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Beyond the crises: debating Zimbabwe’s future


News from Zimbabwe is dominated by crisis: economic, political, social, environmental and more. But what lies beyond? It is good news that people are thinking about this. A blog/website has been launched, centred on the book edited by Tendai Murisa and Tendai Chikweche, called ‘Beyond the crises: Zimbabwe’s prospect for transformation’. A blog that appeared a few weeks back offered a useful analysis of the current predicament, arguing following Brian Raftopolous, for the need to go beyond the polarised divide between a politics of redistribution and a politics of rights; and that in fact both are needed.

Tendai Murisa, currently executive director of Trust Africa, formerly a PhD student at Rhodes, and a researcher at the African Institute of Agrarian Studies, working with the late Sam Moyo, is one of the key drivers. The book and the various blogs are important reading for anyone concerned with the future of Zimbabwe. The book contains chapters on changing policy regimes (Murisa and Nyaguse), microfinance, business and small-scale enterprises (Chikweche and others), agrarian issues (Murisa and Mujyei), including gender dynamics, accumulation and land reform (Mutopo); and biodiversity, climate and environmental change (Ndebele-Murisa, Mubaya, Mutasa). All are worth a read. I however want to concentrate on the beginning and end of the book, and the discussion of the need for a transformation in Zimbabwe. They even offer a manifesto.

What is refreshing about this discussion is that it is non-partisan and barely mentions the internecine wars of party politics. It discusses politics in its broader sense, as the modes of governance required for a successful, prosperous, inclusive society. That Zimbabwe is far from this ideal is very plain, and is discussed across the book. Murisa in particular makes the case that a new politics needs to be built from the ground up, generated from the energies, innovations and solidarities of local communities. Only then will the corrupt, patronage-based politics of the centre – emanating from all sides – be challenged.

This argument picks up from Murisa’s own research that documented the emergence of forms of associational life on new resettlements following land reform. It is an important piece of work that points to the importance of mutualism, social connection and relationship building for any new activity – in this case new forms of production on the land. Extending this argument to wider society, the book makes the case that this has been lost, captured by a venal politics of greed and corruption, and that any transformation must instead emerge from a base, one rooted in solidarity, trust, and mutual cooperation, developing a civic pact that goes beyond shallow, performative participation.

Now of course in the face of the power of the party-business-security state, this may seem somewhat hopeful. But in order to get away from the obsession about leadership succession, pacts and alliances across parties, and how to make an electoral system less open to manipulation, a wider look at politics in its broader sense is important.

In his commentary at the launch of the book, Lloyd Sachikonye made some important points of gentle critique, however. There are dangers in imagining an ideal ‘community’ led response without thinking about class, identity, and power – and the array of differences that divide as well as bring together. He asked: What constellation of classes, groups and alliances should form its vanguard and base?”  Murisa and colleagues, coming from a different generation of scholars less influenced by Marx perhaps, do not throw much light on the intersections of class, capital and the state in their analysis. This is a gap. But it is not incompatible with arguing for a new form of politics in my view.

As Nancy Fraser has long argued, an emancipatory politics that takes democracy seriously must address redistribution (and questions of equity and class difference), recognition (and issues of identity politics) and representation (but not just through occasional elections) together, rethinking the ‘public sphere’, and creating a ‘triple movement’ for an emancipatory politics. A revitalised politics in the face of globalised neoliberal capitalism and nationalist, populist politics (and Zimbabwe has its own particular version, but with striking echoes of what has emerged elsewhere), building new forms of political practice is essential. Whether this is the much-hyped hashtag activism of recent times or a more grounded building of new forms of action in particular places – or ideally interactions of the two through new forms of mobilisation – such moves must focus not just on unsettling existing forms of incumbent power, but also creating alternatives that, following Polanyi, re-embed market relations, socialising production in new ways.

At the same time, a new politics must allow for the recognition of diverse identities, including men, women, different ethnicities, creating a new voice for rural people, many of whom benefited from land reform. How this builds to new forms of representation is the big question, with political parties being so bereft of policy ideas and presenting a narrow, blinkered democratic imagination. As Sachikonye argues, this does not mean rejecting electoral democracy but reshaping it with a more vibrant engagement.

Having an intellectual debate about these issues in a non-partisan forum, based on scholarship from Zimbabwe, is really refreshing, and timely. Only with such input will Zimbabwe ever find a space beyond the seemingly endless crises.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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Geographies of violence in Zimbabwe

Lloyd Sachikonye has written several powerful articles and books on violence in Zimbabwe. His book, ‘When a State turns against its citizens: 60 years of institutionalized violence in Zimbabwe’ is particularly important. It documents what happened particularly around the elections in 2008, and how state led terror, deeply embedded in a particular political culture, was unleashed on the population. While graphic and harrowing, the book, as many accounts, gives the impression that this is what happened everywhere. In fact, there is an important geography of violence in Zimbabwe, which requires explanation, and this explanation helps us to nuance and differentiate are accounts of recent Zimbabwean politics in important ways.

