Thursday, 10 August 2017

'Smash, Grab and Profit' Zimbabwe's Local Government Elitist Collusion with Private Capital


 By Takura Zhangazha*

The Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing recently held a national ‘Local Government Investment Conference' which it conveniently dubbed with a catchy acronym, LOGIC.

It was pretty high profile with a brief opening address by Vice President Mphoko and a keynote one by finance minister Patrick Chinamasa.

According to the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe's (UCAZ) organising committee for the event, the theme was ‘Local Government: Promoting Investment and Industrialisation for Socio-economic Development.’

The underpinning ‘logic’ of the conference was as its title suggested, ‘investment’.  And this, from a very corporatist (World Bank) perspective.

This was evidenced by the announced themes of the conference which included, ‘embracing the ease of doing business’, ‘investment opportunities in urban local authorities’,  ‘SME’s as engines for local economic growth’ and ‘gender mainstreaming in promoting investment for socio-economic development’. 

I am sure a myriad of other types of ‘investments’ were discussed under the pretext of the much vaunted but clearly private-profit motivated ‘public private partnerships’( PPPs).

Judging from the key note speaker's address, the most keenly followed type was that in housing or property ownership.

Even though Minister Chinamasa  called for a stop to what he referred to as ‘land barons’, he would know all too well why the former are the greatest investment that local governments (urban and rural districts, including some chieftancies) are in most cases conveniently accepting despite allegations of corruption.  

This is largely because of downright greed and distribution of political patronage.

More significantly it is because ever since the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP), farmland in close proximity to urban or peri-urban (inclusive of 'growth points') has become easy money for those that are politically connected.   

Or in some cases, as evidenced by the developments in Mazowe district, those at the highest levels/levers of political power such as the president and his family can convert vast tracts of land, ostensibly with the state’s permission, into an orphanage, animal park and as announced recently, a university (to be named after the president).

All this while conveniently close to some more former agricultural land, once controlled by a rural district council, that will be converted to national government use due to the pending re-location of the Parliament of Zimbabwe.

What we essentially have, even under the guise of ‘orderly investment’ as being prescribed by 'Logic', is a ‘smash, grab, own and profit’ privatisation of public capital.

A 'public capital' which should have been democratically primed to be converted into public wealth.

Land barons, politicians, politically connected elites are angling to divert public capital (land, water, flora and wildlife) from public wealth (health, clean water, education, transport, communications) into private capital and private wealth.

And they are not hiding it.  All the while taking a cue from what’s happening at the national level with the ongoing privatisation of electricity/energy, national health services (government is considering allowing doctors to advertise their services as the best), education, transport (including the national railways) as well as land (bio-agriculture and Chiadzwa).

But the softest spot for this neo-liberal approach is local government.  At national level the elite of the ruling party prefer a state capitalist model (i.e to have a direct stake in major state capital with an aim to make humongous private profit).

So local government is essentially a 'share of the spoils' of those that would leverage public capital for private profit. 

The main reason for this and  why this trend has emerged and continues to do so is that the ruling and opposition parties clearly function from the same neo-liberal and private wealth accrual template. By way of ideology and also by way of practice.

The ruling party as the one that oversees local government and the mainstream opposition MDC-T as that which controls a majority of urban councils. 

Furthermore, the fact that civil society while being aware and in part fighting against corruption in local authorities, has not put up a clear counter-ideological narrative to neo-liberalism ala-carte Zanu Pf.

Not necessarily because they cannot mount cogent arguments for alternatives such as democracy or democratic socialism.  They can but they will not for reason that vary from fear of loss of funding or  not really wanting to ruffle the feathers of private capital.

And this is the same for 'public intellectuals' and a majority of academics. 

The end effect of these approaches to local government is that there is no social and economic justice for a majority of poor Zimbabweans who are the worst affected. 

It will not only be government extracting from them through rates and taxes, but private companies that receive tenders to supply pre-paid machines for water as well as those that win opaque land development tenders even if the state owned Urban Development Corporation (UDCorp) claims that it is overall in charge of the same. 

At the moment, there is little or no democratic public interest in the way our local government is being run. Even if  state and private capital collude under hollow sounding acronyms such as ‘Logic’. 

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