Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Budget, Congress, Election: Zanu Pf's Firm Intention on Perpetual Power/Hegemony

By Takura Zhangazha*

When newly re-appointed Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa presented the projected Zimbabwe government budget for 2018 he did not mince his words.  Paramount in the intentions of government is the embrace of (neo) liberal economics of the free market with a  dash of state capitalism also known as 'command economy'(intervention).

It was a budget statement that was received with cautious optimism by those in ‘big business’ and skepticism by those in small ones.  For the rest of the public the sentiment is either one of give them a chance to do what they want and see if things improve. Or just downright nonchalance until something actually changes.  Either way, the ruling Zanu Pf party is well aware of the key challenge of meeting the standard requirement of ‘performance legitimacy’.  Both for its supporters and in part in order to win a scheduled harmonised election in 2018.    

When the military coup/ intervention  occurred on Wednesday 15 November 2017, there was a clear message from its progenitors.  It was an act of the guerrilla wing of a former liberation movement (though they may still think it still is).  A wing that strongly believes it has a stake in a post independence political arrangement as long as it is alive.  And for as long as it could pass on what it has since referred to as 'Operation Restore Legacy' to a subsequent generation of young Zimbabweans who would value the same, it is in this for the long haul.

Not only via pushing an appreciation of our national liberation war history and understanding of this military-political complex but also by way of political patronage, a strategy that had been tried by former president Mugabe's acolytes who had called themselves Generation 40.

The political processes that immediately followed the coup or military intervention no doubt made it a ruling party problem to resolve as it occurred.  The Sunday 19 November 2017 Zanu Pf central committee meeting that ushered in a new party leader and set the course for his 'interim presidency' put paid to any calls for a transitional or unity  government in the short term.

The complexity that has however emerged is that of retention of power in the long term.  On this the ruling party is going for broke in the wake of its momentous, even popular but evidently undemocratic change of leadership (events/actions).

But the ruling party has a plan. And its a pretty intricate if not disarming one.  It has announced a (neo-liberal economic development plan (never mind its insistence on a Robert Mugabe's ZimAsset economic blueprint).  Its promise is to implement the latter better and with a full throttle of macro-economic reforms that are palatable to investor interests.  And these include former Rhodesian capital's interests (if the statements from the special advisor of the 'new' president, Christopher Mutsvangwa are anything to go by.

The strategy is probably three pronged.  First is to get the  economy rejuvenated via a (neo) liberal approach the national economy.  That would mean promising to get the government's game up to scratch with global trends vis-a-vis the free market through pursuing privatization of the state and in order to maintain performance legitimacy through outsourcing the role of the state in keeping with IMF intentions of a not only reduced civil service but also a redundant one.

The second is ensuring a return to political legitimacy and validation of domestic political processes via the long (worn)  tradition of the party extraordinary congresses and confirming a presidential candidate in the year preceding elections.  All in order that the party and its leadership must demonstrate a popular claim to power.  At least internally to the party faithful and significantly to a  SADC dominated by former liberation movement governments.

However to effect such an electoral victory in what are tricky and probably ephemeral popular circumstances following the 'military intervention' there shall be a (literally) national blitz of  'command agriculture'  as a means of retaining populist support via patronage and attempts at popular legitimacy. 

The third and perhaps most 'dangerous to democracy' element is what will occur after securing an electoral 'victory' in the 2018 harmonized elections.  A new five year term will no doubt give Emerson Mnangagwa the time and opportunity to consolidate what would be a political hold on power as supported by the military-political complex that is the ruling party.

In this there shall be concerted attempts to drown/crowd out opposition voices through dominating the national narrative with economic plans set in neo-liberal frameworks.

Adherence to democratic values such as human rights, public accountability and social service delivery shall be done through the prism of retention of power via performance legitimacy.  All with the intention of limiting opportunities for the mainstream or new opposition to regain a national popularity similar to that of the 1990s and the first decade of the millennium .  And for this I am certain Zanu Pf apparatchiks have closely studied and drawn lessons from their Russian Chinese and probably Angolan, Egyptian and Ethiopian political-military counterparts.

As for the opposition, they are well advised to crosscheck the thoughts of Antonio Gramsci (Selections from the Prison Notebooks) and Amilcar Cabral (Collected Speeches and Writings) even before they dust off Fanon's 'Wretched of the Earth'.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Echoes from Goree: Resisting a Contemporary African Slave Trade

By Takura Zhangazha*

Visiting Goree Island in Senegal did not turn out to be as eerie as I had initially anticipated.  And I wasn’t going to have an Obama picturesque moment of looking austerely toward the open Atlantic ocean.  Or trying to find the deepest of meaning from it.  But approaching the island on the hourly ferry from the coastal city of Dakar, past the ocean freight tankers, and in the midst of relaxed Goree island residents, there was always going to be a significant pause for thought, pained emotion and a sense of liberation.  

Thought in the realization that you were approaching a symbol of global inhumanity and injustice as led by the capitalism of human flesh in the 16th through to the 19th century.

Pain at what the island now means in contemporary African historical and political consciousness. Liberation in the sense that for you to even be able to visit this island, emblematic as it is of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in which millions of African lives were lost or forcibly displaced, it means that as Africans we conquered the evil that it was. 

Not just by way of the religious Abolitionist Movement but by way of our struggles against mercantile capitalism, colonialism and neo-colonialism. 

In this regard, a visit to Goree Island, at least a first one for me, is a rite of African passage. Especially as one recalls the haemorrhagic human and economic effect of the Atlantic slave trade on the African west coast.  (The same is true for the Arab Slave trade on the  East African coast though to lesser recorded impact). 

Meeting with African bloggers and thinkers on the island was without doubt a reclamation of the spirit of liberation.  Amid serious discourse as to the state of freedom of expression on the continent, the tour of the island was always going to be a grim reminder of Africa’s peripheral placement in global economics and the commodification of the human body.  Both historically and in the contemporary.

I mention contemporary because during the week of our visit to the island, the BBC broke a story about a ‘new’ slave trade in Libya.  It is a story that outlines the auctioning of black African migrants from countries in or close to the Sahel region such as Ethiopia, Gambia, Sudan, Mali and Nigeria.  And the debate has been raging as to who is to blame for this contemporary trade in African bodies. A recent Al Jazeera programme ‘The Stream’ showed the glaring differences of opinion on the matter.  

Commentary has ranged from blaming African governments for not creating economic environments where their citizens chose to stay as opposed to attempting the dangerous journey to Europe via Libya.  Other opinion points to the fact of the liberal intervention in Libya by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) that has led to porous borders and political instability in the Sahel. 

