Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Anger, Ideology and Political Activism in Zimbabwe

By Takura Zhangazha* 

In early March this year I was invited to share my personal views on political activism in Zimbabwe at a panel discussion at the University of Johannesburg’s department of Sociology.  It was not so much an academic debate but more to do with trying to understand past, present and possibly emerging realities on the subject matter.  The colleagues on the panel and the audience did a sterling job of, as is now common parlance in meetings, ‘unpacking’ the complexities of political activism in Zimbabwe.

From my notes there are three issues that stood out for me from the discussion.  These were anger and activism, the ideological (if any) contestations of activism and finally what the future of all of these portend.

Anger and activism emerged because I made reference to the social media initiated and motivated protests that began in July 2016 and sort of petered out by November of the same year.  That period signified to the greater extent a country undergoing catharsis and coming to terms with the possibilities for political action that social media can bring to the fore.

It also however signified the most often ephemeral character of social media impact with regards to activism and how the latter always needs a combination of online and offline strategic communications to overcome the reactionary apparatus of a repressive state.  And make no mistake, anger is good.  

But anger is not enough for activists of all ilk to achieve what are essentially long term or rather monumental objectives (such as seeking the resignation of a long serving president). 
This brings me to the next key point which is that of a structured activist focus via having a clear ideological pretext of what needs to be achieved (how and why).  This is not to say activist should ‘over think’ their causes and spend days pouring over seminal works on the significance of a clear set of ideas (vision, mission, objectives if you like) of what societies or better situations their actions will bring to reality.  Or at least set a firm direction and path towards.

I generally confess to being a contextual left leaning social democrat motivated by a desire to see a welfare state that performs its public good functions in tandem with respecting human rights.  That is the basis of my own personal activism.  Such a definitive framework greatly helps to inform not only my understanding of what is ideal but also how to measure the obstacles that in reality prevent my ideal state of affairs. 

It is less exciting, less immediate but it helps clarify issues that activism is all about.  And this is as it was at the height of the ZCTU led protests and process of the formation of Zimbabwe’s strongest opposition political party since our national independence, the Movement for Democratic Change. Motivated by social democratic ideals, labour and components of emergent human rights civil society and some church movements correctly sought to seek not only constitutional reform but socio-economic reform through a rejection of economic structural adjustment. 

History does not have to repeated. But learning closely from it would do contemporary activists (and even long serving ones) a lot of progressive ‘consciousness’ good. 

So a key question that then emerges is what we can expect for future activism in Zimbabwe going forward.  Pragmatic expectations point to the strong reality that it is largely the political parties that will dominate activism.  This is mainly because activism has been politicised to the extent that every other person that thinks they can achieve any democratic progress perceives that the only true route to that is to hold electoral office (and in particular to run for the national presidency). This activism is rarely intended to be transformational.  Instead to achieve it, most political aspirants and activists mimic the ruling Zanu Pf party by way of not only structure (two vice presidents) but in part by way of running internal affairs of their party (rule by dictat and with an astounding abruptness).

Activists that claim non-partisanship will likely be captured by this sort of activism not only because of their general impatience but also their unbridled political ambition. And its all permitted and should be welcome in so far as it promotes a diverse, democratic society that respects the right of all who live in it fairly and equitably.   

It would however be remiss to call it activism for transformative change or in its truer sense, revolutionary change. At its best it will in the current circumstance lead to incremental (small) change.  Unless it is grounded in and on a holistic ideological framework that views the ruling establishment in the same way.  For me that ideological framework remains left leaning contextual social democracy.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

ZimAsset vs Command Economy: Factional State Capitalism in Zimbabwe

 By Takura Zhangazha*

When the local state controlled weekly Sunday Mail published a headline story on what it referred to as the ‘command economy’, I was slightly surprised.  While it wasn’t a new term from the state and its related ‘news’ machinery, it was clearly a strategic propaganda move intended to remind us of the still to be verified success of the actual official term. ‘command agriculture’ as touted by government officials. 

All against the backdrop of the heavy rains that the country received which have heightened anticipation of a bumper harvest. 

What is probably happening is that the ruling party assumes that the continuity of its electoral hold on power predicated on the success of the much vaunted ‘command agriculture’ will translate to a new national economic development model.

There are also certain nuances as to whether ‘command economy’ is not a hint of  continued contestation between the ‘Lacoste’ or ‘G40’ factions of the ruling Zanu Pf party over what should be a government economic blueprint. 

That the Sunday Mail carried such a story as its lead would indicate the same. It is basically an attempt at creating a contest between the official blueprint Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic and Transformation (ZimAsset) and this nascent ‘command economy’ model. Especially with an intention of demonstrating who in the ruling party has a 'better' strategy at dealing with the economy. 

If the challenges the national economy faces were not so serious I would have said ‘bring out the popcorn and turn up the volume’. 

That ‘command economy’ may be a catchy turn of phrase does not however signify a specifically different government macroeconomic policy framework.  Neither is it a significant departure from ‘ZimaAsset’. 

Based on what has been made public, it is intended to ‘galvanise’ the policy clusters that are under the former.  The assumption would be that ZimAsset is not working in its current implementation format and requires much more centralized and direct planning. This would probably then lead to faster results through rapid ‘command’ implementation.   

