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Generational gaps and false dichotomies

22 May 2018 at 06:15hrs | Views
In the recent BBC HARDtalk episode, Stephen Sackur, the host, asked presidential hopeful Nelson Chamisa to respond to the allegation that some see him as a young man in a hurry.

While the insinuation behind that statement is obvious, the question was, nevertheless a necessary one given the manner in which events have tended to unfold in the very recent past.

Make no mistake, Nelson Chamisa as a person is a very likeable fellow and I consider myself to have been lucky to interact with him in the cloistered halls of academia.

I remember him as someone respectful and as someone who smiled rather sweetly once in a while.

I accept that he had necessarily to employ a persona at the time because being dubbed by former President Robert Mugabe, during the GNU, as a young supersonic minister had the effect of upping his profile.

Conversely, in a university, a student is a student regardless of whether he is a country's president.

Social standing is immaterial when it comes to academic diligence and performance. That reminds me of the story that my late brother Jake told me about a friend of his at a university in the UK before Zimbabwe's Independence.

Jake's friend and colleague was a Polynesian prince, a towering giant of a man standing almost seven feet tall.

Dinner for him often involved the consumption of at least three chickens all by himself. And according to Jake, the man liked his food and ate it with gusto.

One day this prince said he was going home for the weekend to go and kill the man who was being funny with his wife. He came back after the weekend claiming to have beheaded the man who had cuckolded him.

I am not sure if this actually happened or not. The thing was that this prince lived among commoners in a place of higher education and no one gave a hoot who he was. Living incognito simplified things and saved people the ignominy of having to pay obeisance to him. So it was too with Nelson Chamisa.

Everyone knew that Chamisa was a minister in the unity Government.

In the lecture room, however, this didn't matter one way or the other. To his credit, Chamisa was deliberately unobtrusive. This is why I find certain things attributed to him hard to fathom.

I can't help wondering if this is the same fellow who together with me had an attachment to Joe Slovo's book, "The Unfinished Autobiography".

The witticisms of Slovo, the former Umkhonto WeSizwe commander, liberally punctuate his narrative. His book is full of irreverent episodes with magistrates in courtrooms. Do not mind my digression, it's all part of my list of associated reminiscences.

Joe Slovo was a likeable fellow too and he had an abiding sense of humour.

According to what I hear about his shenanigans and romantic liaisons, Comrade Joe was a bit of a ladies man.

His daughter is said to have written a book that comes over as not being that complimentary of him.

But good old human beings are aware of their fallibility and do in time forget most things and prefer instead to cling to any pleasant morsels they can find. Male chauvinists are much enamoured of the saying that goes, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned".

Be that as it may, I find that overall our womenfolk are much more accommodating and much more forgiving than the male of the species.

How often do you read in the papers about a jealous ex-husband who seems unable to accept the fact that his former wife can and does go on living without him? She moves on with her life and tomorrow is always another day. Manana!

I am rather curious as to why Chamisa would stake his whole presidential campaign on a total misconception and on the false dichotomies between generations.

There is a sense in which such a stance is even quite primitive and superstitious as well. Blame everything on the older members of society. Take over everything, it's a young people's world. This is why even today, in this day and age, anyone who thinks his life is being tampered with by malevolent forces points a finger at the nearest old person in sight.

Accusations of magic and witchcraft are unhesitatingly levelled at such a person. People have even been slain on the strength of such spurious accusations. Is that where we are going? If so, just how tenable is such a trajectory?

Fellows, beware of wily old foxes like some of us have become. We have established the facts and shaped the world in our image and no upstart can be allowed to stir serene waters and make them murky.

When that happens, you will discover, as our people say, why it is that although the dog can grimace, it is unable to smile. You will do well to read again Wole Soyinka's play, "The Lion and the Jewel" in which the hapless Lakunle discovers that his bombast is insufficient against the likes of Old Baroka.

In the end, Lakunle comes off second best in the contest for Sidi's love.

She decides that she prefers to be with a real man, someone who is virile without being openly condescending.

In a manner of speaking, Zimbabwe is the metaphorical Sidi. We wait to see who woos the heart of Zimbabwe best.

Meanwhile, keep in mind what The "Chamisa chete" mantra for example, means he is trying to take up a position that ZANU-PF has abandoned: the one-centre-of-power principle – an obvious route to absolutism.

Some young people in our country may be barking up the wrong tree. The assumption that because they are, on the face of it, physically stronger, they are necessarily the better bet is eons away from the truth.

Similarly, it is overtly erroneous to assume that citizens who by an accident of biology find themselves within a certain age group are guided by arguments based on one's age alone.

By way of an aside, it is curious for Thomas Mapfumo to ask older people everywhere to step aside but keep going himself. What's good for the goose should be good for the gander.

Nelson Chamisa says he is a visionary and wants to make a difference in Zimbabwe and on the continent of Africa at large.

This, in itself, is something commendable and if genuinely meant, is to be applauded and encouraged.

However, there is a yawning gap between making certain utterances and walking the talk.

In a speech in Accra before the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), Kwame Nkrumah spoke of obstacles to African unity and defined the common enemy to African interests as being imperialism supported by colonialism and neo-colonialism, its handmaids.

Thus, no true African patriot can boast of dalliance with imperial powers. You always come off second best unless you go into any interfaces with a clear vision, a clear set of objectives and faultless strategies that take cognisance of the strengths of the enemy and your own weaknesses.

Always, in these things, the interests of your people must be paramount while at the same time never trashing the interests of others.

One must be astute in the area of diplomacy and never play to the gallery to garner false points. Boasting about sanctions will not do Chamisa any good.

Hard-nosed public servants never implement anything announced by a sitting government at a rally.

Such an announcement is worthless unless followed by official policy circulars. For Chamisa to say implicitly on HARDtalk that he is what Africa has been waiting for all along will take some explaining.

Certainly, he is no ideological icon or innovator. The likes of Lumumba, Biko and Sankara, though younger than Chamisa at death, had by then enunciated clear ideologies and programmes.

That is an area where Chamisa will need to work on patiently going forward.

The "Chamisa chete" mantra for example, means he is trying to take up a position that ZANU-PF has abandoned: the one-centre-of-power principle – an obvious route to absolutism.

Nigerian playwright Denja Abdullahi in "Death and the King's Grey Hair" portrays a situation that is both humorous and curious.

According to the blurb by Professor Victor S Dugga, the play is set in Jukun society at a time when it was customary for that society to have kings reign for only a short time and thereafter wilfully take a poison to terminate their lives.

The signal for a Jukun king to abdicate his throne by self-annihilation was the sight of his hair beginning to go grey.

Luckily for Chamisa, Zimbabwe is not Jukun. His easily-visible greying hair would disqualify him for the top mantle, otherwise.

But, even in Jukun society, the generations are not antagonistic. They complement each other, instead. Perceived schisms between generations are artificial and contrived.

Every presidential aspirant, Chamisa included, should remember this.

Chamisa, being young, can eventually learn this critical lesson: no vote derives from age, solely, and the marginalisation of any age group is unjust.

David Mungoshi is a writer, social commentator, editor and retired teacher.
Source - the herald
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