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Zanu PF’s newfound comfort zone: Hegemony beyond elections?

By Takura Zhangazha

Zimbabwe’s current ruling party Zanu PF is noticeably beginning to exude a specific confidence about how it is running the country. Not necessarily through its own members but those that are at its political and strategic helm.

Takura Zhangazha
Takura Zhangazha

I would also hazard to call it a newfound comfort zone that is largely about reducing our long duree culture of relatively populist political contests for power.

They want to be seen and acknowledged as ‘doers’. Not quite in the tradition of typical performance legitimacy but somewhere close to it in relation to the hegemonic expectations of private capital. And I will explain this particular point a little bit further.

One of the key challenges Mnangagwa’s predecessor faced after the fast track land reform programme had been that private capital in its local and global form was deliberately united in undermining any ‘revolutionary’ narratives that undermined ‘private property’.

While workers and trade unions were more overtly ‘oppositional’, private capital was definitively in control of the same’s counter narrative. Hence by the time the mainstream opposition became stronger, it had changed its ideological framework from social democracy to neoliberalism.

Where we come full circle to Mnangagwa’s current government it would appear they are in the process of successfully taking back the support of private capital. Both local and global through either their infrastructure projects or their newfound direct relationship with owners of the same.

Hence their insistence on the ‘ease of doing business mantra’. It is not just a slogan. Its an attempt at a closer relationship between the state and private capital in order to change the political narrative in return for making the money.

For either. A development which on the face of it appears to be work in progress. Almost like a case of a deliberate understanding that we have each other’s backs.

And then on the regional and international engagement scene, Zanu Pf knows that SADC and the African Union are firmly behind them now. It was a bit tentative at first but now with declarations and resolutions calling for the lifting of sanctions firmly under their belt it would take a drastic development for these two or other interstate African regional organizations’ to change perspectives on Zimbabwe.

Where it concerns the West the fact that private capital owners from the same region are working on investing locally is something that Mnangagwa and his team view as part of work in progress. Though they are probably aware that the human rights narrative cannot be wished away from any engagement.

As for the East, nothing appears to have changed with those they call their all-weather friends. In fact under Mnangagwa the relations with Russia , China, Belarus appear to have significantly improved. But all with a universal understanding that the priority is the establishment of neoliberal hegemony in Zimbabwe. Especially one with a calmer nationalism.

There are other sources of this newfound Zanu Pf comfort zone. These include but are not limited to the fact that for all the objections of the opposition and civil society, Zanu PF retains as based on the 2018 electoral results, a two thirds majority in Parliament.

And has used this to recently make significant changes to the constitution. While many focused on changes that related to the appointment of judges it is worth serious political noting that there are other changes that have far reaching political comfort zone implications.

I will just cite that of the structural changes to parliament through the introduction of a youth quota, the extension of the women’s quota and the proportional election of provincial councils. These amendments basically point to an intention to not just expand the demographic representation but more importantly to be able to field as many candidates possible for the party and reduce likelihood of too many internal party candidate disputes. Simply put it helps assuage fears of key members being left behind for elected posts.

And of course there is the matter of the state of the mainstream political opposition. While the MDC factions retain a proven popularity mainly in urban and peri-urban areas, the ruling party appears to no longer be as worried about its impact. Divisions, court cases and disputes over properties (whatever their alleged causes/reasons) mean that the opposition is weaker. For now.

Add to this an apparent failure to have a comprehensive performance related policy framework for the local governments that opposition is still in charge of limits its ability to utilize ‘performance legitimacy’ to its full potential. Or to generally have an aversion to internal party procedures that promote collective leadership and membership accountability. While always waiting for the next election as the foundational reason for leadership.

What remains to be seen is how this new hegemonic project by Zanu Pf pans itself out. But it is clear that it is beyond being just about elections in 2023. The active recognition of historical figures and monuments is telling in this regard. Mnangagwa’s intention is to reduce again, contestations over history and establish a national understanding of its importance.

Even if by default this suits the ruling party’s own historical narratives well given the fact that it has in most cases always also referred to this same said history as its own. But also beyond history, the continued courting of the religious sector leaders and their churches/believers is something that gives the ruling establishment continued confidence. Add to this also the continuing but somewhat more elevated respect and retention of traditional leaders and customs also completes these clearer hegemonic intentions of Mnangagwa.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

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