guest column Takura Zhangazha
There were a number of by-elections in Zimbabwe over the last month.
One was for the local government in my rural home district of Bikita East in Masvingo province. The others were for the parliamentary and local government openings in Lupane East in Matabeleland North.
Both are rural constituencies and were executed in accordance with the first-past-the-post electoral system. The ruling Zanu PF party won all of these by-
elections. The margins of victory by Zanu PF’s in both elections were comparatively low, but were victories all the same.
The opposition MDC-Alliance blamed their losses invariably on lack of statutory funding by central government via the Political Parties (Finance) Act. The
opposition also blamed what they called Zanu PF’s vote-buying tactics.
Zanu PF refuted MDC-A’s allegations, pointing to their victories as testament of voters’ confidence in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s austerity policies.
Conversations elsewhere were lost in the ensuing perplexity, with many questioning the rationality behind the ruling party’s victory at a time when prices of basic goods and services are going up, even as Finance minister Mthuli Ncube announced his 2019 mid-term budget review annotated in Zimdollars for the first
time in almost a decade, promising further austerity.
What struck me was the contradiction of a victory or victories of an assumed unpopular ruling party’s by-election amid a full throttle implementation of
perceived unpopular economic austerity programmes.
The opposition MDC Alliance, on its part, does not seem to differ substantially from Zanu PF’s economic blueprint, but only questions the personalities
implementing it — not only among the latter’s leaders and members, but also their supporters and voters.
The contradiction and irony threw me back to my undergraduate studies days at the University of Zimbabwe and what I used to painfully consider as “false
And yes, you probably guessed right, this would have been in reference to a political theory class lecture on the Socratic dialogues.
That is the battle of wits between the “Sophists” and Socrates, as outlined by Plato. The Sophists (go ahead search them on the internet) believed more in the
establishment of societal truth based on self-centred reasoning.
Socrates, on the other hand, believed in an arrival at what we would now controversially refer to as an “objective” truth, or a more thorough and long-term
understanding of “virtue”. (And also as taught to me by the late Masipula Sithole of the University of Zimbabwe.)
Even though this may appear or seem “sophisticated”, the essential issue here is that we need to be more circumspect about what we want to hear versus what can
be an objective truth, an element quite hard to swallow for many a middle-aged and above Zimbabwean today.
The main reason for such a cognitive state of affairs is that there are certain things that a lot of us expect as a given, especially if we live in urban
Electricity, running water, individual cars (not public transport) and the fuel that comes with it and having our children live better lives than ourselves,
even in the immediate.
This includes, for those of us that went to high school in the 1990s and State-sponsored university at the turn of the century, an ingrained assumption that
there is no alternative to free-market economic solutions because we were witness to an individual, materialistic, but short-lived ‘economic boom’ under the
then and now re-invented ‘Economic Structural Adjustment Programme’ (ESAP).
So, we all wanted cars (Mazda 323’s), a house in the suburbs (out of the ghetto), and children that would go to the ‘private’ schools we secretly envied. We
took on a ‘dog-eat-dog’ consumerist approach to our existence to the extent that we failed to anticipate the unsustainability of such a future in a post-cold
war global economic order, especially if we perpetually ignored historical injustices and assumed that the most progressive way forward was to be part of the
bandwagon of what then remained a minority-run national political economy.
The default position where we now come to the contemporary economic situation is that we have class-based aspirations and expectations of a political economy
that is not, at the moment, favourable to private and State-controlled global capital, or to put it a bit more simple, we are at the tail-end of Samsung and
Google. Facebook’s and Exxon Mobil’s expectations of what ‘good market economics’ for an investor can be and should be.
Yet, all the time we envy and yearn for that recognition across class and geography in Zimbabwe, with the full knowledge that it is least likely we can be a
Singapore or Malaysia, let alone a China in the long-term.
But we still want to be part of the consumerist game. Hence, our political opinions are persuaded by what lifestyles we want to have than what in reality the
global political economic system will allow us.
Even without the basics that should be provided for by a State as in the global north despite its firm embrace of free market economics and radical white
nationalisms in one form or the other.
But abstract as my argumentation may seem, the dilemma that we are faced with is that we are increasingly citizens of ‘envy’. And I use the term as borrowed
from the global north’s intellectuals such as Zizek. We want what we know we will never get – not in this part of the world and not with climate change,
emerging nationalism therefrom and not with a pre-occupation with what global satellite television shows us; either by way of news or sports.
In returning to my initial point about by-elections and how Zanu PF has won them at the height of a real and perceived economic crisis, it is evident that we
need to think more about the future than the present, not only in relation to the fact of our concerns about our own individual children, but those of whose we
would refer to as our neighbours and fellow citizens.
We need to learn that everything we do is not always about the immediate, but collective future, including the fact that in order to progress, it is not always
about envying or coveting what the originally ‘progressive other’ has, but more of what we can attain – even in the most difficult of circumstances.
And this is where the original Marxian analysis of ‘base and superstructure’ comes into vogue. As Zimbabweans and Africans, we cannot progressively allow
ourselves to be subjected to a global political economy we neither invented nor controlled.
We may need, as Kwame Nkrumah said, to seek first an organic political kingdom for everything else to follow; not in dogma, but in democratic pragmatism which
even in the global north is now being referred to as democratic socialism without again being “othered”.