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Some Reflections on Student activism and the Pitfalls of Celebrity politics in Zimbabwe

By Blessing Vava ''Student activism is a highly conflict-filled terrain with very passionate individuals and groups involved&...

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

Friday, 9 September 2016

Social Media and the complexities of Social movements in Zimbabwe

By Blessing Vava

For the past two months, Zimbabwe has been dominating the regional and international news headlines following a “wave” of protests, mainly in the capital city Harare. Most significant are the events of July 6, which many commentators and some sections of the media are attributing the successes to mobilisation through #hashtags on social media.

However, this article will not delve much into the discussion of who did what during the shutdown/stay away protest events, but if the truth be told without fear or favour, we certainly cannot undermine or downplay the role played by social movements in that regard.

While images of running battles between protesters and the police in Zimbabwe were dominating the virtual networks and the international media, one would have thought that Zimbabwe was degenerating into another Syria or Afghanistan.

Consequently, it is in my humble opinion still that some elements behind the protests in Zimbabwe are rather self-serving individuals who have an appetite for the camera and attention. From whatever angle, one may look at, it is an undeniable reality that the numbers have failed to grow and are not convincing at all to mount pressure on President Robert Mugabe to relinquish power.

The protests have been unable to capture the disenfranchised ordinary man and woman in the streets of Glen View or Dzivaresekwa in building a critical grassroots movement that has a clear political programme of action to fight the Mugabe regime.

We cannot continue lying to ourselves that the protests have been a success and had the police not acted in the barbaric manner they did, it would be a different case altogether. Arrests and detentions should not be a yardstick for measuring success. And this is a call to action to the political parties and the civil society to mobilise the masses in all parts of the country than celebrating false victories.


The challenges our nation will continue to face is the building of “cults” within our democratic movements. Movements should not be built around cults/individuals, but an ideological programme that responds to the needs and aspirations of the masses. The struggle needs selfless leaders, who are not obsessed with front page headlines and selfies, but the conviction.

The revolutionary task at hand is to build grassroots movements that are deeply rooted in the lowest classes of society with a collective plan of action going forward.
Frantz Fanon

Over the years, there has been too much dependency or trust in individuals rather building strong institutions and movements to confront the challenges the citizens are facing.

We put so much belief in our “leaders”, and that has resulted in some of them being permanent figures within our structures and movements because we desperately thought they would lead us to the promised land. Equally, instead of galvanising all the forces to pull from one end, there has been a competition for space, with some individuals wanting to be seen doing something, or rather, being the leading face of some imagined movement.

The events of the previous months have shown us such individuals, who, with the help of the media, became instant heroes by posting selfies on social media. Some have already retreated to safer zones, leaving behind their “followers” in a quandary, who had put so much trust in them. And that is dangerous for any movement that seeks to transform society!

However, it is now a revolutionary’s duty to calibrate and distill peoples’ grievances into its coherent novel form. As Frantz Fanon puts it, the anti-colonial struggle starts as a trade union strike here, a student strike there, a pamphlet there, etc. The revolutionary sharpens it until it becomes an outright eruption.

Tyranny takes time to erode, and it does not happen overnight, as most self-serving leaders are becoming so much impatient to think that they can wage such a struggle portraying false bravado to capture headlines. Real revolutionaries are patient, they prepare and mobilise for it. Clearly, what is missing is to distill the many fractions of the struggle into one cogent force.

The misconception and false claims by the self-serving individuals that they were behind the July 6 shutdown are rather misplaced and unfortunate. The failure of the August 31shutdown is a clear testimony that there is a need for much work on the ground, rather than merely holding Press Conferences and venting anger on social media. Anything can never substitute the masses, and they are the vehicle towards transformation and hence, they need to be mobilised.

The fundamental political and socio-economic realities are far more complex than merely exchanging of WhatsApp messages, and updating timelines on Twitter and Facebook.

Revolutions usually occur when there are necessarily social, political and economic conditions, that include mass poverty, unemployment and also in societies where there is an illegitimate dominance of one political elite or cabal to the exclusion of others. And the current environment is conducive.

The political repression by the political elite that desperately wants to cling to power, keeping power to themselves and close family members, should be the rallying point to mount a mass resistance against the Zanu PF regime. Now, the confluence of these genuine concerns, challenges and problems in Zimbabwe provide ready material conditions for the political revolution to occur.

