HomeColumnistsZim’s politics, priorities (I)

Zim’s politics, priorities (I)

A NEW Zimbabwe is struggling to be born. Up till now, Zimbabwe has still been living with the visions of the 1950s and 1960s, tempered by the visions of the liberation struggle of the mid-1960s and 1970s.

Fay Chung

The introduction of Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) ideology in the 1990s and its re-introduction in 2018, have seen a marked deterioration of the economy, of national values as well as of political stability. The Zanu PF political hegemony began to be seriously threatened by Esap and, although it revived resoundingly after the 2013 elections, the weaknesses and failures of the economy continue to bedevil the situation.

The most critical failure over the past 20 years has been the economic failure, caused by a combination of Esap and the US-imposed Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Revival Act (Zidera) on the one hand, and the populist and technically unsound responses of the government and of the opposition on the other hand. The rising and destructive corruption has exacerbated both the political and economic situations. It has also seriously affected social welfare.

It can be said that Zimbabwe is in a dire state. It is essential for Zimbabwe to examine its political values and systems to define its strengths, how Zimbabwe has been weakened, and how it can recover and rehabilitate itself. Reactions to date have been highly emotional, but lacking technical perspectives and inputs.

Zimbabwe began Independence in 1980 with people expecting to get everything that Europeans had had. Europeans enjoyed a lot of privileges free of charge, and naturally many believed that Africans would be able to have the same. The financial reality made this impossible, although the state was able to provide free primary education, free primary health care and a clean water supply for all immediately.

Three million hectares of land was provided for resettlement. People had to pay for all else, but the prices were low. Forty years later, this has changed. Nothing is free today, making it difficult for the poor to obtain education, health care and clean water. Land resettlement was postponed until 2001, when it became the fast-track resettlement programme.

Today, the poor are dependent on charity for what they cannot afford. In comparison, they were empowered to be self-reliant in the 1980s and 1990s.

Strengths, weaknesses of past values

Today, four decades after Independence, it is essential to re-explore the ethical foundations of Zimbabwean society. Some essential values come from tradition, while others are from the nationalist struggle; the socialist orientation of the freedom fighters; the Rhodesian values which have survived more than a century and, more recently, the Esap and Washington Consensus values which are favoured by Western countries and donors.

Tradition and history provide the first foundation of values and systems. The liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s linked up the liberation values and systems to their historic roots. Traditional religious leaders known as vanasekuru, representing the ancestors, emphasised respect for life, including both human life, and the life of the environment. They took an uncompromising stand against violence, killings and destruction.

Churches and Christian religious leaders played an important role in trying to moderate and mitigate the extreme violence and criminality that accompanied settler-colonialism. Prominent among them was the Roman Catholic Peace and Justice Commission which recorded the violence and assassinations by the state and their security forces in the1970s. After Independence, they played a key role in exposing the Gukurahundi atrocities by the state against the Ndebele.

The propensity to utilise violence during political contestation, particularly by the military, the police, war veterans and party youths, is well documented.
Extreme violence and political assassinations began with the establishment of settler-colonialism in the 1890s, and continued to be used against freedom fighters throughout the liberation struggle. The liberation forces also utilised violence and force against “sellouts” who supported the settler-colonial regime.

The term “sellout” is commonly used today for anyone who dares to criticise a party and its leaders. Critiquing decisions such as budgets could be seen as disloyal.

A very serious effort is needed to eradicate “obedience” to orders from above as an excuse for criminal activities. This is a large-scale national challenge which needs to be carried out by all political parties and leaders, the government, the judiciary, the mass media, educational institutions, and religious organisations. The practice of violence is too pervasive to be ignored, and poisons rational debate.

One key heresy in Zimbabwe is that politics is not governed by morality. Powerful politicians have utilised this belief to cover up their crimes. It is important to enable Zimbabweans to honestly voice different opinions, as technical, professional and political opinions can and should be permitted, and can and should differ. Debating different views and opinions can lead to new solutions. Obedience to authority has led to the culture of sycophancy which enables many perpetrators to escape censure on the grounds that they were obeying orders.

Religious organisations and leaders have emphasised the ethical foundations of morality, such as the Ten Commandments. These prohibit murder, adultery, theft and dishonesty. During the liberation struggle, freedom fighters sang the song Nzira DzeMasoja which outlined the ethical rules of behaviour for freedom fighters. These incorporate important moral rules that apply to any society: do not steal; you must uphold the law; do not rob the masses; respect the people; be true to the collective vision; do not fornicate; remember what our ancestors taught us.

Traditional society is a tolerant society, accepting different views and values, including from strangers. This was exploited by some colonialists who accepted traditional hospitality as the equivalent of handover and surrender of political powers. This is evident in the desperate attempts made by Lobengula to correct the false impression given by Rhodes and Moffat to Queen Victoria.

