Challenging Zanu PF’s structures of power
Dr Alex T. Magaisa
This is not an academic piece; at least it’s not meant to be. I have had to refer to the source of the principal idea, only because it is not my idea, but rather one that I have adapted and I was taught that what is not mine I must acknowledge.
Do not therefore be put off by my reference to my source, if that makes it appear like another impenetrable academic piece meant for a journal – I have tried as far as possible to keep the model within the limits of simplicity, at the risk in fact of oversimplification perhaps to the chagrin of the more sophisticated and inquiring reader.
You may find that most of it is probably obvious but before you condemn it, I like to think that I have repackaged the seemingly obvious in order to see the possible avenues of resistance and change.
And rather sadly, it is necessarily long and this despite my strenuous efforts, I have not been able to avoid. I can only ask for your patience. But I hope that at the end of it, it would have been worth your effort. If not, please accept my apologies in great abundance for subjecting you to the torture.
Toita sei/Senze Njani/How do we do it?
Fundamental questions that occupy the minds of most people in Zimbabwe and beyond who have been frustrated by the economic decline and increasing poverty are whether it is possible at all to replace the ruling ZanuPF and if so, how that is possible, in the face of failures of the commonly employed methods. Such approaches, ranging from participation in elections to mass stayaways and street demonstrations have largely proved ineffectual in recent years. Despite the visible decline, Zanu PF appears even more entrenched and despair has taken over where once there was hope and expectation.
I have read a number of contributions and listened to interesting debates hosted by Violet Gonda on SW Radio Africa involving various activists and commentators engaged with the Zimbabwe question. Each time, the question on what to do to overcome the challenge has been debated vigorously, but time and again there appears to be no answer on the question of what’s to be done. As an occasional writer, similar questions have often been posed to me. I realize as do many others that the Zimbabwean problem is easy to describe but few of us have ventured to explore ideas on what’s to be done. Toita sei?, is the question. This here is my attempt to look at the challenge from another angle, by no means the best, but an idea shared is better that one buried in one’s mind.
Problem of Generalisation
First, it appears to me that one of the weaknesses in approaching the challenge has been a generalization of the issues at hand, which has led to the adoption of general and predictable methods and a failure to explore alternatives. The challenge has been framed as one of taking political power from Zanu PF without however posing to explore and understand the nature of Zanu PF’s power. “Political power” has been defined generally and taken for granted yet in reality the nature of political power is multi-faceted and more complex. It is a tried and tested rule that when confronting a challenge, it is important to fully understand its nature.
Long before the fighters confront each other in the boxing ring, they would have studied every move of the other, noting his strengths and weaknesses – ensuring that on the big day he exploits the weaknesses while trying to undermine the points of strength. Whichever way, the fighter knows that he must understand the nature of the challenge before him, in order to overcome it. My contention is that understanding the nature of Zanu PF’s power is critical because it allows an avenue to see its strengths and weaknesses and also open up space for new alternative to approaching it. The question therefore is: from which sources does Zanu PF draw its power?
Having applied my mind to these questions, I have resorted to the work of Susan Strange one of the major voices in international political economy. Almost 20 years ago, Strange brought great insight, in a book entitled States and Markets, into the nature of power within the international system. It is appropriate that I explain my decision to use Strange’s illuminating model for international power relations within the national context and in particular, Zimbabwean politics:
I have always thought that the most important thing about the literature we read and the studies we embark on, whether it is science, economics, law, fiction or other discipline, is how we can make it relevant to our local circumstances. I do not think we have to read or study simply for the sake of it or that certain work must be restricted to academic journals. In fact, I despair when I see some brilliant pieces of work that members of the public should ordinarily read, packaged and stored away in thick academic journals in the vast libraries or sites accessible only on payment of huge sums and used occasionally by students to write essays and pass exams, after which they gather dust on the library shelves. So although I am not a political scientist and whilst Strange’s model was designed within the context of international political economy, I still found it useful a few years ago when I wrote work on intellectual property rights and have found it useful again now as I confront the question of power within Zimbabwean politics. I have therefore shamelessly borrowed Strange’s model and adapted it to the national circumstances of Zimbabwe in a bid to understand the nature of Zanu PF’s power and how it might be approached.
