By Takura Zhangazha*
Political perspectives in Zimbabwe, at least after the recent 2018 general election, have tended to have a sense of immediacy and urgency. Spurred on by the fundamentally zero-sum power games that our national elections are or their highly polarized nature, we tend to not look beyond our noses as to what it all means. And this in most cases makes our national political consciousness excitedly ephemeral/temporary or informed by a stubborn loyalty to political processes we, individually, initially encountered as outsiders or as direct immediate and past long term active participants.
The only catch is that after the ‘event’ of the 2018 elections, the reality that ‘in the moment/event’ driven excitement about the former process was and is largely responsible for our current electoral and populist levels of national consciousness.
Beyond just being populist our national consciousness is pre-occupied with the immediate. Whether it be issues to do with the parallel market rates of the United States dollar (which we ironically want to claim as our own) or the pre-occupation with highly individualized (and loyalist) politics, we remain relatively short ‘termist’ in our understanding of the role of the state and its control( or lack thereof) of the national political economy.
And this is understandable for two main reasons. The first being that the 38 year (and counting) rule of the ruling Zanu Pf party has made many a Zimbabwean realise that the state is no longer intended to be people-centered or truly democratic. Robert Mugabe’s hold on the state in particular and embrace of radical nationalism underpinned by an intention to (eventually) embrace free market economics shattered the pragmatism that would have made us keen on thinking and acting for national posterity or the collective good/public interest. Instead, what obtains is a general perception that the state is at the mercy of whoever is in power. And that occasionally we somehow get the chance to attempt to choose these powerful people every 5 years.
The second reason why there are these limitations to what would be a democratic national consciousness is largely as a result of an increasing continental embrace of a culture of consumerism as motivated by a global embrace of free market/neo-liberal economics. This however is not a problem peculiar to Zimbabwe. It cuts across the Southern African region wherein a cross-border embrace of foreign/global capital (East or West) exists as a cornerstone of ‘economic development’.
These reasons however do not preclude an attempt at seeking to map out the political and economic course that Zimbabwe is likely to take in the next five years. I have used five years as a time-frame largely because already conversations in highly politically polarized Zimbabwe are beginning to pitch elections scheduled for 2023 as the next ‘big’ political event to capture national attention (as aided by a Diaspora that has its own preferences).
The reality of the matter, which many will refuse to concede in our age of individualized and religion influenced political activism, is that a lot more than elections is going to occur between then and now. And it is necessary to try and map what will likely occur in the next five years in order for us to begin to think of our country beyond our day to day experiences/hardships and highly personalized political loyalties.
That is to seek to predict the overall and holistic path that Zimbabwe is likely to walk in the next five\ years. And this is specific to the country’s political economy, its social development and its placement in international relations. In a manner that is a bit more realistic than it would be depended on superstition and religiously motivated pre-suppositions.
In the first instance, Zimbabwe’s national political economy is definitively set by the current ruling establishment to be one that is neo-liberal or strongly pro-free market economics. For many a Zimbabwean this may make sense for now given how all the major political and economic players have been trying to court that elusive creature called Foreign Direct Investment (together with its attendant ‘hegemonic’ recognition).
Hence the statements attributed to Mnangagwa and his officials while he has been visiting the United Nations headquarters and New York city announcing that Zimbabweans should brace for ‘austerity’, a phrase and course of action that is increasingly facing greater resistance from its very sources of theoretical origin. ( adevelopemtn we rarely see because of our acceptance of populism and non-critical embrace of ideas that come from capital as a panacea)
This policy intention essentially means Zimbabweans are going to witness a prioritisation of private capital’s interests in relation to the national economy. But not just any small capital. More probably mega capital that comes with stringent conditions on a high profit return of investment. No matter whether the capital is from the east or the west. That also means there shall be state disinvestment from public services and the elevation of the ‘free market’ as the solver of all economic problems.
Suffice to say that even if Mnangagwa’s government gets the initial global capital goodwill he is looking for, it will only be short lived. His government’s honeymoon will be temporary because the ‘free market’ tends to be apolitical. At least by default. Once it gets in head into the tent, it tends to want to occupy the rest of it. And it takes no prisoners. Austerity in our contemporary times tends to backfire spectacularly and with negative political consequences for those in power but more significantly for the majority poor.
So in the next five years, the national political economy will be lulled into a temporary sense of ‘investor’ security. Only for the same to scamper at the slightest possibility and threat at a loss of intended profit.
Secondly, with regards to the social set up of the country, it means there shall perpetually be a potential conflict over and about the threat of the withdrawal of much vaunted capital .
The withdrawal of publicly funded social services in favour of private owned ones will lead to the entrenching of an already existent individual and materialist narcissism that will undermine the collective social fabric of Zimbabwean society. That is, everyone is already seeking to ‘cover their backs’ economically at the whim of the ‘markets’ and therefore will have limited time for a progressive and democratic national consciousness. And there will be no immediate sources for it.
Young Zimbabweans will seek alternative sources of a national consciousness that will however remain largely embedded in Christian religiosity and with limited scope for objective thought and values.
Unless checked by new social and ideological movements, Zimbabwean society will become more apolitical and embrace petty celebrity/cultist politics as the primary vehicles to give pretense at political change or activism. And in most cases, innocently so. As motivated by a globalized social media access and presence that creates Zimbabweans and Africans more and more in the image of the ‘other’. By way of lifestyle and by way of expectations of what would be considered success (who is the next Bill Gates from Africa, anyone? )
In international relations, Zimbabwe’s placement will rely more on the endorsement of global superpowers than it will on its own contextual understanding of its placement in the world. Largely because we are seeking what the ruling establishment refers to as ‘re-engagement’ and also making reference to the Commonwealth system in press interviews, our foreign policy is hinged on a desperate pursuit of a recognition we will never control.
Constentations as to who has the ear of, for example, the Americans or the Chinese will be the sum total of how we present ourselves to the World. And in this, we will fit snugly into a long duree neo-liberal/free market narrative that suits the global powers that be. Being ‘open for business’ will turn out to being ‘open for pillaging and abandonment’ unless there’s material and political profit to be made. Our desperation, as led by the ruling establishment, means we are more susceptible to being partners in economic convenience than having all weather friends.
The ‘base and superstructure‘ approach used by Marxists (such as myself) may help to explain our way out of the conundrum we are faced with over the next five years.
A neo-liberal/free market (the base) economy is more likely to lead the country down the road of oligarchies and a withdrawal of socio-economic rights as guaranteed by the state. The social (superstructure) lives of Zimbabweans will inevitably lead to a dissipating critical national consciousness aided and abetted by a rise in religiosity, superstition and a desperation for money. Crude as that may seem.
But perhaps, just perhaps, the internal and externally lived contradictions of the neo-liberal route Mnangagwa’s government wants to take us to may lead to the emergence of a new national consciousness. One motivated by an intrinsic and organic understanding of democratic political and economic values of equality for all.
Those of us on the democratic and socialist left understand that possibility. We will just have to work harder to achieve the requisite levels of national consciousness. In the next five years. Plus.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)