Therefore, as we witnessed with the success of the July 6 protests, the shutdown was as a result of the reality of repression, unpaid salaries of civil servants, corruption by police officers, banning of imported goods from South Africa, political dissent, growing unemployment and the kleptocracy of the illegitimate political elite that does not want to hand over power to anyone outside its circles.

While the socio-economic conditions are ripe, what is lacking is decisive strategic leadership that taps into or embeds itself into the organic structures of society, not on social media alone. Those pretending to be at the forefront keep themselves divorced and distant from the grassroots because of their obsession with their views of their world. That organic grassroots organising and mobilisation of the people cannot be ignored. There is a clear perception/observation that the current political leadership has done nothing to improve the lives of the people and has utterly failed the people. Claim no easy victories!!!!

Views expressed in this article are entirely the author’s

Blessing Vava is a scribe based in Chipinge. He can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com, Twitter: @blevava


Thursday, 5 May 2016

Child marriages, curse of Africa's poverty?


By Blessing Vava

 Loveness Mudzuru (19) and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi (18) became celebrities overnight, after challenging the Customary Marriages Act, a Zimbabwean law which was silent on the  minimum age for marriage. Zimbabwe’s Customary Marriages Act had no minimum age for marriage, while the Marriage Act, which governs monogamous marriages, states that girls under 16 cannot marry without the written consent of the justice minister.

Before this judgement Zimbabwe had conflicting legal provisions on the minimum age for marriage. The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act made it a criminal offense for anyone to promise a girl under 18 in marriage or to force a girl or woman to enter into a marriage against her will. The Act said any adult man who has sexual relations with a willing child between ages 12 and 15 will be charged of statutory rape arguing that children in this age group are considered too immature to make informed decisions about their sexual behaviour. The contradiction was  that if the person is married to a child under 16, having sexual relations with the spouse is not statutory rape.

 On the 20th of January 2016, Zimbabwe's Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba and eight other Constitutional Court judges outl­awed child marriages, and struck off section 22(1) of the Marriage Act, which, for decades, had allowed children under the age of 18 years to formally get married. This has been lauded as a paradigm altering victory for the former child brides, their  Civil Society backers organisations like ROOTS, Veritas (who initiated the court challenge) and other critics of the law. I’m still holding on to the confetti for now.
pic courtesy of ROOTS


The court case was triggered by the escalation of child marriages especially in Zimbabwe's rural areas, which has negatively impacted the lives of young girls, robbing them of their future, and the right to education. Child marriage, defined as a formal marriage or informal union before age 18, is a reality for both boys and girls, although girls are disproportionately the most affected. UNICEF says in Sub-Saharan Africa, 41% of girls are getting married before the age of 18 years, while in Zimbabwe, one in three girls are married before the age of 18. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report has revealed that 31% of Zimbabwean girls under the age of 18 were victims of forced marriages with 15% of them getting married at the age of 15.

In Zimbabwe, as in many other African countries,  cultural practices are often blamed as the driving force behind child marriages, a position which I consider an act of denial that does not help matters at all. ‘Traditionalists’ view attempts to halt the practice as attempts at cultural imperialism. However, I think  that this  is simply a deliberate attempt to avoid a truthful diagnosis of the real challenge that is escalating child marriages, among many other social ills. Poverty is the underlying factor that triggers child marriages in Africa.
We can no longer deny that child marriages are manifestations of socio-economic and political turmoil.  The impending drought over much of Southern Africa only exacerbates the situation, at least in Zimbabwe. 

A 2013 report by  UNICEF titled, Ending child marriages: Progress and prospects,  notes that there is a substantial gap in the prevalence of child marriage between the poorest and richest: females in the poorest quintile are 2.5 times more likely to marry in childhood than those living in the wealthiest quintile. Further, the UNICEF report gives an interesting analysis of other developing countries outside Africa where child marriages are rife, notably the Dominican Republic. The report observed that  at least half of the poorest women entered into their first marriage or union at about age 17 compared to age 21 among the richest women. According to statistics, one third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15. Africa is home to 15 out of 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.

A research conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières Belgium-Zimbabwe and the University of Zimbabwe’s Centre of Applied Science, found that poverty makes young girls more vulnerable, and 65% of rural girls are married or impregnated before the age of 19. This has been the trend in Zimbabwe, as most rural areas are hard hit by poverty, lack adequate information, and depend on education and health delivery systems that are in a poor state. Droughts have made it worse as they continue exposing communities lack of food and proper standards of living, thereby triggering ills like child marriages. In most of these poverty stricken communities fathers marry off their children prematurely, or at times young girls , seeking economic refuge, elope to potential husbands. This is mostly done by those men who are successful in such communities, and that success is often measured by the number of cows, polygamy is rife and hence they take advantage to marry young girls from vulnerable families. According to a UNFPA report,   girls may be viewed as an economic burden, as a commodity, or a means for settling familial debts or disputes, or securing social, economic or political alliances. Customary requirements such as dowries or bride prices may also enter into families’ considerations, especially in communities where families can give a lower dowry for younger brides.