In this regard, ‘command economy’ is essentially an attempt to embolden and speed up a ‘state capitalism’ economic framework as already defined by ZimAsset.  This is a framework in which the state and its functionaries (individuals and parastatals) essentially runs like a business i.e for profit.  In our specific case, due to cronyism and corruption, this profit is not remitted back to the state, but individuals who are connected to the state or ruling party.  

Furthermore, it has no clear public good intentions from the onset.  It seeks to provide what should essentially be public service via private profit oriented business models such as the much vaunted public private partnerships.  And the key target areas for this are key social services such as provision of water, transport, health, land and education. Hence there is insistence on privatization of water, electricity and health services. 

Where government officials talk of the ‘ease of doing business’  it is a combination of neo-liberalism and crony capitalism via access to the state and its resources.    

So we can call it ‘ZimAsset’ or ‘command economy’ but the end effect of a neo-liberal and crony capitalism framework is the same.  Whether it pits one Zanu Pf faction against another is a matter for those who are more interested in the ruling party’s distractive succession politics (even if by rumour, gossip and innuendo).

And the implementers of it are not only thinking short term i.e get rich quick.  They intend to construct a hegemony in which they have a pliant population that regards an elite serving economy as the norm and not an aberration. 

In fact they intend to make resistance appear futile by focusing on ‘the money’ minus an ideological contestation.  And they now know that the latter is certainly to going to come from the neo-liberal aternatives being espoused by the opposition which, again, as with ‘command economy’ juxtaposed with Zimasset, are two sides of the same coin. 

What we have to grapple with in reality is a state that is being led away from what should be its raison d’etre, that is, to serve to the best possible democratic extent, the people. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Friday, 3 March 2017

Biometric Voter Registration Minus Popular Public Engagement in Zimbabwe

By Takura Zhangazha*

There’s a new elephant in Zimbabwe’s political room. And its called biometric voter registration (BVR).  The government has authorised the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to go ahead and establish a new voters' roll.  Tenders for the supply of the relevant equipment or BVR kits have since been issued albeit under what are now controversial/disputed circumstances. 

The main political opposition parties while welcoming the process of ZEC establishing a new voters roll have expressed misgivings about its lack of transparency.  Under their National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) and through the MDC-T secretary general the opposition has announced that it shall be organising demonstrations against what it alleges to be government interference in the BVR kit procurement process.

Civil society, through the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and the Election Resource Center (ERC) have also welcomed the BVR process and have stated their intention to closely monitor it.    

Beyond the government, ZEC, opposition political parties and civil society positions, there is little public debate on the matter.  And that is not a good thing. 

The import of this is that the BVR process will probably be little understood by the public when it is eventually rolled out.  Or that those that will be at the forefront of mobilising and explaining to the public what BVR means will be those that are interested in political office, i.e the political parties. 

And in this, the front-runner will be the ruling party not only because it has a ubiquitous grassroots presence but also because it's commandist political culture brooks no debate of such developments at the same levels.

So we are still at the ‘nicer’ stage of the BVR process which is playing itself out in spits and spasms in the local mainstream media.  Arguments about tenders and who gets registered by ZEC for the civic education process or how it will be rolled out are however only a tip of the iceberg. 

What is more significant is how BVR will affect the traditional meaning of voting for the everyday citizen.  The fact that there shall be the use of cameras, fingerprint machines and specific addresses for specific polling stations will come as a bit of a shock to long registered voters. 

For those that are more familiar with technology and ICTs, especially in the urban areas, this may be fine save for some trust questions.

For citizens that are living in rural and peri-urban areas and have been voting for a while, this process will probably be a surprising technological encounter with the state and ZEC.  And because of the general fear that has accompanied electoral processes in these areas, there will be questions as to whether the process will not lead to insecurity and electoral violence. 

As a result the BVR will have to involve a lot of persuasion as to the safety and security of the voter who has previously witnessed or directly experienced electoral violence.  And this is a hard ask.  It means that the ruling party, largely accused of the same violence in rural and peri-urban areas will be the one that will be in the mind of the citizen being asked to register to vote.  Either out of fear or by way of its commandist mobilisation approach. 

A key question that will emerge is whether the opposition can mount counter voter registration mobilisation strategies that assures rural voters that this will be safe and secure.  Not only for their supporters but also for those that have a general fear of elections and attendant political processes such as rallies and smaller meetings.

The onus will be largely on ZEC and civil society to prove that the BVR process is non-partisan and legitimate in the eyes of the ordinary voter.  And that the taking of pictures, fingerprints is essentially in order to register and not to victimise anyone in the event of an unfavourable electoral outcome to any of the political parties that would rule Zimbabwe. 

My view is that unless ZEC and civil society organisations up their game in relation to educating the public about this new BVR process and its full import, it is the political parties that will define how it is eventually publicly viewed. 

It is a technical matter on the face of it but it is potentially of high political effect.  This is because it is a going to define a new trajectory of electioneering and elections. Regrettably there appears to be little or limited urgency in explaining this latter point to the people of Zimbabwe.  All of 16 months before the harmonised election. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (