Thursday, 2 December 2021

ED's Newfound Carrot and Stick Approach to Teachers Unions.

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Being a labour union leader in Zimbabwe’s political-economic environment is not only a difficult decision to make in professional employment. It can also be a thankless task if it is not based on pro-worker values and principles.  And before going any further, it would be important to immediately explain that most progressive  labour union or workers’ committee leaders are most likely to be ideologically of the left.  Even if they may not know it but their actions generally would point to it.  Especially in Zimbabwe’s current neoliberal (free market) political economy framework. 

I am mentioning this because the recent tiff between the Mnangagwa government and select Teachers’ Unions is a serious cause for concern.  It is one in which the former is accusing the latter of collusion with the United Kingdom (UK)  government to undermine the Zimbabwean teaching profession.  This is a serious allegation especially because it is coming from a sitting president.  One in which he promises to investigate the allegations to the full.  Meaning that such an investigations soft target would be the unions.

The teachers unions in question, or at least those that have directly responded, namely the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) and the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), have vehemently denied this allegation.  They have responded in various statements shared on social media and reported in the mainstream press that this is merely a government ploy to digress from the legitimate labour rights concerns of their members in the teaching profession. 

Just on the basis of the power imbalance between government and the unions, it would be evident that one should side with the unions.  And seek to promote their labour rights within the context of Zimbabwean labour law as well as the rights accorded to them by the United Nations (UN) mandated International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.  This includes the rights of labour unions to freedom of association.  Ideologically or otherwise. Even if they fall under the purview of the Public Service Commission(PSC), a point which I will come back to later. 

But beyond this, we must also analyze the contextual reasons as to why this relationship has reached this particular crescendo between government and the teachers unions.

While the facts of the matter around this deterioration of relations are still to be presented, it is apparent that the government views the teachers unions as being functionally more political as opposed to focusing on strictly union matters.  And in this the state is, according to Mnangagwa’s public statements, accusing the unions of being conduits of other countries’ foreign policy intentions and’s therefore interference in Zimbabwe’s sovereignty.   And this can only mean at least two things.  The Zimbabwean government is positioning these allegations as a riposte to UK foreign policy intentions after COP26. Either to indicate and strengthen or position ‘reengagement’ as the only option.  Or to somewhat threaten a hardline approach within the context of UK’s Brexit and its need for business investment. Both historical and in the contemporary as regards agriculture and mining. 

On the teachers unions’ side, one can only re-emphasise that they cross check the relevant labor law mandates that they have and function not on the basis of an allegation that they are an extension of any foreign country’s foreign policy. This includes, as is within their right, identifying regional, continental and global allies that they share progressive labour rights values with.  It would be remiss of them to take a populist approach to this tiff with central government. Even if in the short term it helps galvanize their members. 

But let me return to the issue of the PSC and the probable intentions of the state around civil servants.  At a ceremony to launch busses for the transportation of government workers President Mnangagwa indicated that while he has their interests at heart, and in his own words,  Regrettably, while as an employer government is implementing all these measures, it is disheartening that some employees as has now been revealed are working with foreign governments to undermine workplace harmony as well as national peace and security. Fortunately, my government has the requisite capacity to ensure workplace harmony and guarantee national peace and security,”

The likely intention of this is to ensure that government workers are fundamentally and probably technically (compliance) to the government of the day’s programmes and intentions.  And that they are not perceived to undermine what would be considered ‘national peace and security’. Even if they are not in the security services.  

And to add to this, the central government is well aware that the issue of US$ dollar bonuses for civil servants is likely to ameliorate angst with government workers of each and every one of its ministries. Teachers included. 

What then becomes somewhat apparent is that Mnangagwa is very much aware of the political influence that Zimbabwe’s civil service has.  Moreso the teaching profession.  His intention is to approach it from a carrot and stick methodology. And with probable full knowledge that it was the teachers unions and professionals that were the backbone of the rapid expansion of opposition politics in Zimbabwe in 1999.   

Finally, to all the progressive labour union leaders cdes out there, doing the hard work of representing workers’ rights, I salute you. Aluta continua!