Nationalism brought a very important set of values, uniting different ethnic and tribal groups into one nation. This is countered by the divide-and-rule philosophy of settler-colonialists, who introduced racism as their most basic value. Tribalism is an extension of racism as applied to people of the same ethnic group, but from different areas. This is very rife today, yet each group may share the same values and objectives, but believes it is important that their particular group obtains a greater share of power, wealth and privileges.

The “kiya-kiya” philosophy has dominated more recently under the influence of economic trials and sanctions. Kiya-kiya means doing whatever is necessary to survive, and generally leads to greater dependency through patronage and petty dishonesty. You cannot afford to critique or question powerful patrons and, whether you agree or do not agree, you try to obey and conform.

People, especially the young, no longer believe they can improve their positions through study and hard work. Instead, they believe it depends on your “connections”, or whom you know. It has also favoured criminality, as displayed by the high level of corruption in government and elsewhere. Corruption means there are easier ways to get rich and to succeed, and you should follow these easy routes without considering ethical concerns.

The Rhodesian heritage remains a powerful reminder of the past. Then, only 35% of Africans received primary and 4% received secondary education.

The majority of people were forced to live under poor economic conditions in the “reserves”, later renamed the “communal areas”. Only a tiny minority had the advantage of urban living. It was therefore not surprising that both ZPRA and Zanla included both poorly educated and highly educated youths. This remains a characteristic of war veterans, as about a third have not been able to upgrade their educational status.

The Rhodesian economy has remained a powerful force: the division of land continues to be between subsistence farming under communal farms and A1 resettlement schemes, and commercial farming the model which is copied under the A2 scheme. Only a small percentage of workers are employed under the formal economy, while the majority are catered for under the informal economy.

The manufacturing industry has remained locked in the 1950s and 1960s’ technologies, making it unable to provide for both domestic needs and to compete in the global market. De-industrialisation has culminated in minerals and tobacco becoming the main exports.

An important legacy of the liberation struggle was the introduction of socialism by the freedom fighters of both Zanla and ZPRA. The liberation struggle heritage cannot be hidden, with more than 68 000 freedom fighters from the two armies trained in the 1970s. Both claimed to be socialist, although their forms of socialism differed. Today, it is necessary to examine the two forms of socialism and to retain the best of both systems, while removing what is now irrelevant and out-of-date. The socialist policies of the Soviet Union and those of the Chinese differed.

While the principle of “equality” is shared, the definition of what it exactly means may be opaque. One major difference is that the Soviets favoured the urban industrialised working class as the foundation of socialism/communism, while the Chinese favoured the rural peasant class as the revolutionary class. This major difference affected the ideologies and policies of the two armies quite distinctly, with ZPRA favouring more sophisticated military strategies and tactics, and Zanla favouring peasant-based strategies and tactics.

Nevertheless, the two armies shared some similar characteristics, such as the ability and power to criticise their nationalist leadership. This meant that middle and junior officers were able and prepared to challenge the authority of their leaders. This was demonstrated in ZPRA in the 1967-68 rebellion against the leadership of James Chikerema who had to leave Zapu; and in Zanla in the Nhari-Badza rebellion in 1974 against the leadership of Josiah Tongogara. The outcomes were different as Tongogara was able to stem the rebellion.

Zanla was able to remove Ndabaningi Sithole as leader of Zanu/Zanla in 1975 through their Mgagao Declaration. This was a milestone which demonstrated that ideological and conceptual considerations were important enough to remove a leader without the use of violence.

However, the decision was made by freedom fighters, the soldiers of the revolution. The shared characteristic was the principle that the junior officers had the right to challenge their senior officers if the latter broke the rules of the liberation struggle.

This is very much against traditional as well as the Rhodesian value systems. This valuable tradition is the opposite of the prevalent obedience and patronage, and should be promoted and organised through research institutions, the media, organised debates, and educational and training institutions. It should move away from partisan political rhetoric and focus on solutions to problems.

Since the 1990s, Esap has come to dominate the political economy. Esap has brought about extreme income differentials, with millionaires and billionaires on the one hand, and street vendors struggling to exist through having an income of a couple of dollars a day. Extreme income differences have become more common and bring serious disaffection.

Such a huge divide brings about social and political instability as pointed out by Joseph Stiglitz, former World Bank chief economist in his book The Price of Inequality, 2013. Freedom fighters fought for a more egalitarian society in their youth. One of their demands is that at least all citizens should have the basics for a good life.

Chung was a secondary school teacher in the townships (1963-1968); lecturer in polytechnics and university (1968-1975); teacher trainer in the liberation struggle (1976-1979); civil servant (1980-1987); former minister of education (1988-1993); United Nations officer (1994-2003). These weekly New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, immediate past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society . — kadenge.zes@gmail.com or mobile +263 772 382 852.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading