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Zimbabwe is moving, evolving quite fast. Not in the superficial neo-liberal sense in which a backsliding country can be pampered by Bretton Woods affiliates, pampered to vertiginous growth levels.
Against ever deepening social crisis characterised by mass poverty, mass ignorance and an all-round collapse of social services, such chosen countries are apotheosised through esoteric markers like Ease of Doing Business Index, Transparency Index, Governance Index, FDI Index, etc, etc, all of which are oriented towards easy penetration of a country by prowling, predatory capital.
There is a way in which these phoney country assessments are rigged to encourage victim countries to celebrate their rape. Of course, GDP figures are rolled out to bolster that feigned sense of wellness.
Midgets as lauded heroes
Midgets who happen to find themselves in State Houses are panegyrised through convoluted editorials and flowery country reports to become the big men of a new, modern Africa. They become permanent fixtures at Davos and Cape Town, less to stand for and by their worth, more to puff the illusion of alleged well- ness.
Few, very few recall Chomsky’s warning that global capitalism stabilises global inequities by manufacturing and deploying “necessary illusions” which keep the poor hopeful and thus pacified, which keep the exploited feeling successful and happily rewarded. That way, the global industrial complex has turned to the global media complex for the manufacture of such necessary il- lusions.
We have moved away from religion to ornate reports backed by telegenic launches and photo-shows, as the new opium of the masses. I am not referring to that kind of evolution, that kind of evanescent fame and false movement soon to be followed by fresh trips to the IMF for a balance of payment rescue package. I am talking about something really deep and foundational, something likely to cause epochal changes to the whole body-politic.
We have witnessed a spate of retrenchments in the country. It is simplistic to blame these on the private sector. These retrenchments have been across sectors, including in the quasi public sector, all to suggest a generalised employment crisis. Not just in Zimbabwe, but throughout Southern Africa.
South Africa, itself the biggest economy of the region, is going through a real job crisis, with hundreds of thousands getting thrown onto the streets. Mining giants like Lonmin, Anglo and Glencore have been retrenching thousands, blaming it all on strike-related low productivity, higher costs of production, and depressed prices for metals on the international market.
It is familiar copy, but one suggesting a worse crisis for capitalism this time around. And of course our myopic politicians think that local retrenchments suggest a situation sui generis, one presaging a unique set of problems for Zimbabwe. Easy scapegoats are soon found, with some even suggesting a nigh end for Zanu-PF! I don’t know whether South Africa which compounds the retrenchment scale we have witnessed here is run by Zanu-PF, by one Robert Mugabe!
We ply easy conclusions, easy word-bites like “from 2,2 million jobs to million job losses”. And such professorial nonsense then create illusions of endogamy in national problem mapping.
Let it be stated here and now that Zimbabwe is not the worst hit by way of retrenchments. Let it also be stated here and now that more than any other country in the region, Zimbabwe is better able to cope with the ensuing job crisis.
These are hard facts not readily obeying easy political conclusions. I got much further: the level of political cohesion here, founded on Zanu-PF’s unchallenged capacity to retain and expand consent, is such that the hope of social unrest is worse than a mirage, one which is used by opposition as an alibi for its lack of social reach and failure to mobilise for social action.
It is a goodly interpretation: you proclaim that Zimbabwe is ripe for social unrest, go home and sleep in the sound hope that the revolution will spontaneously trigger on the morrow, wafting you to State House in the whirlwind aftermath of Zanu-PF misrule!
Southern Africa is entering a new phase in which the social question is beginning to loom large. South Africa, itself the last to gain independence, is gurgling the last dregs of independence euphoria. The illusion of independence is exhausted, expended, and can no longer be invoked to pacify the broad masses.
Throughout Sadc, the bread and butter question looms large, with the only issue being how well equipped each ruling party is to grapple with that core question which can’t be wished away anymore, which can’t be baited by the “honied” wax of euphoric independence. Just as Khama was taking over the chairmanship of Sadc, his party, the BDP, was losing a by-election, a loss viewed by many as indicative.