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

 

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Special Permits as Passes: Countering South African False Consciousness

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The South African government recently announced that it is no longer going to renew special permits for Zimbabweans that have been officially working and living within its borders since 2009.  It gave those affected by this at most the next twelve months to apply for normal work permits upon failure of which they would either have to voluntarily return home or in the worst circumstances, have to be deported. 

While I am not familiar with the legal import of this new executive order by the government of South Africa I know it feeds into specific narratives about migration, migrant labour and narrow nationalisms in Southern Africa.

In context the decision by the South African National Congress (ANC) ruling government is not surprising.  Given the fact that it did not do well in recent local government elections against the backdrop of nascent political parities that touted xenophobic slogans as their key campaign platforms it had to react to what is an emerging populist South African sentiment.  This being that foreigners, particularly black foreigners of whatever African origin, but more specifically from Zimbabwe, Somalia and Nigeria are not welcome in South Africa. 

The leader of the second largest opposition party in South Africa, Julius Malema had to issue an emotive but condescending public statement that he would never subscribe to such xenophobic sentiment.  Even if it costs him not only success in the local government but also national elections. His counterparts in the opposition however went ahead to form minority local councils based on riding partly on a reflection of what the general anti-foreign campaign sentiment reflected.  And took significant control of major municipalities at the expense of the ANC. 

As Uhuru Kenyatta, the president of Kenya, stated in a visit soon after these elections, he admired the maturity of South African democracy.  As we all should.   The elections reflected a specific realtiy that we cannot just shrug off.   A distinct, if not majority, number of eligible voters in South Africa do not like foreigners and their emotions can be whipped up by any campaign slogans that point in that direction. 

It is a reality that also, while being completely astounding, makes one reflect on a number of issues.

The first being the fact that in Southern Africa, the liberation of that country officially referred to as South Africa but that we once called Azania, is the culmination of a collective regional struggle.  In fact the independence of South Africa is one of the most unique ones in global history.  To the extent that even while the Global North was lambasting Muammar Gaddafi, the revered Nelson Mandela was busy defending him for his role in the anti-apartheid struggle. And this is before we even begin to discuss the role of SADC formerly known as either SADCC or the Frontline States in this liberation struggle.  Not forgetting Cuba and that history making battle of Quito Carnavale in Angola that not only brought Namibian independence but also contributed to South Africa’s.  To put it simply, even though South Africans will not want to hear this, their country is one that is constructed out of Southern African and beyond struggles against colonialism.

They may forget the Witwatersand Native Labour Association (WINELA)and how with indentured labour from as far off as Angola, the now Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe constructed not only the Johannesburg (its still called that!) and the settler political economy that they still value so much. (This is before we discuss the more long duree labour imported from South East Asia). It was a settler colony that barring the struggle efforts of not only the ANC and the Pan African Congress among a myriad of other movements would have succeeded in creating the equivalent of an Israel at the southern-most tip of the African continent.

But the alternative counter arguments are pretty apparent.  A key one being why are there so many Zimbabweans coming to South Africa.  Including one that says in a Trumpian sense, they should go back to fix their ‘own’ country.   Given the Zimbabwean political economy after the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) and also an Africa continent wide assumption that departure from home- emigration- is better, this does not hold water.  At least historically.

We now know some of the reasons that there was no direct liberal interventionism in Zimbabwe during Mugabe’s reign.  It involved but was beyond the arguments around the FTLRP.   Hence the examples of Libya, Syria and Afghanistan that we see today. 

The key question is the way forward for the thousands of working Zimbabweans affected by this executive decision of the South African government.  It is easy to argue that if their papers are not in order, they should come back home.  And they would easily retort, come back home to what?  The Zimbabwean government has to counter this move on the basis of historical African solidarity and contemporary regional integration.  It has to protect our emigrant citizens for the value they bring to not only the South African national economy but also our regional economy and the historical regional migration ties that we can never wish away. Even if South Africans assume they are exceptional or that they landed on the moon and came back like the Americans.  

The Zimbabwean government also has an obligation not just for its own returnees but for all of us at home to create a more equitable society where we all have equal access to public services that those in the Diaspora would easily boast about.  If we build an equitable society beyond social media characterizations, we will be able to comfortably say to the cdes in South Africa, Tigashire, Sethule, Welcome!

