Thursday, 23 February 2017

Defining an Inclusive Zimbabwean Civil Society Compass (Thinking With and Beyond 2018)

Defining an Inclusive Zimbabwean Civil Society Compass : Key Messages and Rallying Points.
A Presentation to the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute Civil Society Think Tank Meeting. 

23 February 2017, Harare, Zimbabwe. 

By Takura Zhangazha*

Cde Chairman,

I would like to begin by thanking you for inviting me to this key Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) civil society think tank meeting.  I have been advised by  the organizers that the  primary objective of this meeting is to find common ground for pro-democracy activists on key rallying points for civil society as the country undergoes what is an inevitable but default transition. It's a transition  that in my view is now regrettably based on how long the current incumbent president can retain his hold on power. 

Either by way of the internal succession dynamics of the ruling Zanu Pf party or anticipation of the inevitability of incapacitation motivated by age leading to resignation or demise in office of the current incumbent.

And this is invariably the talk that is dominating public and private discourse. 

So ZDI is correct to indicate that the country is undergoing a form of transition.  One that many may not be comfortable with, but a transition all the same. 

The definitions of the nature of this transition already differs not only between members of the ruling party and their adherent ‘factions’ but also among opposition political players as well as those from mainstream civil society that leans toward various strands of democratic change and that which is keen on operating within the context of the status quo.

Either way, there are certain realities that transcend assumptions or knowledge of an ongoing transition that many Zimbabweans, deliberately or by default, are now well in full anticipation of.  

And these are realities that must inform the manner in which pro-democracy civil society pursues its agenda.  Even before we begin to address civil society’s own realities.

The first political reality for all Zimbabweans is that the past, especially where it relates to assumptions of assuming our politics have directly opposite and ideological ends, is effectively over.  

Even if we wished it had stayed.  The ruling Zanu Pf is in effective ascendancy over a perpetually divided mainstream opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) and it's offshoots. 

 For many who have suffered premeditated state and ruling party sanctioned or sponsored political violence for expressing opinions or mobilizing views different from those of the state and ruling party this is a truth we would prefer not to confront with reason but what can only be referred to as understandable anger.

But to be fair to the country and to those that would pursue an alternative path to the establishment both now and in the future we need to be candid and anticipate what’s occurring as well as what is on its way politically. 

This aforementioned ascendancy of Zanu Pf is essentially positioning itself for an unassailable hegemonic dominance over Zimbabwean society. 

 In other words it is not just political or about political rallies.  It has become a sum total of not only how the ruling establishments can comfortably shoulder  fights amongst its elites, deride the opposition and potential coalitions as placing ‘one zero upon another zero’ and not changing the latter’s essential lack of value as a counter- hegemonic project.

This would essentially mean that even in the event of a Zanu Pf loss of its current leader, the opposition may still remain unable to take complete advantage of what it would perceive of as a transition.

And where we add new civil society statements on national transitional authorities, far from being in a position of strength, they remain an indication of the sense of powerlessness of pro-democracy civil society. 

In other words and thus far, we are  anticipating and ‘prophesying ’ in order to warn the ‘non-believing’ multitudes against a pending nasty turn of political events.  Or where we have acted, we have sought a radicalism that, while important and sometimes driven by the effective use of social media,  has been at best ephemeral in its impact on national debate. 

It has however had a profound impact on how the struggle is increasingly being perceived in short term frameworks that regrettably remain ungrounded in clear strategic thinking or without any ideological praxis/consciousness. 

The reasons for these developments are multilayered but a key one has been the fact civil society organizations have been having challenges understanding the full import of the incrementalist/ minimal but progressive change they contributed to when supporting or deriding the inclusive government's  COPAC process.  The compromise nature of the constitution meant that it was never going to ‘hit the ground running’.  The new constitution did not signify a revolutionary moment.  It signified forward motion but not arrival.  And it is this progressive forward motion that mainstream civil society is still grappling four years on to try and protect.

But in essence, we still have to analyze the fact that there are some issues that can be key rallying points that mainstream civil society can use. 

 I have identified these as fivefold, namely elections, constitutionalism, young peoples democratic consciousness, the national economy and freedom of expression/media freedom.

The first rallying point which is that of elections is pointed out because we are already a year away from general/harmonised  elections.  The inevitability of the harmonized election dominating public discourse essentially means that civil society has to rally around finding common ground on key electoral issues.  And the most important electoral issue that will confront civil society is that of biometric voter registration.  

Not only in relation to the fact that it is most likely that civil society will be excluded from the civic education process of the same but more importantly in relation to having clear positions on supporting the process altogether.  And this is key. Ambiguity on the part of civil society will lead to greater public confusion and an electoral process that will be neither democratic nor popularly legitimate.

