By Tamuka C Chirimambowa and Tinashe L Chimedza
Harare, Zimbabwe (News of the South)-Today we begin serialising scholastic articles about Zimbabwe’s current political happenings.
Zimbabwe’s current political economy is indefensibly decaying and doing so with cataclysmic effects on people’s The economy has all but stagnated and the informal sector has become an income mainstay – we are talking about buying and selling tomatoes; buying and selling second hand clothes on pavements.
Agriculture is locked in perennial turmoil and command agriculture is only helping the elite expropriate more state largesse. The state bureaucracy has become an extractive network of state institutions – everything is commoditized and taxed; toll gates are pervasive; police roadblocks are given targets; council debt collectors have become aggressive; usurious custom duties are normal and the list goes on.
There is pervasive agreement that the status quo must be transformed; the War Vets have openly rebelled and there is growing demand for opposition coalitions to build political power to upend an ancien political order.
Even those within ZANU PF are increasingly calling for the ‘owners of this project’ to press for change. On the economic front the bond notes are just a provisional ineffective patchwork to a deep seated structural malaise which cannot be resolved without addressing the non- productive economy.
By actively campaigning to expose those with political power,#This Flag’s Pastor Evan and Advocate Fadzai Mahere, #Tajamuka’s Promise Mkwananzi and other activists going back to Itai Dzamara’s #Occupy Africa Unity Square are expanding the ranks of those that have struggled against a political regime which has decayed and only exists to profiteer with people’s taxes, literally – if you doubt this profiteering witness a first lady who spends $1,5million on a ring which is equivalent of paying for close to 200 nurses salary for a whole year.
The advent of ICTs like Facebook Live, Youtube Channels, Facebook forums, WhatsApp groups, live streaming applications, Twitter and Instagram has shifted and expanded the concept of the public sphere and the public forum.
Communication is power and with it comes the possibility of building counter- narratives and eventually counter-power contrasted to those with nationalist authoritarian state power.
The advent of these forms of communication also imply that the old forms of the ‘public forum’ are being disrupted, re-organized and partially displaced by innovative, creative and even cheaper forms of instantaneous communication.
In the 1990s and partly into the 2000s the Public Forum that used to be held in hotels, or the Town Hall meeting was a necessary forum yet this form of citizen engagement was an unwilling prisoner of geography.
It is now possible to argue assertively that these new forms of communication actually constitute effective public forums in themselves. In certain instances, these forums of citizen engagement have escaped the nervous eye of police surveillance and organizers do not have to contend with state security Facebook Live and or a Youtube Channel can actively engage thousands of citizens in some cases far beyond what the old town hall meeting or the rally can do – some of the videos are shared virally. While there are limitations to these forms of citizen engagement these are not debilitating.
It is necessary to build counter-narratives that expose the decadence of the ‘party- state’ and social media plays a critical role in this The recent interview, live, of Joyce Mujuru by Fadzai Mahere (viewed and shared by over 35,000) makes possible the direct questioning of those with political power, putting pressure on them and putting them on notice that the alert citizen is watching.
The ruling political class has maintained a Stalinist hold on public media especially TV, RADIO and they recently rejected the launch of Kwese TV. The discussions on social media can no longer be dismissed as a ‘past-time’ for arm chair critiques because opinions are being shaped by these mediums like Twitter, Youtube Videos, Facebook Live, Facebook Forums and WhatsApp groups. Social media is becoming a ‘gold mine’ for the technology savvy political actor – in Zambia President Lungu now has a weekly broadcast on Facebook live; in Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta, has bypassed the ‘older generation’ to get the younger voters and more excited electorate.
The independent newspapers like Newsday, Daily News, Independent and Standard have kept this flame burning. Let us be truthful the 17/18year old is likely to read H- Metro, watch Youtube videos, follow Facebook live, or follow Twitter, or Facebook forums debates and know more about ‘Stunner and Olinda’ or ‘Andy and Bev’.
This is the generation that will vote, it has no time for rallies, for polemic political essays, for newspapers and research papers; it is the selfie obsessed narcissistic generation and they consume news in sound-bites not rumbling speeches done by old pot- bellied men.
Brian Raftopoulos argued that Zimbabwe’s political economy has been re-configured. The almost complete disappearance of ‘working class’ and its numeric power means that projects to mobilize and engage citizens have to be re-thought, re- organized and in some cases the old way of doing things must be creatively discarded.
This reconfiguration has very concrete bearing on the strategies and tactics of those engaged in the project for a democratic The question that arises is how does those wanting a better Zimbabwe organize the different social groups: the ‘shrinking working class’, students, youths, women, vendors, public sector workers, commuter omnibus operators, tuck-shop owners, cross-border traders and ‘new farmers’.
What it implies here is that mobilizing the citizen has become a much more sophisticated theatre and old tactics wash away like soap in water and the social and political power of civil society become all but ‘thin air’ interspersed by bombastic press statements issued without the backing of political power. Such things tyranny glees at.
In the 1990s and running into the 2000s, civil society generated political and social power by actively focusing on material questions that affected the everyday life of people.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions did not conjure its social and political power from prophesies, heresy or from supernatural. The political and social power of the ZCTU, the student movement, the women’s movement, the residents’ association and human rights groups was built from engaging directly with the citizen and projecting the people’s agenda at a national level.
The battles of the last two decades spectacularly achieved in delivering ‘institutions’ that unfortunately now spent more resources on organizational development, monitoring and evaluation reports, donor roundtable meetings and strategic planning sessions. Maneuvering within the maze of donor networks and institutional conundrums consume far more energy than organizing concrete social and political power.
What has set in is the old ‘square-cube law’: as the institutions grow in size so is the energy and resources needed to just keep it alive which has nothing to do with the initial objective of setting up the institution at all.
….to be continued0
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