All of these arguments validated as they may be by their propagators, do not take away the tragic fact of the dehumanisation of the African body. Not only by way of its commodification but also the clear historical inference of what can be done to it via the memory of the slave trade.
And its not just the memory of us Africans as former victims but also the memory of those that would be the perpetrators.  

The latter seeking to reinforce what should be a perception of the past, that is the wrong assumption that black Africans can be traded like animals.  Such a throwback represents the worst of contemporary race relations between Africans in the north and those south of the Sahara. At the same time, given the fact that those that are being subjected to this inhuman and degrading treatment are intending to travel to where they are not wanted, the Global North cannot escape complicity in the current state of affairs. 

The new found anti-immigrant groups and parties of the industrialised world perpetuate not only inherently racist attitudes toward people of colour but even more significantly cloud over the global injustice that was the slave trade.  A trade that in part led their countries to arrive at the state of development that they so jealously guard.

Leaving Goree Island was equally a moment of reflection as had been arriving.  Knowing that this was not the only slave outpost island on the west or even the east coasts of the continent but also that here has been a muted but ever existent sentiment and call for reparations gives one hope of redress for an historical injustice.  Knowing too that there are still contemporary actors that want to pursue this trade in Libya (and elsewhere) means the struggle against slavery is not over. Both by way of its real occurrence as well as racist perceptions of black bodies and black people. 

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

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Monday, 20 November 2017

Zim's Political Reality Check + Zanu Pf’s Internal Transition

By Takura Zhangazha*

There is one good thing that is now emerging from the current political crisis in Zimbabwe.  This is that the lead role in seeking to resolve the impasse has now been taken over by the politicians.  At least by way of pronouncements, rallies and internal ruling Zanu Pf party meetings.
 
The broad popular support for the army in the last week, as seen via Saturday 18 November 2017 marches in Harare and Bulawayo turned what was initially a feared presence of the army on the streets to a popular one.  At least for now.  

Subsequent appearances of President Mugabe at a graduation ceremony and on national television (where he disappointed many by not resigning in public) has further entrenched the political option out of this current national crisis.

This is an important consideration primarily because the problem of succession has largely been one that resides in the ruling Zanu Pf party.  That it got out of hand is entirely their fault and they have a national and historical obligation to return the country to full civilian rule.

The latter process they have already begun with their appointment of Emmerson Mnangagwa as the interim President and First Secretary of Zanu Pf to replace Mugabe.  Interestingly they have also announced their new interim leader will also be their candidate for the 2018 harmonised elections (if accepted by their Congress. )

So a return to 'normalcy' essentially points to a retention of political power by Zanu Pf under the leadership of Mnangagwa. 

And to do this, they will not need the opposition to partner them whether be it through a national transitional authority or any other similar arrangement.  They will make overtures to it, but not integrate it into influential positions either in government or in electoral processes. They will listen to the oppositions suggestions but not always be inclined to pursue them.

So the step by step process , and as agreed by their Central Committee, would be to get Mnangagwa to finish off Mugabe’s term, hold their scheduled congress as planned in early December, and begin in earnest to campaign for elections in 2018.  

There are very limited options for the opposition here.  They may simply have to buckle up and get back to campaigning with a renewed vigour and vigilance that speaks more to people centered politics.  At the moment, their public popularity cannot exceed that of the ruling establishment and those who if they finally succeed, are at the front of seeking  the departure of Mugabe.

Opposition leaders therefore need to stop being ambivalent and pursue electoral politics with greater diligence and vigour or else they will be defeated in 2018. And resoundingly so. They need to re-coagulate their support bases, conclude their alliance talks and avoid easy co-optation into ruling party processes that they do not have equal say on. 

Where mainstream Zimbabwean civil society is concerned, they are best placed remaining true to democratic value and principles. Even where it seems at odds with a popular support for the army’s ‘intervention’.     

Furthermore, civil society needs to be aware of the economic blueprint of the Mnangagwa government.  It is likely to be one which puts business and private capital a the core of its economic policies.  This is moreso as confirmed by ZNLWVA chairman Chris Mutsvangwa in a press conference he held last week.  And as indicated when Mnangagwa was still vice president under Mugabe when he spearheaded the ‘ease of doing business’ policy cluster.

CSOs and social movements should push back against this planned neo-liberal economic model and place on the table people centered social democratic economic policies.   These policies should clearly outline the progressive welfarist role that the state should play in the provision of education, water, infrastructure development and affordable, accessible health care for all among other services. 

Indeed while it is early days, the likelihood of a determined and ‘new’ Zanu Pf leadership’s concerted efforts to prove their critics wrong but without necessarily sharing their newly acquired power, are high.  

There may be opportunities to glean from this state of affairs but essentially these will be subject to the benevolence of Zanu Pf.  SADC’s role is still critical but we may have passed a phase where it will directly intervene and seek means to reverse internal political processes as they are now occurring.

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

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Zim Politics by Soap Opera: Ambition minus People nor Democratic Value.

 By Takura Zhangazha*

You couldn’t make it up if you tried.  It is the stuff of soap opera scripts.  An aged patriarch with a relatively young spouse.  A (previously, but that would be a spoiler) blue eyed ‘boy’/ successor/runner.  And the supposedly intriguing issue of ‘succession’ to head the empire. And yes, there is a much suffering audience, but as with soap operas, it is enthralled by the rapid speed at which events occur, empathising with one side or the other and forgetting its own real circumstances.  Of course there are bit part players (the opposition) that will occasionally get a glance by the audience but it is clear where the latter’s attention is.  

For the main actors (the ruling establishment) speed is key.  Hence the rapid nature of the dismissal of the runner and the ascendency of the wife of the patriarch. As well as the emergence of new and younger ‘runners’ together with a captured media  for the patriarch and his spouse.
While the main (political) actors are key in all of this, it is the audience (the people) that is most important. 

On the face of it the audience is not only intrigued by the goings on in the establishment but regrettably it is also entertained. With each passing (melo)dramatic event as led by the patriarch’s youngish and ambitious wife, national chatter goes up.  What will the former blue-eyed boy do?  What will his supporters do?  How will the first family defend its position?

These are questions that would be typical of a person watching something they know they are powerless over when it concerns the script.  Their only control is akin to the television switch and turning their gaze away from it.  And with many soap operas it is the will to be entertained that keeps viewers gazes firmly set.  Even if for 30 minutes at a time. 

