Belling Zimbabwe’s electoral-ideological cat

IT will take a while yet for the national after-effect of the 2018 harmonised election to wear off. Praise singers of President Emmerson Mnangagwa will continue justifying his eventual victory, while those of the opposition will continue to cast extremely negative aspersions to it.

guest column: Takura Zhangazha

What will, however, be a reality is that Cabinet, Parliament and local government councils’ will be formally constituted and start doing some sort of work as per their constitutional and respective political party mandates.

Expectations will no doubt be high. It will be almost like watching a football match and rooting for your favourite team or shrilly deriding the performance of your opponent.

For the (still) ruling Zanu PF party, it will be a question of performance and legitimacy. Quite what sort of performance it expects of itself and others is not altogether politically clear. It is, however, very much known behind the elite scenes that it is an ideologically neo-liberal “performance” that is expected. In almost “oxymoronic” fashion, it promises “jobs, jobs, jobs” while at the same time touting the ease of doing business and the de-unionisation of labour.

It is the same thing with the mainstream opposition political parties. They too made (and still make) promises about job creation while using a neo-liberal economic template that does not take kindly to decent wages, let alone improved working conditions for workers.

So what we have is a neo-liberal/capitalist economic ideological framework being touted as the panacea for Zimbabwe’s economic challenges, and this cuts across the political divide.

Yet we are presented (by the mainstream print and electronic media) with an assumedly highly strung “do or die” political contestation between the major political parties, all of whom have a neo-liberal ideological outlook that focuses more on global capital than a people-centred approach to national wealth redistribution. This is all in the spirit of seeking the attention of western and eastern global economic powerhouses, hence the big battles about the legitimacy of the election resided not in the people of Zimbabwe, but what observer missions had to say at least eventually.

What then obtains is an interesting convergence of an electoral process with a neo-liberal ideological outlook that is deemed as progressive by the local and global political elite.

It’s almost an attempt at not only ending “ideology” in Zimbabwean politics, but more significantly, a negation of history on the part of the largest political parties that have emerged after the 2018 election. Both have moved away from their founding values and principles without an iota of historical guilt, largely because they have not had internal democratic practices and pander more to personalities than people-centred and organic democratic ideas. Their internal autocratic characteristics do not, however, end there (that is internally).

It also cascades into the Fanonian national consciousness and creates a popular culture founded on elitism and borderline personality cults. The pitfalls of which become apparent with statements such as “we don’t care who we vote for as long it’s not Zanu PF/MDC/G-40”. Hence, for many a Zimbabwean voter, it is not so much the ideas that motivate our political actors that matter, but who they are and what their personality may or may not represent by way of age or association.


The easier route is to accept this as political reality and watch it all play itself out or join the fray, until the next election in 2023.

The more conscientious route is to query these low levels of progressive, democratic and organic national consciousness in order to proffer solutions not just in the now, but for posterity. This would mean seeking to dismantle this emergent neoliberal electoral-ideological complex in favour of a social democratic one.

And this would be what is tantamount to belling the electoral -ideological cat, a daunting task in its proverbial as well as realistic sense, because it has so many backers (global and local capital), a non-critical but highly personal electorate and potential profiteers, either side of the political divide.

The issue would be to, at least, set in motion the ability to put up warning signs of where the country is going, that is an elitist political and economic permanence that is not designed to serve the majority of the people of Zimbabwe.

And that would have us in perpetual electioneering mode, not on the basis of ideological differences, but on the regrettable premise of who should be in power for its own sake and in search of an end to popular angst at the long-dure rule of Zanu PF.

Two critical interventions, therefore, come into vogue. The first is outrightly political in so far as it seeks to circumvent continued electioneering. This being that the Constitution of Zimbabwe must be amended in order to repeal the very idea of a ‘harmonised election’. There has been no such thing since this was introduced fully in 2008.

What should be considered an option is that of first of all separating local government and national elections, and in the process introducing, for both plebiscites, a proportional representation system. Elections for the National Assembly would determine which party in Parliament elects the executive President. This would mean every political party gets a seat at the legislative table, not just on the basis of the personalities that lead them, but more significantly on the basis of values, principles and ideas that they posit to the Zimbabwean electorate and public.

The second most significant intervention in the public sphere would be the establishment of alternative economic models as solutions to the current neo-liberal dominant one we are saddled with.

The initial one must clearly be one that seeks first a social democratic approach to the national economy, that is, one that protects public wealth (land, health, transport, water, education, media) from the avaricious hands of private capital while at the same time establishing a baseline social welfare system for Zimbabweans. That should be with a strict understanding of our national context before we seek to emulate a dying neo-liberalism (whichever way you look at it) in the global north and east. That way, we will have belled the cat.

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