Zimbabwe’s Power-Wealth Hierarchical Classes
In any human existence, there is always an element of people being differentiated by classes. Even in setups where classes are not supposed to be evident, such as churches and social gatherings, classes tend to be glaringly evident.
The traditional classification of society into Upper Class, Middle Class, and Lower Class is fast becoming irrelevant as new categories are emanating from the ever-changing landscape.
This article is motivated by Charles Hugh Smith’s article titled
America’s Nine Classes: The New Class Hierarchy. His article was motivated by a Chinese Foreign Policy article describing China’s New Class Hierarchy. The article inspired me to deduce Zimbabwe’s nine classes.
The classification is not solely based on wealth but on both wealth and power. Power gives influence which feeds back into wealth as such influence can be directed at outcomes that preserve or enhance personal wealth.
Power is usually either political or financial or both. Those with financial power have the ability to influence political decisions. Those with political power have the ability to make decisions that determine where the money goes.
Control of the state, directly or indirectly, gives access to the nation’s resources. Control of resources and how they are distributed creates classes.
The classification system seems to follow political lines due to the political polarization in Zimbabwe, but it is not entirely political. For example, there are certain elements in higher classes that are political and there are some that are on the opposition side of politics but still appear on top.
1. The Deep State
The Deep State is a combo of government leaders and top finance leaders. It is defined as a hybrid association of elements of government and top-level officials in finance and industry.
The Deep State is at the very top of the food chain. The President of Zimbabwe, his Ministers, Military Chiefs, The Police Commissioners, the Chief Justice, the Head of the CIO, the Airforce Commander, and the Brigadiers are all included. The Reserve Bank Governor, the Chief Executive Officer at CBZ, ZIMRA Commissioner General, NSSA CEO, ZINARA CEO, AirZim CEO are also included in this class.
The members of the Deep State are few. If we could gather them around, they would be less than 1,000 heads. These are the men and women that are governing. They are ruling.
The oligarchs are a very small class of wealthy people, mostly businesspeople. Because of their power, these fellas can effectively write the rules and pass them onto the members of the deep state for ratification. In most countries, these are less than 0.1% of the population. In Zimbabwe, we cannot mention percentages. If we perform a simple headcount, we would be lucky if we get to one hundred.
The oligarchs have the ability to capture the deep state.
“they essentially own the political machinery of the nation, writing the rules of legislation that is supposedly regulating their industries, taxes, etc.” Charles Hugh Smith
Although some or most of them began their businesses in earnest, without much political support, the financial power they earn from industry gives them access to rule-makers. Some manage to capture entire political parties via capturing majority members of the decision-making body such as a central committee or a national executive committee.
The meaning of oligarchy here is that a small number of people control the country without necessarily holding military or political positions. Modern oligarchs are usually business moguls.
Names that can easily fit into this class are notably Strive Masiiwa, Kudakwashe Tagwirei, Billy Rautenbach, John Bredenkemp, the late Van Hoogstraten. These names are rumored to have influenced policy through backroom deals.
There are some members of the oligarchy who benefit from the system by coincidence, without exerting any significant influence on the state.
3. New Nobility
These ones are royalty. These men and women do not attempt to manage the political process. They manage their businesses. They can influence policy through formal channels or lobbying. Some find ways of evading policy via bribes and cutbacks, but they do not change the policy.
Some have relatively insignificant back-deals with politicians and policymakers. They are super-wealthy, mostly from their business undertakings. They are not members of the oligarchy due to the limited degree of influence they have. As such, over a prolonged period of time, the wealth they accumulate does not grow as fast as the oligarchs.
The key feature distinguishing the nobility class from the Upper Caste is that they own assets, companies, and means of production. They do no front or work for anyone. Even though some make their money via political connections, they are beneficiaries of a corrupt regime rather than authors. They are different from the oligarchs because they do not attempt to capture the state. Some are legit business people so they are unwilling (moral code) to capture the state and some do not have enough valence.
Several legit and morally upright business people also fit into this category because of the wealth they possess. The New Nobility Class probably has less than 5,000 people.
Zed Koudounaris, Mohammed Musa, Moses Chingwena, Sam Levy, and Exodus Makumbe fit into this class.
Businesspeople who are popular on social media such as Busisa Moyo, Genius Kadungure, @TheBeggotenSun, and Shingi Munyeza fit into this class.
Men of cloth, prophets, and prophetesses generating wealth from looking after the sheep also fit into this category. Common names would be Emmanuel Makandiwa, Ezekiel Guti, Twabam, and Walter Magaya.
Politically-connected businesspeople such as Phillip Chiyangwa, Super Mandiwanzira, and Frank Buyanga also fit into this category. The tenderpreneurs also fit into this category. They skip the rules, they bend the rules, but they do not make the rules.
4. Upper Caste
This class has employees. They do not own the means of production. They are technocrats and professionals managing the affairs of the classes above them. They can be found in both the private sector and the public sector. They are paid well for their services.
They come in as experts offering expertise to the Deep State, the Oligarch, and the Upper Caste. These are your accountants, lawyers, personal doctors, speechwriters, and bankers.
The upper caste trades-in labor for money at very high values. They are professionals making “clean money”. They do not control any resources. They are merely accessories. Membership of this class is probably around 100,000 heads.