The nature of Power
It makes sense to give a basic outline of Strange’s model of power as adapted to the national sphere. Power itself is defined simply as one’s ability to impose his/her will on others regardless of their wishes/interests. Strange identified two kinds of power: first, Relational Power, which is the power that one wields to get another person to do something that they would not otherwise do and second, Structural Power, which is the power to shape and determine the structures within which others operate; the power to set the agenda and decide how things are done. It is important within this context to understand how Zanu PF uses Structural Power in the way it sets up the framework in which individuals and entities including political parties and corporate enterprises operate and relate to each other within the political and economic landscape. It is understanding the nature of ZanuPF’s Structural Power that is the focus of this article.
Now, according to Strange, there are four key sources of Structural Power namely, Production, Finance, Security and Knowledge. Put simply, the proposition is that that have structural power reposes in those that are able to:
- exercise control
of people’s security;
These facets of power are the same whether at the family unit, national or international levels of power relations. The important thing is that the control of these structures determines the balance of power between the members of a given space. In a traditional family, the father’s power over the family may arise from security that he is able to provide, the control over production because he has title to and control of the means of production, the control of family finances – he holds the purse, pays school fees, purchases goods, gives children pocket money, etc, and promotes the belief systems that privilege patriarchy and the status of men. However, this can change over time if the mother becomes a greater producer, say, by holding a superior and better-paying job or when the child graduates from University and becomes the bread-winner and provider of security and also promotes a belief system that privileges the power and superiority of education. It is within this model that I have sought to explore and understand the power of Zanu PF and possibly open ways in which it can be approached.
This is probably the most commonly known source of structural power, Marxists having long argued that power reposes in those in control of the means of production. The ones that decide the mode of production and control production levels necessarily have the power over those with an interest in accessing the means and items of production. They seek to strengthen and defend their position and establish rules and institutions to create enclosures that others cannot challenge.
It is within this context that we can see Zanu PF’s strategy in relation to land reform and lately other areas of production such as industry and the mining sector. Zanu PF knew that in an agro-based economy, it lacked sufficient control of the production structure. Instead, the commercial farmers with greater control of the production structure appeared to favour the new opposition party, the MDC. It therefore became necessary to break this pattern to avoid having the power from the production structure residing with the MDC. To be fair Zanu PF probably had illusions that the transition from the old to the new farmers would be smooth but as we now know, these illusions were without foundation. Zanu PF’s power arising from the production structure would have been greater today had agricultural productivity been maintained at the pre-2000 levels. But this did not materialize and while it controls the means of production, its power from this structure is actually weak because of low productivity. The only reason why it is important is that it has managed to deprive others of the opportunity to draw power from this structure because of its monopoly that is supported by a strong security structure as we shall see a little later.
Before I conclude, I would also point out that it is within this context that we can understand Zanu PF’s desire to assume greater control of the mines and is hard on the local industry, setting the prices of essential goods and therefore levels of production and also its active participation as a shareholder in local industries.
But it is also important to realise that people are not without power – as I will demonstrate later when people withdraw their labour, through strikes or similar action, they are principally demonstrating their power over the production structure. For example, while an employer draws power from his control of the production system on which employees depend for employment and livelihood, employees can whenever they feel the employer has abused his power, withdraw their labour or engage in other action that forces the employer to meet their demands.
We have seen however, that mass stayaways, strikes or similar action do not seem to have had the desired effect on Zanu PF power This is probably because power from this structure is already weak anyway as there is no real production to talk about and so Zanu PF wouldn’t care less. Withdrawing labour does no more harm to the power from the production structure, which is already weak. Zanu PF has nothing to lose in this respect. It would be different however if people engaged in other parallel forms of production, hereby creating a parallel structure from which they draw power but Zanu PF has no control. However positive action such as this is difficult where ZanuPF can deploy power from the security structure.
This structure consists of control over finance, generally defined. This involves the control and availability of credit and other financial facilities. Its influence is more defined in advanced economies but is generally important because it affects the power arising from other structures – production, knowledge development and security. The old adage that he who has wealth has power applies with equal force in this case. In Zimbabwe we can see the manifestation of Zanu PF’s power from this structure in its tentacles spread across the financial sector, especially major local banks. It can also be seen in the Reserve Bank’s forays in to the retail banking sector (under the cloak of temporary “Operations”) – becoming a principal source of finance for industry and agriculture and a key player via institutions like the ZABG and similar banks. Private institutions have been forcibly taken over or sidelined by the all-powerful RBZ and in the process Zanu PF is effectively assuming control of the key sites of the finance structure thereby seeking to enhance its power.