There is little doubt that state-led violence, largely perpetrated by agents of ZANU-PF, increased during the 2000s, and peaked in particular around the 2008 elections. But there has been less commentary on the geography of violence – where it happened, and why. The uneven distribution of violence – including 161 cases that resulted in death – is highlighted in the dramatic maps produced by civil society monitoring groups and reproduced on the Sokwanele website. As these maps graphically show, violence of all sorts was massively concentrated in Mashonaland Central and East (1341 cases, around 60% of the total for the country), with ZANU youth being the main perpetrators. Masvingo, bar the series of incidents associated with election intimidation by war veterans in the communal area, Zaka, was by comparison relative unscathed.

It is this geographical difference that reflects the very different perceptions of politics in the country. As discussed in other blogs, our study has been accused of underplaying violent state politics as a factor in land reform, but even the civil society and human rights group monitoring even at the peak period in 2008 shows how limited this actually was in the province. We just reported what we found, and it seems to reflect what other data shows. But this is not to undermine or dismiss the 33 incidents (including 8 deaths) that were recorded in Masvingo province. Nor is this to suggest that the Mashonaland violence was isolated or unusual: it wasn’t – it was systematic and terrifying. However, it does push us to – yet again – nuance our analyses by place and time.

History is particularly important. Different provinces and districts have had very different political histories. The contrasts between Mashonaland and Matabeleland are obvious, usually cast in starkly defining ethnic terms. But Manicaland is different again, as is Karanga or Shangaan Masvingo. But even within these areas, there are further differences reflecting long-standing divides in political formations, histories of the liberation war and affiliations to particular leaders. This is not the place to go into these, as they are immensely complex and require the sort of detailed district histories that Terence Ranger commented on in his review of our book. Only with these histories do we get a sense of the social and political history of particular places, and how this affects contemporary patterns of politics, patronage and violence.

Ranger is therefore absolutely right that the Masvingo story is peculiar and particular – just as every area of Zimbabwe is in one sense. And the more fine grained you go, each village and farm is different in other ways, as we explained in our brief histories of jambanja farm invasion experiences. So explaining the politics of land acquisition, who benefited and why requires this sort of analysis.

Arnold Chamunogwa has completed a fascinating MA thesis at IDS at the University of Sussex, using different theories of politics to explore the different dynamics and outcomes in three different cases all recently presented in the Journal of Peasant Studies special issue – in Goromonzi near Harare (based on the PhD work by Nelson Marongwe), Chipinge in Manicaland (based on the work of Phillan Zamchiya) and Masvingo province (based on our work). He argues that theories of ‘instrumentalisation of disorder’ (drawing on Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Deloz among others) characterises some areas, while theories of ‘neo-patrimonialism’ (based on work by Nicholas van der Walle and others) characterise others, and in other areas theories of ‘informal politics’ (based on arguments by David Booth, Richard Crook, Christian Lund and others) are more appropriate explanations. These politics emerge from particular histories, social configurations, state relations and experiences of land reform, as well as the particular characteristics and values of the farm systems concerned. The experiences in Goromonzi, Chipinge and Masvingo were as a result very different.

That’s no surprise, I hear you exclaim! Well in a way, no. But it’s important to point out, and the theorisation is helpful to differentiate between different forms of politics in practice – none conforming to the standard liberal good governance mode. So why then did ‘the instrumentalisation of disorder’ dominate in Mashonaland Central and East? This was the core of the Zezuru support base for ZANU PF, and with Goromonzi so close to Harare, there were rich pickings for the elite who were able to create disorder actively and manipulate the process, grabbing land as a result. In Chipinge, with a different political configuration and a historically strong opposition from ZANU Ndonga, a political-bureaucratic network formed to allocate high value land to try and consolidate ZANU PF support, attempting to create a support base in the midst of opposition, ousting land invaders in the process. By contrast, in Masvingo a more informal politics emerged, particularly around the invaded A1 and informal farms where a mix of people were involved, led by war veterans and traditional leaders. The factional politics of Masvingo meant that the imposition of a strong centrist party line was impossible, and locally negotiated solutions emerged. In all settings, attempts at political capture were incomplete, often failing dramatically, and war veterans and others who led invasions often turned on leading party officials attempting to grab land, accusing them of undermining the objectives of the ‘Third Chimurenga’. Politics, as ever, was highly contested, yet the styles and patterns differed due to very particular, and often very long-term socio-cultural and political histories of the different sites.

