PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s surprise adoption of Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe constituency in Mashonaland Central as his personal responsibility as a reward for its unwavering support could spell disas
ter for rural constituencies that overwhelmingly rejected Zanu PF in the last polls.
The action can best be interpreted as living up to the threats he made during the March election campaign in Tsholotsho when he warned villagers of dire consequences if they voted for independent candidate Jonathan Moyo or the opposition, MDC.
“If we have Tsholotsho voting for Moyo where will Tsholotsho be going – isolation or oblivion?” he asked.
Matabeleland as a region has suffered lack of development for years while Mugabe tried to force the people to abandon their traditional PF Zapu party.
The adoption of a rural constituency other than his former stamping ground in Highfield could explain the missing link to the recent clean-up operation and the banishment of a majority of its victims to rural areas after his total rejection by the urban electorate.
It could also reveal the idea behind appointing a Minister of Rural Housing and Amenities alongside a Ministry of Interactive Affairs.
Zanu PF looks primed to adopt the “Look East” policy in more ways than one. Mugabe, who has bashed the West for a plethora of problems that Zimbabwe faces, has a vision of Zimbabwe uninfected by Western bourgeois and imperialist influences.
Passionate about a monolithic one-party state, Mugabe could be moving in the direction of African essentialist left, popularised by Tanzanian academic and law professor Issa Shivji.
Shivji’s concept of village democracy as a replacement of Western forms of democracy could be what the doctor ordered for Mugabe in the face of half a decade of rejection by the urban electorate.
Stephen Chan, Professor of International Relations at London University, says Shivji’s idealistic concept rests on the belief that if Africa can rid itself of the legacy that colonialism brought and renegotiate all links that are now “imperialised”, it could start again. The concept has a strong appeal to Mugabe.
In the book Citizen of Africa Chan says Zanu PF intellectuals and theoreticians have been selective in appropriating part of this vision. They follow on this concept that democracy should cascade upwards from village assemblies forming electoral colleges. “By the time each electoral college has elected the next above it and the process culminates in the election of the president, the village peasant will have been left several cascades below.”
Shivji’s ideal state has everything to do with the masses, particularly the rural village-based peasant masses leading the way to an African form of democracy.
Rural conditions have worked to Mugabe and his ruling party’s advantage in the past. The advantages have prompted government to pamper chiefs and traditional leaders for their role as coercing agents. Recently, Policy Implementation minister Webster Shamu announced the appointment of chiefs for rural towns like Rusape.
The adoption of a “Look East” policy by Mugabe does not restrict itself to trade but could be a precursor to adopting ideology as well in the form of the introduction of village assemblies.
Essentially, the village assembly, similar in principle to the town council meeting, is the supreme decision-making body on all major village affairs in this scheme of things. Village assemblies are composed either of all adult villagers or of one representative from each household. But they have rarely been convened.
By 1994, according to Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs (Zimba-bwean equivalent of the Rural Housing and Amenities and Interactive Affairs) reports, about half of all villages had formed village representative assemblies.
The role of the village committee is dual and sometimes contradictory. On the one hand, the village committee is charged with implementing decisions made by the representative assembly. On the other, it is responsible for publicising government policies and persuading villagers to follow those policies even when government policies are not entirely popular. By law, the village committee is responsible for mediating civil disputes, helping to maintain social order, and reporting popular opinion and proposals to the government.
Even the official research arm of the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs recognises that the committee’s twofold function of implementing higher-level policy and responding to village-based initiatives can be contradictory.
“The village heads lack authoritative power and village heads often act on behalf of the government, and cannot give much consideration to the interests of the local community,” one report says.
Rural development in China has not yet progressed to the point where the relationship between political and economic development is evident. For many Chinese, the most important question is whether the introduction of village democracy in fact staves off rural unrest.
President Mugabe’s recent move could have been an alternative to letting seething anger among urban jobless explode, prompting him to preempt such an event by launching Operation Murambatsvina.