A question is not often asked – why are there people who appear to support Zanu PF, despite its failings? They are often dismissed as ignorant and mostly rural folk. But the fact is that when you look at the way even the so-called sophisticated corporate entities and urbane individuals in business succumb to the power of Zanu PF in respect of this structure, you begin to see that supporting or opposing Zanu PF is not simply an exercise limited to election time. In other words rural folk are not the only ones who supposedly prop up Zanu PF through votes because by supporting Zanu PF’s power arising from such structures as finance, there are many others who unsuspectingly prop up the party. People or entities that tow Zanu PF’s line do so not necessarily because they believe in its ideals but only because by doing so they secure access to facilities within Zanu PF controlled financial architecture. They do so because they depend on it – if the had an alternative they probably would not tow the line. But looked at another way, if they chose to reject it they would be exercising creating their own parallel source of power. Looked at in this way, the parallel market is no more than a refusal to succumb to the power of the Zanu PF controlled financial system. If all the funds circulating in the parallel market were in the formal system, it would greatly enhance the power of those in control of the finance structure. Given that the parallel market provides a parallel finance structure, it is no surprise that Zanu PF would be very keen to keep a watchful eye and retain control. To that extent, participation in a parallel market can be seen as a mass withdrawal of consent to the formal system from which the ruling establishment draws its power, creating a parallel power structure of which only the people are in control. That in a way is a form of mass action, although it is not commonly identified as such.
In addition, and perhaps more importantly people underestimate their relative power within this finance structure. They (including the corporate world) unwittingly prop up the banking sector because they keep their savings within the banking system. By so doing, they succumb to the power of the controlled banking system because they have to restrict their withdrawals in line with the demands of the RBZ, again enforced by the power from the Security Structure. It is their money but they have allowed their rights to be restricted because they remain participants in a banking system that gives power to their adversary. You can vote against Zanu PF but as long as your finances are within the finance structure that it controls, you have little cause to complain when it uses that power to thwart your choice. You think you have voted against but in another way you are propping it up. If there are so many people who oppose the control, what would be the effect on the finance structure if they withdrew their funds from the system? Are people not playing unwilling participants in propping up the power of that which they appear to oppose? Could mass non-participation or withdrawal from the finance structure be considered a form of mass action?
The old saying that knowledge is power is appropriate here. It simply means that those who are able to define and control the development, use, dissemination and access to knowledge have important structural power. Knowledge is defined broadly to include evolving technology, ideas, beliefs and information. Knowledge in this sense is important because it controls the mind and therefore the behaviour of individuals. The control of knowledge involves withholding certain kinds of knowledge from people thereby keeping them in ignorance or feeding them certain kinds of knowledge that favour the controller. Knowledge also affects the other three structures – in terms enhancing or decreasing security, technology for finance and also for production.
By 1990 Zanu PF had already increased attempts to control the knowledge structure by enhancing control and interference with academic freedom at universities via the notoriously controversial University of Zimbabwe Amendment Act. The same efforts can be seen in the control of syllabi of key subjects that teach liberation history and also the increasing attempts to take control of the private education sector. Similarly, re-education programmes and the national youth service constitute attempts to control the knowledge – the spread of ideas that support a certain position. Repeated more often with increased volume and large print, the ideas, information and beliefs become part of the daily vocabulary. Used everyday, it becomes part of the routine, part of life. When the oppressed begin to use the language of the oppressor, you can see the power deriving from the knowledge structure, even though the oppressed may not realize their capitulation.
Occasionally, the knowledge structure relies on the security structure to ensure that these ideas are enforced by coercion. More importantly, Zanu PF has maintained control of power arising from the knowledge structure through a system of closure or withdrawal of knowledge. This is the context in which we can understand the media monopoly of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings, the threats and actual acts of violence against the Daily News culminating in the continued refusal to issue a licence, the dominance of Zimpapers.
At the same time we can see attempts by others to break this power, such as the radio stations like SW Radio Africa or newspapers like the Zimbabwean or online sites like New Zimbabwe.com. But the interference with transmission of radio stations represents the attempt to maintain the control of the knowledge structure by preventing alternative voices. All in all, Zanu PF knows that immense power resides and can be drawn from the knowledge structure. That is why it keeps a tight grip on all aspects that constitute this structure.