The second rallying point of civil society is that of ensuring that the principle and practice of democratic constitutionalism is made more popular.  This is despite the fact that there is limited knowledge of the constitution itself to warrant immediate public outcry.  But someone has to start from somewhere and this is beyond reacting to government’s decisions to attempt to amend an already inert national document.  This is however not only linked to electoral processes but must be positioned to be ongoing, perennial and beyond 2018. 

The third significant rallying point for civil society must be that of integrating the current and potential consciousness of young Zimbabweans into all of their programmes and advocacy campaigns. The activism characterised by gatekeeping and refusing to pass on struggle knowledge and experience to young activists will not help mainstream civil society in the least. 

If there are organisations that do not still consider it a priority to work with young Zimbabweans they are basically not geared to survive in the near future. Young citizens are yearning for a new consciousness which extends beyond slogans and social media.

At the moment very few civil society organisations are providing this. Or if they are, in some cases, it is to perpetuate the traditional politics of exclusion of young 18-35 year olds. 

On this I will give my own personal example of how growing up reading all sorts of literature on activism and ideological arguments was easier because there were organisations that were the homes of debates and progressive arguments. Nowadays young citizens get subjected largely to dogma and not debate or engagement.  Where the latter minimally occurs it is with ideas that lack application to national and regional social democratic struggle contexts. 

The fourth element that civil society must galvanise around is that of the state of the national economy. And this not just in the political parlance of how 'the economy will scream' and eventually bring down the incumbent government by default. 

Civil society needs to look at the economy in ideological terms and remember even if they don't agree with Marxism they must remember the key analytical tool that is looking at issues from a 'base and superstructure' perspective.  And even if there are differences in ideological perspectives of economic development, these must at least be debated and allowed to compete for popular support.  

Such an approach will help Zimbabweans understand not only the role of the state in a national economy but also where the argumentation is informed by the democratic values of transparency and accountability will also go a long way in combating the endemic corruption that is characteristic of state capitialism.

The final rallying cry for civil society within the context of an expanding reach of the interent and it's offshoot, social media is freedom of expression , the media and access to information. Civil society needs to rally against criminal defamation and the attendant victimisation of social media activists for expressing their views. Even if these views are on the president or on the state of civil society itself. Where we begin to abandon protecting freedom of expression we fall victim to a state that will happily charge people with treason for expressing views on social media. 

In conclusion,  Cde Chairman, I do not think that these rallying points can be singulalry themed.  They can however be inter linked through a structural social movement approach that transcends either electoral or funding cycles. Such an approach would be characterised by civil society being more candid about the realities it faces and where it stops blowing in the direction of ephemeral political events,  overcoming a subservient preoccupation with pre-determined  Zanu PF or opposition succession dynamics and staying focused on values, principles and the passing on of struggle knowledge to younger generations of activists. 
*Takura Zhangazha presents/writes here in his personal capacity. The views expressed here are his own.  ( )

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Curriculum Changes and Nationalization of Education in Zim: Gambling with the Future

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The government of Zimbabwe has changed its education curriculum.  There was no public debate prior to this far reaching policy change. Arguably because these changes were recommendations from a government commission of inquiry into higher and tertiary education which is referred to as the Nziramasanga Commission (among other government sponsored reviews)

Essentially the most significant changes to the curriculum are intended to sort of ’nationalise’ education by making it more contextual. That is to say, a lot more time in classrooms will be given to Zimbabwean (patriotic) history, recognition of languages including teaching in local languages and exploring to a greater extent, Zimbabwean culture and norms than in the past.  Of course there are some things that you cannot ‘nationalise’ such as Mathematics or Science. Even in how you teach them. 

The teachers unions, at least two of them (the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe) have gone apoplectic over this new curriculum.  They argue and correctly so that it is not only a rash decision but also elitist and arbitrary conduct on the part of education minister Lazarus Dokora. They also tellingly revveal that the teachers they represent have not had adequate training or preparation on the new curriculum to be able to discharge of their new delivery of knowledge tasks. 

Parents of school-going children are however not clear on the matter.  Mainly because they do not quite understand the new curriculum and its potential effect on their children’s education.  Or because those that would have been most vocal about such issues have children that are in private or mission schools that have generally always managed to offer alternative syllabi or function with a greater degree of independence from regular ministerial interference. 

Those parents with children in public/government schools, have all of a sudden found themselves having to ensure their children get to school earlier as well as listen to them recite the national pledge. But beyond the new inconveniences, there is reluctant acceptance from a majority of parents that comes from a sense of powerlessness over what government does with the curriculum as well as general assumptions that because they are not educationists, they are not in a position to argue.  Besides, it already hard enough coming up with the school fees. What more arguing about something as technical as an education curriculum? 

