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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

On 'doing God' in Zimbabwean politics

On the matter of how political community must be organised and run, I believe in a secular rational-legal order. I do not want to live in a theocracy such as we have in some Muslim countries where religion is the organising factor of society and subsumes all life, with religious edicts and commandments forming the basis of law.

In many such countries we see clashes between fundamentalists and moderates over the interpretation of religious dogma, with claims and counter-claims of each group being closer to the mind of God than the other, and a massive denial of freedom to certain groups, such as women, on the basis of scriptural interpretation.
First Lady Mrs Grace Mugabe flanked by ZANU-PF women's league secretary Oppah Muchinguri (left)

I want to live in a liberal democratic order where civil rights must be allowed that, among other things, enable members to pursue their religious freedoms. I want politics to be a rational exercise where decisions and choices are based on reason and policy making responds to the rule of cause and effect.

That is why I am very uncomfortable - even fearful - when politicians and public figures glibly invoke the name of God in the political process. For that reason, I called out my good friend Nelson Chamisa when he famously declared in the context of the current MDC power struggles that Morgan Tsvangirai was ordained by God to rule. (Interestingly, a paper reviewing the MDC-T's 2013 election campaign by Dr Phillan Zamchiya observes the prevalence of the view within the party that it had divine ordination to rule and so would win the election, a view that conditioned party strategy and calculation).

And now we have First Lady Grace Mugabe entering the political fray name-dropping God in her perspective of party politics in Zimbabwe today. The absurdity of it all is complete when on the one hand, in explaining the state of the MDC post-election, Grace Mugabe claims Morgan Tsvangirai and his party have been ditched by God and put into their rightful place, while on the other, Chamisa extols the leadership of Tsvangirai as Zimbabwe's "Moses" and declares divine ordination for him to rule Zimbabwe. These are rather innocuous appropriations of God for political service by politicians of course, but history shows how frighteningly dangerous it can get.

More debilitatingly, it stifles thought and kills national discourse, which process must legitimately yield solutions to national questions and provide us with policy. When politicians retreat into the religious and "do God", they subvert rationality and democratic discourse, which is a retrogressive and illiberal thing to do, leading to a poverty of ideas, and therefore, of everything else.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

MDC-T counts cost of downgrading diaspora party structures

Tsvangirai reacts to jeers from his audience at Southwark Cathedral

Foresight is a great thing for policymakers to possess. Whilst ensconced in the luxury of the Inclusive Government, the MDC-T thought it best to downgrade all its foreign assemblies from the status of constituent provinces into associate assemblies.

Predictably, the move caused no small disquiet among the party faithful in the diaspora, not least because of their sustained material contribution to the party during the struggle years. This came on the heels of the then newly installed Prime Minister's unpopular call for a reverse exodus to the mother country when he addressed Zimbabweans at London's Southwark Cathedral on his maiden trip to the UK after assuming the role in 2009. He was roundly booed, thereafter deciding to turn his back on what he deemed a prodigal flock.

Fast forward a short five years later, and the party is not only out of the comfort of both the inclusive government and the self-assuredness of imminent exclusive control of the Zimbabwean state and its resources, but also out of favour with erstwhile western benefactors and seriously out of pocket.

It is the latter reality that has revolutionised thinking inside the MDC-T on party financing, and in recent days we've seen party officials calling on their rank and file to 'fund the struggle'. Ecocash (a popular mobile money transfer facility) numbers soliciting donations are being advertised widely. Which is all good. Indeed, for democracy to develop organically, it must be funded locally. But we will, for the time being, set aside the circumstances through which the MDC-T came by this wisdom and return to the theme of foresight in policymaking.

As Econet prepares to launch its Ecocash facility in the UK and South Africa before spreading it out to all major diaspora centres, wouldn't that have worked wonders as enabling infrastructure for the MDC-T to collect membership dues and donations from its external branches, whose support is pertinent at this juncture in the party's life? It would sound rather disingenuous and hollow now, wouldn't it, if Morgan Tsvangirai were to return to the UK on a charm offensive to tell his orphaned party structures that they're actually a loved child, the apple of his eye,even!