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

 

Sunday, 21 November 2021

A Clash of Consciousness in Zimbabwe

By Takura Zhangazha*

Sunday morning conversations are hard. Especially if they occur during early morning visits from intellectual friends.  Recently one such friend paid a surprising courtesy call and invariably our conversations ended up trying to casually examine a key question of Zimbabwean national consciousness.  My friend was more about the science of it and on my part it was more the activist element to it. 

While the conversation was random and all over the place we sort of began with questioning Zimbabwe’s education system and its impact on a perceived national consciousness.  We sort of agreed that Zimbabwe has a ‘bottle neck’ education system that is embedded in colonial and missionary moulded perceptions of individual success.  And in a Marxian and Gramscian sense designed to perpetuate class inequality by way of sieving merit by way of academic/educational qualifications of human beings.  This also includes assumptions of proximity to preferred Christian religiosity. 

What was however more problematic was our perspectives on tertiary education.  We discussed the fact of its bifurcation.  Either one went to university or to technical training college.  In our time and in both instances this would have been subsidized education either by way of government or by our parents.

Interestingly we both recognized that the expansion of university level education helped with easing assumptions of its societal superiority.  The more universities we had, the less university education became a status symbol of success.  And that this was/is a good thing because it reduced elitist tendencies about acquiring a university degree.

On further reflection we also realized that the dichotomy between university and technical college education is a significant contributor to national conciousness and political activism. And this is a particularly difficult point to make. 

This is because of the fact that it is the equivalent of trying to measure our own personal consciousness or how we perceive of our own country and its collective national challenges as they occur.

After the cde had left I thought about this a little bit more in relation to the contemporary Zimbabwean political economy. I realized that were significant issues in debating a Zimbabwean national consciousness in the contemporary and possibly for the future.

The first was that a majority of our current major political actors perceive it to be of importance that they are university educated to be what they either are or want to be in political leadership.   It is almost a retention of the initial colonial qualification of how a good African is the one that is educated in the ways of the white man. The more educated you are, the more eligible you are for leadership hence the plethora of politicians with PhDs or former first ladies that went through thick and thin to acquire them. There is nothing wrong with this per se.  Except that it gives an elitist perspective to politics and how it should occur within a society.

The opposite end of it is that this approach generally forgets the majority that would be led.  And this is an interesting point about our current national consciousness.  Whenever we see celebrities who are popularly referred to as ‘mbingas’ driving political and other debates, it would be trite to consider the bigger picture of their influence.   They reflect more the ‘underbelly’ of our national consciousness which is essentially materialist but also ephemeral.  The reality being that we are caught in a trap of desiring things we cannot have but admiring the few that have them. And electing them as our leaders.  In the vain hope that one day we will be like them. 

What emerges is a clash of national consciousness in our current context.  This clash is one in which elitist intentions are to keep popular perceptions of what our society should be at bay. Or at least co-opt them into accepting a hierarchical/unequal status quo.  With the irony being that the majority poor accept the profligacies of the rich and even aspire to them.  Hence Gramsci’s term of ‘hegemony’.  Almost like the joke that work is not fun but they pay you enough to make you have to come back every day. 

The key question however is what brought us here?  In the main it would be a political culture that is self absorbed beyond collective reasoning about what the future should look like.  We function at least politically like we are all main actors.  And in most cases with Messianic tendencies. What we then miss is the bigger picture.  Particularly one that focuses on what our futures may look like. 

Therein lies the contradictions and clashes in what would be our national consciousness.  Our short term approaches to the challenges that the country faces limit our ability to imagine what the future should look like.  Especially where our materialism is as simplistic as looking after our own while forgetting that they too live in a whole society and that unless we struggle for equitability we will still have to deal with the same problems beyond our lifetimes.  

But back to my conversations with my Sunday early morning visitor friend.  As I indicated earlier, we discussed Zimbabwe’s education system and assumptions of what is considered material progress. We touched upon the consciousness divide between university and technical or teacher college students of our generation and the nuanced elitism that came with that. And how it now affects a generic national consciousness with political leaders flouting degrees as determining eligibility for Messianic leadership. 