The question therefore is whether those that oppose Zanu PF’s ways have any strategy aimed at breaking this source of power. The question is knowing what sustains the vehicles through which knowledge is developed and transmitted – The party mouthpieces need revenue from advertisers and subscribers but how many among these potential advertisers and subscribers are unwittingly keeping it afloat? Some people say they buy the paper only for the classifieds section or for the sports news, but that makes little difference to its sales figures – they record that newspapers have been sold and revenue has been received and in that way the power of the knowledge structure is enhanced because the companies stay in business. What would happen if all those people who would not otherwise buy if there was an alternative choose not to buy it at all? And if people chose not to purchase goods and services from companies that run commercials in that media? Such power works when exercised collectively and can be more effective in changing the behaviour of otherwise complicit corporate enterprises who like to play victim but at the same time exploit the benefits of the system.
This is probably the most important of all structures from which Zanu PF draws power but as we have seen it is by no means the only one. The fact that this is a strong structure of power for Zanu PF should not take away attention from the other structures of power, which have their own weaknesses that can be exploited. The security structure cannot operate on its own, it requires the other structures and hence it is often deployed to ensure that the other structures of power remain in existence – sooner or later it poses its own threats even to the ruling party, because the real controllers of the structure may at any point choose to free themselves from the party structures – which is why in some countries military personnel have used the power from the structure to take power from politicians through coups, as happened recently in Thailand. Since everyone requires security, those in control of security have power over those who need it. But the power to protect can also mean the power to withdraw protection and in extreme cases, to threaten insecurity by using coercion and violence. It becomes more extreme when the security machinery itself is used to threaten the security of individuals, in which case people conform by means of fear and coercion.
As we have seen, power derived from the security structure can also be used to support other structures, for example using coercion of the Youth Militia to promote certain ideas and beliefs, using the police force or army to confiscate funds held by individuals, failing to provide security to farmers when threatened with violence during the land invasions. The most brutal use of power from the security structure to coerce obedience and compliance was the deployment of the notorious Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland under the guise of suppressing dissident activity. The most visible manifestation of Zanu PF’s power arising from the security structure in more recent times was the announcement by the uniformed security chiefs just before the Presidential election in 2002 that they would only support a leader who had participated in the liberation struggle. This was in effect a clear demonstration of the superior power drawn from the security structure. If one’s security cannot be guaranteed by the security forces all other interests become secondary and irrelevant.
It stands to reason therefore that securing power does not lie in the realm of elections or mere demonstrations but measures that neutralize the power drawn from the security structure. Given the nature of the Zimbabwe state and the historical circumstances of its birth it is no surprise that the centre of power lies in the security structure. Any attempt therefore to win power requires ways of getting some of that power. An opposition movement needs some measure of support emanating from within this structure, in order to draw the necessary power. To pretend otherwise is to bury heads in the sand and refuse to understand and accept the realpolitik of the Zimbabwean situation.
The opposition movement in Zimbabwe has largely pursued textbook politics that describes democracy in pleasant terms and assumes that all things are equal but fails to take into account the power structures and relations that must be confronted and overcome in different situations. We expect elections to be the medium for change and while this probably makes sense in the mature democracies but we do not understand that within our landscape elections is just a part of the wider equation. Penetrating the security structure could involve making oneself relevant to the agenda and interests of those that form part of the security structure. This is not easy but also not impossible. The MDC tried it when some legislators allegedly tried to woo top military personnel a few years ago, though their attempt was probably awkwardly executed and therefore failed. That was an attempt to have a share of the power from the security structure which Zanu PF monopolises.
It must also be recalled that the security structure is only relevant to the extent that people require security. When it becomes a threat, there comes a point when people may exercise a choice to reject the security because it has become irrelevant to their needs. In that case the power arising from the security structure is diminished because the people for whom it is meant no longer need it. This much is evident in Zimbabwe’s own history when in the 1970s the liberation movements chose to reject the security structure of the Rhodesian regime and instead created their own machinery which sought fairly successfully in the end to establish a new structure, from which Zanu PF now derives power.
