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The Zimbabwe Peoples Charter and the democratic struggle

By Blessing Vava February 9, 2017, marked the ninth anniversary since the adoption of the Zimbabwe People’s Charter. The Charter, being...

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Zimbabwe Peoples Charter and the democratic struggle

By Blessing Vava
February 9, 2017, marked the ninth anniversary since the adoption of the Zimbabwe People’s Charter. The Charter, being a product of wide consultations with the masses throughout the country was debated and produced by the more than 3 000 representatives of workers, students, churches, business, women and youth organisations.
Fundamentally, a critical interpretation of the People’s Charter is based on the view that Zimbabwe, since colonialism, has remained a country lacking the rule of law, a country characterised by the militarisation of arms of the state and government.
The People’s Charter, therefore, calls for the establishment of a social democratic Zimbabwe, in which the people are guaranteed safety and security and a lawful environment free from human rights violations and impunity. It still occupies an important role in our politics.
It seems, however, that when the Charter came into existence, there seemed to be a de facto obligation on the civic society and all social movements and struggling to transform Zimbabwe to define at some point their position vis-a-vis the Charter.
The first major meeting of the stakeholders was called for in 2011, only as a means of defining their position with regards to the Charter. It was also a meeting aimed at charting a way forward and that the civil society and social movements would be able to establish ‘our’ identity in the Zimbabwean body politics.
It was also that meeting that the Committee of thePeople’s Charter (CPC) was conceived as a political, economic, social and democratic accountability mechanism established in the interests of the people of Zimbabwe.
Its main aim was to bring the Zimbabwean government of the day to account in relation to the national economy, gender equality, youth empowerment, a democratic political environment, free and fair elections, constitutional reform, media freedom and Zimbabwe’s national value system, as aptly espoused in the Charter.
Moreso, defining a position vis-a-vis the Charter involves more than its simple endorsement or rejection. In a way, the Charter can be interpreted as an ambiguous document, despite its pithiness and simple language.
The range of possible meanings contained within the Charter has resulted in it being interpreted in a variety of ways ‑ though sometimes contradictory. However, such semantic disputes are by no means politically inconsequential, as they involve fundamental theoretical and strategic questions.
It is the meaning of the constitutional reform clauses of the People’s Charter that generated immense dispute to date. These call for a new Constitution of Zimbabwe, which must be produced by a people-driven, participatory process.
The debate on constitutional reform brewed a lot of contradictions in the civil society, as they jostled to be part of the constitutional reform process by the coalition government starting in 2009.
In Article XI of the Global Political Agreement, the rejection of the Charter was imminent, as the civil society movement unashamedly endorsed such clauses in direct contradiction to the dictates of the Charter.
A snapshot of the Charter’s demands on the Constitutional reform are as follows: “The People shall have a constitutional reform process, which is characterised by the following: -Comprehensive consultation with the people of Zimbabwe wherein they are guaranteed freedom of expression and information, association and assembly. The collection of the views of the people and their compilation into a draft constitution that shall be undertaken by an All-Stakeholders' Commission composed of representatives of government, parliament, political parties, civil society, labour, business and the church with a gender and minority balance.”
I would argue that not many civil society organisations accorded the Charter any pertinence to their struggles to date and from the outset never perceived the Charter as relevant to its exigencies.
The signing and adoption of the Charter in 2008 was a realisation from the civic movement that there was a need in our democratic struggle to have a framework of ideals, aspirations to attain the revolutionary struggle. But we reflect on the fact that a few months after the many organisations appended their signatures to the Charter, the struggle veered off the road, as the collective movement faced its biggest test.
Clearly, I should highlight that some of the key components of the People’s Charter were neglected both when the elections came and at the consummation of the coalition government.
While acknowledging the shortfalls on the constitutional reform process, the civic movement and prodemocracy movements capitulated on the electoral framework, as expounded by the Charter.
While the ink in March 2008 had not dried up, the civic movement’s shortcomings were exposed by the 'strategic' move to openly declare allegiance and campaigning for the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai in an election that fell short of the demands of the Charter.
Section 2 of the Charter acknowledged that “all elections in Zimbabwe remain illegitimate and without merit until undertaken under a new democratic and people-driven constitution, Equal access to the media. One independent, impartial, accountable and well-resourced electoral management body. A process of delimitation, which is free from political control, which is accurate, fair, transparent and undertaken with full public participation. A continually updated and accurate voters' roll, which is open and accessible to all. Transparent and neutral location of polling stations, agreed to through a national consultative process devoid of undue ruling or opposition party and government influence, which are accessible to all including those with special needs”.
The 2008 election never met an inch of that demand and this partly explains the five-week delay in the announcement of the presidential results.