What however remains important is that we look at our contradictory national consciousness.  From our lack of ideological grounding through to a desire not only to mimic others but also reigning in a false consciousness that relates to profligate materialism.

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

 

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Tswibidi/Twabam: An Abstract Take on A Young #Zimbabwe Material Consciousness.

By Takura Zhangazha*

So a young Zimbabwean cde in his professional work with me was in conversation explaining how certain things work.  He then used a specific turn of phrase about how you realize that everything is sorted.  This was a turn of phrase that related to a popular social media religious influencer called Passion Java.  And verbatim he sort of says that when all else is done (as planned) it will be “Tswibidi, Twabam”.  It was as funny as it was telling because there is no official language that recognizes such phrases.  Except for the new found language of young Zimbabweans that have a tendency to go with whatever suits their fancy. 

Upon reflection I realized that while the young cde who assisted me with a specific task did not really take it as seriously as I would, it was a part of his everyday consciousness via language and more significantly, via social media. 

And this is a very difficult point to make unless you are an engrossed academic or social media aficionado (please google aficionado).

The casual verbal statement of popular or trending phrases is generally indicative of an emerging cultural consciousness that cannot be ignored.  Even if it appears distasteful for some but in reality it is a bit more sophisticated, or even existential (if you are an academic that has Sartre or Beauvoir) tendencies. 

What it pointed to was an emerging hegemonic narrative about what Zimbabwean society is and what it can be.  Not only from the lenses of those that would be at the material/intellectual infancy of their lives but also those that would prefer a more ordered approach to what they consider ‘progress’ in Zimbabwean society.

It is a narrative that no longer resides in libraries let alone a critical consciousness revolutionary assumption of what our society should look like in the future.  It’s a reality based on its own reality.   In the moment. 

And I will explain this within the context of a Zimbabwean reality. 

On a number of occassions I have had abstract conversations with colleagues and cdes about what it is that informs the contemporary Zimbabwean consciousness. In most of these chats the answers have hovered around at least three aspects; materialism, pursuit of multiple recognitions and fashionability or high individualization of opinions (which is linked to the latter).

It is a regrettable narrative of an assumption of material arrival.  And this is across all classes (bourgeoisie , comprador bourgeoisie, middle class, working class, peasantry) . Or assumptions of what would be lived realities.   But this is where we are.  Something that Prof Masipula Sithole would have referred to as an assumption that we could all live the ‘good life’.  Which basically meant an urban tranquil existence while comparatively looking down at those that never ‘arrived’. 

But back to the young cde who was using language that dominates social media. All based on influencers and their perspective on things.  I admit that I do not know if he did it deliberately or by default. But what was clear is that it was almost part of his natural being as he spoke. 

His impressionability could have been taken as abstract.  The reality of the matter is that it is what a lot of young Zimbabweans are thinking and feeling at the moment.  At least those that have access to electricity and social media.  Be they in country or in the Diaspora. 

What we however need to realise is that this consciousness is as ephemeral as it would be ahistorical.  Social media influencers invariably will be here today and gone tomorrow.   Including those that claim to be prophets or people with access to money that are followed by elaborate, choreographed arrivals in Ghetto streets. 

There is an interesting perspective to this.  This being that we have to understand a specific reality about how young Zimbabweans view their society and their futures.  In the main this is about materialism, opulence in context and/or departure from a metaphoric cesspit that would be Zimbabwe.  Something which I find completely understandable particularly given the biased leanings of our mainstream education system which is designed to admire other peoples’ societies.

The challenge then becomes how we re-emerge from a national consciousness that while touting liberation and Pan Africanism assumes that we need specific historical gazes to be regarded as human.  That is a task that is as hard as it is time bound by way of age and/or a lack of understanding of the need for a new historical progressive consciousness. 

The task(s) ahead for Zimbabwe and its cohort of parents or people still enabling the next generation to flourish is to be a bit more realistic and perhaps re-examine our own individualistic values.  We need to look a bit more inward.  Our children are our collective children.  The more we try and assume an outward presence to their being. The more they become distant from us or what we consider our values. 

As an abstract but relatively personal conclusion, I will most certainly teach my children that in part, whatever their individual decisions, they are within their right to be here, at home, in Zimbabwe. 