This captivation of the people of Zimbabwe by the factionalism and real division in the ruling establishment points to a paucity of organic democratic values in our national politics.  And the lack of a people-centered understanding of the meaning and import of a progressive, virtuous politics. 
This is because in essence the factionalism in the ruling party and divisions in the mainstream opposition, as they play out at rallies and in boardrooms are elitist fights for the spoils of the state. 

Quite literally these are mini-struggles for power for its own sake.  That is to wield power and utilise it for self-aggrandisement.  Either as powerful individuals, cliques or as politically correct hangers-on.

These manoeuvres to acquire the levers of state power are therefore devoid of  broader national agenda beyond removal of either the ruling party’s incumbent leader or being the next in line to lead a struggling opposition.  But that is not the real problem, only a symptom of it.

The direct link of political power and wealth has made for many any ordinary Zimbabwean, politics appear as a privileged exercise for those that already have money or those that are close to them.  That is why across the board (the ruling and opposition political parties) there are startling similarities such as an all powerful leader, youngish wives, blue eyed ‘boys’ and ethnocentric assumptions of entitlement to power.  Hence our national politics has the characteristics of a soap opera.

But these are not ‘the days of our lives’.  It is imperative that we begin to seek and achieve a value driven politics that is people-centered and in the process transformational if not revolutionary in its democratic end effect.

In order to do this, we need to challenge two key inhibiting developments in our national politics. The first is the crass materialism that has come to determine who gets into political office and why.  This materialism has led to not only elitist political leaders but also a culture of entitlement merely because they have the resources to create undemocratic political patronage networks.   

The second key issue that requires not only broader national introspection and counter action is a creeping culture of a deliberate strategy of pursuing incremental politics. The most emblematic process that brought this into being was the undemocratic constitution making process of 2013.  It ushered in a culture of accepting what political principals of ruling party and opposition elite instructed.  And with this we began to accept piecemeal change as though it is fundamental to the extent of losing sight of the structural problems our country has.  We need to revert back to a more thorough approach in our activism, one that is perhaps more difficult but is people-centred and that fully understands cause and effect of the national economy, national politics and broader societal challenges as they occur.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Thursday, 26 October 2017

Parliament of Zimbabwe’s Crass Materialism in the Midst of Poverty.

By Takura Zhangazha*

In the last week Zimbabwean Members of Parliament (MPs) in the National Assembly have staged quasi –protests over a reported outstanding US$15 million in unpaid ‘sitting allowances’.  This is not their only grievance. They also want to be given iPads (apparently promised last year), the disbursement of the controversial US$50,000 Constituency Development Fund (CDF),  diplomatic passports and security details.

And they chose their protests at a time they probably feel they can force governments hand.  It is national budget season and they have made headlines by stopping proceedings of at least one of their own budget review workshop to seek clarity from the new minister of finance, Ignatious Chombo.  The intended effect is to imply that if their demands are not met, they may not be willing to pass his 2018 proposed national budget.

I am certain that in their actions they are most certainly not looking for public sympathy to their plight, if it can be called that at all.

They are already on a US$2000 monthly salary and get fuel coupons for their, again, parliament issued vehicles. They however insist on getting what is due to them because, as one MP was quoted in a local paper saying, they are ‘subsidizing’ government in their respective constituencies.  By this the MP meant that they are using their personal resources to pay for funerals, school fees of their constituents.  Other MPs are a bit more brazen in stating their reasons for their ‘industrial action’. They just want what was promised them and also that they are as important as members of the executive and therefore deserve to be given somewhat equivalent perks. 

It’s a significant dose of political luck that there has been no major public oturcy against the MPs demands.  And the reasons for this are many.

First of all, Parliament is generally not viewed as being of much institutional significance by a majority of  the Zimbabwean public.  Make no mistake its part of our national political culture, but is never seen as a centre of political power by way of practice or democratic virtue/principle.  This is largely because it has come to be about political party representation and commandeering of legislators from the top or the centre of the political party as opposed to constitutional democratic function. 

Secondly, and this is a result of the first reason, Parliament’s actual democratic role is little understood by the public.  So the expectations of the role of MPs is not that they  rein in the executive’s  undemocratic excesses.  Instead, the MP serves, especially if directly elected, as a social welfare provider (assistance with school fees for supporters).  And the MPs themselves are fine with with this because it is also what gets them elected in the first place.  And because we have harmonised elections scheduled for next year incumbent MPs are desperate to provide these services ahead of what will be tumultuous primary election campaigns in their respective parties.  And this also goes for their challengers who have also started usurping what should be the function of local governments by rehabilitating local clinics or resurfacing roads or paying school fees of the children of supporters.   

The end effect of such an evidently materialist political culture is that it is the candidate with the most resources/tools for patronage that ends up winning both the party primary election and the constituency one.

I am certain a number of MPs who may read this blog will argue that  it is money that wins elections.  While this may, in our national context, be a pragmatic point, it is one that severely undermines the meaning of democracy.  Moreso where and when we have serving and potential MPs who are at the forefront of ensuring such a crass materialism in our national politics continues not only to exist but potentially expand. 

If one was to seek to apportion blame for this ‘political materialism’ it would lie squarely at the doorstep of political party leaders who have allowed it to not only exist but also blossom.  Particularly those in the ruling party and the mainstream MDC-T opposition.

But beyond these players, it is also an electorate that accepts this as the norm.  Not by way of an inexplicable eagerness but more because they see no other option. Or are not allowed to see any other option.   Both by way of a lack a people centered state and by way of elite collusion of political leaders together with the wealthy (individuals, private corporations) who will always seek to purchase votes and political influence. 

So while I hold no brief for MPs who already earn a comparatively significant US$2000 per month, together with other perks, their recent actions point to a dire problem we have with our national politics.  This being a crass materialism attached to not only being in political office but also seeking it.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)



Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Africa in Social Media: Terror Victims Minus Viral Global Empathy

 By Takura Zhangazha*

There was a terrorist attack in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu this week.  Over 300 Somalian citizens were murdered and scores more were injured.  Social media did not explode with emotion as it has done with other terrorist attacks on innocent civilians in the global north.  There were no Somali flag coloured backgrounds to Facebook images.  Neither was the story covered with as much fervour and thorough analysis as global media is wont to do.

African social media acolytes did express twitter solidarity.  Some tried to put out/ post  streams of anger, solidarity with the victims and even consciousness on the callous incident.  In this they were also quick to remind anyone who cared to check out their social media feeds the evidently different attitudes to social media solidarity when it concerns tragic and callous incidences of terrorism in Africa. 

