Many Zimbabweans have begun to ask if there is a way, or ways, to move the country forward regardless of the bad politics. In asking this question, they are expressing their sense of helplessness resulting from the failure of the country’s leadership to guide the country in its quest for stability and prosperity.
REPORT BY NEVANJI MADANHIRE
Zimbabweans have realised that politics have kept the country in the mud for far too long and the space the country is in now is not a good one and will likely remain so for another generation or so.
When the political crisis began around the turn of the millennium, many believed the political leadership would rise to the occasion quickly enough and solve their differences. The majority of the people also believed they would play their role by exercising their democratic right to choose the leadership they wished to lead them.
But after more than 10 years, in which they went to the polls five times, they have come to believe their vote counts for nothing in the dog-eat-dog politics where cabals rule the roost.
Among lots of Zimbabweans fatalism has now crept in — they have now adopted the anything-goes approach, hence they walk about as if nothing is amiss. The cabal that controls the country is very happy about this for this creates just the right atmosphere for their politics of personal aggrandisement.
When the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was signed in 2008, many saw a ray of hope; they hoped that the political leadership was sincere and would, at last, use the life-span of the agreement to transition from the politics of hate to the politics of building bridges. But the GPA has become even more divisive as groups with vested interests in the status quo refuse to budge.
Security sector reform has become the most divisive element of the GPA, everyone is aware of that. But not a single protagonist in this drama wants to rise above the whole lot and say, “For the sake of the country, I am quitting.”
As an African proverb says, to keep someone in the mud, one also has to be in the mud. All those people keeping the country in this perpetual state of crisis don’t realise they too are deep, if not deeper, in the crisis.
But where lies Zimbabwe’s hope, for there should be hope somewhere?
There are people who have shown that Zimbabwe can be moved forward in spite of the intractable political mess. On the large stage, I would like to mention the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) which ends in the capital today. In spite of the crisis, the festival has successfully celebrated its 11th anniversary; it is almost as old as the country’s political-economic crisis.
It has not been smooth sailing for the Hifa team. Year in, year out, the team describes its frustration with bureaucratic red tape.
Each year they have to struggle to bring in foreign artistes and their equipment because those running the bureaucracy want a bite of the cherry, even when the cherry is non-existent.
Above everything else, Hifa has shown the world what Zimbabweans working together as a non-racial, apolitical team are capable of achieving. Compare Hifa with the forthcoming UNWTO summit which the country will co-host with Zambia in August. See how the dirty politics threaten to scupper the event as groups fight for space.
But even more inspiring than the Hifa success, is the way the common people are surviving the crisis. Recently I bought a pair of shoes from the street. I couldn’t resist it because of the workmanship on display. Talking to the vendors of the footwear, I was warmed in the heart by the spirit of entrepreneurship in the face of adversity.
The young men who make the hand-made shoes are a new breed of youth that have seen the futility of expecting a dysfunctional government to provide jobs. Unemployment in Zimbabwe is still estimated to be as high as 80% and the system is unlikely to correct that any time soon. The young shoemakers have realised this and have decided to move their lives forward.
They meet many challenges which they have decided to take head-on.
For example, the legality of their enterprise is questionable since they threaten to outdo established shoe manufacturers and traders.
But these have already seen their business decimated by cheap Chinese imports. In a guerrilla economy such as ours, where more business is happening in the informal economy than in the shops, anything goes.
The informal shoemakers are just one example of the spirit that has enabled ordinary Zimbabweans to survive when they have been let down by their government. Our music industry is another such enterprise that has seen hoards of young people survive well when the formal economy has let them down. There is the tendency to look down upon this industry and underestimate the role it’s playing in keeping our children off the streets. But government has again let down this sector as it makes no firm commitment to fighting piracy.
On every street corner one cannot help but see people selling pirated music while the police look on or make half-hearted attempts to arrest the culprits. In the end the young people who toil every day to produce the music cannot survive on the fruits of their labour.
Every morning in Harare one can see women of all ages perched precariously on decrepit vans carrying various vegetables from Mbare Musika to their stalls in the low-income suburbs. They can’t be making that much money, but one can see and feel their will to survive. It is this spirit that will save this country.
In the script Zimbabwe Rising, it is these ordinary Zimbabweans who will be the chief protagonists, not the politicians. The country’s crisis of leadership might as well be solved by these people in the coming generation. We have read stories from around the world of billionaires who started by selling cigarettes or some such wares on the street who have now risen to lead their countries.
There is, therefore, no reason for fatalism and helplessness in the face of our political crisis; there are many ways of moving this country forward without the ugly politics.