Zimbabwe is currently facing a serious drought,  worsened by the El Niño weather phenomenon which has also  affected South Africa, Malawi and Zambia, destroying crops and livestock as a result. As a result, Zimbabwe’s government has estimated that about four million Zimbabweans are in need of food aid. I visited some of the affected areas and was saddened by the dire situation villagers are facing because of the drought. Most of them are now selling their livestock for very little amounts, in a bid to salvage something before the drought destroys everything.

Some of my relatives from the area narrated how the past two years have been the most difficult because of the drought and poverty. One  headman, Ngwenyeni of Malipati village,  also spoke about  how poverty has driven a majority of the young girls into either early marriages or prostitution. When I asked if they were aware of the new court ruling, the Headman said it will be difficult to enforce because- as a result of the economic situation with the parents mostly involved in marrying off their children. During my visit, I was referred to a child bride, whose story seemingly justified why child marriages are persistent in the area.

The child bride, who only identified herself as Mercy, is  16 years old.  She is married to a 22 year old man who also grew up in the same area  and is already four months pregnant . Mercy was left in the custody of one her uncles in 2014, after her parents died of HIV/AIDS related illness. She was only in form 2 (grade 9).  Unfortunately she dropped out of school in 2015 and could not proceed, as the uncle told her that he had no money to pay for her fees. Mercy's situation worsened in 2015, as food became scarce at her uncle's homestead, where she lived with 8 other children. She opted to elope to her boyfriend, who later paid a bride price of two beasts to her uncle last year. Her story is no different from those of many of the young girls in that community. 

With more than four million people in need of drought relief, Zimbabwe is likely going to face an upsurge in child marriages.  Child marriage is also a strategy for economic survival as families marry off their daughters at an early age to reduce their economic burden. Already the government of Zimbabwe has no clue on how it is going to address the drought situation and provide relief for its people.   Therefore, it would be foolhardy to think that child marriages will be eliminated just by educating the communities or rather passing laws that bar such practices, without tackling the fundamental issue, which is that of poverty. The fight against child marriages is an enormous  task that should start by combating the root causes which can, in turn, be addressed by ending government corruption that has collapsed many economies in Africa. The uneven distribution of national wealth has left some communities underdeveloped, thereby exacerbating the poverty cycle.

From the above, it is clear that there is a relationship between such practices like child marriages and poverty in Africa.  In reality poverty  creates a state of misery and frustration that leads to immoral and illegal solutions.

Fortunately, the African Union has raised its stakes in fighting child marriages. It is commendable that in May 2014, the African Union launched the first-ever Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa. The African Union's Agenda 2063,  a fifty-year vision for the development of the continent, identified stopping child marriages as part of its top priorities. However success is only possible if we focus  more on addressing the socio-economic factors, tackling issues like wars, political instability, the rule of law and democracy.

The very first step in eliminating poverty and tactically reducing armed conflicts in Africa is good governance and leadership. African governments should deal with issues of prioritising basic services such as education and health,  specifically in the rural areas, attention should also go  to solving unemployment, economically empowering communities especially the young people, and providing social  welfare to citizens. Education enhances productivity and creativity. If these issues are addressed then the fight against child marriages can be achieved. Governments should also develop mechanisms that broaden the scope of choices for orphaned young girls.

Blessing Vava is a Zimbabwean blogger based in Chipinge. He write in his personal capacity and can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com














Thursday, 17 March 2016

Zimbabwe's successive drought ...no lessons learnt?

By Blessing Vava

In  January this year Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe  declared a state of disaster especially in the rural areas mainly caused by drought which already has killed herds of livestock with people facing food shortages.

Despite declaring the drought a state of disaster, Mugabe seems not to care much, he even  hosted his lavish 92nd birthday in Masvingo last month in the drought stricken area and never dared to even visit those affected, preferring to go AWOL to India.

 Suffice to say the country has been experiencing drought before, but it all seems we are always caught off guard and failed to come up with long term mitigating mechanisms to avert future disasters of this type, which I would be discussing later in the article.  