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

 

Monday, 18 October 2021

Remembering Reading in Zimbabwe: Books, Libraries as Sources of Progressive Consciousness.

By Takura Zhangazha*

In 1998 I had to undertake a research project for a course called Theory and Practice of Public Policy for my undergraduate studies.   I had decided that I would do it on the Bikita Rural District Council budgeting processes because since its my rural district I knew I would have the relevant support from both my parents’ families for my basic necessities.   I had also saved some money from what we sort of still had in the form of government student payouts/grants to cover any other ancillary costs.

In my over enthusiasm at a semblance of material independence , I had boarded the wrong bus to Bikita.  It was a Mhunga transport services one. On the front it was labelled as travelling to Gutu/Mupandawana and Nyika growth points with equal prominence.  What I had not seen between the lines was the fact that it was going to pass through Bhasera, then Mupamaonde on the Masvingo-Mutare highway and finally to Nyika growth point. 

So the bus arrived in Gutu and took a turn that I was not familiar with on the Bhasera road.  In slight panic I asked the bus conductor how we were going to get to Nyika and he laughed at me but also assured me that I need not worry and that I would arrive at Nyika growth point by late afternoon.  By the time we got to Mupamaonde the surroundings were much more familiar and I disembarked from the bus before it made its U-turn to Nyika. I then boarded a kombi service run by a former Member of Parliament called Matimba that plied the Masvingo-Birchenough bridge route and safely arrived at home a number of hours later than anticipated. 

In my satchel though I carried two specific novels besides my hardcover note-writing books. These were Bessie Head’s, ‘A Question of Power’ and Steve Biko’s collection of essays titled ‘I Write What I Like’.  I had carried these two books with me because I knew with at least two weeks of seeking out research and no electricity at home in Tamirepi village I would need to occupy time.  And I thought it best to do so by reading. 

I had purchased the two books from Kingston’s bookstore with University of Zimbabwe book prize vouchers.  And while in Bikita it rained the proverbial cats and dogs. So I was stuck and my only solace was the fact that I could read Head’s ‘Sello’ character with curiosity and also dabble in a new consciousness via Biko’s forthright black consciousness. 

After at least two days of rain and reading, I again boarded a Mhunga bus to Nyika growth-point and lo and behold my paternal uncle was on the same bus to collect his teacher’s salary from the bank or building society.   I explained to him why I was home and he actively encouraged that I at least read and pass my university courses and help others in the family once I had done so. 

At Nyika growth point, we parted ways for some hours.  He went to the bank and I went to the satellite office of the Bikita Rural District Council.  We met later for the last (you guessed it, Mhunga)  bus service from Bulawayo on its way to Mutare and given the fact that I had Biko’s book in hand he asked me what I was reading.  I explained that I was reading for the fun of it on South African liberation politics and he said it’s a good thing that I was seeking knowledge via reading books.  Though he didn’t quite understand how it would help with the research I was claiming to be undertaking.  I dropped off at Mushuku bus top while he went on to the Chibvumani drop off point.  And again I spent the next week compiling my research notes but also reading Head and Biko. 

I have been elaborate about this because the two books I read in that period helped me combine idealism and reality.  Both in a rural and black consciousness sense.   And my bus ride conversations with my uncle made more nuanced the perspectives from which to think about not only my then geographical locality but also recognize the key historical challenges of Zimbabwe, global humanity and future African generations (which I considered myself to be part of at that time). 

But all of this would never have crossed my mind if I did not have those two books in my satchel.  With hindsight, it is clear to me that reading them, even under candlelight, clarified my understanding of not only where I was, but also what I valued the most about Zimbabwean society.   Admittedly Bessie Head was much more difficult to read and understand than Biko but both gave searing insights into the African condition. 

In contemporary Zimbabwe, books are now regrettably frowned upon.  Particularly books written by African writers that are not always focused on ‘poverty porn’.  Young people are encouraged to read those books that make them pass exams or biographies of individuals that they will never mimic in real life that became multi-billionaires (even after dropping out of tertiary colleges).    

