context and a progressive willingness to learn from different continental experiences and actions of solidarity. 

This however entails a change in our contemporary African approaches and understanding of what is good or progressive political leadership. 

In recent years our continental leadership has been relatively mediocre if measured on the basis of consciousness, context and commitment.  More often than not a lot of our political leaders have sought to stay longer in office, extend political patronage to retain power, evade economic transparency and accountability and easily go to war or threaten to do so.  Or they have been so lax in international relations they have inadvertently led to proxy wars being fought on the continent especially if one consider Libya, Mali and South Sudan.

The same can be said of those that we would laud as Africa’s business leaders.  Their pursuit of profit even if via state capitalism and cronyism is wrongly praised as innovation.  In most cases, the richest among them generally have to counter rumours of their previous or current links with repressive governments as they proceed to make millions.  The latter millions which are also then siphoned off to tax havens as described in the Panama Papers. 

Even where we cross over to African civil society, there are key leadership challenges that are not dissimilar to those that are also found in business and politics.  Even where civil society is expected to be relatively much more focused on serving less politically partisan interests.

This brings me to the key question surrounding this year’s theme of ‘harnessing demographic dividends through investments in youths’.  As argued earlier, the very fact of referring to young Africans as a key element of Africa’s future is very important.  What is however more important is the levels of consciousness of not only those that came up with the term but also those that are its target.  And this begins by not running way from Africa’s unparalleled continental example of liberation consciousness to use business terms such as ‘dividend’ to refer to its young people. 

Indeed we have what is referred to as a youth bulge in relation to our continental population but we should avoid treating young Africans as some sort of 'market'.  Or presenting them more as an investment opportunity than addressing their contemporary challenges organically and in relation to what member states are actually doing for them.  Both in terms of democracy and social and economic justice.

If we recall the contextual consciousness, commitment and revolutionary action of those that founded the OAU and the intrinsic values of our liberation struggles, and if we ensure these are not lost to young Africans, we will arrive at our ‘post liberation’ liberation.

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

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Afrobarometer/MPOI Zimbabwe Survey: Extracting Political Meaning, Questioning Complex Reality

By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) in partnership with Afrobarometer has recently made public the findings of its round seven survey on the ‘Quality of Democracy and Governance in Zimbabwe, 2016-2017’.  The field work was done earlier this year.  

MPOI argues that its survey is quantitative and not qualitative.  It therefore does not seek to find out why Zimbabweans are persuaded in one direction or the other.  It just quantifies their views.

The survey has had its as usual controversial impact as conveyed by the mainstream media and social media anger as to how it does not explain ‘the why’ question.  From the dissemination meeting I attended, MPOI and Afrobarometer argued that it is important for those that would want to understand the ‘why’ of their quantitative analysis to take up further research on the same going forward. This is a point I agree with entirely when entertaining those that would question its veracity. 

In its overall findings, the survey found that Zimbabweans consider the issue of unemployment as the biggest challenge that the government should address.  The second issue was the management of the economy closely followed by the issue of the state of infrastructure, particularly roads.  Democracy and governance did not feature in the top five as a priority concern of those surveyed.    

On the political side the survey found that the ruling Zanu Pf party would probably win an election that would be called within a day (tomorrow) with 38% of respondents having said they would vote for it. Only 16% said they would vote for the main opposition MDC-T while 24% refused to say who they would vote for. 

It also found that President Mugabe has an approval rating of 56% while former Prime Minister Tsvangirai sits at 16%. 

The striking irony of the survey was that despite the 56% approval rating that President Mugabe has, an astounding 62% feel they are not at all free to criticize him. 

Other major findings include that 45% of respondents support a grand coalition of the opposition for the 2018 harmonised elections.  These are largely urban based and educated Zimbabweans.  This support is particularly high in Bulawayo province (64%), Matebeleland North province (52%) and Harare province (62%). 

An important finding on access to information points to the fact that most Zimbabweans use radio and not the internet and social media to receive news.  While mobile phone usage is on the high end, over 90% the question that they survey did not ask is what type of mobile phone most of the respondents use. 