But then again, that's the price of not thinking far enough when making policy. Nothing explains the MDC-T's decision to downgrade its foreign structures than the party's participation in government and the resultant belief that this was where they would now operate from henceforth, with power-sharing soon to be followed as default procedure by full blown control of the Zimbabwean state - and its resources. Except that today, the party's reality is that of imminent full blown bankruptcy.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Rising reggae star Matty Julius comes to Zim Achievers Awards

Rising star Mathias 'Matty' Julius

HE is the consummate artist whose irrepressible talents could not be limited to a single discipline. Audiences in Zimbabwe and abroad came to know him as a dancer and choreographer with the esteemed dance company, Tumbuka.

But on the 10th of May, guests to this year’s edition of the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards (ZAA) in London will rock and skank to the multilingual, soulful reggae vibes of Mathias ‘Matty’ Julius.

The silky-voiced crooner, who has recorded two albums to date, is fast emerging as one of Africa’ most exciting original reggae artists. At a time when West Africa is sweeping the continent in a harmattan of the highly infectious Afrobeats rhythms, Matty is helping to shore up reggae music on the continent. He has been featured extensively in the media and has also performed live on the BBC World Service.

Singing in Shona, Ndebele and English, Matty writes about love, life and the challenges facing many of his compatriots today. His music draws on a variety of influences, from traditional and popular Zimbabwean music to reggae and dub. Ever since the legendary Bob Marley came to perform at Zimbabwe’s inaugural independence celebrations in 1980, reggae music came to be a key part of the country’s urban youth culture, particularly in the working class townships

But while the “ghetto youths” (as they affectionately refer to themselves in their music) have launched into the more brash, boisterous and street-wise dancehall sub-culture, Matty has stuck to what he knows and does best. He belongs to an enduring community of Zimbabwean original reggae artists who have stuck to their craft despite the vicissitudes of the economy and the music market.  

Of his journey to recording artiste via dance and choreography, Matty says: “Since I was a kid my dream was to be a performer - music or dance. And I started with music as a teenager trying to do the old dancehall we called digital in those days, playing pots and pans to make ‘riddims’. Then around the early nineties I found myself wearing tights, doing ballet and contemporary dance with Tumbuka Dance Company, and I fell in love with dance and travelling and seeing the world.”

“I was always singing throughout my dancing career, and then in 2006 I decided to set up my own recording studio and start to make music. So I have a soft spot for both. Dance will always be in me but music is growing in me now. I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to pursue both my dreams,” he explains.

His debut album, “Here I Come”, was recorded in 2006 and is currently selling online on iTunes, Amazon and other online stores.  In 2011 Matty followed this up with a second album, “Don’t Look Back”, which received generous airplay on Zimbabwean stations and on international online radio stations in the UK, the US, Canada, South Africa and Australia.

The hit song “Twenty-Ten”, an innovative collaboration with Zimbabwean star Oliver Mtukudzi, featured in Zimbabwe’s top twenty. “Pahushamwari hwedu” was the Tafara-born Matty’s huge hit single released in March 2012.  A collaboration between well known artists on Zimbabwe’s reggae scene, it features Matty, Mannex Motsi, Thanda Richardson, Kalabash, Cello Culture, Mary Motsi, Chaza, J.Farai, and Lady Squanda.

“The track is about reggae artists in Zimbabwe coming together as one, about togetherness as a nation, about peace and loving one another,” Matty says.


But in an urban youth culture that is awash with a cacophony of foreign sounds, from Hip-hop, R&B and Soul to Kwaito, Funky House and even Soukous, how did Matty come to settle for reggae?