As we assess the changing nature of Zimbabwean politics, it is important to take these differences into account, and avoid the generalisations that so much commentary resorts to. Just as Zimbabwe as a whole is not explained by what has gone on in Masvingo, so too is the wider political story not explained by referring only to Mashonaland and the highly contested farms near Harare. Explaining this diversity in the geographies of violence is not to condone it, but it does help explain why the recent past has been experienced so differently in different places across the country.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland


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Migration myths. Why you shouldn’t always believe the figures for Zimbabwe

How many times have you heard that over 3 million people have fled Zimbabwe, migrating to South Africa or elsewhere? The figure varies, but it’s always big. But where does it come from and is it true?

This is a question asked by Jonathan Crush and Daniel Tevera in their edited book, Zimbabwe’s Exodus: Crisis, Migration, Survival published in 2010. They trace the earliest use of the 3 million figure to South African media reports in 2003, and to comments made by Thabo Mbeki who claimed there were this number of Zimbabweans in South Africa. The figure has been repeated since, yet the media reports keep presenting a picture of people continuously ‘flooding’ across the border to South Africa. The figures just do not add up. You would think that there would be nobody left, beyond Mugabe and his cronies, if you believed everything you read!

Crush and Tevera point to the political nature of these figures. The argue that “The South African media and officialdom have a history of making up numbers about migration to the country. These numbers, often highly exaggerated for alarmist effect, acquire a life of their own once they enter the public realm. Tracking down their source usually reveals that they have no sound statistical basis”. They are, in other words, myths, and ones repeated by many who should know better.

Indeed the book shows there is no way of knowing the actual facts. No-one on either side of the border keeps proper records, people move back and forward between countries in the region with a high frequency and much movement is illegal in any case. The book offers some clues, however, and usefully compiles what statistics there are, but the authors are at pains to point out the difficulties of precise numbers particularly in the context of circular migration patterns. Circular migration – to places of work and back to home – has been part of southern Africans livelihoods for the best part of a century, as Debbie Potts points out in her recent book focusing on Harare. Yet, as Crush and Tevera point out, this history is often forgotten in contemporary policy discussions, framing current events as new, dramatic and with movement in need of containment. It is of course a familiar story for those of us who live in ‘fortress Europe’.

But have things changed as a result of the crisis in Zimbabwe? Has there been a greater movement of people and have patterns changed? The answer is of course, yes. There are some excellent new works on the Zimbabwean diaspora which tell us lots about who the diaspora are, where they come from and how they relate to ‘home’. Crush and Tevera concentrate on South Africa, while Joann McGregor and Ranka Primorac focus on the UK, for example, and the chapters in these books contain plenty of fascinating cases. As we show from data from Masvingo, patterns of migration have changed significantly in the last couple of decades, particularly from 1990s and the period of structural adjustment. The ‘classic’ movement to the farms or mines within Zimbabwe for a period followed by return to the communal areas on retirement has shifted. There are now new migrants, including youth without land or the prospect of land, the border jumpers; there are more women migrants, tapping into regional trade networks, and there is greater transnational migration, to other countries in the SADC region, but also significantly to the UK.

Each of these migrant groups (and there are of course others) link to home in different ways, sending remittances in different amounts and forms. In the 2000s, when Zimbabwe’s economy was in meltdown, these flows of remittances were crucial, especially if they could get into the country in foreign exchange. Work by Sarah Bracking and Llloyd Sachikonye for the Brooks Institute at Manchester offers some insights into these relationships, but a deeper understanding of how such external players interact with local economies is always difficult to grasp.

In a review of the Crush and Tevera book, Terry Ranger asks: “Perhaps the most important question is not why so many Zimbabweans have left, but why – and how – so many have stayed”. This is an intriguing question because if as Crush and Tevera point out ‘a few hundred thousand’ have left, then most people have remained, even if they leave for periods and return. Given the crisis at home, why? We know much about the push factors, but what about the factors that keep people at home? There are of course the natural bonds of family and home that are valued, the importance of familiarity and the support networks that exist. These are big factors especially when contrasting with the xenophobia experienced by migrants in South Africa, for example.

But there is also one hypothesis that is not explored in these works, one perhaps too difficult to contemplate. Perhaps for some things were not so bad at home; at least not as extreme as sometimes portrayed. The Zimbabwean economic crisis hit the still relatively small middle classes much harder than others. Others gained land, and some returned from abroad to gain access during the land reform. With no jobs at home and few in South Africa or elsewhere except for the connected and skilled, farming at home was perhaps a better option in this period. Certainly remittances have, as they have always done, offset the worst of the crisis, but perhaps land reform, although precipitating some migration from those dispossessed, including farm workers and white farmers, acted to provide a cushion for others. And, for significant proportion of new farmers in Masvingo province, particularly on the A1 plots, they actually fared rather well, and would not dream of leaving, and heading off to the uncertainties and vulnerabilities of the diaspora.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland


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