As Lenin would say, that at all times, the revolutionary organisation must maintain political independence, I posit that it was, therefore, wrong for the civic movement to abandon freshly conceived the principles on the altar of political convenience.
Also key is the debate around the national economy, and the Charter calls for people-centered economic planning that guarantees social and economic rights.
It enunciates the state’s responsibilities to “initiate public programmes to build schools, hospitals, houses, dams and roads and create jobs and above all equitable access to and distribution of national resources for the benefit of all people of Zimbabwe”.
Such demands are non-negotiable until they are realised. The current government’s populist economic framework in guised is guised as centred around a pro-poor initiative while in reality it is pushing oligarchic capitalism, is certainly not attainable and befitting for our people, emerging from the background of an equally skewed colonial legacy.
To this day, the Charter remains the beacon of hope and the clearest statement in the struggle for a better Zimbabwe.
The People’s Charter is, indeed, a revolutionary programme for the masses, which could have gained significant gains for the masses.
Consequently, an admission should be made that key components of the People’s Charter were neglected in the transition to an inclusive government.
The social movements, working class, the youth, the church, the women, whose signatures were appended to the People’s Charter, illustrates its weight and, therefore, it should never be undermined or misinterpreted.
It is a living document, a People’s Manifesto that belongs to the people of Zimbabwe and that will never change anytime soon.
Essentially, what needs to be done going forward is interrogation and robust engagement of the tactics we take towards the total attainment of the People’s Charter objectives until it is envisaged. The current struggles should embrace the Charter as a living manifesto that will transform our society for the better.
Therefore, the civic society should remain independent, and never should we compromise on the aims and aspirations laid out in the People’s Charter. It still remains a revolutionary programme that is rooted in the people with a clear mandate.
The Charter acknowledges that: “All people in Zimbabwe live in a society characterised by the tolerance of divergent views, cultures or religions, honesty, integrity and common concern for the welfare of all. All people in Zimbabwe are guaranteed safety and security, and a lawful environment free from human rights violations and impunity.”
As a result, we must have a conscious strategy. We must be disciplined, mobilise, train and educate the young and new comrades in our social and political movements. It can only be by recruiting and ideological training that will help the movement remain focused.
The work of the civil society and social movements should not be haphazard, but rather systematic and consciously laid out. We cannot run away from the People’s Charter, as it basically provides us adequately with that framework. The task at hand is to reach out to the lowest members of our society and eventually win the broadest masses.
As we celebrate the nine years since the adoption of the Charter, we have not totally failed; despite that yes, there have been detours, breakdowns, and accidents, but never has the ultimate trajectory and the aim of achieving the democratic revolution been lost.
Let us continue to work, intensifying our engagement with the grassroots until we achieve the objectives of the People’s Charter.
Long live the People’s Charter! Long live Zimbabwe!

Blessing VuvuzelaVava is a staunch defender of the Peoples Charter. He is based in Chipinge and can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com

Friday, 27 January 2017

2008 election...Gambia-ECOWAS moment for Zimbabwe?