“When I started recording I made collaborations with Hip-hop/R&B/Soul, which was fun, but whenever I heard a reggae beat it always gave me inspiration,” he says, “That's when I decided reggae was for me. I have always liked reggae and after playing a lot of dancehall in the mid nineties, the older I got the less I liked fast music. That's why I prefer slow roots reggae vibes.”

It is hard enough grinding out recognition by music fans in one’s country, let alone in a foreign capital with its steamrolling mainstream musical culture that seems to consign everything else to the margins. But right on the cultural margins of British society is where Matty’s people can be found: Zimbabweans, other African and Afro-Caribbean migrant communities, and pretty much every cultural moth attracted to the vibrant, the creatively incandescent and different.

“Being here in the UK has made me raise my game even more. It's great to see so many other people from all over the world performing to their highest standard and that's opened up more creativity in me,” Matty says.

“The Zimbabwean Diaspora in the UK - or at least around London - are starting to get to know my music. I think they might appreciate and accept my music because it has a different vibe to much of the new music coming out of Zimbabwe today. I now have a fan base coming from the Yorira Ngoma event which I co-founded with Tomson Chauke at the end of 2013. And I'm happy that I've had positive feedback from audiences when I've performed elsewhere too, which is cool.”

For a young Southern African vocalist to pick up the microphone and sing reggae music to the world one is inevitably accosted by references and comparisons to anti-apartheid and social justice hero Lucky Dube, whose African interpretations of the Jamaican genre received global acclaim. Is Matty fazed by these expectations?

“I am a Lucky Dube fan; he was certainly one of the reggae giants coming out of Africa. In terms of my journey, I started performing for my Zimbabwean people first but I would like to perform more abroad and to get more recognition both at home and overseas. I know the road can be long but I'm happy with the positive reception I'm getting so far here in the UK. But only God knows where my journey will end up,” he says.

Guests to the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards gala dinner at the regal Royal Garden Hotel in the fashionable district of Kensington will get to witness Matty’s unfolding journey and rock steadily to his soulful lover’s rock reggae.

Now in their fourth season, the ZAA are sponsored by new money transfer company ZymPay and have become the flagship platform for recognising the achievements of the Zimbabwean community in the UK. Tickets to the event are available for a limited time on the ZAA website.

Matty joins an exciting line-up of performers brought in by organisers to raise the bar even higher this year and give guests an all-round exquisite experience to remember.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Zim Achievers offers special ticket discount



The Zimbabwe Achievers Awards (ZAA) have announced a special Independence discount on tickets to this year's event to be held on the 10th of May at the prestigious Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, London.

From the 17th to the 21st of April, tickets will be available for £79.95, a generous £10 cheaper than the going price. ZAA executive director Brian Nyabunze said the special discount was a gesture of goodwill to the community in commemoration of Zimbabwe's 34th independence anniversary, which has this year coincided with the Easter holiday.

"We thought it would be good to extend this gesture of generosity to our community on the occasion of our country's independence. The awards are almost here and we've pulled out all the stops to ensure a great experience to all our guests on the night," Nyabunze said.

Tickets are available on the ZAA website. This year the organisers have introduced a world class ticketing system that allows guests to choose and pay for their seats entirely online.

Sponsored by the new money transfer company ZimPay, this year's awards will give special  honour to the achievements of young people. An exciting lineup of performers has also been put together to entertain guests.

