A tale of two different Zimbabwes

RETURNING from the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, particularly for those that make the journey from the urban to the rural sectors, a question that generally lingers is whether or not there are two Zimbabwes.

Opinion by Takura Zhangazha

And it has been a historical question due to the fact that we have had to live with what academics refer to as “circular migration” since the days of domestic and cross-border migrant labour before and after Independence.

Consequently, it is quite indisputable that our major national holidays illustrate the legacies of such migration, where a majority of Zimbabweans leave their urban abodes to visit their rural or peri-urban “areas of origin”.

This trend is as noble as it is indicative of our diverse but largely migratory backgrounds as citizens. This includes our ever expanding diasporans which continue to view the entirety of Zimbabwe as “ekhaya/kumusha”.

However, the reason why this is an important national issue is not so much to prevent migration or the linking of the perceived and preferred urban with the assumedly backward rural. Instead, it is more about how there remains a distinction between the two livelihood spheres both at law and in relation to the political economy of Zimbabwe.

It is well documented through a seminal study by renowned Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani that historically, the “urban” has always been treated as the abode of true citizens while the rural has been treated as that of lesser subjects. This is primarily a direct result of the former colonial state’s distinction between customary and civil law, and the British policy of indirect rule.

The Zimbabwean government, 32 years after Independence, has been complicit in perpetuating this bifurcated legal regime, and as a result failed to adequately eradicate the challenge of separate development for the country’s citizens.

Such an inability on the part of government is what has in part led to the primacy of political violence in rural and somewhat remote areas from the urban centres since Independence.

This is also because of the continuation of the patriarchal role of chiefs and other forms of ‘traditional’ authority which would otherwise not be applicable in urban or ‘centre’ society.

It is therefore important to observe that given the fact that the majority of the country’s citizens live in the rural areas, there should be a more integrated approach in ensuring that the law applies equally to everyone, and that the urban ceases to have preferential treatment over and above the rest of the country.

It is this dual legal and political economic system that has unfortunately informed most government policies concerning rural development, which has tended to be more top down and undemocratic in approach.

From the initial post-Independence policies of attempting to urbanise the rural areas by establishing growth points, through to the setting up of largely ineffective Rural District Councils, there has been no coherent intention to ensure frameworks that urgently deal with rural poverty and disempowerment.

This is also the attitude that has informed our mineral wealth and extraction policies in areas such as Chiadzwa where diamonds have been more of a curse than a blessing for the rural residents of that particular area. The nature of their displacement and inadequate compensation is more reflective of colonial era policies where rural folk are treated more as subjects than citizens.

The same remains true for the national indigenisation policy and what have been referred to as Community Share Development Trusts, where there is the integration of traditional leaders with assumedly eminent personalities from the urban areas to distribute whatever wealth accrues from mines on behalf of the rural folk. The system is not only impositional but generally undemocratic as it perpetuates an elitist (and borderline colonial) understanding of rural development.

Even in relation to matters concerning the provision of basic services to rural areas such as water and electricity, the government rarely acts with urgency. Projects for water retention such as dams are geared largely for the urban or large-scale farming projects at the expense of the rural (such as the Tokwe Mukosi project where people are still living in the middle of excavation sites with limited talk of compensation). When one looks at health service provision, the major referral hospitals are primarily in urban areas (even if they are poorly equipped), a reality that has obtained since the country became Independent.

It is these challenges that must inform us on our next visit back “ekhaya/kumusha”. Not least because we may feel privileged to be part of the urban, but more because wherever one resides, we should all have access to the same basic rights and services in the country.

It is also imperative that the current and any future government of Zimbabwe be pressured into ensuring an integrated framework for the enjoyment of rights and development by all citizens in the country.
This would include a thorough and democratic review of our dual legal system (customary and civil) in order to make it much fairer and to rid it of the legacy of “late colonialism” as described by Mamdani.

Furthermore, it is important government integrates fundamental tenets of its development policy by making the entire country a priority, not just the urban. Where access to water is a challenge for Bulawayo, it must also be equally urgent for rural Gwanda or Mwenezi.

Preferential treatment of the urban must not merely be based on proximity to “civility” as though we are still in the colonial era. Where we begin to do this, many of us that visit our rural homes may become less messianic (in person and in politics) and simply be a part of an equal and general citizenship, without others being treated as though they were subjects.

 

Takura Zhangazha is a media activist and writes here in his personal capacity.

 

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