The passage of the year 2020 in our memories is something that will be with us for a long while yet. Mainly because it brought with it a global pandemic that we all have now come to know as the coronavirus (Covid19) and its devastating impact on our common/shared global existence.
The abrupt changes that the pandemic has brought to what we considered ‘normal existence’, even here in the Global South, has led many of us into the trap of not thinking about short or long term futures. Instead we have understandably become focused on the immediate. Even via asking ourselves apocalyptic questions such as, “Will I/we (family) survive this?” Or, “Where will my income emanate from in a lock-down situation for me to pay for the general upkeep of my family?”
We now also know that 2020 sort of put paid to a lot of our personal short and long term ‘normal’ plans. And depending on your class status these would be either at a subsistence or highly materialist level (car, urban house/ travel).
What appears to have mattered the most in all of these now hindered aspirations is what was and probably still is our individual desire not only for the material but also recognition at, again, individual success. Be it in the form of individual material success such as the purchase of urban property, modern technological equipment or sending the children to privileged private schools or universities (and their colonial recognition baggage).
The year 2021 should have a new significance for Zimbabwean society. And I write this not as a revolutionary thesis. But more out of a personal desire to establish a balance between individual material desire and what would be considered in the global north as the common good of a society.
Before Covid19 changed our lives fundamentally we all seemed set on certain chosen paths. Some which we still stubbornly hold onto. Be it politically, economically or socially. In these as argued above we sought ‘individual’ progress. Never mind the system we were operating under. One could wake up and talk of nationalism one day while fronting ‘land barons’ and their attendant urban land theft. Or alternatively arguing about how bad the national economy is while pursuing highly individuated material interests in the name of the ‘people’.
In either case we found ourselves in what can be considered to be ‘contradictory’ value systems. That is value propositions that while arguing for a ‘collective national well-being’ are comfortably ensconced in quasi hedonistic individualism, consumerism and materialism.
The year 2020 and Covid19 should have made us pause to reflect on such approaches to our national existence and consciousness. But they did not.
But in order to be clearer about the immediate and long term future that we anticipate particularly for the year 2021, we have to be as realistic as we are honest with ourselves. And where we desire a specific type of future, then we have to be both optimistic and idealistic.
In being realistic about 2021 in Zimbabwe there are two key considerations we must take into account. The first being that our national political economy has been set on a trajectory of pandering to the interests of those that already have money.
Even in the context of Covid19 the government has made it clear that it will prioritize private capital’s needs with a vainglorious hope that there will be a ‘trickle-down effect’ from the latter’s ‘investments’ that we are still being exhorted to ‘patiently’ wait for. Hence already even in the access to treatment for Covid19 symptoms, it remains easier for those that have wealth to get first preference. And in some ridiculous instances for some of those with wealth to advise everyone else to buy personal ventilators. Add o this the loss of livelihoods for many urban and rural poor due o rising unemployment caused by closure of small o medium enterprises and the limitations of the informal trading sectors.
In the second instance our 2021 realism has to take into account the fact that we are faced with significant changes to our social relationships and lifestyles. Mainly because of Covid19 and the tragic loss of lives. But also more significantly because of lock-downs and the associational restrictions that they bring. This means that the regularity of given interactions with family, school, work or other association colleagues will remain not only rare but in their occurrence, less convivial. This means our society faces a fundamental change from being one in which we were used to general association to being one in which we will be increasingly isolated. Either as individuals or in our immediate family. It is almost like a tragic involuntary societal rapture as necessitated by Covid19.
Where we choose to be optimistic about 2021 we need to harness our deepest thought processes for big ideas that focus on how to deal with Covid19 as a collective society. With a candidness that seeks above all else the pursuit of optimum equality and social and economic justice for all Zimbabweans.
By optimum equality here I mean that within the context of the Covid19 pandemic we should be ensuring that there are basic social and economic rights that are available to all Zimbabweans and as provided for by the state. These rights in our current context should fundamentally be about access to healthcare (including food), education, water, shelter and free expression for all of us regardless of whether we are in the urban or the rural. Where we seek to politicize the pandemic, as we are naturally wont to do, it would still be imperative that we establish this baseline approach to how we seek to ease the effects of Covid19. As opposed to adopting a socialism for the already rich or those that mimic them.
The mantra that is often used by those in power is that of ‘no one is left behind.’ They are not being honest. The agenda we must set in 2021 is that no one should ever have been left behind. And that we must ensure hat we are in 2021 living on soicio-economic level playing field. Not just based on salaried income but economic structural equitable distribution for all. With the priority being optimum equality of access to social and economic rights for all Zimbabweans. Especially in the context of Covid19.