Thursday, 27 April 2017

Zimbabwe @37 Past Present and the Future:

Zimbabwe @37 Past Present and the Future: Bringing Back People Centered Meaning to National Freedom. 

A presentation to the Mass Public Opinion Institute Public Seminar,

27 April 2017, New Ambassador Hotel Harare
By Takura Zhangazha*

The perennial question that always emerges every year we commemorate Zimbabwe’s independence has always been ‘what is the meaning of independence’.  Some, such as those in the former liberation movement and now long ruling Zanu PF party are always the quickest to answer. In fact they also hog the limelight of independence by way of being in charge of commemorative state occasions and making reference to having been the only ones who made ultimate sacrifices during the liberation struggle.

The main opposition parties take a different and radical approach that has as its primary refrain how independence and freedom have been betrayed or short-changed by the ruling establishment. 

 This is not only as politically expected from opposition political parties but also because they have had direct experiences of sthe tate apparatus being used to persecute and prosecute them before, during and after elections.  Furthermore they speak more broadly for a significant portion of the Zimbabwean population when they raise issue with the country having had not only one ruling party but also one president for the last 37 years. 

In both cases of the ruling and opposition parties, there is a deep level of politicisation of the meaning of independence.  The ruling party seeks to claim it as its own while the opposition parties refer to commemorative events held across the country as more akin to celebrating betrayal.

These approaches, one would hazard to argue, come with the nature of our deeply polarised national political terrain.  This however should not make either of them acceptable where and when we discuss our national independence as we are doing here. 

And this is a similar trap that civil society organisations occasionally fall into.  That is to view national independence through the prisms of political parties of their choice.  Or alternatively to not make too many comments or statements that relate to national independence.

I think that for ordinary Zimbabweans, apart form anticipating watching iconic musicians such as Alick Macheso strut their stuff either in the national stadium or as is broadcast live on state television. 

What is rare however in recent commemorations is for extensive debate
on the meaning of national independence beyond the fact of the defeat of settler colonialism by way of painful liberation war and subsequent negotiations that finalised its terms and conditions.

A primary question that used to be asked back in the 80s was the nature of the state that Zimbabwean independence had wrought.   Academics ,depending on their ideological hue analysed the state as a socialist or liberal (free market included) one.  The debate was largely one that followed the global trajectories of the cold war (the liberal west versus the communist east).  This also trickled down to party activists, functionaries,  and even musicians. 

One of the most inspiring musicians that emerged from this key question was the legendary Solomon Skhuza who apart from his other hit songs, produced a song that subtly attacked the neo-liberal Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) that was implemented in 1990.

By the time the latter’s full impact of unemployment,  reduction of social services via state privatisation was felt, we were caught in a conundrum of viewing national independence through partisan political lines.  This was, as alluded to earlier, largely because it was increasingly a politicised event and memory. 

 The emergent opposition parties chose to present it as increasingly illegitimate to celebrate independence under a Zanu PF government.   While in turn the ruling party also felt that there was no way it would allow those that it patronisingly referred to as 'sellouts' to even be in charge of Independence Day commemorations. 

Meanwhile the end of the cold war had also brought with it attempts at defining African nation states through a universal liberal paradigm that puts free market economics as the core of developmental and democratic progress.  And in the majority of cases very few political parties, civil society organisations and activists have questioned this. 

We have sought a universalism that we have not contextually thought about largely because that is the dominant global media’s deliberate discourse and hegemonic intention.

As a result, national independence becomes more an event than it is a perpetual meaningful reflection on the part of political actors, CSO activists and ordinary Zimbabweans.

I am persuaded that we must return to a contextual appreciation of what our own liberation, even if 37 years ago to date, means and the state that it sought to truly engender.

My view is that national liberation and therefore national independence, essentially sought to create a contextual and welfarist social democratic state.  As informed not only by the causes of social and economic justice that continually informed liberation movements and the majority population’s actions. 

We must ask ourselves the key question about national independence which is ‘what sort of state do we want’ before we ask ourselves what sort of leader do we think would be suitable’.  It is an ideological question more than it is about trying to find meaning only through the actions of our current crop of political parties and main actors. 

I am a complete advocate of a contextual welfarist social democratic state.  One in which everyone gets a fair start, is not denied social services, is allowed to be innovative, enjoys their complete civil liberties and lives and acts for posterity.  That to me, will bring back an organic meaning of national independence.
*Takura Zhangazha presents/writes here in his personal capacity (