Blessing Vava
On December 1 last year, Yahya Jammeh, the strongman of The Gambia, lost an election to an unheralded opposition leader, Adamma Barrow, to mark an end to 22 years of iron fist rule in the tiny West African country.
Jammeh's defeat is both historic and significant, not only for The Gambia but the whole continent. After celebrating the fall of colonialism and the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, the continent has found itself with life leaders, who have a disregard for democratic principles and maintain a hold on power in the name of a pan-African and anti-imperialist agenda.
Most of the strong men have been using fear, violence and illegitimate elections, in the process relegating opposition parties to mere spectators as they continue to rule using terror. Controversial electoral outcomes have become rituals across the continent, with regional blocs failing to bring member states to account and encourage losers to uphold democratic norms and values.
In fact, the continent is overburdened by liberation war cults.
Jammeh’s fall brought a sense of hope for democracy in Africa, in that despite the unevenness of the playing field, characterised by fear and violence, dictators can still be defeated by a people united for a cause.
Despite earlier pronouncements accepting the outcome, Jammeh made a summersault, disregarding the electoral outcome to utter amusement from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), who stood firm in cornering the beleaguered dictator to submit and surrender.
The swiftness and the subsequent intervention of Ecowas as well as the threats to invade The Gambia to flush out Jammeh should rather be commended and it shows how much we are progressing to finding solutions to our own challenges as a continent.
Without a doubt, the Gambian scenario was a test for the upcoming 28th summit of the African Union Head of states to be held in Ethiopia at the end of this month.
Many times the regional bodies have been condemned in failing to call errant dictators to order.
The shortcomings of the African Union, have resulted in western intervention by former colonisers, however, compromising the sovereignty of the African people.
As the rest of the continent celebrated the fall of Jammeh, it was Ecowas which was rather given a gun salute for their firm position in safeguarding the will of the people in The Gambia, as expressed by the December 1 election.
From this background, there are a lot of lessons to learn from The Gambia, which can assist us in understanding the role of Sadc in the context of the 2008 election in Zimbabwe.
That election was quite significant in the sense that it was the first time that President Robert Mugabe was defeated, despite all the State machinery at his disposal.
Now, some quarters are trying to hypothesise The Gambia scenario and comparing it to Zimbabwe, saying that the regional body, SADC, should have gone the Ecowas way after Zanu PF was defeated on March 29, 2008.
In my opinion, I have three points to buttress my argument against such postulations. I would argue that Sadc did all in their capacity, despite the opposition trashing the regional body left, right and centre for what they deem a failure to intervene and drive Mugabe out.
For starters, it is not and it will never be the business of Sadc or any regional body to undermine processes in member states without enough justification and, let alone when the participants of the said elections have failed to win elections.
Firstly, March 29, 2008, election was inconclusive. The votes polled by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai were not enough for him to be declared winner and subsequently assume the presidency from Mugabe.
The Constitution was clear on the threshold 50% plus one vote for a candidate to be declared duly the winner; however, Tsvangirai had just polled 47.9%, therefore, triggering a presidential election run-off.
Equally, we must not forget that it was the same period that the electoral commission withheld results for five weeks and no-one knows what kept them for that longer period.
Those who still recall will reminisce August 2, 2013, press conference held at Meikles Hotel by the by then MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti, who announced that the MDC had won the elections hands down.
He was later to be arrested and charged for contravening the electoral act by announcing the ‘results’ of the elections. Brave chap he was!
This brings me to my second point, on how Tsvangirai shot himself in the foot by encouraging his supporters to remain patient, as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was going to announce the results. What a wait it became ‑ five weeks.
The momentum was lost, and still, how could Sadc intervene in that case?
I vividly recall a meeting held one early Sunday in Harare, were Tsvangirai begged with civil society to be patient with ZEC.
Thirdly, as if that was not enough, the MDC-T leader did the most unthinkable political gesture; his rushing to seek refuge at the Netherlands Embassy was a heavy snub on SADC and the rest of the African countries.
In essence, he showed them the middle finger, basically confirming that his party was not seeking African solutions but those from outside our borders.
Hence it would be naïve to blame Sadc for initiating a dialogue to discuss a power-sharing arrangement to break the political impasse after the sham June elections.
In all fairness, The Gambia scenario is different from the Zimbabwe case in 2008, and such an example cannot, therefore, be used to point at the inadequacies of Sadc for allegedly protecting Mugabe. Worse still the opposition in Zimbabwe created conditions that would not have made it possible for SADC to intervene.
However, Sadc’s “inadequacies” should be understood from the background of a shared sense of history rooted in liberation movement solidarity. West Africa has a very differentiated political ruling classes, which do not have very strong links.
At the same time, Mugabe presented somehow of a dilemma to South Africa because he had “successfully” presided over the fast-track land reform programme and in West Africa, the “colonial masters” stayed in the background, unlike in Zimbabwe, where they were very vocal.
Consequently, through the former South African President Thabo Mbeki papers, the African National Congress was actually advising Zanu PF, they blocked the release of the judges’ report on electoral violence.
Ultimately, democracy, democratisation and its consolidation in Africa can never be secured by the threat of water cannons and bullets, but by the self-organising initiatives of its people.
With the 2018 beckoning, the opposition parties seem clueless, with some boycotting by-elections, but hoping to participate in the polls. The Bikita by-election brought with us many lessons, and the MDC-T will pay dearly for that. The biggest lesson learnt is that by boycotting, they strategically demobilise their own structures and even the potential voters.
How does one boycott a dictator?
It will revel in such pitiful actions because a boycott is a moral statement meant to delegitimise the political class. Given our objective concrete balance of forces, what will a boycott serve or achieve in a political project of altering permanently, the balance of forces in favour of the political project?
For Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First, they may have lost, but now, they know what to do next time. Losing is important. In the United States, the Democrats got used to winning and they went to sleep and got Trumped. 
In the first place, it was wrong for the Tsvangirai group to approach Parliament to have Biti’s group of MPs expelled from the august House.
The talk of reforms is a far-fetched affair and one wonders how the parties are going to achieve something they failed to change during their stint in the inclusive government?
For the opposition, the solution is the people, the people are the last bastion and natural garrison to defend and expand a democratic sort of politics which secures their material transformation. Everything else not rooted in the concrete material reality of our people melts into thin air and the lecherous political calls will entrench its illicit accumulation project unchecked.
From my own assessment, the opposition in Zimbabwe does not have the experience and know-how of building a people’s movement and everyone seems obsessed with rallies.
Rallies are only a public display of social and political power gained, built and galvanised in the everyday lives of people based on their concrete material demands.