What emerges from the above is that instead of talking of Zanu PF’s power in general terms, it helps to dissect its structures in order to understand more precisely its strengths and weaknesses, by understanding its sources of power. Conversely, this helps to unravel the various options and avenues available to those that seek to challenge its power. When people have talked about its superior power, they have largely referred to its power arising principally from the security structure. They have not specifically considered its power arising from other structures and the weaknesses that lie therein. When considered in total, it is easy to see that because of the weaknesses in other power from other structures, they have had to be propped up by the security structure. That is why people talk of the militarization of the civil service and other state institutions – whereby personnel from the security structure have been deployed to positions in otherwise civilian areas. Therefore, Zanu PF is relying more on the security structure as a principal source of power.
Power is Reciprocal
Notwithstanding the immense power from the security structure, it is also important to realise that power is reciprocal. It may not be equal reciprocity but the fact remains that one’s power is relevant only to the extent that he controls things that are required by other people. In return for their desire for security the people cede power to those that are able to offer security. Conversely, once that security becomes a threat or is no longer available, people no longer require it and may therefore seek alternatives.
The history of Zimbabwe itself is testament to this fact – when the liberation parties realised that the security offered by the Rhodesian Front was not in their best interests but had instead become a threat to their freedoms, they decided to reject that form of security and create an alternative source of their own. Similarly, the shopkeeper has power over consumers only to the extent that he controls the goods and services that the consumers desire. If he sells rotten food or increases prices beyond the consumers’ reach, the consumers can exercise their reciprocal power by withdrawing their custom.
If the shopkeeper cannot sell his wares to any person, he no longer has power over the consumers and he may relent. That is the power of consumer boycotts – mass withdrawal of custom which tips the balance of power in the consumers’ favour. Is that not also a form of mass action? But this works only if the consumers are united in their effort. So for example, if everyone chose to walk and avoid public transport which is expensive; if everyone chose to walk and abandon their luxury vehicles until the price of fuel is reduced, that might force the bus operators or fuel merchants to think twice and change their methods. The point here is that far from being powerless and lacking in alternatives, people actually have power which they can exercise without engaging in any positive action. No amount of force can coerce a person to go into a shop to buy what he does not want; similarly, no amount of force can push a person to deposit his funds in a bank or to use public transport. So even though the security structure is powerful, it can only influence the strengths of the other structures if people are prepared to participate.
All too often protests in Zimbabwe have been predicated on the basis of doing something – demonstrating in the streets, voting in elections. Save for the initial stayaways of the late 1990s (whose success owed much to their novelty), there has been limited thought given to the strategy of protests which involve doing nothing when the system requires you to do otherwise. Positive action like street marches has been attractive because it is visible and helps the showmen to demonstrate to the world and their benefactors that they are actually doing something about the problem but time and again it has been neutralised via Zanu PF’s power from the security structure.
The predictability probably explains George Aittey’s views recently that the ZCTU marches were ill-considered and ineffectual. Other than providing good material for thick human rights reports and more recently video documentaries showing the brutal force of Zanu PF’s security structure it has done nothing substantial to influence change. The reports and videos simply confirm what is already known about the Zimbabwean regime and so do not add anything new. The question is whether there are other methods that target the structures of power but are not vulnerable to the power arising from the security structure? Perhaps it is useful to look at other forms of confronting this challenge – enabling people to realise that they have power, albeit invisible, and can in fact if truly united make use of the power which no amount of coercion can neutralise.
I have attempted to show in this lengthy piece, the sources of Zanu PF’s power with the hope that it opens up alternative ways through which people can exercise their power, which is actually available in abundance. The only question is whether they are prepared for the sacrifices required in order to use it. Once people think of Zanu PF’s power they immediately retreat because they think only of the power arising from the security structure.
What they have not sought to do is to appreciate that Zanu PF’s power is drawn from other sources on which the security structure is also dependent. That is where the leadership question arises – the leadership that shows this vision and explains to the people the power dynamics involved and what can be done and achieved. Simply resorting to the same old methods, the same catchwords will produce similar ineffectual consequences. The opposition also needs to win a share of power arising from the security structure – this is a matter of realpolitik, because no matter how much they win by the ballot box, they would still need to win over the power from this crucial structure. I ma not be what the textbook democrats want but that is the demands of realpolitik – the practical power politics of the Zimbabwean situation.
I know it has been a long read, but at the very least, I hope it has been comprehensible.
is a lawyer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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