All of the above would be a summary of what are only the major findings. There are other findings that relate to the role of women in politics, young people and their political preferences in the short term (32% will vote for Zanu Pf as opposed to 16% for MDC-T).  Issues of confidence in the police and other arms of government as well as perceptions of corruption are also queried and the onus is on other comrades to unpack them.

My primary focus in giving the above summary is to try and extract political meaning from the survey results. 

From these, it is clear that for Zimbabweans,  unemployment and the national economy is a key concern, regardless of who is in political office.  Its neither an ideological question let alone one of political support.  Its essentially an issue that relates to bread and butter issues that anyone with influence or at least in government must be able to solve.  Its an almost ‘anything but this’ approach. 
The potential meaning of this is that Zimbabweans are in such a bad place economically that they are becoming more and more materialistic in their view of the country’s state of affairs.  

This would also point to an individualist  approach to problem solving  by a majority of Zimbabwean citizens.  They are not expecting that the state will provide jobs.  Instead they anticipate that the state will provide an enabling environment where they individually can get jobs and get on with their lives with their families and relatives.   Hence they are not averse to big economic plans or a lack of them, so long they provide jobs and improve their individual livelihoods.  There is regrettably no sense of national intentions to impose on the state clear social democratic obligation.  Instead it appears that there is a resigned acceptance of neo-liberalism and individualized solutions to the economic crisis. 

An evidently political observation from the survey results is that Zimbabweans are afraid of President Mugabe even if they (56%) will approve of his leadership.  It points to a dire state of free expression in Zimbabwe.  That at least 62% of the country as represented by the respondents are afraid of criticizing the president points to a hegemonic dominance of the ruling party that even if it allows the opposition to function in difficult circumstances, it is confident that a significant majority will remember to be afraid of it and fall back into line. 

The higher approval ratings of the President Mugabe over those of former Prime Minister Tsvangirai indicate that long incumbency (being in government) always changes perceptions and understanding of possibilities of change. Zanu Pf support was at a significant low in 2008 and now its fairly moderate (38%).  

My view is that unless the opposition takes a more organic and people driven approach to its politics, it will fall into the trap of ‘believing its own lies’.  That is to assume they cannot be defeated by a by then 94 year old incumbent or an unpopular successor in 2018 or that they survey is not representative enough of national sentiment.  It would be a mistake for a divided opposition, inclusive of those that register zero support if they were to be an election tomorrow, to misread the survey in that way.

To conclude, I am persuaded that the survey results as presented by MPOI and Afrobarometer are credible. Not only by way of method but in relation to our complex Zimbabweans’ realities.  Ignoring or dismissing them does not help.  Being jolted into better action whether one is in civil society or in the mainstream opposition is the better if not best, way forward.

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

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Critical Minds for Critical Times: Supporting Investigative Journalism in Zimbabwe.

A presentation to the VMCZ  'Bornwell Chakaodza Memorial Lecture' for World Press Freedom Day Week. 
Thursday  4 May 2017
Rainbow Towers Hotel, Harare, Zimbabwe

Cde Chairperson,
Let me begin by thanking you for the invitation to deliver this years World Press Freedom Day Bornwell Chakaodza’s Memorial Lecture.  The global theme, ‘Critical Minds for Critical Times, Media’s Role in Advancing Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies’ is very apt to Zimbabwe’s context.  So too is the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ)  sub theme of  ‘Investigative journalism as an important cornerstone of media professionalism and sustainability in the era of fake news and digital disruptions’.

And I will come to these specific points later on in my presentation.  Let me begin by highlighting why in general I refer to Bornwell and his journalism as having been of a critical and investigative nature beyond his written stories and articles.    And I will use two examples of my own personal interaction with him while I worked for MISA Zimbabwe and when I also worked for this equally respected organisation, the VMCZ.  