Regrettably such comparisons have never had an actual impact on how African lives are viewed.  And how no matter what happens, global social media’s reaction will always be more sympathetic to events that affect the global north.  Not only because it is where social media’s centre is but more as a result of an historical solidarity and togetherness.  A solidarity that has failed to transcend artificial social borders.

Add to this our own propensity, as Africans, to demonstrate this emotional solidarity with the global north in its times of tragedy and things become a little clearer.

For all of this there is never a singular explanation.  Social media has come to mean many things to us as Africans who have acess to it.  It has changed our ability to receive and impart information within our own contexts and it has connected us to the world.  It does not however mean that social media is not without its own baggage with regards to racial bias or negative profiling of people of colour globally but even more if they are African.

And this, in a similar manner to what Palestinian academic  Edward Said referred to as Orientalism, is the result of historical/colonial biases against the African continent that persist even after we appear to have arrived at liberation.  And its not our fault that undercurrents of negative views of Africans and their ways of life exist.  These are biases that have been brought to being not only through direct or indirect rule as it occurred during the colonial era but also through language, imposition of cultures. 

Indeed this topic remains uncomfortable in the global north especially given the rise of the right and in some cases ultra-right to power or at least close enough.
Where we add the wide and hegemony crafting reach of social media, these views are generally fortified as opposed to being undermined. 

And as Africans we have to understand that this new age of negative perceptions on migration, race and nationalism in the global north, aided by social media, is not a push over.  But we must be wary of seeking recognition from such bigotry and pursue social media solidarity based on shared values and principles than a desire to be seen to be going with the flow.  

This would require that we should also have our own strong social media solidarity and be quick to show it.  Not in mimicry but in meaning. The latter being a reflection of what we would have referred to yesteryear and partly today as Pan Africanism and a realisation that our placement in the global order of political and economic things requires that we retain such a consciousness.

In the case of us Africans on social media, the medium does not have to become the message. That is to say, we cannot use this tool in order to be co-opted into a lifestyle and value system that is not reflective of our realities and aspirations. 

We may not be the owners of social media as a medium but we can most certainly influence its content while we are at it.  This requires a return to understanding ourselves and our contexts and not always being swayed by events as they occur via social media in the global north. 

In this we must be careful to avoid viewing issues in binary terms and repeat the very mistake that has brought us to a social media that reflects more sentiment from the global north. We must avoid ‘othering’ those that would want to ‘other’ us. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)   

Friday, 13 October 2017

Zimbabwe's Dying National Consciousness

 By Takura Zhangazha*

There are a lot of ‘political’ events that leave a sour taste in the mouth at the moment in Zimbabwe. And sometimes even the thought of writing about or accepting a request for an interview on them appears abstract. Or more like partaking in a cyclical ‘politics as entertainment, gossip and soap opera’  debate that in the end will re-invent and repeat its own mistakes.  Almost in similar fashion to how politicians (though not the only ones) are perpetually late for their own meetings and still get applauded for it.

And in the age of social media and the internet the general advice is never to take oneself too seriously.  Or to seek and  perceive of everyday events beyond their actual occurrence and ephemeral public perceptions. The same perceptions  also do not generally accept long term perspectives to political processes or events that are either structured or ideological in their search for solutions.  Unless of course they follow a neo-liberal narrative that suits the current intentions of the ruling party and the regrettable political mimicry of the same to be found via our mainstream opposition. 

So when there is a cabinet reshuffle by the ruling Zanu Pf party and social media goes apoplectic (with the aide and confirmation of mainstream media) it is already apparent that there will be politics by entertainment (humour, gossip and conjecture).  A development which while understandable is a sure sign of the powerlessness of the many that eagerly scroll their social media feeds waiting for the latest gossip or news on the developments in the factional fights of the ruling party.  

And given that these factional fights/events are now an almost daily occurrence their effect is to dominate national discourse with, again, elitist rumour and conjecture.  As well as to reinforce the retrogressive narrative of power residing solely in Zanu Pf and building a default public support for rival factions in anticipation of some highly unlikely structural change to the state of affairs in the country.  


One may immediately ask the question, 'What is national consciousness?'.  

To put it briefly, it is the sum total of the revolutionary awareness of a people of their struggles and pursuit of a just, equitable society that transcends a repressive (colonial, tribalist) past and embraces the idea that human dignity for all (regardless of race, gender, ethnicity) is possible. Not only in the now but in perpetuity. 

 As Fanon predicted in his seminal chapter with the same title in his globally famous book 'The Wretched of the Earth'  our national consciousness has come to be dominated by a self serving leadership that claims the past as its sole right to rule.  And in this, Fanon argues, while all the while protecting the narrow interests of a rabid bourgeois (and global capital) and keeping the masses in their poor place and resorting to use of the military to repress them. 

In our national case, we are be-straddled by an aged/ageing political  elite (and its families, ethnic groups) that uses the state to not only enrich itself but also to co-opt the masses into a specific silence that leaves them with no choice but to appear to accept the invincibility of the ruling party. Or to accept that change of leadership can only be found by being part of the ruling establishment.   

Where we look at the opposition it finds itself in a bind through its default mimicry of the same ruling establishment that it opposes.  By way of how it does its own politics and how it seeks to manage its own internal political processes of ideological grounding and leadership renewal.  It offers  just like the ruling party abstract notions of what is political change without becoming enamored to a revolutionary national consciousness that keeps the country before its own variegated material and class interests.  

If you add to the mixture the emergent Pentecostalism as enabled by millennial capitalism/ neo-liberalism  you have a national consciousness  that is no longer aware not only of its values but more regrettably, one that does not know where it is headed.  

That is why each event in Zimbabwe's political life has as the only singular consistency the theme of what’s going on in the ruling establishment and little else by way of national discourse.  And why every other emerging conflict is a return to a retrogressive past of ethnocentric (tribalist) narratives of would be paths to power and profiteering from the state.
  
If you were to ask me what is required I would quickly retort that its as complicated as it is simple.  We must begin with a much more organic and structured analysis of our country (throw in class and revolutionary theory) and actively seek to be visionaries of a people centered social democratic state.  Or remain saddled with watching/seeing a bad (really bad) soap opera defined by the politics of a self serving ruling elite. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 





Thursday, 5 October 2017

Church, Faith and Politics in Zimbabwe: Recalling the Secular

By Takura Zhangazha*

Religion has always been a key aspect of Zimbabwe’s national consciousness. And its points of entry into this national consciousness are many. From the very indigenous African Traditional religion and its uniquely liberatory  role in the 1st and 2nd Chimurengas through to orthodox Christianity and its mixed legacy of conservatism and literacy.

