Saturday, 23 July 2016

Zimbabwe's interesting new role as a melting pot for political ideas

By Lenin Tinashe Chisaira

If one is asked about the best thing coming out of the current Zimbabwean question, one can confidently say it is the growing space for contestation of political ideas. Barely a day passes without one coming across a pointed comment on Facebook or Twitter alluding support for one of the various economic, political and social ideas being forwarded by certain individuals, institutions, social movement organisations like #Tajamuka, #ThisFlag, civil society, politicians, economists, activists and even by the public and ruling party characters.

Lenin Tinashe Chisaira
Some progressive commentators in Zimbabwe are taking debates beyond social media and embarking on the further energetic step of penning opinion pieces and articles in support of their ideas. Contestation of ideas is dominant in alternative media platforms such as blogs and diaspora media websites. In just this past week, one encountered thought-provoking writings from people like Takura Zhangazha, Miles Tendi, Munyaradzi Gwisai, Tamuka Chirimambowa and others.

 The exchange of radical and reactionary ideas is almost a reminder of the stories and pictures we have seen in history books about the political cafes that dominated revolutionary France in the 18th and 19th century.

The place for theory

Any serious movement for economic, social and/or political reforms should be backed by progressive ideas/theories otherwise the result would be senseless anarchy or fatal defeat. The Arab Spring remains a living reminder of the futility of movements that lacked clear ideological foundations.

 In the words of Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary leader, theorist and historical figure in his 1902 political pamphlet entitled What is To Be Done? Burning Questions of our Movement:

Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity… the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory”.

Lenin is a man whose books, theories and tactics delivered the great October socialist revolution where for the first time the working class overthrew a tsar and took over the running of a society. It is such ideas that should be revisited in the Zimbabwean context where all leading formations are trying hard to capture the eternally relevant and potentially revolutionary urban and rural working class.

When people are focused on political debates, a small segment even argue for otherwise hidden ideas such as Marxist theories. Hence is encouraging for people like this writer who in other times barely comes across encouraging progressive content in the media. So it was highly interesting to read about classes once again in a recent article by Takura Zhangazha. it is a pity though that he identifies himself as a social democrat. He would make a good communist.

The good and the bad of political debate

The contestation of ideas is both healthy and bad. The good thing is that the environment opens up for debate and progressive ideas and even gives voice to some people who under ordinary circumstances prefer to be silent. The focus on ideas eventually leads people to seek opinions and writings in non-traditional mediums and this is a worthwhile pursuit.

The bad thing with political debates is when some cadres take things personal. For instance, there is a rising culture among some activists that says certain characters should not be criticised. These say we have reached a stage where some people should be regarded as sacrosanct in order to avoid the struggle being compromised. To them, criticism is unwelcome. Unfortunately, such sentiments are the bedrocks of a totalitarian society.  One of the features of a totalitarian society has been defined as “centralisation of power and values in the hands of the leader. This centralisation of power allows the decisions of the leader to reach and influence the people without checks or mediation from other institutions with their own political agenda or values.” These sentiments should not be a feature of the current wave of pro-democracy movement-building in Zimbabwe. Every idea and every person should stand the test of criticism and democratic debate.

The future

In a nutshell, the future of viable political ideas contestation in Zimbabwe should involve unfettered debate, even when such involves the criticism of some people’s heroes. There must be debate on social media and on the ground. Discussion forums initiated by residents’ movements, students’ unions, civil society and other groups have never been more necessary. There is need for this society to allow free debate and the testing of alternative theories, political ideas and ideological questions. Such debate and robust contestation of ideas can never be adequately exhausted on social media, moreover on Twitter with its 140-characters-per-tweet limitations.

Everyone, led by the intelligentsia, needs to effectively strengthen, initiate and participate in the current discourse on Zimbabwe’s economic, political and social future. That is genuine freedom of expression.

[Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is an activist, lawyer and researcher based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He tweets at @LeninChisaira and blogs at]

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The rise of organic protest, opportunism and the private press- #ShutDownZim

Riot police beat up an ordinary protester in Mufakose during the 06 July protests (Source: Newsday)
The first week of July 2016 has started on a fiery note. Harare, Beitbridge and Bulawayo have been burning.  Questions have been asked about the faces of the people or individuals behind the general July people’s protests and the 6 July stay away. Some sectors of the society, for their own interests have begun to dishonestly ascribe to some social media characters these obvious results of general resentment against the bad governance in Zimbabwe. They have chosen to ignore that touts can organise themselves, and likewise cross-border trades do not need social media prodding to agitate their grievances. The same with civil servants who had virtually had a months’ salary taken away from them by the Ministry of Finance.

