Wednesday, 26 July 2017

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

By Takura Zhangazha*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

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

 By Takura Zhangazha*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 10 July 2017

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

*By Takura Zhangazha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, 6 July 2017

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


 By Takura Zhangazha*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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