In the first, it was in a a meeting that was discussing the formation of a national editors forum convened by MISA Zimbabwe.  Bornwell was one of the editors present in the meeting and apart from one of the participants who had been dozing, waking up from his slumber and accusing Bornwell and some others of ‘waffling’, it was a meeting that progressively led to key strides towards an editors forum being formed.  And I am glad that the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum is still thriving to this day. 

The second incident was one in which Chakaodza chaired was deputy chair of the VMCZ and we had to discuss the possibility of the latter becoming a member of the Zimbabwe Media Commission. That is to wish away its own existence.  Chakaodza while entertaining vigorous debate on the merits and demerits of effectively ending the life of the media’s own self-regulatory body, confided in me that he was firmly against such a move.  In fact he was quite suspicious of it. I am happy to say the majority of  VMCZ board members heeded his advice and decided against such a move.  Hence the council still thrives today. 

These two particular incidents that I cite in relation to the media colleague in whose memory we are gathered here for indicate, in so far as they relate to the 2017 global theme of  ‘critical minds for critical times’ , that Chakaodza was indeed a critical mind for critical times.  Especially where it concerns his defence of independent and vibrant journalism. 

The media landscape in Zimbabwe has however changed rather dramatically since the time of Chakoadza as a journalist.  There have been incremental quantitative changes to the number of media players (owners) in the country.  For both print and electronic media we have had the licensing of private newspapers and national free to air and local commercial radio stations.

These developments have also been within the content of an increase in the number of young Zimbabweans seeking journalism as a profession even if by default.  That is to say, by way of studying for not only the original journalism diploma but also the expanded media and society studies that are now offered by our universities.  On this particular point I would aver that one only needs to cross check the study undertaken by respected journalist, Chris Chinaka on the state of media training institutions and their curricula in 2009 and early 2010.
 
The new constitution, in similar incremental fashion with the quantitative  aspects of the expansion of mainstream media has while guaranteeing media freedom in the bill of rights effectively still maintained that same right as a privilege through its establishment of a constitutional media commission which those that have been around in journalism for a while do not hold in high regard.  Both in its present and past form. 

But the media in part, has to deal the hand that government has dealt it.  And I regrettably sense a significant amount of resignation as that what we have is probably the best we can get. 

It is a resignation that can be found primarily in media owners who know that while the functional environment for relatively independent, objective and fair journalism in the democratic public interest is limited, they can at least make a profit. 

And also that they can treat journalists with the nonchalant neo-liberal labour law regime that all of Zimbabwe’s would be business owners treat their own workers.  Here I make reference to the infamous Zuva judgement that has seen scores of workers being given three months notices and the equivalent amount in salaries in favour of what government and global financial institutions have referred to as the ‘ease of doing business’. 

Simultaneously and largely due to the challenges that come with a lack of sustainability for profit motivated media ownership and news production models, the journalism profession in and of itself has been unable to maintain the necessary professionalism and public confidence that would see it remain respected as a critical arm of the fourth estate.  

In part, journalists who would have been in better professional times, been pre-occupied with serving the same democratic public interest role of reporting freely, fairly, accurately and with balance or as more ideally put, speaking ‘truth to power’  on behalf of at lest the interests of democracy have now been encumbered with basic question of survival.  In this, and I say this with regret, there has been an alarming increase in the allegations of corruption against journalists which again are attributable, as allegations, to the dire state of salaries and benefits for those that work in the media. 

One could easily argue that the evident lack of investigative journalism in Zimbabwe’s context is a global trend and therefore we should accept it as is. 

This is a fair argument for reasons that are now globally recognised by those that work in the media.  And also for reasons that apply to Zimbabwe’s media environment.  These can be listed as the rise the internet as well as social media and its impact on the efficiency/speed  and veracity of news ; the emergence of cross media owning oligarchs; the perpetuation of government control and repression of the media even in the age of the internet  with shutdowns as was recently the case in significant parts of Cameroon. 

But were it not for  critical minds in these critical times we would all give up and not fight back against what is a seemingly rational explanation for the decline in influence of the mainstream media n our pursuit of more democratic and, equal, inclusive and peaceful societies. 

