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Chamisa's new path: High modernism and patriotism

28 Mar 2018 at 07:33hrs | Views
Before we even reflect on MDC-T leader Nelson Chamisa's political messaging at rallies, let us look at his appearance. He has a savvy hi-tech gadget and a Zimbabwean flag which sums it up. Some form of high modernism and patriotism. I, therefore, differ with writers who conceptualise the man as neo-liberal or simply a welfarist. Some might say its rooted in populism but certainly not authoritarian because Chamisa has no state power. Yes, I am not home.

However, I have been able to listen to his rally audios and had the privilege to talk to this extraordinary Zimbabwean a few days ago.

His vision delivered with powerful charisma and which is meant to capture national imagination is anchored in the belief that meticulous spatial planning, science, econometrics and technology will lead to the social, political and economic re-engineering of Zimbabwe. Even when he was the national organiser he advocated for scientific organising.

His speech at the MDC Alliance rally held on March 24, 2018 empirically substantiates my proposition. For example, he promised a bullet train, which will take 15 minutes to get to Harare, an airport to ease export of tomatoes from Murehwa and spaghetti roads that criss-cross as in the western world. Digital cameras and not ana ndini ndamubata (police) will monitor cars on the road. Ox-driven ploughs shall belong to the pristine agrarian world as hi-tech powered tractors shall be in every village.

No doubt this articulation will be able to capture the imagination of the young urbanites and some diasporas in global capitals with zeal. The question is whether high modernism will be able to capture the imagination of the youths and the peasantry in the rural hinterland beyond growth points where the immediate agrarian question is that of livelihoods. Can their local imagination which is usually borne out of what Scott calls local metis be captured by high modernism? I guess Chamisa will be crafty enough as he goes deeper in the rural to patiently walk people through from their local imagination to high modernity. From the need of a parastatal that provides an immediate market to their produce, a bridge to cross Chikurumadziya to go sell their tomatoes to start envisioning private jets and airports. From the local dream of a livestock re-stocking programme so that they can become middle-scale farmers to a hi-tech agrarian countryside. The phases, the steps and the timelines will need to be articulated so as to carry the deeper countryside along in his new national imagination.

Now, to those who dismiss Chamisa as a neo-liberal, his emphasis is not to the outright benefit of capital at the expense of things that make us human. He has emphasised that hospitals shall be free five-star hotels with people feigning illness to be admitted. Some of those are political punch lines at rallies. What is important is that he has maintained that his form of high modernism is not meant to destroy the "human condition", but to aid it. There shall be free transport for the elderly, free education, decent pensions and support to people living with disabilities. This has led to some commentators labelling him as a welfarist. That is not it.

Chamisa is proffering social-market economics, a third way, that tries to harvest pleasure from both worlds for the third generation. The generation he is trying to capture is probably not as ideological as the first and second generations. Chamisa is a former student leader. In his early days of leadership, he was grounded in the politics of the left. But he has been in government and has been exposed to the wider world to realise capital triumphed. As a politician, he takes neither side of this old age debate, he locates his new generation at the centre. As such, he forcefully articulates the virtues of a progressive and efficient market economy with a human face. That is neither neo-liberal nor downright welfarist.

The character of the opposition is also being redefined. From perceived neo-colonial to patriotic opposition politics. If you listen carefully Chamisa is saying his mission is to complete the liberation struggle. To complete the vision of Josiah Magama Tongogara, Alfred Nikita Mangena, Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo et cetera. In the same breath, he salutes the war veterans and wants them to live happily in the twilight zone of their lives. He honours the traditional leaders.

The opposition has been dismissed as a neo-colonial project that does not value the decolonisation process. Now Chamisa is saying we are a home-made party, we are patriotic, we are Zimbabwean, we are not an extension of the British and no party must claim to be more Zimbabwean than the other. This message is to appeal to the rural structure, where memories of the war are still vivid, Sadc and hard-liner veterans who are still influential in state institutions that matter when it comes to state power transfer in the event of winning the electoral numbers.

So he is trying to kill many birds with one stone. It is, therefore, not surprising that the party announced that it will be attending national events like independence and the heroes' celebrations from this year. He is trying to reposition without being antagonistic and denigrating the West in his speeches.

Whether this will succeed to win votes or create contradictions we shall see, but so far there seems to be no disconnect between his message and the crowds at the rallies. After all the message is being delivered with powerful charisma in the attempt to capture a new national imagination. Of course, this is a short opinion that does not capture all, but there you have your new man: a high modernist and a patriot who believes in progressive social-market economics!

Phillan Zamchiya is a political scientist who studied at University of Oxford, in England. He writes in his own capacity.

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