Politics: Pasting labels, past logic
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Bicker and ill-wind
Yet I am in a celebratory mood, but for reasons that are completely different. Where I come from it is conventional wisdom that witches don't just come. They stalk homes that bicker. They are invited by the bicker in those homes, moreso when the bicker borrows extra decibels from impulses, from emotions, amidst brains on forced recess or on early retirement. Where I come from family brawls are conducted in hushed tones, lest neighÂbours get to hear, get to know.
To shout from the middle of the homeyard, to scramble up the mound or anthill, all to take your quarrel very far, that brings bad wind, pestilential airs, into the home. And these airs, this wind, need not amount to a whirling mass of air. It could be the gossip that follows. It could be worse: by way of the witch who has always meant ill and sought to bring ruin to the family, but was failing to get fisÂsures for a destrucÂtive entry.
So, musavhurira mhepo, or don't open a flank for ill wind, we are always cautioned, always reminded. And where conflict rages beyond proÂportions, beyond temperance, you can always turn to conflict-managers, mostly located within the lineage, rarely hailing from outside, who will settle matters, or at the very least restore composure. We call it kuenzanisana, kugadzirisana, literally to measure one another, or to fix one another. DifferÂences that yield shouts that ring across the village, waking up the sleeping, are always frowned upon. Who do you want to hear you, comes the rebuke. But what am I up to, dear reader?
I notice as Zimbabweans we were beginning to evolve a disturbing psychosis, much of it expressed through and encouraged by the media. I call it an intrusion psychosis. As little kids growing up in a Rhodesia where sugar and bread were hard to come by, rarely got, we compensated for the scarcity of these sweet and tasty things of the white man through song. You were assured of tea and red-jammed bread on definite times, definite occaÂsions: Nyuwere or New Year, Rhodes and
Founders Day, Kisimusi or Christmas, of course together with Boxen Day, Boxing Day as we now call it.
On those days you ate. But you also met that uncle, that brother, who had vanished into the city, seemÂingly forgetting where he came from, or those he left behind. After all, the village elders were always quick to remind, the spirit medium of the bird resides in the nest! So there would be that celebraÂtion, that conviviality as the family would be reunited once more, amidst a false abundance that lasted for the duration of the holiday.
The saccharine song
And as a little boy, you always relished the time, relished the exotic foods to be more exact and one or two odd pennies dropped into your dirty, caroused little palms by a relative dying for an impression. Of course the hour hand, the minute hand, the second hand, would tick at their pace â€” the pace of time â€” which, measured against our eager palates, was too, too slow.
You always wished you could sing time faster, sing it into another Christmas soonest, another family feast full of the sweet foods of Rhodesia. We would sing: "January, February, Maarch/April, May, June/July, August, September, October, November, Dhiiiseeember/Christmaaaasi/ Yauyaaa/Netiiii/Nechingwaaa!" I daresay most from my generation mastered the Gregorian CalÂendar from our eager palates which found expresÂsion in this song of sweet wishes, from our cravings for a food-filled Christmas. Teachers came much later, to find us already done, tatonaka.
Coded protests or conquest?
Dear reader, you notice each stanza of clustered months would be even up to the month of June, after which the rest of the months would be packed into one hurried stanza to December, the month of abundance, the month of jaws that moved in munching happiness. And, and significantly, that month of abundance would be sung slowly, would be dragged to full measure, as with a prolonged chew by a mouth relishing its hard-earned conÂtents.
Still there was no hurry to despatch this sweet goodness. "Christmas" would be similarly dragged, as would the successive stanza celebrating "tea", and the one after it celebrating tea's hallowed spouse, "bread". You salivated as you went through the last five one-dragged word stanzas during which the frantic pace of eagerness in the early months gave way to the peace and satisfaction of a recumbent beast happily chewing the cud!
Of course time being time, never quite obliged our frantic pace of anticipation and we lived our wretched lives of unfulfilled cravings, of unmet appetites for things sweet but rare. That was us under the Rhodesia of scarce sweetness, scarce feasts. Interestingly when I look back, I notice this time-song never recognised Rhodes and Founders Day, even though we still ate meat, drank tea, munched bread, as at Christmas. Was the gastroÂnomical song itself a coded mesÂsage of protest? To say, as once said the Jews: "ZimÂbabwean people bow only to God"? If so, certainly there was an unresolved contradiction. The coloÂnial "god" was always made manifest as sugar, the whip, the cross and the law.
When will he come?