Now in their fourth year, the ZAA celebrate the achievements of the Zimbabwean community in the UK.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Zim nationalists need to listen more and be less defensive

*I am almost always disappointed by the characteristic response of the "nationalists" to arguments and observations by white commentators about the failures of the nationalist government over the post-independence period, such as the one below by Eddie Cross. First, they never fail to emphasise their interlocutor's race and Rhodesian past as an attempt at invalidating such observations and perspectives. And the irony is that Zimbabwe's economic and physical infrastructure also has a  Rhodesian past, which has served as a brilliant legacy that gave the post-independence government a starting position that many other African countries could only have dreamt of at the point of their own assumption of self-rule.
This is what Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa did recently in response to the white economist John Robertson at a workshop/conference in Harare, for which he was chided by the Herald columnist "Nathaniel Manheru" for failing to give an "intellectual" response to Robertson. Secondly, the more intellectual nationalist response retreats to a claimed ideological and moral high ground which is meant to put such "neo-colonial" and "neo-liberal" perspectives into the shade . The whole effort trips over a litany of excuses as it battles spiritedly to deflect responsibility for all that has failed to go well in the Zimbabwean economy after independence.
I don't necessarily agree with all of Eddie Cross's explanations for what has gone wrong in the Zimbabwean economy, or all of his prescriptions on what must be done. But I also strongly object to the view by some who have expressed themselves here before, that on historical and ideological grounds (and racial, though thats not made explicit) the likes of Eddie cannot hold a valid opinion that isn't favourable to the nationalist party and its government without being "unrepetant Rhodies" now pushing a "neo-liberal" agenda.
My own view is that the party in power has a very thin skin, is very sensitive to criticism, doesn't admit any responsibility for getting anything wrong in the economy, and especially abhors comparisons of its economic performance with that of its Rhodesian predecessor, to the point of denying the positives in the legacy that it inherited from Rhodesia, not least in the form of the very infrastructure that our national economy has subsisted on for the past 34 years and which is now dated and creaking and lacking much needed repair and rehabilitation. Secondly, that the nationalist government has very limited capacity for listening, is too defensive for its own good, and undermines its potential to establish gainful economic relations with the world by holding a distorted view of national sovereignty that says we can do as we please, such as unilaterally violating bilateral investment protection agreements, and yet still expect the world to not be uncomfortable doing business with us.

After this lengthy caveat, you may now proceed to read Eddie Cross's article below.

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Stark Realities

At a seminar this week, a senior Chinese businessman said that in 1979 he had been in charge of the Chinese project to build the TanZam Railway from Dar es Salaam to Ndola in Zambia. He had finished the project that year and was moving back to his base in China. He described how he had packed his bags with sugar, milk powder and baby food; all basic needs that he knew were in short supply at home.

In 1980 the leadership of China changed and Deng Zhou Ping became the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and launched his campaign to bring China into the main stream of the world economy. He stated that “it does not matter that the cat is black or white, what matters is does it catch mice”. Today, 35 years later China has the second largest economy in the world and has brought nearly a billion people out of abject poverty and into relative prosperity. The transformation is breathtaking and the talk of the rest of the world.

The businessman did not have to point out the stark contrast with the history of the past 35 years in Zimbabwe. In 1980 we were a middle income country with a higher GDP per capita than China, we had virtually no debt and a currency that was worth twice the value of the US dollar. We produced 90 per cent of what was sold in our supermarkets and our farmers employed 350 000 people, supplied 60 per cent of the inputs required for our industry, generated half of all exports and provided food at prices that were well below any other country in the region.

Today our GDP per capita is among the lowest in the world with half our population in abject poverty. Only 5 per cent of our population is working in the formal sector, we import 70 per cent of our food and pay higher prices for it than any of our neighbors. Only half of what we buy in our supermarkets is made in Zimbabwe – and even then most local products are produced using imported raw materials. Nearly half our children under 5 years of age are malnourished and we have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world and child and maternal mortality rates that are well above those in all other southern African States.

Our leadership in 1980 included 19 men and women with a PhD or more behind their names. I would have thought that they would have constituted the most highly qualified administration in Africa. Our Prime Minister, soon to be President had 6 degrees, spoke English as if it was his first language and was acknowledged as a very intelligent person. He was also tough and a clever, intuitive politician. Zimbabwe came to life with everything; a good climate, well educated elite, a balanced, mixed economy with abundant mineral resources and the full support of a global community that wanted us to succeed in every way.