Namibia is challenged by a potentially explosive youth movement bred around the question of land, urban residential land for a start. We have seen how the ghost of Marikana has reappeared on the effervescing South African political scene. In Tanzania, CCM has dropped the neo-liberal approach of the Kikwete government by opting for a dark horse by way of a presidential candidate. I could go on and on.
New rules, new times
A few years back, the theme of local beneficiation and value addition, spiced by Mugabe’s fiery rhetoric harkening to the days of Nkrumah, Nyerere, Toure, etc, etc, would have been unthinkable. Everywhere on the continent, the issue of the African and his material condition has been centre-staged. Within the governance structure, the AU has, starting with the Ethiopian poll, shifted from supra-national rules of judging elections, to reading national elections in any country by national laws of that country.
The notions of freeness, fairness – forever arbitrary – are slowly giving way to new shibboleth founded on national juridical values. That gust wind of democracy, human rights, rule of law, transparency and some such nonsense has fizzled out, to make way for a new type of deep politics centred on the stomach. The ballot now stands spurned as a huge distraction from the real national social question. This is why the MDCs are in such a deep crisis, however loud and wide-mouthed their spokespersons may be.
I said Zanu-PF is better prepared for this emerging social question. That it is, thanks to the head-start it gained in the early eighties when it tackled the social question through the reach of education, health and other social services. Whatever problems Zimbabwe might face today, it has a solid social services infrastructure on which to address the social question.
Its education has created an outwardly mobile sub-class which goes worldwide job shopping. Not in the desperate sense of what is happening in North Africa, but in the qualitative sense in which the Zimbabwe abroad is a specimen of high skills and high intellect. Or where these are absent, a specimen of hard work and honesty.
It is a critical valve in times such as these we are living in. And where Zimbabwe has not ventured abroad, it has slid into the home informal sector. There the level of activity, the quality of output, speaks back to the educational gains of Independence. We adapt better to the post-job crisis world. It is this versatility which one does not find anywhere else, and thus which augments options available nationally.
Jobless but not landless
I said Zanu-PF is better prepared. Save for the Esap interlude which served us a stern warning on neo-liberal templates of growth, the first and third decade are marked off by Zimbabwe’s social focus. The land and empowerment questions gave this question a deeper resonance beyond social service delivery. They reframed the social question as a terrain of militant struggle akin to the liberation struggle itself.
Against the dominance of the neo-liberal spirit, Zanu-PF placed firmly on national agenda the issue of land restitution. It was a bold move, one which at its time struck the likes of Thabo Mbeki as suicidal and foolhardy. Zanu-PF made an epoch; it didn’t obey one. The 2000 decade saw a bold and massive land reform programme which has had the lasting effect of placing in the hands of most Zimbabweans a key asset called land, an asset which South Africans and Namibians can only dream of.
And with that asset transfer came a new level of social security firmly located at household level, itself the most primary level of human survival. Elsewhere retrenchees are both jobless and landless. Here most retrenchees will be jobless but not necessarily landless. Those affected either have land or will retreat to households that have benefited from land reforms. Land is a key safety valve in Zimbabwe’s political economy, which is why it has always evolved as a source of a second cheque for the Zimbabwean worker.
One person, two jobs
With the whole rhetoric of empowerment has come a certain sense of detachment from foreign capital and its investments. The attack on white jobs as a source of black security by Mugabe and his party has created a new psychosis of self-employment and general scepticism on how dependable formal employment is as a source of social security. The abiding phenomenon of employment amphibian-ism by way of employer-by-day, self-employer-by-night-or-weekend, is illustrative enough. Long before this current job-crisis, there was a national drift towards binary jobs in most households, excluding farming of course. Farming then became a third job.
Not a mortgaged people
So much has been said and written about land barons. As a reader of society, I am not given to moralising on social phenomena. I leave that to priests and prudes. But whichever way you look at it, the phenomenon of urban residential land baron implies a seismic shift towards real estate as a source of national wealth, of family social security, indeed as a gainful investment.
It has not been factored in as part of net social wealth and capital. Net because very little of national real estate wealth is encumbered, thanks to the collapse of the mortgage market. This is a typifying idiosyncrasy of Zimbabwe. We are not a mortgaged people. Elsewhere, a retrenchee will be jobless, landless and homeless. Here he will be jobless, landed and with a home, or on the way to one. Yet another safety valve which shall in fact define 2018.