Not forgetting other versions of faith such as what is referred to as African Christianity together with the now very popular and materialist Pentecostal movements.

The interface between the church, faith and politics has also taken a particularly unique turn in the last year or two.

This is largely due to politicians either courting prophets, making direct reference to church leaders or in unique cases arresting those that would ‘prophesy’ their deaths. Add ruling and opposition party succession fights to the mix and biblical references in political speeches and social media posts and it becomes visceral. 

Regretably such courtship between religious and political leaders is least likely to end soon.  This is largely because what is often overlooked is the fact that the church needs the state to survive or expand (infrastructure and avoiding taxation altogether).

In keeping with colonial administrations of yore, all rural and urban councils, with central government approval, tend to ensure that the majority of church/faith organisations land is for free.

You just have to apply on time or wait for the next new urban settlement (and they are many now).  So the church will rarely bite the hand that feeds it. Rarely.  Except where its own interests are threatened as has been happening with some Pentecostal churches who have seen their income reduced due to the introduction of bond notes (the US$ has been the lifeblood of many of these churches through tithes). 

This is not to say the church and faith based organisations have not been part of broader civil society activities or been involved the now less energetic pro-democracy movement.  It has played a facilitator role as in the case of the Christian Alliance and the Save Zimbabwe campaign of 2007.  Or the critical letters that occasionally emanate from the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC).

But to a greater extent the church and faith based organisations have steered clear of courting the ire of government.

What is however more important is to look at how the church/faith based and political actors (in power and those in opposition) are comfortably taking up joint narratives that essentially begin to crowd out a more critical national consciousness. 

It begins with politicians using the bible to either dole out messianic innuendo about how they are the only ones who are fit to rule.  And churches that welcome these into their religious spheres in order to not only help mobilise political support but also to curry material favour. 

Or when politicians literally invade the faith realm to not only appear pious but endear themselves to a narrative that suggests that they are predestined by ‘God’ through a prophet or spirit medium to be the rightful heirs to one throne or the other. 

It is also two way traffic with a number of clergy/prophets/pastors and their supporting institutions ensuring they get the ear of powerful political figures to either get ‘protection’ and obfuscation about their massive wealth. 

The end result of this sometimes deliberate but most times convenient relationship between the church, faith and politics is a one way narrative that crowds out objective national consciousness.  And in the process limits a critical and fair examination of the national question and challenges that Zimbabwe is faced with (beyond the narrow succession narratives of the political parties). 

It also then creates fanatics of political leaders who are also no longer viewed as exactly that but more of specific faith loyalists as opposed to secular leaders.  An element which has also contributed to the cult status of the current Zimbabwean president. 

However it is also important to note that this nexus of religion and politics is a result of an unrepentant neo-liberal economic framework in which the market (and private wealth) is seen as ‘God’.  Faith then becomes the escape route of a critical questioning of the state of affairs of the national economy let alone the privatisation of public capital and public wealth.

So you will not find a single church that decries the privatisation of health to the fullest extent possible (it may lose land, a school) nor a church that will denounce those that amass wealth without a trail of hard work behind them except for political slogans and proximity to power.  This is because these are some of their biggest and best ‘tithers’.  And also the ones who dangle a near impossible to get  carrot to poor young Zimbabweans via the  crass and superstitious language of the  ‘prosperity gospel’. 

So next time a politician in tandem with a pastor/prophet does the biblical thing in reference to his/her politics kindly remind them that while they have a right to freedom of religion like all of us, they should not mix the two.  Or if you are cheeky remind them to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity  (takura-Zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Zimbabwe's Political Economy: Panic, Class + Memory

By Takura Zhangazha*

It is always going to be a hard ask for Zimbabweans to forget the economic meltdown that began in earnest with the advent of (neo)liberalisation of the economy in the mid 1990s and reached an inhumane apex in 2007-9.  The brief interlude to the crisis overseen by the inclusive government brought into being new expectations of economic performance legitimacy for any future government (including this current one).  

That interlude however also gave the false impression that as long as no one touched the US$ and related free market fundamentals, everything would be fine.  It sort of ushered in a default new normal.  It was however underpinned by a rampant neo-liberalism that has morphed into a much more rabid state capitalism under the current government.

So when ‘news’ broke out on social media about bond notes printing and selling the reversion to serious mistrust of government by the public was to be expected. So was the panic buying by the relatively well-heeled of the cities (you have to already have some money to panic buy). 

For poorer working classes of our society there has been no panic buying.  Just shock and awe at how sudden the upward change in prices of some goods and services or lack of their affordability can be.  And in this there is the fear of a return to the tumultuous years of 2007 largely in relation to livelihoods but with less of the political partisanship. (Fewer Zimbabweans are looking to the mainstream opposition for economic salvation). 

But because the currency that a majority of Zimbabweans have come to value dearly (US$) is not ours nor are our leaders (political, economic/business, social/religious) able for various reasons to live by its 'free market' dictates, these part real/part wished for incidences  are set to become a recurrent part of our national economic existence.

What then comes into vogue again, is the fact that there are classed based perceptions and realities of the current but long duree economic crisis.  

Regrettably this angle of analysis will be drowned up by the dominant neo-liberal narratives as they are carried out by private capital (including church related capital) and state actors.  The latter will want to give the impression they are people-centered when in fact they remain committed to what they now refer to as the ‘ease of doing business’ and sharing the spoils of what should be public capital and public wealth.

Be that as it may in Zimbabwe, public sentiment is exactly what it is, a mixture of a dire economic reality which is also motivated by wishful (political) thinking.

The general mood of distrust of the central government is pretty much everywhere (even among ruling party supporters).  It’s a mood that has been spurred on by the medium of social media (augmented by mainstream media) and its sometimes true and oft times exaggerated content. It is also highly binary or partisan. 

It will be reduced to either opposition politics or eventually a strenuous (and oft times illogical) defence of the ruling establishment.  Including blaming sanctions and saboteurs. A familiar government line since the turn of the century.

I would however hazard a couple of key considerations around the recent fuel shortages for those with a keen eye on the political economy of the country and or its now multiple political dramas as they relate to either the incumbent ruling party and those that politically oppose it. 

The first is that emotions over and about the state of the economy are good.  In fact they are helpful especially if they allow you to catch the attention of the government.  They will however not topple it before an election.  Not least because of the example of 2007-2008 but more because of the structural complicity and shared interests between private capital and state capital in our country.  So the state of the economy is not about a feel good or bad moment.  It is about understanding how we got here and what we should really be up in arms against. 