Be that as it may, libraries, bookstores remain objective key nodes of organic knowledge acquisition and dissemination.  And we should always actively encourage young Zimbabweans to be comfortable with reading a book.  After all when they watch movies on streaming platforms or dabble in social media a majority of what they consume always comes from the written word. In the form of an essay, novel or script.  

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

 

 

 

Friday, 15 October 2021

Political Debate in Zimbabwe: Memory, Populism and Emotion

By Takura Zhangazha*

One hot afternoon at the University of Zimbabwe, we were in a tutorial for a course called Development Administration.  The technical aspects of the course combined with the weather made the mood rather snoozy until one of our classmates suddenly said, " Let me catapult this discussion to a higher level".  We all burst out in laughter.  Not only at the oddity of the statement but because perhaps he did indeed have a ‘higher’ angle to whatever technical questions about rural development we were discussing.  It turned out that he didn’t quite change the mood.  Though every time we meet with former classmates who were present on that day, we sometimes have hearty laughs about the incident.  

I have given this anecdotal example mainly because I would like to discuss the nature, intent and assumed levels of political discourse in Zimbabwe.  I however do not intend to claim that I can ‘catapult it’ to any other levels. 

What is however apparent is that there are a number of perspectives of how political debate is being shaped in contemporary Zimbabwe.  These are based mainly on personal political persuasions which also inform general social media banter.  In rare instances, they are based on either factual or academic analysis but again even these angles cannot escape some forms of bias.   Even if they are purveyed via mainstream media outlets which also remain politically polarized. 

A general overview of how our political discourse is now being shaped points to at least three angles.  These are namely the ‘emotional or populist’ angle, the ‘proof of loyalty’ angle and the ‘default ideological’ angle. 

I will start by analyzing the most ubiquitous one which is that of the emotional/populist approach to debates.  Over the last twenty years our national politics has been binary mainly due to the two main antagonistic political parties in the form of Zanu PF and the mainstream opposition MDCs. In this, our political culture has become characterized by a strident form of populism either side of the political divide.  Including populist accusations and counter accusations by either party as to their true character and meaning in our national politics.  Moreover, due to the occurrence of disputed elections and in the majority of electoral campaigns’ since 2000 high levels of politically motivated violence, many Zimbabweans who experienced the latter are extremely emotional about their political opinions and those they support.  Especially if they are opposition political party supporters.  They will never accept Zanu Pf as a ruling party in their debates and continue to assume that at some point they will eventually come to power.  Neither will ardent Zanu Pf supporters who either have benefitted from the radical land reform programme (both urban and rural) or fought in the liberation struggle accept opposition rule.  Even after Mugabe was removed from power. 

This brings us to the second element of our discourse angles which is closely linked to the first.  This being that of debate as proof of loyalty. There are many instances where there is no point to actually engage in what would be objective argumentation with influential individuals.  Mainly because there is always a patent desire on their part to demonstrate a specific loyalty to their party of choice. Even where and when facts point to a different perspective.   While this is not preferable in our context it regrettably remains somewhat understandable.  This is how we sort of are. For now.  It’s a combination of stubborn loyalty and in part semi-religious fervor that shapes the discourse in this particular direction.  Including assumptions of self-righteousness in our politics. Whichever way you want to look at.  

The third strand of political debate in Zimbabwe is the default ideological one.  Whatever polarizes our political debate, whichever political opinion that many people hold, there is always a default acceptance of neoliberalism as some sort of shared panacea to our country’s problems.  I personally am not a neoliberal ideologue but the dominance of materialism and assumptions of the free market or private capital as being a sign of political progress in our political debates is something that cannot be wished away.  This means that there are no fundamental disagreements in mainstream political discourse.  It is mainly a question of who is personally preferably in power.  Not necessarily what they can change from an ideological viewpoint.  So we are at a place where there is quite literally limited counter-hegemonic debate mainly because we have highly personalized what we consider political struggles and even what can be considered political progress.

As a final and relatively abstract point, we may need to enquire how contemporary political debate in Zimbabwe remains encapsulated in relatively egocentric narratives.  That it rarely transcends the immediate and the material.  Almost as though it were being done for an external gallery/audience before it is about the people of Zimbabwe. 