As he spoke to the seminar, which was attended by the Vice President, Ministers, Diplomats and nearly all Senators and Members of Parliament, total silence claimed the Conference Center we were in. We all reflected on just what we had done wrong that our two countries – starting out with such hope and ambition in 1980 and yet ending up in such different places.

Two weeks ago I wrote a piece that stated that we did not have to do a great deal to get our country back on track into the future. I was criticized for that comment by people who thought that I was praising the Rhodesians for how they ran the country before Independence and minimizing the difficulties – some claimed it was all about “sanctions”. But the truth is we have to answer for what we have done with what we inherited in 1980. We have to answer to our children if none other because it is their future that we have destroyed.

At the same seminar we heard speaker after speaker, none from the UK or the USA, many from other developing States, all of whom said two things – we would love to invest in your future but sadly, your rules and behavior deny us the opportunity. The Indian Ambassador was blunt, “how can you expect Indian business to invest in Zimbabwe when the Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement signed in 1999, ratified by the Parliament of India in 2000 has not been ratified by Zimbabwe in 14 years?’’

The message they all gave was quite clear. We must respect and enforce the rule of law, we must enforce compliance with contracts, we must guarantee investment and protection of private property, must pay full compensation when those rights are violated for whatever reason. We must create an investor friendly and conducive environment where business can expect to make a fair return on their capital and technology. We must guarantee all essential support services – education and health services for staff and management, transport and communications, access to regional and global markets at a reasonable cost. We must curb corruption and the activities of parasitic State agencies that must collect rents from our enterprise to survive.

They all said that our desire to control what goes on in our economy was similar to the position of all their governments. They did not think that indigenisation was a threat in any way – but we had to pay for our equity and respect the needs and requirements of our partners. They asked for strong government that was principled and for consistency and predictability with the ground rules being set out clearly and with guarantees that they will not change once the game is underway. They said that they always took a long term view of the situation into which they were investing time, technology and resources.

A quick review of what we have done to the mining industry (which grew at 35 per cent per annum in the period of the GNU) shows very clearly where we have gone wrong. Not only has the line Ministry been corrupt, demanding large payments for decisions and in the case of the Marange diamond fields, violating, without compensation, the rights of ACR who found the diamonds and had legal rights to a large part of the deposit and then simply taking over and exploiting the largest diamond find in a century. There was no transparency; no accountability and the wealth created found its way to a few politically connected people. Then, without consultation, we imposed massive fees on the industry and then in early 2014 new rates of royalties that are already closing down hundreds of small mines throughout the country.

When three world class mining companies invested billions in the platinum industry, employing thousands of Zimbabweans and virtually no expatriates, instead of being proud of what they had accomplished, we threatened them, made unreasonable demands on them, forced them to enter into share deals that were not in the interests of the company or the communities they work amongst. Now we have imposed heavy royalties and threatened punitive taxes on “unprocessed” platinum being exported, even though the value addition is minimal. The present product being exported is highly processed and concentrated and there is little financial prejudice to the country and in any event we cannot provide the electrical energy needed for such development.

As for agriculture our track record is even worse. We have taken over by force, the assets of over 6000 companies and individuals, we have destroyed the productive infrastructure that had been built up and paid for over the previous 100 years by enterprise and effort. We have not paid compensation or dealt with the human suffering that has resulted. We point to the partial recovery in tobacco production and the increased number of players without recognizing that the same effect could have been achieved without disruption. We have taken more than $10 billion in assets out of the economy and the great majority of these once productive enterprises are now derelict and abandoned.

Right now we cannot pay for even the most basic needs and priorities in Government. The economy is again contracting and State revenues declining. If we want to get out of the hole we are in we have no choice but to harness our business sector and get foreign direct investment in large quantities into our economy. There is no alternative, we have to change the way we are doing things, that is the stark reality facing Zimbabwe.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 15th March 2014