And this is why the ministry of education is proceeding with its 'in character arrogance'. From issues to do with allocation of form 1 places, national pledge and now the new curriculum the ones who matter the most in all of this, the parents, have not acted in national unison. And it is least likely that they will. 

The bigger questions however do not relate to the reactions and counteractions over the new curriculum.  What is most important is that we view governments education policy holistically.  Even if it is fractured by the very fact that there are three ministers that deal with education (Messrs Dokora for basic education, Moyo for higher education and Hungwe for psychomotor education).

While education must be primed to suit a nations context and development needs, it does not occur in isolation from the rest of the world.  To emphasise one component over another, as is the case with government’s STEM programme or the ‘nationalisation’ of the curriculum does not mean we will compete better on the world stage of invention or nationalist education.

Nor will politicising education, not thinking beyond ones own ministerial tenure assist us to resolve our long term challenges in education.  This particular point is made because it is clear that save for Josiah Hungwe the other two cabinet ministers directing governments education policy are clearly trying to leave their personal imprints on the sector.  And largely for political gain and while they still can. 

That is why in part, the new curriculum does not fit neatly into the stem programme.  Or why the Stem programme prioritises mathematics over for example history and in the process creates feelings of general inadequacy in students who are struggling with the natural sciences but are excelling in social subjects. 

The ambiguity of the public responses to the education question does not mean it is not as important as say bio-metric voter registration.  It points to a public pre-occupation with the social, economic and political immediate. This is motivate by the livelihood hardships that many parents and citizens are suffering.  But regrettably such an approach is not enough to guarantee a better future for our children.  Even if the primary challenge many of us face is paying the school fees and putting food on the table.  We need to do better by asking more questions about government’s real intentions and what they mean for the future of Zimbabwe’s children beyond ministerial tenures.  Where we fail, we fail not only ourselves but the future and generations that will inhabit it as adults.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Picking Up the Phone: American Humour vs Zimbabwe’s Foreign Policy/Reputation

By Takura Zhangazha*

The American comedy show, ‘Saturday Night Live’ (SNL) has been having a decent go at President Donald Trump.  In its latest edition it had a section in which it parodied his phone calls to the Australian prime minister, Michael Turnbull, Mexican President Enrique Piena Neto and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.  As expected the abruptness of the three 'calls' and bullish language attributed to Trump are great parody.  Until the next comic call to a character playing Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.  In it, ‘Trump’ calls the Zimbabwean ‘president’ and tells him, ‘This is the new sheriff in town’. 

The response comes as, ‘is this Donald Trump? You think you are a brutal dictator? I will rip out your spine and drink from your skull!  You can’t even walk downstairs you little…Don’t you ever call Zimbabwe again!’  And its not the Trump character that angrily cuts off the phone, to the great humour of the audience, but the character playing Mugabe. 

I would hazard a guess that the response to the clip from an American perspective is to assume that the ‘Trump’ character meets its match in the from of a dictator from a  ‘random little country’ that is of limited consequence to American foreign policy.  Or that these two are birds of the same dictatorial and unpleasant feather.  A perspective that makes it all the funnier (again, probably)  from an American (liberal) perspective. 

From a Zimbabwean lens it could probably be just harmless parody of our long serving ‘one centre of power’ that we are used to.  From Nandos caricatures through to other cartoon parodies, and depending on one’s political affiliation, it is downright good comedy which shouldn’t do more than cause a few hearty African laughs. 

Or it could reconfirm the myth that it is only Robert Mugabe who could have taken that call the way he did with defiance.   A thing which tends to delight his die hard supporters and others who fail to read between the lines of his autocratic tendencies.  Or those who view African politics from an orthodox anti-colonial lens that sees no fault in African leadership, regardless of contemporary global dynamics. 

The fear that I have, given the fact that we are entering a new phase of American foreign policy and the fact that its new president is clearly wont to react to news/social media stories (fake or alternative) even if they are comic in an abrupt fashion.  To liken Trump to Mugabe in parody always has a double meaning.  And the real Trump may not take too kindly to it. 

But then that would be Zimbabwe’s problem more than it is an American one.  Trump may decide to take too seriously the comic presentation that was the SNL skit a he is wont to do with so many other social media posts/issues.  A development which would mean that he would get curious about who exactly Robert Mugabe is and what the American problem with Zimbabwe is. The result of that briefing can either lead to him laughing it off or deciding to prove a specific point about how different he is from the parody that got one over his own caricature on SNL.   

And again the question must be asked, how does Zimbabwe respond to the new American administration? The one thing for sure is that there is no sign that there shall be the repealing of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) or sanctions which former President Obama extended a week before he left the Oval Office.

