2017: Year of default events

In this age of a lot of religious prophecy on things that are secular, trying to outline a much more pragmatic overview of what 2017 has in store for Zimbabwe is always going to be a difficult task.

Takura Zhangazha,Political Analyst

But beyond “prophecy”, the tone set by 2016 with its personality-driven politics (factionalism), astounding allegations of state corruption and significant but ephemeral role of social media, gives one enough material to make pragmatic assertions as to what 2017 will bring. And even more importantly, what the New Year will mean to various classes/social groups and a majority of Zimbabweans.

The one thing that is probably a “no brainer” in trying to map out 2017 is the fact that we have now entered that final stretch in relation to elections in 2018. So our political landscape, both within the ruling party and the mainstream opposition, will be dominated for the greater part by issues to do with electoral reforms and electoral positioning.

For the ruling party this will also entail a scaling up of succession battles while claiming loyalty to its “one centre of power”, President Robert Mugabe, as its candidate for 2018. These fights will invariably get nastier and may claim a few political scalps, but generally, the ruling party will still try and give a show of unity throughout the course of the year for electoral reasons. The only significant event that may change this state of affairs in Zanu PF would be if its leader becomes incapacitated. Then the constitution of the country will have to be invoked, an acting president appointed by parliament via approval of the ruling party. This is no longer a far-fetched scenario, but a potential reality. The mainstream opposition, namely the MDC-T (and its factional offshoots) and other newer outfits such as Zimbabwe People First, will most likely pre-occupy themselves with coalition talks or disagreements about forming a coalition.

This will continue throughout the year and possibly until the date of the harmonised election is announced. The same opposition parties will also scramble to show “grassroots” support in order to give the impression that they are either indispensable to any coalition or that they can go it alone.

Their efforts, however, will regrettably remain haphazard and in similar fashion to Zanu PF, be centred around personality politics. They will also be pre-occupied with Zanu PF succession politics in a very opportunistic manner with the assumption that they will be able to defeat anyone who is not the current leader of the ruling party. That opportunity may emerge, but waiting for it alone would make the opposition weaker, a possibility that Zanu PF is well aware of.

Where we consider developments outside of political parties, there will be a lot of civil society action around preparing and lobbying for a free and fair electoral environment. Issues such as voter registration mechanisms and processes will be high on the agenda at the expense of more long-term and broader advocacy matters. Linked to this will be continued protests, around electoral reform demands by opposition parties attempting to form a coalition (National Electoral Reform Agenda). Other protests will also continue on various issues as they emerge. The social media movements that led to protests against bond notes or corruption will remain in vogue but may be overwhelmed by the electoral cycle and opposition political parties which will want to hog the limelight around electoral reform campaigning.

In all of these political configurations and contestations, social media will continue to have its informative, sometime speculative role of crafting new perceptions of events for urban and diaspora-based citizens. It will continue to spread in usage particularly for social groupings (churches, school associations, family groups) but it may not always be a progenitor of political or broader action.

Unless it is to discuss a seismic political event, social media’s utilitarianism will largely depend on its ability to address an immediate public concern and allowing a greater number of citizens access to information that they would not have received via mainstream media channels. This will be especially so for younger citizens who have taken to using social media to express more radical views, even if these remain exciting but ephemeral in reach and effect.

The most important element of 2017, however, shall be the state of the national economy. The ruling party knows this and perpetually frets about it when it comes to salaries for the civil service, luring foreign direct investment and claiming that its blueprint, ZimAsset, is working. The opposition political parties, having protested the introduction of bond notes, will continue to blame the ruling party for the negative state of the economy.

Beyond the politics, however, the national economy will regrettably continue to serve the interests of the few politically connected elite over the majority poor. Using a template of state capitalism and neo-liberalism, central government will continue with its “tenderpreneurship” privatisation of public assets. This will include continually trying to privatise social services (water, electricity, transport) and also changing the direction of the fast-track land reform programme from being agricultural to being about urban capital.

On the latter point, an example has been the intention by government to offer land for urban use to civil servants on farms that are adjacent to major capitals. A further embodiment of this new policy framework has been the new parastatal, Urban Development Corporation (Udcorp), which now oversees a majority of urban housing development. The informal sector will continue to expand, though not so much for foreign goods due to the import restrictions as well as the introduction of bond notes. But as with all informal sectors, it will re-invent itself to suit the circumstances and the demands of the market.

The end effect of these economic policies will be the atomisation/individualisation of Zimbabwean citizens. In other words, collective actions around the national economy will be fewer and far in between. Strikes will emerge largely from the civil servants (teachers included) but only in aide of their salaries and promised residential stands. Other labour unions will also act only on the same and never to challenge the macro-economic template that is state capitalism.

Perhaps the least considered aspect about 2017 will be what our social and cultural life will be like. Our urban and rural populations will continue getting younger and social lives a bit more fluid. Pentecostal churches will continue with their expanded influence over belief systems in tandem with a materialism that will negatively affect collective action for the political. Younger citizens, impatient with unemployment, may get better organised, but will largely be courted by the ruling party through patronage and also co-optation of their icons (in music, football and as part of the celebrity culture).

Our rural areas will remain as they are due to lack of direct services but will increasingly reflect more an urban culture with regards to lifestyle because of the introduction of mobile money, mobile phone access, solar power for television and radio.

In all of this, one must ask the question, “what do the people of Zimbabwe want 2017 to mean and be for them?” To this question, there is no one answer or expectation. The ruling elite want a continued hold on power (and state resources) throughout the year. Our comprador middle class largely wants to continue exploiting the neo-liberal state of the economy for personal aggrandisement and investment in what are comparatively opulent lifestyles. To do this, they however want the US dollar to remain within the economy and will put up a fight to retain it as the main currency. They will however not create that many new jobs as they rarely re-invest in their own enterprises for the long-term. This is partly because of high taxation/state interference but largely because they are more about lifestyle than invention and innovation. The urban working class wants jobs, basic services and new opportunities for their children. They will work hard, cut corners and accept being part of political patronage systems just to get by. They are largely pessimistic and will grind 2017 out until some renewed or newer framework to enhance their interests materialises.

The rural folk, being the more politically traumatised and perhaps now even more sceptical, will wait for the next donation (political or otherwise) while trying to make the most of the land they have. Those who are now living on redistributed farms, know who they must perpetually demonstrate their political loyalty to in return for the patronage that helps them get by. They may not prefer it, but it is the reality that they have come to accept.

In conclusion, 2017 is not a year of great hope. It’s a year of continuation — both by way of reality and by way of perception. In relation to politics and the forthcoming elections, factionalism/succession battles will dominate issues in 2017. With regards to the national economy, this will be a year of the cementing of state capitalism and neo-liberalism. Even if there is finally succession in the ruling party.

Protests will also continue in a haphazard manner accompanied by state repression. Class perceptions of economic and political reality will continue to emerge, though not in order for a class war, but for everyone to know their place. In short, 2017 is not a year of revolution. It is a year of default events, unpredictable in detail, but foreseeable if one analyses the state as a whole or with “base and superstructure”.

Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity. — takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com

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