Blessing Vava writes from Chipinge and can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com. Twitter:@blevava

NB: no part of this article shall be used without prior permission from the author

Monday, 3 October 2016

Zimbabwean music and its influence on society

By Blessing Vava

 Zimbabwean music has continued playing an important part in the country's cultural history, shaping social discourse in the everyday lives of people. Over the years musical compositions of different genres have been churned providing entertainment, provoking debate, educating society and providing social commentary in our communities and country at large.  Music has acted as a consciousness-raising tool to a nation’s moral, political, economic and social problems. Some scholars argue that  the economic and political meltdown in Zimbabwe over the past decade have given rise to protest songs as artists have become the mouthpiece of a population that is enduring economic hardships.

Zimbabwe's rich music history that dates back in the early fifties, but it was the years before independence from British colonialism in 1980 with music and song being used as a mobilising tool in the war of liberation. Zimbabweans refused to remain silent and in the face of oppression and economic hardships, they have always used music and art to express their anger and sorrow as well as revolutionary aspirations. Musicians are part of society and thus it can be argued that through their artistic expressions sometimes reflect and mirrors the feelings and thinking of the society they come from.


This piece therefore locates the arts and artistic expression and their influence to the recipients, the audience that consumes the artistic products.   Artistes over the years have been a reflection of what societies look like and they have managed to change the minds of people.  Musicians like Thomas Mapfumo, Chinx, ZANLA Choir, Zexxie Manatsa during the war composed music that not only inspired the liberation war, but the messaging had an influence in recruiting more cadres to join the war. Songs like 'tumira vana kuhondo' (send the children to war) acted as catalysts and an important mobilising tool for the young cadres to join the war.  Music provided that inspiration and courage  and removed fear in the people; it encouraged communities to be united and support the war. It gave society hope and the zeal to fight oppression and most of the compositions were in the vernacular language, mainly to create a language barrier with the whites because some of the lyrics were insulting. Music and poetry were tools and forms of social commentary that were used to move the masses to act.

In the period from the early to  mid-1980s after the country attained independence, musicians took a celebratory tone, helping society reflect on the time they had endured the pain of war.  The late 80s recorded a different time, it moved from the celebratory tone to a more critical stance to the bad government policies, corruption that sucked in government ministers. Musicians like Thomas Mapfumo composed songs such as 'Corruption,' Solomon Skuza had songs like love and scandals, the JSCI which were in direct response to the Willowgate scandal, a corruption scam implicating government officials. The government in return banned the song (corruption) as it felt the song was a direct attack on government and by banning the song they were well aware of the power and influence of Mapfumo and the lyrics to the citizens. Mapfumo had been a towering figure during the war through his compositions which are credited with playing an integral part as a mobilising tool. The awareness by such musicians on corruption grew anger and influence on the masses and this led to anti-corruption demonstrations against the Willowvale scandal by University of Zimbabwe students. Mapfumo remained a popular act at most gigs at the campus for years as his conscious lyrics inspired student activism.