But it will not help the Zimbabwean government to be as brazen as it was with the Obama and previous American administrations.  Not least because Trump is not too keen on Africa beyond its benefit to American capital.  Even after all the parodies are exhausted.  But more importantly because, difficult as it may be to accept, in the view of the new administration we are probably, to use the language of the SNL writers, ‘a random little country’.

Zimbabwe has to accept that its period of anti-colonial/imperialist bravado in an age where the chief executive of the world’s still sole superpower is equally brazen is effectively over.  There is an urgent need to re-assess Zimbabwe’s placement in a world where one time allies such as Russia and China are very worried about engagement with the new American administration for geo-political reasons that trounce either democratic principles or long term loyalties.

Also being wary of the new wave of radical nationalism that is sweeping across Europe and reinforcing racist stereotypes of migrants or people from poorer continents such as ours. Or worse still, where in contemporary Africa, the balkanisation of regions and increasingly vague responses to Pan-Africanism and democracy are now being reinforced by leaders that worship at the altar of global neo-liberalism, capital and its interests.

Basic advice to the Zimbabwean government and its foreign policy toward the United States:  Enjoy the parodies. Don't arrest people for expressing their views.  But beyond that, don't ruffle Trump's feathers.  He has just been reminded there's a country called Zimbabwe.  Even if in cathartic humour. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Yes, Egypt is an African Country. Always. Not just at Afcon2017

By Takura Zhangazha*

I watched the Egypt versus Burkina Faso African Cup of Nations 2017 (AFCON2017) semi-final game in Gabon with great anticipation.  I had declared my support for Burkina Faso and had apologized to my fellow Africans, the Egyptian football fans for my preference for that particular match. Egypt went on to win the match and is now in the final of Afcon2017.

Someone, via social media, decided during the course of the match to raise the issue of why would I as an African, living in the South of the Sahara was respecting the football prowess of Egypt. 

 And he raised a number of puerile reasons for arguing the way he did.  His view was that Egypt tends to claim the best of sporting and political worlds.  The first being that it is part of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and also laying claim to being part of the Arab League. I politely disagreed with him.

And being Zimbabwean, I remember that World Cup qualifying match that had to be replayed in France in 1993 where Egypt played our national team which we had passionately dubbed what we dubbed the ‘Dream Team’.  We lost, albeit in controversial circumstances, but it didn’t ever cloud my judgment that we had lost to an African team. 

Since then Egypt’s national football team has gone on to become record holders of the African Cup of nations, in its various versions.  And they have deserved it.  Their national football teams have competed with the best of the continent and proven to be top class. 

Conversations around the ‘Africanness’ of Egypt are however thoroughly misplaced.  Not only because they are ahistorical but also because they fail to recognize the sporting prowess of fellow Africans that have proven beyond doubt that when it comes to sport, they will compete at the highest of levels. 

But there is need to de-bunk the myth and assumption that Egypt does not really act in solidarity with the rest of Africa or that it has specific attitudes of superiority to the rest of the continent.

To assume Egypt is in Africa geographically and that its hearts and mind are in the Middle East is to have selective amnesia about historical fact.  True, Egypt has always been caught up in the Palestinian quest for independence from Israel or global claims to territory such as with the Suez Canal.  Partly because of this, it has always been presented in the global media not as an African state, but an Arab one.  Not only be reference to its majority religion but its proximity and influence in Middle East politics and the struggles of the Palestinian people for freedom.   

In the process the country and its people has become a victim of what Edward Said referred to as ‘Orientalism’.  That is, wrong western cultural tendencies to regard or represent the people of the 'east' as lesser ‘others’. 

The reality of the matter is that Egypt has been an integral part and player in Africa history from the north to the south.  During our liberation struggles, Egypt was not only a host to various liberation movements and leaders (Nelson Mandela passed through Egypt at one point for training) but it was an active supporter of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

This is  before we even revert to debating further history of the historical states of  Eypgt[TZ1]  and Kush and their role in advancing humankinds knowledge and technology as written by great historians such as Cheikh Anta Diop. 

Regrettably younger generations of Africans may not appreciate this history and may fall into the trap of an 'orientalist' global media and in part Western foreign policy narrow prisms of always distinguishing North and South of the Sahara Africa. Not only geographically but also politically. 

It is a trend that we must actively try and avoid.  Even if sometimes it appears as though there is no reciprocity of recognition via media stories or the complex geo-politics that is the Palestinian quest for liberation.  

Again this would reflect the wisdom of those that fought colonialism who persistently worked to avoid what Nkrumah called the ‘bifurcation’ of the continent.  Not only by former colonial powers but also by way of global media discourse.  And even if it sounds repetitive, let it still be sweet music to our ears, ‘Africa Unite!’ Not just in respect of our shared struggle histories but more significantly our contemporary progress and our collective future.
 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (