By Takura Zhangazha*
The furtherance of the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe is getting a little bit more complicated now. And as we end 2016, with the prospect of an elections pre-occupied 2017, it is bound to become even more so. An immediate question that one may ask is ‘what is this struggle’ that I am referring to? There is no one answer to this question. Neither is there still one person (charismatic or otherwise) who is able to give an all embracing definition, for now.
Understanding what it is to ‘struggle’ in present day Zimbabwe now range from perspectives that vehemently want to topple/remove the current government (not clear on how) to those that want to fight for their own sectoral interests, to the many that just want to survive every day and finally to a very few that struggle on ideological pretexts.
The reasons for this ‘struggle fragmentation’ are also many. The immediate ones are for example the splitting of the main opposition MDC party on what are arguably personality differences than principles (even after initial splits, the opposition continues to split). Another reason is the fact of sustainability challenges for mainstream human rights civil society from causes that include donor fatigue, competition for resources and lapses in transparency and accountability.
But these are pretty much straightforward reasons that address more the symptoms than they deal with the actual illness.
The primary reason for ‘struggle fragmentation’ in the pro-democratic forces in Zimbabwe relate to what I consider three fundamental causes.
The first is a direct result of the constitutional reform process (COPAC) undertaken by the inclusive government from 2009-2013. COPAC culminated in a massive ‘yes’ vote, a victory which was initially presented as the ultimate embodiment of the struggles of the people for democracy. A lot of its flaws were put aside for mainly partisan reasons and the result we have, though few of us talk about it, is a constitution that remains unknown and instrumentalised for political power games by the ruling party.
But this isn’t really the problem. Instead it is the fact that we as activists of one persuasion or the other, are stubbornly refusing to grasp the ‘incremental change’ reality that the new constitution ushered in. Hence some of us continue to undertake our activism in absolutist terms without taking into account that the supreme legal document with its contrived popular mandate is the current centerpiece of how the state is now being run. And conveniently forgetting that a greater majority of us ushered it into existence, even if for various and eventually problematic reasons. In the process we have failed to make the best of this incremental phase that now characterizes our national politics. Examples of this include but are not limited to the surprising current calls for a national transitional authority which essentially would abrogate the constitution.
Or why we are increasingly pre-occupied by factionalism within the ruling party while forgetting that we neither control it, or that it is also the ‘sunset clauses’ within the constitution that are partly perpetuating it.
The second fundamental reason why we are where we are is that of ‘election cycle activism’. Not that it is in any way wrong. In fact it is quite necessary. But the challenge has been to place within the context of a whole body of activism and not over-emphasise it as though we are all in pursuit of power. Its downside became very clear in the post 2008 political context in which the MDC(s) as a natural political ally of progressives became their nemesis. After being helped and supported as part of a broad though poorly defined alliance, it ignored the principles and values espoused in tandem with labour and human rights organizations, for example as outlined in the Zimbabwe People’s Charter.
From the economy, through to the constitution and social justice, the MDC(s) in the inclusive government forgot its founding values and principles. Instead it embarked on an aggressive muting and co-option of allies that were previously independently contributing to the collective struggle (the controversial means it used to do this are well known). This also explains why being honest about the 2013 election potential and eventual defeat of the opposition was generally derided. A majority of us had simply begun to believe our own lies.
The third and final reason relates to our collective failure to understand the ideological pretext of the Zimbabwean state and its political economy. While initially we understood, with the help of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the imperative need for contextual social democracy as the ideological framework for change in our country, we got too quickly co-opted into the neo-liberal global economic prescriptions of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Thabo Mbeki (third way). With it of course came resource support and knowledge production systems that did not truly fit our context. And this was a narrative that the ruling party had already embraced with ESAP and all of its subsequent economic reform programmes such as the current ZimAsset.
This also explains in part why the ‘No to Bond Notes’ protests have failed. Mainly because we failed to understand the economic helplessness of a majority of our people, we thought they would literally spill into the streets to support a currency they do not always have but also one they do not really feel they have power over. We failed to posit an organic economic argument around key issues of social welfare to the extent that our default argument has now become a ‘wait and see’ attitude which suits neo-liberal arguments of how the market is king.
There are many counter-arguments to the reasons I have presented here. But I am certain they will not be at complete contrast to the same. What I would like to conclude with is to return to our failure to understand the current ‘incremental’/small change context in which we are operating in. We may not need to accept it in principle, but we have to function within it, for now. We need to address our historical trajectories and national political economy with a new candidness, allow young leaders to learn a new organic activism, think about but beyond the electoral cycle and establish organic social movements that understand Zimbabwe’s realities while continually embracing contextual social democratic values and principles.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)