Agriculture contributes about 19% of the county's GDP and for the past 15 years, Zimbabwe's agricultural output has been decreasing and productivity has been quite low. Zimbabwe mainly depends on maize which is the staple diet in most households.

 A paper published by the Met Department in 2015 posits that the drought experienced during the 1991/1992 season, for example, maize production decreased by almost 75 percent leaving a large percentage of the population in dire need of food aid. The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) domestic maize intake during the 1992 drought year was about 13 000 tonnes - just enough for two days consumption for the nation. Over one million head of cattle died of starvation during the year.

Drought returned in 1993 and 1994 2002, 2004 and 2012 seasons which also affected livelihoods. The severe drought of 1992 compelled the government to declare a “National Disaster” throughout the whole country.

By the end of that year 5 602 568 people were on the drought relief registers. This figure translated to 74% of the rural population.  During the 2002 drought almost 4 million Zimbabweans survived on food aid.

This time the drought has been worsened by the El Niño weather phenomenon which has also  affected South Africa, Malawi and Zambia as well as Zimbabwe, destroying crops and livestock as a result.

In light of this development, the Zimbabwe Vulnerable Assessment Committee had estimated that about 1.5 million people had been affected by El Nino.  However the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Prisca Mupfumira, as reported in the state owned Herald newspaper,stated that  instead the number of those in need of food aid has ballooned to 4 million.

The figures are just estimates and the actual numbers of those in vulnerable situations maybe more. As this is happening, the government, some NGOs, politicians mostly from ZANU PF have already started distributing food hand outs to the 'affected' areas, with President Mugabe's wife Grace leading, mainly through her Meet the People rallies.

It is reported (Herald 15 March 2016)  that President Mugabe donated about 60 tonnes in Bikita South and the aid was handed over to villagers by ZANU PF Masvingo Province secretary for the commissariat Mr Jappy Jaboon. Quite intriguing were the words of Jaboon during his address, ''Our president has the people at heart' so let’s continue supporting him...lets continue supporting him because of his impeccable record as a man of the people especially the poor.'' 

This already smacks doom and it is now clear that ZANU PF will use food as a campaign tool. This is despite that the 1996 World Summit on Food Security declared that "food should not be used as an instrument for political and economic pressure"

We need a holistic approach, transparency and honesty in dealing with this drought.  The government has over the years failed to distribute food to the needy in times like these, with some denied food on the basis of political affiliation. According to a report compiled by Human Rights Watch on the2002 drought, ZANU PF was heavily implicated in partisan food distribution and for years, has been abusing government departments concerned with food aid.

This trend is likely going to continue as ZANU PF and the use of traditional leaders in the distribution of aid has made the situation worse. The same traditional leaders are often used  to intimidate and coerce villagers to vote for ZANU PF.  ZANU PF's strategy has always been to starve opponents into submission.  Nothing has really changed despite statements by Minister Mupfumira that food is not being distributed along political affiliation, as reports have already been filtering of the politicisation of food aid.

With the high numbers of Zimbabweans in need of food, there is no guarantee that the food will be fairly distributed and this will only but  aggravate the situation as those in need will likely face starvation. The government alone has proved its ineffectiveness in addressing the plight of those facing starvation, there is a need for an independent taskforce with all stakeholders, including farmers, academics, NGOs, churches and the government in handling food distribution.

 Politicians should be barred in distributing food aid because of the danger it poses in the likelihood of others being excluded. Worse still for food aid distribution at a political rally. This clearly excludes those that do not subscribe to that particular party for example.

Long term mitigation

Overally, the taskforce should also be responsible coordinating the drought related activities of the government (i.e., forecasting, monitoring, impact assessment, response and recovery, and planning).

Equally, the government needs to improve food security in general, going beyond short term responses but rather coming up with long term mechanisms to protect peoples' livelihoods. We need as a country, a more proactive, anticipatory approach to drought management rather than to act while the damage has been done already. 

The independent task force should come up with a national policy with extensive stakeholder and public involvement.  Such a policy should therefore address the issues of risk management, although it cannot ignore the need for government assistance for some sectors during extended periods of severe drought.

Lessons learned from previous drought response attempts need to be documented through post-drought audits and shared with all stakeholders. In support of the national drought policy and plan, it is recommended that a comprehensive, integrated national climate monitoring system be established to provide early warning of drought and other extreme climate events.

Blessing Vuvuzela Vava is a writer based in Chipinge, Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com

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