And from my own perspective its not so much the fuel queues or the panic buying or the susceptibility to memory (2007) alone that should get us to this holistic understanding of what is troubling our national economy.  Its about understanding, especially at leadership level the ideological underpinnings of the national economy and the profiteering  collusion between private capital and those that are in charge of government/state. 

This also includes a firmer realisation that the culture of consumption as opposed to the questioning of the structural dimensions of our national economy may lead to ephemeral ‘victories’.  But even these on their own tend to be drawbacks than the beginning of an economic future that gives every Zimbabwean fair and equitable livelihoods.

So there is an urgent need to move beyond the understandably class based reactions such as panic buying (middle classes), artificial shortages of fuel and even the attendant crisis in our national politics (comprador bourgeoisie) or a majority's wait and see attitude (working class/communal farmers).

Instead we must strive for a people centered economic narrative that transcends ephemeral crises such as the recent/current one. And in order for that to happen the labour unions (even if they are struggling), organic social movements (urban and rural) and social democratic businesses must take center stage. Together.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blgospot.com)


Thursday, 21 September 2017

Notes on Blogging in Zimbabwe.


A brief presentation to Journalism Students, Media Studies Department, University of Zimbabwe,
Thursday 21 September 2018

 Perspective from an independent blogger.
By Takura Zhangazha*

First of all let me begin by thanking you for the invitation to share some ideas on blogging. Just by way of definition, blogging, before the age of the internet and social media (the two are not the same thing), is basically writing, speaking, drawing for a wider audience. Essentially it is fundamentally about freedom of expression as a democratic value both for the individual, a collective and/or the world.

It has a specific uniqueness in our contemporary times because writing, speaking or taking an image has been transformed by the advent of new technology in the form of not only the internet but also the mediums through which the latter is conveyed.  Be it via mobile telephony and its ancillary applications that we now refer to as social media. 

In effect therefore blogging is about freedom of expression and access to information on a super highway with multiple vehicles, passengers and even by-standers.

So to begin to talk about blogging in Zimbabwe’s context, one must understand one key point.  It is all about freedom of expression and access to information.  Not only as guaranteed by Zimbabwe’s constitutional bill of rights in Sections 61 and 62 but also as globally accepted democratic norms. 
If therefore one was to be asked the specific question, what is the history of blogging in Zimbabwe, I would argue that it is the history of how we have all along expressed ourselves.  The only difference now is the speed with which we receive and impart information.

This is a development that comparative to the rest of the African continent, we have not taken to with as much enthusiasm as say the Kenyans or South Africans.  The reasons are many but they can also be brought down to issues that relate to our lower numbers when it comes to accessing the internet or social media platforms due to not only cost but also a fear we have of expressing ourselves on various matters.  Not just the political but also the social and economic aspects of our everyday lives as Zimbabweans. 

What is however certain is that a lot of younger Zimbabweans, yourselves included as students, are taking up use of social media (also read as micro-blogging) to express their views. Especially if they manage to get access to a smart phone, laptop and of course cheaper access to mobile telephony or wireless internet connections. 

A question that emerges is that which relates to what is the content of what is Zimbabwean blogging about?  The apparent answer is that most of us express ourselves and actively seek to access information that relates to entertainment.  Not only in the strict sense of the term but also to while away idle time.
We also dabble in politics and political activism largely from a partisan perspective on whatsapp groups and share information on the same.  And this where in recent times we have had a number of young activists taking to social media to share their views on what they consider the state of affairs of the country.  

And they have not looked back since then to varying but limited political effect.  The good thing is that they have chosen to overcome their fears and learnt to express themselves.  The remaining impediment for the full enjoyment of their right to do so remains the state and its undemocratic criminalization of free expression especially on matters political. 

Blogging has also had the end effect of affecting mainstream media through introducing competition in the news industry. There are some young Zimbabweans who run what are essentially news blogs though some of them do so unethically through ‘stealing’ news from the mainstream media. 
But there are others that break news faster than mainstream media and in the process allow the public access to information at a faster speed.  And they also break news that otherwise would not have been covered by mainstream media and therefore contribute significantly to media diversity.

The risk that is attendant therein however has been the rise in fake news by those bloggers that would want to clickbait and make more money from the godfathers and mothers of social media such as Google and Facebook.

Let me now explain why I run a personal blog.  The main reason for my doing so is in order to share my own consciousness in the now and for posterity.  A consciousness that is not only derived from my own reading/education but also my experiences in our country as well as my understanding of the world.  It is a consciousness that I share in order to bring to the fore my own social democratic values as they relate to social and economic justice as well as freedom of expression and access to information.  It is a consciousness that also brings me here to the University of Zimbabwe, media department as a former student leader and to share it with you. 

It is however not a self-righteous consciousness that claims my own opinion to be correct. I try always to be factual and balanced in my views though sometimes, as a social democrat, I am firm on what I consider the way forward beyond neo-liberalism and/or state capitalism.  What I however hold most dear is the right of everyone of us, even if we differ, to express our opinions and to access information.  And to use the latter in the best democratic public interest.
Thank you cdes and all the best not only in your studies but also in your pursuit of a democratic national consciousness.

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

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Harare City Council’s Crisis of Legitimacy, False Entrepreneurship + Crony Capitalism.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The Harare City Council (HCC) has recently decided to embark on a a 'name and shame' advertorial campaign of its debtors in the local press. This is an additional course of action to the already deployed and very unpopular private debt collectors called 'Wellcash Debt Collectors' (ironies never cease).  In its rabid pursuit of those that owe it rates, HCC has chosen not to hide its new 'business oriented'/profit  approach to local government.   Never mind the fact that it is an elected council and yet not one of the Councillors  can remotely claim to be be high up in any objective opinion poll, either at ward, district or city level. 

But all of this did not begin with the current administration of the city (I will come back it later).  It was in the topsy-turvy days of the mid 2000s when central government appointed commissions to run the city.  And when all political parties displayed their great disdain and belittling of local government and those that would run for local level office.  

This was after the first executive Mayor of Harare, Solomon Tawengwa (1996-1998) was kicked out because of allegations of corruption.  The next elected executive mayor, in between a commission  of inquiry and a hotly disputed 2002 local government and presidential election, was to be Elias Mudzuri, the opposition’s first for the capital city.  Amid direct political interference from central government  (as directed by then Local government minister Chombo) and divisions within the opposition council, he too was to be fired.  Oddly enough he was replaced by his deputy Sekesai Makwavarara.  She was to go further and survive the disbandment of the entire council and serve as chair of a central government appointed  commission.

