Zimbabwe’s rainy seasons always signify anxious moments for its ruling establishment(s). This is because when the heavens open up (generously), it is considered, across many of the country’s sub-cultures, that the ancestors and Mwari, Unkulunkulu (God) has blessed the land and its people. Not because of expected regular geographical (scientific patterns) as to the regularity of rainfall but more significantly because the land and its people have deserved the blessing. By way of the deeds of its political leaders in congruence with those that represent deities and the ancestors that were once affectionately referred to as spirit mediums. Even those that are now prominent Christian or other minority religion leaders understand the significance of a bountiful harvest as a result of plenty of rains across the country.
And in most cases, the link between good political and religious leadership where the rains fall abundantly for a bumper national harvest between November and February of the next year, is always celebrated. It is a sign of not only provident blessing but more significantly approval by the ancestors and God (in his various forms), at the direction of both the political and social morality of the land and its people.
Where it does not rain adequately across the entirety of the country, questions as to why emerge across the political and religious spectrum. Spirit mediums and in the now, Christian religious leaders/prophets are consulted to find cause, meaning and effect.
Not only by way of the immediate but because this was the way of our ancestors before the onset of colonialism. A point that does not need to be laboured. Rituals involving the king, chief, subjects, spirit mediums and beer were always held to determine the potential of the rainy season and to try to predict its eventual outcome. Sometimes the warnings would be stark and could only be remedied if the ruler or his people changed their ways (one of the reasons why marriage ceremonies in November are mythical taboo).
So the 2017-2018 rainy season is one that will cause a significant amount of worry for the ‘newish’ establishment as led by President Mnangagwa and his ‘military-political’ establishment. Technically because the country needs a good harvest to improve its economic fortunes. More significantly because upon Mnangagwa’s assumption of power, he claimed not only the good fortune of the rains of the 2016-2017 season but the ability to ensure that the best was gotten out of it through the national ‘command agriculture’ programme.
The rains fell mightily well that 2016-17 season. And the government augmented the opening up/ deluge of the (natural) heavens with inputs and technical support that was popularly supported. This led to former President Mugabe government’s claim to the success of ‘Command Agriculture’ and the ‘Presidential Inputs Scheme’ despite the vilification of the fast track land reform programme. As well as, at that time ‘against sanctions’.
Due to rampant Zanu Pf factionalism (G-40 vs Lacoste) the sole claim to the success of the 2016-17 agricultural season was always going to be publicly disputed. Until the eventual ‘victors’ of that succession battle on 15 November 2017. And in this victory it has already become clear that they are persuaded that command agriculture’s assumed success had been on the basis of it having been led by the military.
The fact that the November 2017 military intervention was referred to as ‘Operation Restore Legacy’ (ORL) of the liberation struggle, makes rain become even more important. Not only because of its own centrality in determining the cause of the loss of land and resultant droughts or rinderpest, locust attacks but because it was always a key reference point that transcended the first and second Chimurengas’. Both of whose legacies are now ostensibly under ‘restoration’ via Mnangagwa’s takeover of the ruling Zanu Pf party (as a former long duree liberation movement).
In this, the former liberation struggle fighters that are now in charge of the state are all too aware of what any potential drought would mean to their political prospects for the 2018 harmonised elections. They have already claimed success for the bumper harvests of the 2016-17 harvest as a result of their intervention. And they would want to ride that crescent of assumed agricultural success almost as a ritualistic coming to their own process of national leadership without Mugabe at the helm.
But if the rains do not fall as anticipated (not by way of modern scientific calculations) or at least in similar fashion to the previous season, their ‘restore legacy’ intentions will face a crisis of historical, cultural and popular political legitimacy.
Not that they are lost for options such as a ‘command drought relief’ programme, if they can raise the money, but more importantly in order to defy the possible myth that Mugabe ‘went with the rain’. An issue that may become even more problematic if the spirit mediums, that they are so familiar with from the liberation struggle, decide that a wrong was done to the ancestors. And that they might be to blame for it because of their ‘intervention’.
What is clear is that the assumption of their potential and likely 2018 election victory on the basis of their ability to ‘command’ a bounty harvest in the 2017-18 agricultural season is not as simple as anticipated.
Mnangagwa’s government will need a significant ‘plan b’ in the event that the ‘dura’s’/ silos are not full. This will include a populist harnessing of spirit mediums, traditional leaders, the Christian clergy in order to demystify the perception of a drought having been caused by the ancestors and God not being in their favor. This will also require ensuring the media does not depart from their ‘restore legacy’ narrative to the establishment’s electoral detriment by putting out a narrative that reverts more to natural science than it does the mythical ‘blessings ‘ of the ancestors and via them, God.
In simpler parlance and from a political perspective, rain and its harvest(s) will matter in 2018.
Not least because the major political stronghold of the ruling party has been the rural / agricultural vote. But also because without resort to political violence it must seek to ensure that its support base is satisfied to work for a legitimate electoral victory.