Executive managers and the top management layer at most medium and large companies can easily fit into this class.
Tawanda Nyambirai used to be part of this class and managed to propel himself into the nobility class.
5. State Nomenklatura
These are government administrators. They are high-level government employees appointed to key positions.
Those ZESA board appointees easily fit into this category. They do not form part of the Deep State Class, they are not Oligarchs and they are not part of the New Nobility. They are also not part of the Upper Caste. Most of these are not professionals. They are simply politicians and relatives appointed by the state.
These fellas hold key administrative positions in the bureaucratic system. They administer VID, CMED, and ZINARA. They are teachers' union leaders, the School District Officers, ZIMRA regional managers, the fellas at the passport offices, the embassies, at Netone, GMB, Zimpost, etc.
It is difficult to estimate the membership in this class. I can thumbsuck a figure of less than 200,000. The Bureaucratic Machinery is huge and requires a large number of appointees to manage the processes.
6. False Middle Class
The middle class is almost non-existent in Zimbabwe. These are working people. They get decent salaries from the few large companies in Zimbabwe.
You will know them when you see them.
These are your middle-level bank employees, your journos, and those employed by NGOs in addition to those employed by Delta, Mimosa, Econet, OK, and Zimplats. That Haru Mutasa lady who works for Al Jazeera is part of this class.
Class membership is also not very high. It is tiny, probably less than 300,000.
Though members of the false middle class do not own any means of production, they have an apartheid mentality, not in the sense of discrimination or form of governance but in the sense of identifying others as “Apart-from-us”. Members of this class are some of the most schadenfreude people you will ever meet.
The size of the middle class is worrisome. The class is almost non-existent.
7. The Hustling Creatives
This class is comprised of people who are working for themselves and making something out of it. They do not work for the state. They cannot be described as technocrats or professionals. They are mostly hustlers who are making it in the largely informal economy.
A portion of members of this class are doing better than the false middle class but there is no guarantee of continued fortune.
Members of this class include the successful welding guy, the successful retailer, the better-than-average change-money guy, the successful cross-border trader, the guy who sells building materials, the popular mechanic. Some do white-collar jobs, but most are blue-collar hustlers.
Members of this class are creative. The work things out. They find solutions to problems. They hustle and tussle for their own share in the oligopolistic political economy. They are mobile, they migrate from one opportunity to another. They quickly shift capital from an overcrowded opportunity onto the next best thing.
When things work well, they manage to establish themselves in industry and quickly move into nobility. When things don't work well, they quickly fall back to the lower class of the working poor or even the unemployed.
This class always compares itself with the False Middle Class and views itself as better because of the freedom and the higher chances of upward mobility.
Class size can easily reach 400,000.
8. The Working Poor
These are the real taxpayers. They are shouldering the burden. The working poor exist in both the public sector and the private sector.
In the public sector, this is the foot soldier who lives from paycheck to paycheck, it’s the underpaid teacher, the disgruntled nurse, and the protesting doctor. Salaries can barely cover living expenses. They end up doing all sorts of side-hustles such as selling Avon, Tupperware, and offering extra-lessons.
The bulk of the civil servants are in The Working Poor Class. For prolonged periods, costs of being employed (such as transport costs, appearance costs, etc.) can outweigh the benefits of being employed (salary) such that they end up subsidizing the employer.
In the private sector, these are the fellas that hold on to jobs that do not pay well. The thesis is that it is better to have something than nothing. There is also an element of subsidizing the employer when inflation accelerates faster than wage increases, which is a phenomenon that occurs time and time again in Zimbabwe.
In the informal sector, you have a lot of people in this class. They are not working formal jobs, but they are working. Aren’t they? Vendors, tiny retailers, poor farmers, and loss-making hustlers.
On the hustlers, there is a common misconception that hustlers make lots of money. Most hustlers do not earn enough, they are poor, and they form part of the working poor. Only a few of them make it into the Hustling Creatives class, and because it is a remarkable achievement to make it into that class, that event is over-glorified and portrayed as applying to the generality of the hustlers when it only applies to a tiny fraction.
The working poor is a very big class. The size of the class could be around 3.5 million.
9. The Unemployed
This is a very sad element of the country’s societal structure.
This class is made up of people who are not meaningfully working. They are not economically active. They are idle most of the time. Some of them survive on foreign remittances and occasional piece jobs. Some manage to jump into a quick hustle here and there. They are usually under 30.
Ghetto youths belong to this category. Poor subsistence farmers belong in this category.
Class size could be around 4.5 million
Zimbabwe’s classes are largely defined by holding political power, closeness to political power, and the ability to influence and control political power. The first five classes are essentially an imperial structure imposed on top of the society in the form of an ‘elected government’, systems that aid the government, systems that control the government, and the seemingly independent nobility.
Upward Mobility potential can be casually referred to as hope that you will make it one day. Societies that do not provide equal opportunities for upward mobility store up trouble for themselves. Sooner or later people discover that the chances of elevation are rigged and decide to revolt against the system. That's how revolutions come about.
Presented below are my views on the upward mobility potential for members in each class. This is a generalized assessment of how widely distributed the chances of upward mobility in a class are.
Where do you fit?
What are your chances of upward mobility?
What are your chances of downward mobility into a lower class?