Organic Protests

The July protests by Zimbabweans were organic. That is the answer. At Beitbridge, informal traders were incensed after the Ministry of Industry and Commerce issued SI 64/2016, also cited as the Control of Goods (Open General Import Licence) (No.2) (Amendment) Notice, 2016 (No.8) on 17 June 2016. The statutory instrument (SI 64/2016) is a law which seeks to control the import of basic goods and foodstuffs into the country. The merits or demerits of the SI are not the subject of this opinion. However, it cannot be doubted that people were not consulted. Hence the major grievance seemed to have been on lack of consultation and adequate notice from the government. Due to its usual disregard of the people’s views, the government got its just deserts when the border town of Beitbridge burned.

With the heat from Beitbridge still on, touts and public transport operators staged some powerful protests in Harare and Bulawayo, notably in the poor, working class suburb of Epworth, just outside eastern Harare. Epworth is a community which lies in the forgotten periphery of the capital city, and is usually associated with prostitution, school dropouts and crime. This is also a community which is not really the territory for social media activisms and where there is virtually little to no Wi-Fi availability. But where people suffer the worst of economic crisis. It is a community where the majority of unemployed youths, decided to say enough s enough and to face down the ever-worsening harassment by traffic police on combis, which was their main source of livelihood.

Whilst these protests were ranging, civil servants were mobilising for strike against lack of payment of June wages by the government. Organisations such as the Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ) had been calling for action since the day the salary postponement was announced (which incredibly was the same day SI 64/2016 was gazetted). Likewise, the youth coalition/movement known as #Tajamuka had been fearlessly leading protest-actions from the front, at bank queues and at courts.

Media bosses and fear for radical actions

Now despite the actions by these various organics groups and movements, it shocking when on the day after the stayaway, the private press have decided to ascribe the people’s efforts to have been caused by a mere call from a certain social media character. The intention behind that is obvious and shall be analysed here.

Lenin Tinashe Chisaira
Most of the private press in zimbabwe is owned by business interests. These interests, no matter how they may try to support pro-democracy activism, themselves fear the rise of anti-capitalist sentiments. They feel threatened themselves when they witness organic movements calling for the burning of business and private property. This is because media bosses also attend meetings and play gold with fellow business executives from targeted sectors. In addition, media bosses also invest in various businesses such as in the transport and supermarket sectors.

They try to water down radical protest and place moderate characters as front men, denying credit to the grassroots. The Daily News and Newsday editions of 07 July 2016, have gone at length to claim that the recent 06 July #ZimShutDown2016 / #ZimbabweShutDown / #ShutDownZim action was called by people whose recent disregard for vibrant protest and whose efforts at demobilising and dismissing visible ground protests by groups like #Tajamuka, opposition parties and the general populace have been well known and well documented. Genuine people and their grievances as well as the frontline actions of organic movements like #Tajamuka are deliberately and shockingly being side-lined.

In a nutshell, through it is good to acknowledge the power of social media, it is also pertinent that we do not forget the most factual conclusion that can be carried away from the events of these weeks. The fact is that it is the people’s actions on the ground that can shake a system, i.e., the vibrant actions of ordinary people who rise up and express genuine grievances against, among other things, police harassment, corruption and the exploitative taste for lavish living by government elites. It can never be sole twitter and social media activisms that can uproot a system. Social media activism is good, but only when it supplements vibrant action on the ground.

At the other end, throughout history, the private press and the state media have almost always tried to hijack or distort people’s efforts. This is due to considerations for profit-making, politics as well as  the protection of private business interests and property. However, history will be the judge. Bravo, the ordinary people of Zimbabwe and those in foreign lands who are in solidarity.

[Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is an activist and lawyer by profession. Twitter: @LeninChisaira ; Website: ; Blog: ]

Friday, 1 July 2016

Bond Notes: Are the fears genuine? - Part 2

By Lenin Tinashe Chisaira

Gov. John Mangudya of the RBZ at the launch of bond coins in 2014
In this part 2 of this writer’s bond notes opinion, there is need to look at how the law should be used to protect the aspirations and needs of the ordinary person and not just those of the elites. The law must be flexible. Hence this part will invoke some basic legal arguments for the practical need for bond notes by the bank-queuing public. One must hasten to remind the reader that the writer is openly supportive of radial economics and anti-neo-liberalism.

The law must serve the ordinary people.

Zimbabwe is founded on respect for certain values and principles (section 3 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe) which values include recognition of the worthy and inherent dignity of each human being and respect for the country’s diverse cultural and traditional values. The state must ensure that its people, especially pensioners who selflessly built the nation in their younger years, must be able to enjoy comfortable lives devoid of indecent queues and the indignity of cash shortages. Section 68 of the Constitution provides for the right to administrative justice. The elderly, and the workers and peasants are equally entitled to administrative conduct that lessens burdens on their lives and that is prompt in addition to being impartial, proportionate to the extent of the economic problems and reasonable in a real economic crisis.
The Law must be progressive and responsive to the aspirations of the people, including economic aspirations. Therefore, the government of the day, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), big business, professionals, elites, etc. must be pro-people and organic in their conduct. The law should never have a narrow and inflexible interpretation.

It is within the rights of the central bank to safeguard hard currency since it is prone to abuse by business and the elites. Section 49 (1) (b) of the RBZ Act gives the RBZ the power to maintain international reserves which can be in the form of foreign exchange in the form of notes or coins or account balances held by the bank in foreign currencies. It suffices that the Constitution already gives the central bank the powers to regulate the monetary system, to protect currencies in the interests of balanced and sustainable economic growth and to formulate and implement monetary policy. (Section 317(1) of the Constitution.) The RBZ, as the institution empowered by the Constitution and by Section 47 of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Act [Chapter 22:15] to deal with exchange rates and monetary policies in Zimbabwe must indeed be a bank of the ordinary people. The RBZ must act to ease the suffering of the people in a cash shortage environment. It must come up with measures that address bank queues; that alleviate the plight of people who are travelling long distances to banks and who will be awaited by hungry families and dependents.

Flexible solutions

Rather than mere fault-finding, there is need for the Zimbabwean society to understand that the Zimbabwean crisis needs wholesale reforms in the long run. But in the short run there is also need to strategically built our economy through flexible and creative solutions that alleviate the plight of our people.

Lenin Tinashe Chisaira
Big business needs to incentivise or re-initiate the use of currencies such as the South African rand. Businesses that import goods from South Africa, should likewise mostly sell their goods locally in SA Rand, rather than in US dollars. Instead of mere denigration of the use of bond coins and notes and amplifying their disadvantages in the import sector, business should rather encourage the wider usage of alternative currencies such as the Rand. The rand fell into general disuse some time ago yet Zimbabwe gets a whopping 60% of its import from South Africa. For the sake of economics not politics, big business need to explains how currencies which were both at 49% usage at the start of the official multi-currency era in 2009, later transformed into a 95% usage for the US dollar versus 5% usage for the Rand in 2016.

The banking and financial service sectors need to encourage people to adopt the use of plastic money. Ecocash and Steward bank are commendable in this respect. These sectors should also encourage the use of real time gross settlement (RTGS) services. In that regard it is critical that points of sale machines be available in almost all places where cash transaction ordinarily, including rural areas, farms, mines, shops, service stations, vegetable markets, council offices and growth points.
All this is not hidden or bookish information. The problems is when vocal people overlook economic and legal information that is available in the public domain. The capitalist system is one that requires research and reluctantly, some caution, before we unwittingly make life difficult for the ordinary bank-queuing person through narrow elitists legal interpretations, ignorant alarming and massaging the ego of big business and the elites.

Last but not least- Arrest the Corrupt.

On another note, and beyond economics, it is worthwhile for the government and the central bank of Zimbabwe to note that public confidence in them has been eroded. Everyday news features scandals of massive abuse of public resources. The culprits always seem untouchable. Without doubt, if government changes course and starts fighting corruption through imprisonment of perpetrators and recovery of stolen assets, the trust may come back. Economics is about people and the solutions should mainly centre on the ordinary, working people.

[Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is a lawyer and former student leader at UZ. He is a student of Economic Regulation and writes here and at  in his personal capacity. Twitter: @LeninChisaira]