And where we consider the sub theme of this year’s Chakaodza memorial lecture, ‘Investigative journalism as an important cornerstone of media professionalism and sustainability’ it is important to understand that this can only occur where we have not only critical minds in journalism but also an organic and democratic public respect  and support for the work of journalists.

Because investigative journalism is both difficult and largely long term reporting it requires that its practitioners be committed to serving the democratic public interest of news gathering. 
And for this I will turn to the globally respected Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) mission to illustrate the importance of this particular point.  It states in part,
We pursue in-depth investigative journalism to inform the public, with no corporate or political agenda. Through fact-based, unbiased reporting, we expose systemic wrongs, counter misinformation and spark change.
Our journalists dig deep, and will spend months getting to the truth if that’s what it takes. Once our investigations are complete, we give them to mainstream media outlets around the world, so they are seen by as many people as possible.
The motivation is also similar with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) that successfully investigated offshore tax havens that we now refer to as the Panama Papers who state on their website,

The need for such an organization has never been greater. Globalization and development have placed extraordinary pressures on human societies, posing unprecedented threats from polluting industries, transnational crime networks, rogue states, and the actions of powerful figures in business and government.
The news media, hobbled by short attention spans and lack of resources, are even less of a match for those who would harm the public interest. Broadcast networks and major newspapers have closed foreign bureaus, cut travel budgets, and disbanded investigative teams. We are losing our eyes and ears around the world precisely when we need them most.
In Zimbabwe we have the VMCZ’s own Investigative Journalism Fund that has its aim the promotion of in depth, public interest and quality reporting in the country. 

In all of these examples that I cite the primary motivation of the consortiums and collaborations for investigative journalism is that the people involved are not only committed to it but are also conscious of the democratic importance of speaking truth to power.  Even if it takes longer than a tweet or facebook post.  And even if it involves the very same large corporations/ monopolies that straddle ownership of the internet. 

Such firm conviction grounded in democratic values and appreciation  of the media’s role in society are what make investigative journalism lay the base for media sustainability.  Without these values, we would fall victim to what is now referred to as ‘fake news’ or deceptive celebrity culture that affects politics and power to the extent that it has done in parts of the global north where the rise of the ultra right is in vogue.  

The sustainability then stems from public support in various forms, donations, sales and also respect. What this requires is public trust and legitimacy of the media and its important work in advancing democratic interests and values.    

Investigative journalism therefore brings with it necessary revision of media ownership and business models that though functioning in an environment where we have emerging media monopolies in Zimbabwe, are yet to be fully tried. 

I do not know of a current Zimbabwean media house that has asked for donations from its own readers as a new approach to mitigate the harsh economic environment.  Or alternatively asked the same readers to, as the globally respected Guardian newspaper does,  become members of the newspaper without being its actual reporters.  To do this requires great public appreciation of the democratic importance of the media.  And this is what the mainstream Zimbabwean media must strive to achieve as an option out of the highly competitive and  solely for profit media business models. 

In this, it is imperative that journalists respect their own profession and conduct their work with a firm commitment to ethics and professionalism beyond tokenism.  This includes not pandering to every political or big business whim or faction that rears its head with a wad of cash to perpetuate only one side of the story.  Or to also avoid deliberately skipping facts solely in order to ensure that the next pay cheque comes in.  No doubt journalists must be paid but they must also ensure that they are being paid for doing the right thing in the public interest.

That is why the importance of Zimbabwean media support organisations under the banner of Media Alliance of Zimbabwe and the VMCZ remains of the utmost importance.  They help to retain and remind us of the democratic importance of media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information as cornerstones of a progressive, peaceful, inclusive and just Zimbabwe. 

Chairperson, I must conclude by emphasizing that the struggle for a free, vibrant and independent media  in Zimbabwe is far from over.  The incremental changes that have been made to the media law environment while welcome are not an invitation for media stakeholders to reduce their energy levels in pursuing further democratization of the media environment.  Instead, journalists and other media stakeholders must have critical minds in critical times such as these.
Thank you and happy World Press Freedom Day. 
*Takura Zhangazha presents here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)