By Takura Zhangazha*
The key word to describe Zimbabwe’s current national attitude or mood is ‘dystopian’. That is a predisposition to expecting the worst possible scenarios for society because of recent government monetary and economic policies. All based on memories of a hyperinflationary period of the yeas 2007-2009 as well as a general mistrust of the ruling Zanu Pf party’s approach to national economic policy.
So assumptions of a pending economic ‘Armageddon’ become fortified by political default. All with the assistance of social media laced with partisan political and in some cases religious discourse that can only serve to stoke the fires of a pending ‘dystopia’.
Inferences of ‘no pain, no gain’ or that we must all suffer first in order for things to get better as recently alluded to by President Mnangagwa point to a, for now, determined free market/neo-liberal government. And this determination or what Mnangagwa refered to as ‘decisiveness’ is for the free market as well as to protect private capital’s profit interests. With the vainglorious hope that the latter will sort itself out and in the process create a trickle down effect to the majority poor.
By so doing, Mnangagwa’s government hopes that global capital will give them the thumbs up and proceed to help/invest with them out of Zimbabwe’s long standing economic isolation. Just like the November 2017 coup-not-a-coup, they are taking a huge gamble that they probably feel will not raise international ire. Instead they expect endorsement from international financial institutions (IFIs) and governments that believe completely in free market/neoliberal economics. It is therefore not surprising that the minister of finance Mthuli Ncube announced these new measures prior to his trip to Bali, Indonesia for the World Bank, International Monetary Fund meet up. (Yes the meeting is going ahead despite the devastating earthquake in another part of that country).
This given determination on the part of government to pursue neoliberalism on drugs ironically also anticipates some sort of dystopia, albeit temporarily. In keeping with Chicago School versions of free market economics it intends to ‘shock’ the economic system and the general public into accepting the lack of an option. Even if violently so. Hence already there is talk of speeding up processes of privatizing state owned/controlled enterprises and cutting government expenditure.
All with limited talk of the negative social impact this may have on peoples’ livelihoods. The government anticipates that the people will suffer but private capital will be comfortable enough to eventually be benevolent.
So the Zimbabwean public anticipates dystopia for reasons that are evidently different from those of their government. Theirs are based on a real fear on loss of livelihoods that related to their ability to access or trade in the US$ and its now devalued local bond note version and the introduction of an electronic version of a currency that is now realized via RTGS. The governments are based on worshipping at the altar of free market/neoliberal economics and politics (fortifying the nexus between private capital and political leaders).
A key counter-narrative to both dystopian perspectives (public/popular and government) is to take a holistic/systemic analysis to the economic situation that Zimbabwe finds itself in. This being that our placement in a neo-liberal global political economy requires that we actively seek new ways of setting up people centered economic frameworks that do not bow down to the undemocratic demands of undemocratic capital.
The viable option that is required to be on the table is a new democratic socialism that is people centered, focused on civil, social and economic human rights and that clearly sets up the democratic state as the guarantor of people’s livelihoods. Not the market and how private capital manipulates it primarily for a profit. Where the government talks of win-win situations in the name of profit, the alternative outlines a win-win where the state retains the primary function of guaranteeing everyone a better livelihood through efficient, transparent, non –corrupt public services and public goods.
Countering the government’s neo-liberal economic trajectory and ‘shock treatment’ of the country’s citizens is not going to be easy. Not least because the measures announced have the support of business and global capital/financial institutions.
The Mnangagwa government appears to be very determined to ensure it pushes through with the reforms regardless of protests and dissent which they may decide to clamp down on as is historically the case with governments that embrace neo-liberalism in the global south. Especially if the dissent is organic, ideological and people centered. But where it is knee jerk, non-systemic and not informed of the rising global resistance to neo-liberalism (and lessons of its push back strategies) this dystopian outlook of many Zimbabweans will move from being only about anger/emotions to being a permanent state of helplessness and vainly suffering in order for things to get better. Somehow, someday. And that is dangerous for democracy.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)