There were a number of by-elections in Zimbabwe over the last month. One for local government in my rural home district of Bikita East in Masvingo province. The other(s) for Parliament and local government in Lupane East which is in Matebeleland North province. Both are rural constituencies in our first-past-the post parliamentary and local government electoral system. The ruling Zanu Pf party won all of these by-elections. The margins of Zanu Pf’s victories in both elections were comparatively not that high but they were victories all the same.
Astounded opposition Movement for Democratic Change- Alliance (MDC-A) leaders and members blamed their losses invariably on having been caused by either their lack of funding from central government via the Political Parties (Finance) Act. Or alternatively, the vote buying tactics of the ruling party.
Zanu Pf in turn claimed the victories as a testament of the voters’ understanding and support of president Mnangagwa’s austerity economic policies.
Conversations elsewhere were lost in perplexity as to how Zanu Pf can possibly win by-elections at a time when prices of basic goods and services are going up.
Even as finance minister Ncube announced a mid-term budget review annotated in Zimbabwe dollars for the first time in almost a decade while promising further austerity.
What struck me was the fact of the contradictions of an assumed unpopular ruling party’s by election victories amidst a full throttle implementation of an assumed unpopular economic austerity programme. All the while disparaged by an assumed more popular opposition party that does not differ from a similar economic blueprint but only questions the personalities implementing it than raise any serious counter-ideological questions. 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 a the University of Zimbabwe and what I used to painfully consider as ‘false sophistry’. 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 google them) believed more in the establishment of societal truth based on self-centered 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 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 that is 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 environs. 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 reinvented ‘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 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 also state controlled global capital. Or to put it a bit more simply, we are at the tail end of Samsung, Google. Facebook’s and Exxon Mobil’s expectations of what a ‘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 dilemna 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 also 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 those 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 a 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 control. We may need, as 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 being again, ‘othered.’