Zimbabweans were beginning to sing intrusion with relish like the saccharine song of our anticiÂpating youth. Day in, day out, the refrain was Jacob Zuma: when he was likely to come, why he is not coming, who he is coming to berate, who to extol, which line he was likely to take on our constituÂtion, or our election time-table. Or once disapÂpointed by ourselves and our strange craving for this mediation intrusion, we would solace ourÂselves, lick our weeping wounds by a line from Zuma's talkative minion, Madame Zulu, however threadbare the line would be. Even as Zuma was frantically beating an engulfing wave that threatÂened him at home, we still sang for his arrival.
No, he did not have to drawn before coming, or stop coming because he might have been threatÂened at home. We were, or should have been, his priority! He had to stop governing South Africa to come and govern us, to come and deal with our probÂlems.
Two, three cheers
This is a very bad frame of mind for a people, a nation, a country. It prepares a people for subdual, for vassalage. It stunts a people's capacity to manÂage own affairs, much worse, own quarrels. And as we yell from the mound, we open a flank for bad wind, for a pestilential wind. Need we wonder that the child in the home wakes up coughing on the morrow? Need we? The growth of nations lie in their capacity to resolve their problems, lies in the test of their challenges. The patriotic jingoism with which we assert our ownership of our natural resources, we assert our right over every inch of our territory, should be the same impulse by which we assert our exclusive right to our disputes, to our quarrels, and the preÂrogative we reserve to ourÂselves to resolve them ourselves, in the best manÂner we know how.
After all, disputes are part of our national resource, they horn our skills in nation-building, in conflict resolution. Let outsiders keep off. It is from that angle that I give two cheers, nay three, to the whole team that has been dealing with constiÂtution-making and related matters. As for the subÂstance of their agreement, well, that is another matter. The point is the wolf is off the door.
The myth of hardliners
I notice the media have gradually legitimised a hateful word: hardliners. I am not so sure what the phrase means. Its deployment seems quite flexible, quite whimsical. You cock it. You unleash it against whomsoever says things you don't like, or agree to. That is all it takes, it seems. Of course the underlyÂing reasoning is that you are the world, and everyÂthing must comport to your whims and caprices, to your thinking, however jaywalking, it might be. You should not be opposed, not contradicted for you are the way, the truth!
Mugabe and hard "soft liners"
Today "hardliners" are found in the military, specifically within the command. People like Nyikayaramba, Mugova, Chedondo and ChiÂwenga. They are called hardliners because they have dared disagree with the MDC and its leaders. That implies in the MDC formations lies and resides the way, is it not? And whoever disagrees with them is a hardliner.
For them the national question has long been resolved by the advent of the MDC formations! Yesterday it used to be peoÂple like Gono, Tomana, Shamu, Moyo, Sibanda, Charamba. Their other name was "outstanding issues", a name that made them both outstanding and personified issues. Tomorrow it could be someone else, and the list is beginning to defy political boundaries, I notice. There is huge flack against Tendai Biti for saying the things he said through the Sunday Mail of last week. Why does he acknowledge President Mugabe? Why do so through the Sunday Mail when there are papers of choice? And it is clear whoever disagrees or disparÂages President Mugabe, however truculently, howÂever violently, cannot be a hardliner. No, it is an epithet for those opposed to Tsvangirai and his party!
A while ago, I felt pity for one Tendai Tagarira, a columnist with ZimEye. He is MDC-T to the bone, and he says it without regret. But he doubts TsvanÂgirai's leadership qualities and has written to say so. For him, the only change Tsvangirai has brought about to this world is the change of girlÂfriends. Tsvangirai's constituency is not amused and has been roasting the poor fellow before stunÂning him as for slaughter. He is being roasted alive, someÂthing the SPCA forbids, even for small aniÂmals. And the poor felÂlow cannot handle it, seekÂing purÂgation through a second take on the matter, with his rheum directed at Tsvangirai's supporters this time.
Why will they not tolerate criticism? Why will they not be tolerÂant? Why are they hero-worÂshipping a mere morÂtal. All these and much more, the US-based Tagarira opines, seemingly ventriloÂqually! He is in the fast lane to being labelled hardÂliner or outstanding issue! Welcome brother. No one should point out the weaknesses of Tsvangirai, however glaring. Even his low eduÂcation must not be mentioned. And the defence to such a charge is to say what has the educated Mugabe brought to this country!
A question asked in a deep, philoÂsophical way that suggests it is coming from eduÂcated people, but who condone and settle for less in others who want to rule them! We waive stanÂdards because of bigÂoted loyalties. We no longer want our minimum literacy met by those who seek to lead us. Against all we have seen and witnessed on the continent? But that is to make a light point of a grave matter.
We have been adept at manufacturing labels, pasting them on foreheads for desperate politiÂcians plying desperate causes, irredeemable causes in my view. And these labels have become convenÂient shorthands. They are not wisecracks, aphoÂrisms or distilled and compressed thoughts that suggest a thoughtful people, thoughtful discourse.