Whatever order we wish to bring into this area, let’s not throw away the baby and the bath water. There is something of value, salvageable from this murky business. After all, who does not know now that land has value, contrary to what our banks tell us in respect of agricultural land. It is a way of escaping bank-sanctions imposed in the wake of land reforms.
Then comes the area of mining, panning as it is called pejoratively. Often it is forgotten that from time immemorial, we have always been a mining people and culture. From the mid-1850s when Hartley and Karl Mauch toured this country, evidence of a mining culture was galore. After conquest, siting of mines and their value depended on whether or not the mine was sited on “old workings” traceable to our forbears.
Geologists will tell you most mines in this country did not come from modern surveys; they came from such old workings. Our people did the original surveying, with naked eyes. What a sharp national eye!
And all the hunters of the 1840s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s will tell you of roaring mining business between them and locals who panned alluvial gold from major rivers like Mazowe, Muzvezve, Mupfure, Kwekwe and Gwelo.
It was a national preoccupation, right back to the days of the Ming Dynasty and, much later the Portuguese. The implacable Wedza Mountain was a source of iron and copper, with a whole industry of blacksmithery thriving in the country. It is thus strange for people with such a past to look down upon makarokoza. Anyway, they now are part of the national gold recovery miracle.
No social cataclysm
So we have all these factors and outlets, making us better able to cope with mass retrenchments. Even more significantly, making us develop new “tits” for social consolidation. The key issue is now to bring higher tertiary skills and goals to these new sources of livelihoods such that the reflex is not consumptive.
The savings and reinvestment ethic must now be brought to bear so we rebuild and then build, slowly, slowly. Zimbabwe is not destined for a social cataclysm; it is set for a slow, time-honoured evolution and growth towards a genuinely national economy, all on the ruins of the dead economy of colonial Rhodesia.
But as it does so, old politics shall be swept away. I notice Mwonzora is frantically making a case for a “third” life for Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC-T. It is a recognition of a crisis around Tsvangirai’s politics. Otherwise how does the question, so long an essay, ever arise.
The implied crisis arises from politics originally hewn out of sponsored trade unionism: what becomes of such politics when labour in the classical sense dies? Or when the sponsors scrap off pretences and show their real colours as the class that lays off labour, kills jobs.
The MDC-T has not shown any skills in adaptation. A part of them volunteers legal skills for capital; another part embraces labour reforms as tabled by Zanu-PF; yet another part pretends to be improving on Zanu-PF labour reforms, even walking out of Parliament as if agitating for an alternative.
And when the last three are put together, it is clear Tsvangirai can never lead in this post-labour era; he can only follow, chaotically follow as we have seen this week in Parliament. And no one is angry with him because no one cares about his politics anymore.
The future enigma
But we have also seen and heard some voices in Zanu-PF grumbling about the retroactive use of the new labour law. Controversially, Zanu-PF has overridden the report of the Committee of Parliament which tests draft Bills for compliance with the Constitution.
It’s a portentous posture only made less resonant by the fact that it has been adopted on a less political matter. Those who see both the wood and the forest will read an attitude on constitutionalism, possibly the beginning of some pecking of the new document. Zanu-PF will have to be very careful.
But there is a lot to justify this extraordinary stance. It shows a readiness to take risks for leadership, especially in circumstances in which so many workers have been thrown onto the streets. Secondly, it suggests a party whose growth template is not a revivalist one, but one based on green shoots.
Certainly Zanu-PF knows that the retroactive use of the new labour law will lead to closures. It does not seem to mind, suggesting its ideas are elsewhere. Nor does it seem to care about the vote backlash, something Zanu-PF has so skilfully adjusted for, well before this crisis.
Zanu-PF has shown it can govern without the formal workforce. But all this could also show a growing employer streak in the ruling party. That would seem to suggest the days of a mass party might be leaving us, taking us back to the notion of vanguard.
Whoever can tell me what politics – what class politics – are implied by the founding of a national economy, by the broad empowerment in the economy, will be able to predict the political future, including the vexatious succession question.
Icho! – Source-herald