The harmonised election (again controversial) of 2008 ushered in a non-executive mayor in the form of respected businessman Muchadeyi Masunda.  He surprisingly lasted his entire tenure and as generally expected steered the HCC to a more businesslike approach to its affairs.   Though this did not dent the culture of  corruption (controversial land deals, high salaries). And he didn’t help matters by calling his fellow councilors ignorant and uneducated. 

After the 2013 harmonised elections the MDC-T gave the city Ben Manyenyeni as Harare’s new ceremonial mayor until present day. Taking a cue from his predecessor’s elitist and business like style, he too was quick to call councilors uneducated and pursue an elitist ‘entrepreneurial’ approach to city affairs.    All under the aegis of a still ever interfering central government this time as orchestrated by now Local Government minister, Savious Kasukuwere.

I have specifically mentioned these mayors, a commissioner and local government ministers to indicate one specific thing about the state of affairs at HCC.   This being that over the last 17 years the blame for the dysfunctional council which is falling more and more into the hands of what we now refer to as land barons is the direct result of a regrettable complicity between the ruling party (central government)  and the mainstream opposition MDC-T (local government). 

On its own this is a controversial point.  But it is clear that despite the ups and downs of previous years concerning the nature of the relationship between central government and its local version, there has been  a default/unwritten convergence around ‘milking’ the HCC’s public capital and wealth by converting it to private use. 

And coincidentally it began with the HCC’s vainglorious and in part pretensive pursuit of public private partnerships while at the same time deliberately dis-investing in specific social services such as education, health and public transport. 

In the process the city and its public property became open sesame for wannabe businesspeople connected to largely the ruling party and an influential few to the opposition to claim quid pro quo's.  Th most infamous of these was to be Phillip Chiyangwa  who reportedly in return for ‘helping council to pay salaries in mid 2000s got vast tracks of council land for personal ownership/use.  Not to be outdone were a number of opposition MDC-T Councillors who also took council/public property and converted it to their own private use. 

Since then HCC property has almost been for sale to the highest bidder or the most cunning gof councilors.  Land and other council properties are perpetually under the gaze of ‘entrepreneurs’ or the World Bank exhausted/exhausting neo-liberal language of PPPs which only serves to be taken advantage of by greedy central and local government politicians. That is why against better judgement the HCC is still keen on privatising water. 

And it is this haphazard background that informs the current leadership of the HCC, inclusive of its town clerk (s) and support staff, who according to media reports  are very well remunerated.

Because it is failing to be more democratic, conscientious and transparent in its leadership approach the HCC would be hard pressed to be re-elected as is. Let alone happily welcomed in many of the ghettos it is targeting with its default austerity measures.  

A development which may be attributed to its seeking vainglorious approval by ether central government  or political party and private sector leaders.  Hence sometimes the HCC has completely out of context calls for investments in ‘golf estates’. 

Or when  the HCC decides that it must pay debt collectors to pursue hard pressed residents in the poorest neighbourhoods of the city for council rates bills.  A practice that makes it a city that lacks democratic legitimacy and chooses instead to act like a private company.


And this is the point that must be driven home to those that would seek to be the next city councilors for not only Harare but any other elective local government authority.  City, town or rural district councils are not to be run like private corporations.  They are public bodies tasked with democratically delivering social services to the people of Zimbabwe.  The may borrow ideas from the corporate world but these they cannot turn into the reason for their own existence.  

Nor  must they function solely for monetary profit because the measure of their worth is never in how much money they squeeze out of hard pressed residents (who by the by have always been willing but in recent years unable to continually pay).  Instead it is to serve the public interest as true examples of the  meaning of democracy in the everyday lives of ordinary Zimbabweans. We must therefore work to prevent Harare  becoming a city of oligarchs, land barons and pre-paid politicians.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Mugabe + Private Business' New(ish) Interface: Collusion, Carrots and Elections

 *By Takura Zhangazha

After a hiatus of at least ten years, Zimbabwe’s government recently had what the state media dubbed an historic interface with business leaders/representatives.  From the follow up media coverage one of the most surprising revelations of this meeting was by President Mugabe.

He indirectly disclosed that he was an ardent supporter/follower of former British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies.  In fact he praised her, in his own words,   “There was great improvement, the economy of Britain started looking up, Margaret Thatcher had succeeded.  I am not sure if Reagan succeeded on the American front.”

Tellingly Mugabe said these words where he was making reference to state owned companies and what he considers their inefficiency and corruption.  He went on to call for some of them to be thrown into coffins and be buried ‘with the words rest in peace’. 

On the face of it this would be vintage Mugabe trying to get some sound bites out there.  To focus on that would however be to miss the point. 

Looking closer at his comments and the context in which he made them, Mugabe was probably making an offer that private capital/business cannot refuse.  Especially on the eve of an election year. 

In mentioning Thatcher and Reagan favourably in one sentence, Mugabe is essentially indicating to Zimbabwean private capital that he is game for the privatisation of state owned companies/enterprises.  As did the two leaders of the United Kingdom and the United States of America in the mid-80s with their rapid and historically unparalleled embrace of free market economics which we now refer to as neo-liberalism.  And if there were any doubters as to Mugabe's deep seated ideological grounding, look no further than Thatcherism and Reagonomics with a sprinkling of  some radical African nationalism.  

Not that the Zimbabwean government has come late into the neo-liberal game.  It did so with the Economic Structural Adjustment programme and has not looked back.  And this was implemented at the beginning of the end of Thatcher and Reagan’s controversial economic reign in their aforementioned respective countries. 

The only difference with then and now is that Mugabe had become more radical in his black nationalism, having forcibly repossessed vast tracts of land (dubbed the 3rd Chimurenga) from white farmers at the turn of the century. Both as an election survival strategy as well as a claim to fulfilling a key objective of the liberation struggle. 

Except that this appears not to have been done for the primary purpose of broad socio-economic justice and restitution but within the ambit of a now apparent high regard for neo-liberal economics. 
To explain this point further is to point out that for all the assumed radical nationalism that was the fast track land reform programme, the governments’ intention was never to make the same a revolutionary act. Either in distributive terms or on clear ideological grounding that systematically takes the country’s economy forward on behalf of the many.

With hindsight and on the basis of the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zimasset) neo-liberal thrust around the ‘ease of doing business, Mugabe is now remaining true to capitalist and neo-liberal ideological form.  