No. You are struck by their un-inventiveness, their platitudinous ring, their sheer fatigue as manÂners of expression. We, such a literate nation, such a thoughtful people? A real ring of desperation you cannot miss. The same shorthand is turned this way, turned that way, stood up, stood sideways, stood down, in the hope of new soup, new meanÂing. A cowhide from the slaughter by a preceding generation promises better soup than this? Poverty of thought? Poverty of politics? The times?
The story of Cuban heroism
We getting there and hey, I proffer my reading. A leader of worth does not need an elaborate parapet by way of defences. He stands out, sticks out and above all calumnies. He is tall, not by stilts, but by his inner worth. I saw that in Fidel Castro, a man I have met no less than five times, with our last encounter almost five years ago, being more memÂorable. Mighty America mustered its full arsenal to attack and impugn his integrity, to eliminate his person. America failed and to this day, Castro stands, only obeying the God who kills on His time, obeying time which offers wrinkles and a bend on due date.
Nothing else, no one else. Bad words are ineffecÂtual against such a giant, such a lofty personality. And when you look at Cuba's propaganda machinÂery, before, during and after Castro, you are struck by its sheer modesty. The grandeur of Castro and Cuba lies in history, lies in contemporary achieveÂments and thoughts of Cuba. Against insuperable odds positioned perilously next door. In and around Cuba, evil truly lurks.
Deeds versus labels
I said I want to proffer my view on this one matÂter, or a shard of it. What makes Cuba and Castro stand out is the fact that they illustrate politics of worth. Castro is a hero and, as Boorstin says, heroes stand by their deeds. He fought a war, a revÂolution. He won. He defended Cuba. He triÂumphed. He ruled Cuba, against the will of AmerÂica. He left on his own, and would not be pushed out. He lived in the shadow of a predatory power, but never became a meal for anyone, least of all his enemy. He sought an alternative vision for Cuba, an alternative world order. He fought for it, elaboÂrated his vision for it in a manner that created a new body of knowledge, an alternative viewpoint of global proportion and compulsion. That kind of personality does not require a spin, does not require an army of lynchers. He does not require damning labels for his opponents. He requires his deeds which shine, and which will always shine.
Gods from ordinariness
Let's come home. What politics are we living in? The contrast is remarkable. Within our body politic, you find men who cannot be men because they have no substance. Men who have nothing to present but their mottled faces, fat, sagging bellies. Masks that seek attention, crave for glory. You check their past and it is a hollow gust. No war fought. No people liberated. No selfless deeds. Not even rushing a pregnant woman to the maternity ward. It's all emptiness, except for vaulting ambitions. When such flimsy characters offer themselves for leadership, what do you do? As a nation you slide into the era of celebrity politics. Empty men wishing for alchemy that makes big name. Not by deeds, which they have none. Not by big ideas, again which they have none. But by big media, big media splashes! Does that read familiar?
Celebrity politicians come from newsrooms, from soundbites and headlines. They are made by pseudo-events, like choreographed performances in controlled settings. By contrast, real political heroes are stalked by newsrooms, for better, for worse. They represent worth, they stand for an idea, stand by a principle. They come from big, selfless deeds that are a boon to their nation, to their people. And they are not God-like. If so they were they would not have been heroes. The tissue of heroes is the stuff that makes ordinary men and women. Heroism is not being extraordinary; it is defying ordinariness, which is why heroes are not gods in the beginning. They become gods from their deeds and accomplishments, become gods in the end.
Tall men on stilts
This vile labelling industry which is sprouting in our politics comes from the quality of some of our politicians who have nothing to show, except a few days in a cell, fewer days in court over very personal charges that bring no value to anyone else, fewest scars for behaving with foolhardiness in front of the law. Just how do you improve your appeal to me the voter by selling your little predicaments which, thanks to an obliging media, you want to tout as amounting to a collective tragedy of the people of Zimbabwe? Which is what brings out the sheer hideousness of this labelling business which is beginning to have an abiding place in our politics. The men and women who are being labelled are Castro's look-alikes. Not by pretence, not by imitation, but by real deeds. They have liberated a people, freed a country.
They have fought a war, won it. They have moulded a nation, defended it. Not as Gods who don't err, rather as humans seeking perfection. Their faults arise from a humanity, and because they have dared to act where others balked. Clearly they don't compare with you who could not act when your people hoped you would; you who could not err because you never acted. And because you have nothing but your little personal deeds and misdeeds, you seek to become taller by riding on the stilts made by media managers. Or by cutting limbs of real heroes so they shrink to your small height. That is what mediased labels seek to do, in the absence of merit, of deeds, of intellect.
Nathaniel Manheru can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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