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

Monday, 27 September 2021

China, USA: Abstract Battles Over Lowly Zimbabwe

 By Takura Zhangazha*

There are a number of new stories that are emerging about the role of China in Zimbabwe.  In the past the Chinese Embassy would have been less robust in defense of its bilateral aid to Zimbabwe.  And the Zimbabwean government, given its re-engagement policy would be a bit more circumspect about what it puts out into the public domain about how it views either global superpower’s perception of events that unfold in its own jurisdiction vis-avis the United States of America. 

The fact of the matter is that there is some sort of social media diplomatic spat between China and the United States of America (USA) over Zimbabwe.  It appears to be relatively causal but it obviously has deeper issues that we may not be privy to as ordinary Zimbabweans.   Not just because Zimbabwe’s ruling establishment evidently has closer historical ties to China but also because of given contemporary mainstream global media narratives on the role of the latter on the African continent.

But more specifically to Zimbabwe, there is the added narrative that China is exploiting our natural resources in order to prop up the current Mnangagwa government.  It is a narrative that again has multiple sources that are directly linked to what would be a newer potentially emerging global cold war  from China’s rising role in the political economy of globalization.  Not necessarily about who or what Zimbabwe is in the ‘global’ scheme of things. 

What however cannot be wished away at least historically is that Zimbabwe and China have always had closer relations.  Mainly based on the fact of the liberation struggle that China directly and militarily supported but also its role at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) where it vetoed (together with Russia) direct international sanctions on our country. 

Recently the USA and Chinese local embassies have gone into slight overdrive about their role in  Zimbabwe’s domestic politics.  As enunciated via their social media handles (surprise surprise with China).  Whether they are commenting about the need for by-elections in Zimbabwe (USA) or the alleged deliberate besmirching of Chinese bilateral aid and investment in Zimbabwe’s mining/agricultural economy (Chinese Embassy). 

What becomes interesting beyond populist discourse is reading between the lines of this new approach by both governments. 

The USA has a long standing official view on Zimbabwe which is based on the issue of sanctioning what it considers a ‘rogue regime’ since the 2001 Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA). And it continues to claim these are targeted sanctions.   

China on the other hand has an official foreign policy of ‘non-interference’ and utilitarian mutual benefit between countries’.  Never mind the status of ‘democracy and human rights’ in same said country. 

To paraphrase the Godfather movie, this, in China’s view would be ‘nothing personal, just business’. 

What is apparent is that Zimbabwe has thanks to its international re-engagement policy found itself inadvertently having to pick what it considers a better side.  In this instance, this would, at least according to some government statements be China.  Not only because of the UN veto in 2008 but because of the economic and Covid19 pandemic mitigation support that the latter has given the country. 

But is still boils down to domestic perception of either global superpowers’ role in Zimbabwe.  And in most populist instances be they urban or rural there is what Edward Said would have referred to as ‘Orientalism’.  That is a false and partially racist assumption that anything coming from the Global East is not only exploitative to the African but also not preferable when compared with that which comes from the Global West. 

The key considerations therefore then come to revolve around what do Zimbabweans want? Where there have been arguments against a Chinese new-colonialism, the alternative arguments have indicated a preferential alternative.  I do not know what the apparatchiks in Mnangagwa’s office think but the possibility of the matter is that their re-engagement policy needs to crosscheck Nkrumah’s statement on neither looking East or West but forward.  And embracing a progressive world view that thinks beyond the global international relations placement of Zimbabwe beyond the immediate for neoliberal convenience but for social democratic posterity.

Finally, Zimbabwe will always interact with the world in one form or the other.  From various ideological and historical standpoints. But we are better off making these contextual, historical and realistic perspectives.  Based on our own national values and beliefs before they are either fashionable, convenient or populist.  

So where the USA and China have divergent viewpoints about their foreign policy impact on Zimbabwe, it does not really matter.  What matters is what we Zimbabweans think is more important, in tandem with SADC, to be better partnerships for not only ourselves but also our Southern African region. 

As a final point, Zimbabwe has become emblematic of how to attempt to reverse colonial history and in the process is emblematic of a new form of African liberation globally.   But history should never cripple us.  Neither should it be the raison-de-etre of other countries’’ foreign policies toward us.   Be that as it may by way of global perception, China or USA should not make us their ideological playing ground. 

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