However, the most interesting element of this state 'interface’ with business is probably its timing.  Factually it is toward the end of this government’s tenure and the political intention,beyond a sharing of the spoils with private capital, is to retain  power in 2018.

Reading between the lines the Mugabe government and ruling party are probably angling for the support of business in next year’s harmonised elections. Not because they never had it.  There have been a number of direct and indirect donations from private capital to Zanu Pf’s electoral campaigns.  The point may however be to preempt private capital’s support for the opposition and make it clear to the same that Zanu Pf  is the only game in town. 

And in order to make this evidently clear there is the subtle offer of state capital such as parastatals to, you guessed it,  private capital. But even beyond these parastatals there is other state capital in the form of land and/or infrastructure investment tenders.  Hence Mugabe’s exhortation that private capital, again in his own words, ‘ must not disentangle itself from Government’. 

In reality the latter statement essentially means that as long as private capital endears itself to the ruling establishment, the strongly hinted promise is that its profit interests are protected.  At least going forward and with elections in mind.

So the collusion between the state and private capital is likely to continue under a Zanu Pf government if it wins in 2018. A collusion that will see the ruling party retaining power and influence while private capital is left to pursue profit not only via the privatisation of state capital (in all its forms) but also expand its already considerable private wealth. Not for the many. But for the already rich few. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Thursday, 7 September 2017

MDC Alliance: Nostalgia, Spoils and Last Chances

By Takura Zhangazha*
Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) has decided to take a big political risk for the forthcoming 2018 harmonised election.  It has decided to reach out to not only its one time members/leaders who left it in acrimonious circumstances but also other parties and begin a public process of setting up what it now calls the MDC Alliance. 

I have referred to the alliance as a risk largely because it did not have to go that route.  Nor does it appear to have been forced.  It’s a deliberate strategic decision on the part of its leader Morgan Tsvangirai.  A decision that has seen him fall out with some of his top lieutenants at the highest level. This is a fallout that will continue all the way to the polls even if somewhat resolved. And I will come back to this point a little bit later.   

The reasons touted for the existence of the alliance however appear varied.  The state media insinuates that it is being done in pursuit of more funding from ‘imperialist’ forces.  The private media argues that unless the opposition unites, they will continue to split their votes and public opinion and as a result suffer defeat at the hands of the ruling Zanu Pf party.

There are other societal groups such as civil society actors and/or academics who have differing views on the same matter.  Not because they have a vested interest but more because they have always been sympathetic to the opposition (united or divided).

On the face of it, the argument for an opposition coalition holds water.  A divided opposition will least likely defeat a  factionalised ruling party. Especially if there are always questions about how free and fair general elections are as is the case in Zimbabwe. 

What is however more important are the reasons for opposition unity both on paper and structural reality than assumptions of the political/electoral logic of that unity.

On paper it is apparent that the MDC Alliance is predicated on the example of the last two Kenyan general elections which have been driven by coalition politics.  And as is now in the public domain, Kenya will have to have a second presidential election after a constitutional court ruling deemed that the August 2017 one had not been done legally.  A ruling that opposition leaders in Zimbabwe, speaking at a recent alliance rally praised.

So it is the Kenyan example that probably gives the opposition some sort of momentum and hope.  Never mind the internal faults of their individual political parties and outfits (eg lack of internal democracy, ambiguous ideological positioning and an emerging ethnocentrism). And also probably without due diligence as to the fact that Kenya and Zimbabwe are not so similar in relation to political culture and practice.

Three things strike me as standout characteristics of this new found impetus toward an alliance by the opposition.

The first is the fact that it is very nostalgic or a yearning for the past.  Not that it’s a bad thing.  Everyone whether political or not wants to remember the good old days.  When Tsvangirai, Biti, Ncube line up to speak at their alliance rallies, it is not difficult to discern a desire for a return to the heyday of opposition politics circa 1999.  Especially when the trio were at the head (two of them in varying capacities) of the then united MDC. Or when they served in the inclusive government and claimed to varying degrees authorship of stabilising Zimbabwe’s runaway inflation and a new but essentially incremental constitution. 

The only thing about this nostalgia is that it looks at re-inventing a past that contemporary political reality will refuse to reinvent. And it conveniently overlooks the sad fact that they or any other former united MDC members backing the alliance were the cause of the first split in 2005.  Or subsequent (and multiple) ones in later years after the end of tenure of the inclusive government. 

On this basis, nostalgia is not enough to make the alliance a success.  Not least because there are new players in the mainstream MDC T but also because those that lead splinter parties have to contend with the campaign expectations of the leadership that they recruited or the structures that they created. 

This brings me to the second characteristic that I have noticed about the alliance.  This being a ‘sharing of the spoils’ approach.  One in which there is haggling over parliamentary seats or at least the ‘safe ones’ and which parties get them uncontested (except by Zanu Pf) for their own candidates.  It has led to simmering divisions in the MDC-T particularly in the Southern regions where long standing leaders are refusing to give in to the demands of other leaders from parties such as Peoples Democratic Party and MDC.  This points to a culture of ‘fiefdom’ politics which will evidently lead to disgruntled 'independent of the alliance'  candidates in the 2018 election.  And, no prizes for guessing, with the end effect of splitting the opposition vote.

I must however note that there is no scramble for local government seats within the alliance.  A testament to how many in the opposition view council seats as lowly, an attitude that will have a strong bearing on their ability to get a winning vote count in 2018.  I make this point because our elections are harmonised (local government, parliament, president) and each position has a bearing on the electoral mathematics. Hence in 2013 one of the most used slogans in the Zanu Pf campaign was ‘upon-upon’, a catch phrase that votes for MPs and councillors were important in getting higher votes for the presidential count.

The third and final characteristic that I have seen about the opposition’s current alliance politics is that of it being touted as a ‘last chance’ opportunity for relatively long standing opposition leaders.  Their unity partly based on how they worked together previously,(while having small signs of regrets at having split? recognises the monumental task they face if they are to electorally defeat the ruling party.

 They are therefore motivated by an intention to give it one more ‘full’ go. And this is why whispers in their corridors of power are addled in conversations with the refrain ‘we can’t afford to fail this time, especially to a 93 year old man’.

 Even if this sort of sentiment will not be stated in public, it remains an indicator that should they fail, they will have limited reason to maintain the alliance in the form that it would have gone into the 2018 elections with. And waiting in their respective party wings or even the alliance itself are other (younger) leaders angling for their turn in the 2023 election.  Alliance or no alliance.
One can only wish these opposition political players all the best in their endeavours.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


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)