The Covid 19 pandemic has exposed the nation’s levels of unpreparedness and under-resourcing to respond to major crises. This is a direct result of the systemic weakening of the State’s public service response capabilities, the watering down of democratic oversight and accountability mechanisms and the disregard of constitutional mandates with impunity.

We need a distinctive new approach to social and economic justice. One that seeks a common national vision and the renewal of the tattered social contract between the rulers and the ruled, and between the haves and the have nots. An approach that addresses growing inequality, through the equitable sharing of power, resources and opportunities. This, bearing in mind the fact that the more pronounced inequality becomes the less cohesive we become as a nation and the less capable we become of treating everyone equally regardless of class. To secure the future, we need an approach to social and economic justice that prioritises the youth through youth led and youth focused redistributive policies, job creating economic growth, robust public sector investment and sustainable wealth transfers. One that addresses the oppressive reality of gender injustice by reducing the care burden imposed upon women and young girls through better social service delivery whilst at the same time improving protections against gender-based violence. One that secures national domestic resource mobilisation capacities through democratic oversight and accountability, fair taxation, comprehensive anti-corruption measures and the democratic involvement of the diaspora in decision making. In addition to a commitment to enhancing domestic resource mobilisation we need an approach that incentivises domestic productivity particularly by de-criminalising the informal sector and facilitating financial and technology transfers to give smallholder and informal producers a competitive edge as part of broader efforts towards even growth. We need an approach to social and economic justice that embraces the urgency of climate change and gives priority to strengthening our collective resilience to climatic shocks whilst gradually moving away from carbon intensive production system. This will entail giving smallholder farmers, artisanal miners, fishing communities and others in resource rich areas democratic control over the extractive activities in and around their communities. Above all we need an approach to economic justice that subordinates our economic choices and priorities to the broader goal of achieving shared prosperity justice and equality

Too many Zimbabweans are in pain, lacking care, estranged from the enjoyment of fundamental rights and without the means to influence decisions that impact day to day living. It is early October 2020 as lockdown restrictions pave way to a gradual return to ‘normal.’ This debased sense of normal in which children return to schools where there are no teachers, entire communities spend weeks without water and nurses and doctors have long abandoned their stations in protest over poor working conditions is what social and economic injustice looks like. Women are hardest hit. The self-evident injustice of a system that is built around the assumption that poor women will always be there to take care of the hungry, sick and disabled on behalf of society consigns society’s largest population section to lifetimes of poverty, indignity and violence. So too do the neoliberal – ‘leave it to capitalism’ and trickle-down policy assumptions informing the middle-income ambitions of current policy trajectories. These policy assumptions specialising in taking away from the poor and benefitting the rich have enlarged the gaps between the rich and the poor, as well as between the rulers and the ruled making Zimbabwe a polarised nation ill at ease with itself and unable to respond to growing crisis.

It is certainly too early to fully grasp the long-term, impacts of the Covid 19 pandemic. Just as it is too early to fully understand the multi-generational impacts of the exhausting range of past disruptive events from the quotidian effects of colonial oppression, to the unquantifiable harms of Gukurahundi violence, to major economic shocks like the structural adjustment programme of the 1990s, to Operations like Murambatsvina, to freak weather events like Cyclone Idai. This rollcall of major calamities is also a reminder that our collective wellbeing and shared prosperity depend much on the overall health of our public services.  

Two broad themes emerge to illustrate the need for a broad-based social and economic justice agenda. The first one is that the economy is not working for the benefit of the majority of Zimbabweans – we urgently need to re-imagine the vision, structure and shared benefit of our economy. The second one is that the government is ill prepared to respond to crises – thus we need a renewed economic vision for Zimbabwe, centred on the principles of social and economic justice also known as Gutsaruzhinji. This idea of Gutsaruzhini envisages a a fairer more equal society in which the social contract holding the country together enjoins the state to facilitate the just and equitable distribution of the nation’s resources for the benefit of the many not just the few.

The structure of our economy is a barrier to the realisation of Gutsaruzhinji. Firstly, the concentration of economic power and opportunities in the hands of a narrow military bureaucratic political elite in a context with a diverse and young population limits the country’s potential to fully tap into the economic potential of a vast segment of the country’s population. Secondly the enclaved nature of the economy which privileges the urban over the rural, and the formal economy at the expense of the informal promotes unequal growth and perpetuates structural inequality. This enclave nature also steers resources away from labour intensive sectors like smallholder agriculture and the informal sector towards capital intensive sectors with limited labour absorption capacity. Thirdly the historical patterns of economic growth and resource distribution which replicate patriarchal and neo-colonial extractive prerogatives at the expense of locally driven sustainable alternatives lock many sectors and communities into exploitive economic systems detrimental to their long-term prospects and sovereignty. We need to transform our economy away from its roots in the violent, racist, sexist and colonial exploitation of our people and resources towards justice and equality.

Many Zimbabweans want an economy capable of addressing mass unemployment, increasing societal resilience in the face of perpetual crises and democratising economic power to allow young people and historically marginalised groups to access economic opportunities. These aspirations though commonly held are frequently drowned out in the partisan top down system of democratic decision making. Many voices are not being heard or if they are being heard then their messages are not being prioritised. Entrenched partisanship fuelled by unresolved electoral tensions often reduce policy making to the imposition of partisan objectives and settling of political scores. Its violent nature further excludes many well-meaning and patriotic Zimbabweans from seeking public office.  More especially, the failure to devolve power and authority as provided for in the Constitution amidst the concentration of power in the hands of a few creates an unsurmountable gap between those who experience problems and those with the means and responsibility to facilitate resolution.    Creating a conducive environment for constructive and nation building dialogue therefore remains a critical first step towards making social and economic justice are reality.

Welcome to Social and Economic Justice Agenda – ZIMCODD’s nation building quarterly compilation of independent analysis and perspective on critical issues from a social and economic justice perspective. In this issue is a range of articles reflecting on social and economic justice in this time of Covid-19. These reflections from a diverse cross section of writers and practitioners broadly illuminate the need and possibility for progressive groups to confront the structural, ideological, policy and other barriers to the achievement of social and economic justice in our lifetime.