 Scholars such as Maurice Vambe argue that through some songs artists continued to respond to the perceived socio-economic crisis that engulfed the country in the late 1990s. More and more compositions which spoke to the daily struggles by Zimbabweans, the economic decline, poverty and bad policies like ESAP became popular hymns and these issues became a rallying point by the masses as evidenced by the food riots that the country witnessed in the late 90s. Songs like mugove (my dues) by Leonard Zhakata, chinyemu by Leonard Dembo became popular tunes at Workers Day rallies and meetings because they spoke to the daily struggles of the working class in the face of an economic collapse and the inequalities that existed between the rich and the poor.  

The influence of music was not only for limited to the political front  or to socio-economic issues affecting the country. Gospel music also played a role in spreading Christianity in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's music landscape had been dominated by secular music, mainly traditional music and thus the coming in of gospel music changed the landscape all together. Early gospel musicians such as Jordan Chataika, Mechanic Manyeruke had to compete for audiences in secular dominated landscape but eventually finding a niche and a reflection today is a true exhibit of how gospel music grew and impacted on our society which was mainly dominated by the traditional culture and religion. Scholars such as Chitando (2014) argue that Gospel music is regarded as a strategic device to spread the word of God, providing solace and comfort in an environment where hardships are the norm. The late 90s, going into the new millennium saw a massive growth of gospel musicians, Charles Charamba, Brian Sibalo, Pastor Haisa, Elias Musakwa, Fungisai Zvakavapano, Ivy Kombo to mention a few. Apart from being recording artistes these musicians were part of the emerging Pentecostal movement and today such churches are now commanding a very big following and until today almost all of these churches have musical bands, and thus shows the influence of music.

The present day has witnessed the growth of new music genre called Zimdancehall which has roots in Jamaica.  The genre is known for its hard-hitting lyrics which often encompass social commentary on issues like poverty, unemployment and drug abuse. According to phendula website Zimdancehall has also been credited for raising awareness on everyday issues that affect society like the maladministration of local government. The emergence of Zimdancehall totally changed the country's music landscape, as the young people found solace and an alternative to the traditional chimurenga and sungura music whom most think is outdated and has outlived its existence and purpose thereof. Zimdancehall has grown to be a popular genre and is dominated by youths who live in high density residential suburbs such as Mbare with all night music bashes called passa passa with the youth mainly in attendance. However the genre has been accused of promoting drug abuse, violence, sex because of the lyrics which have had an influence amongst the young people. 

According to NewsDay, a daily newspaper in a snap survey they conducted in 2014, it revealed that the young people have integrated music in their lives from sources they identify with, and in search of their identities they are likely to follow the example portrayed by the artistes.  The survey also established that many teenage boys do affirm allegiance to these Zimdancehall crews become bullies at their respective schools.

Girls as young as 12 can be seen in local bars, displaying deviant behaviour, wearing high heels, skimpy clothes, bright red lipstic whilst gyrating to the sound of Guspy Warrior hit song Seunononga. There is no doubt on how Zimdancehall has influenced the minds of many young people, though this is mostly portrayed in bad light. However I would say that most of these young Zimdancehall artistes have been able to respond to the socio-economic crisis, adding consciousness amongst the Bornfrees with refreshing lyrics, some which have become popular terms to describe the situation in the country.

Music can change and influence the minds of people, tracing back to the days of the liberation struggle were music was used as a mobilising tool and inspiring the masses to fight oppression. The new crop of musicians particularly Zimdancehall artists' violent, sex and drug abuse lyrics have had an impact on the behaviour of the youth today. Other genres like gospel music have contributed to the rise of Pentecostal/evangelical  churches in Zimbabwe  commanding a huge following.

A version of the article was published by here.

Blessing Vava writes from Chipinge and can be contacted on @blevava