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State of the culture

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With Addy Kudita

The word fixate is one which implies the act of focusing one’s attention on a particular thing or subject. I had several reasons to fixate this past week on a number of subjects. One of the subjects is a sort of carryover from last week’s subject matter concerning the city of kings so called; Bulawayo. My column got me into a discussion with some artists and residents who felt I touched on something close to their hearts and who feel hard- done-by by the media in general.

Last week’s instalment was a love letter from someone who has lived and worked in the city for over ten years now…the city does have its flaws but it has in my opinion more that is good than that which is deplorable. My intention was not to curry favour and just in case someone wondered, no I was not paid nor compelled. But I digress.

The victimhood discourse

Well, some folks here like to complain about how they are done to, duped and marginalised. They say on the basis on tribe, some things are out of reach for them and they have experienced systemic tribalism. They say that the problem is structural and that either the structure must be ruptured or they go their separate way to live and work in a separate new nation.

I have no real locus to disagree with anyone that feels that on the basis of their ethnicity they may have been overlooked for a job for example and in the case of the artist, for brand ambassadorship. The problem with history isTo be blunt, we do have a burden of Gukurahundi which in my reading of history was really the culmination or the frothing of age old prejudices, fears and hatreds.

I will argue that that episode was ultimately due to a revolution being hijacked by men with parochial interests who fail to balance ethnic loyalties with the national project. How indeed are nations forged and just how have other nations evolved and dealt with the challenge or spectre of ethnically triggered wars? Is the problem of ethnic mobilisation a uniquely Zimbabwean or African one?

An evil fixation

I would argue that Hitler was a tribalist for example, and that evil plunged the world into 6 years of horror. He fixated on the notion that Jewish people were the enemies of Germans. His message resonated with many in his society to a point where people actively conspired to exterminate millions of people. In Africa, the Rwandan genocide takes the prize for the disaster that tribalism can visit upon a nation.

Zimbabwe is not much different in this regard for what started as a political feud in 1963 flowered into a full blown onslaught in which whole community was otherised, targeted and thousands killed. To this day, the principals on both sides have not allowed us as a nation to heal. They have not allowed us into their confidence to explain exactly why things happened the way they happened. We would need something a truth and reconciliation commission to hear from both sides. Sadly, the protagonists are dying one by one.

For me it’s a tragedy because there are two sides to every story and it is necessary for the sake of our children that we have a candid conversation about our past led by those who were in seats of power in their respective political formations before we can move forward.

We have national trauma and far much more for some communities than others. That baggage is weighing heavily on our shoulders and infuses the thinking of those who bore the brunt of Gukurahundi. But there are questions which the politicians must answer to the people and those answers are to quote the legendary musician Bob Dylan, blowing in the wind.

Now who is that person who is qualified to broach the subject? Who indeed? Who is not affected in some way or the other by the ghastly episode? How will we move forward when there are those in our nation who feel that they are ignored by the rest? How indeed are nations melded together? What unifies a people in spite of their ethnic backgrounds?

Nation builders

In our case, we have the 2013 constitution which represents our collective ambition and vision of society. There is no need by a political party to waste our time and resources in the attempt to reinvent a wheel that is already there.

Thus a parochial and even borrowed vision will just be rejected unless if one uses force. Zimbabweans love freedom more than they love monarchs or demigods and that is why they went to war in the first instance. Going forward, those who claim to be nation builders must move beyond the superficial of designing national dresses. They must pay attention to the zeitgeist of a people and understand that people’s intelligence perceives the charade.

The charade in Zimbabwe is that those with different views are the enemies of the State. That is preposterous. We will have a market place of ideas in this country and we in the Fourth Estate are eagerly watching to see that is the case. Yes indeed , we have what the academic Last Moyo refers to as the African locus of enunciation as a profession and the idea that advocating for rights and freedom of the press for example is a Western imposed ethic is condescension of the worst kind.

One day on the social media Twitter, presidential spokesman George Charamba via his Jamwanda account stroked his own ego and wrote words to the effect that he/they are/ is a nation builder. He was referring I am sure to himself and his principals.

His tweet will make useful fodder for this column because it raises a critical point for critical thinkers. I do feel that the ruling party is ill advised in its seeming attempt to snuff out the opposition. Every thesis is strengthened by an anti-thesis because the development thereof implies careful thought and hard work. I suppose that this discussion comes down to the development trajectory a people would have chosen for themselves.

Visionary concept

A nation builder in my view must be someone who has a vision of a society in which without regard to political persuasion and ethnicity plays a part in its construction and is heard even if he holds different views from the curling class. More importantly for me it has to be a man like the late Kenneth Kaunda or Nelson Mandela even. We are yet to hear about ethnic tensions in Zambia and surely, the late Zambia president must be given the credit for welding together a nation out of the many disparate ethnic groups which dwell under the Zambian sky.

I understand that President Kaunda was deliberate in his appointments to make sure that the various tribes were represented in the running of the country. Now I understand that even this is not enough to bring a people together. Still, the importance of such a policy transcends symbolism or tokenism. It sends a powerful and evocative message that says to a community: you are seen and valued. Of course, there are many other issues that must be looked at such as the distribution of the national resources and the extent to which those communities benefit from resources naturally occurring in their habitat.

Representation

I am one of those that will argue that without representation in decision making places of influence, a community can easily be excluded from benefitting from national [programs. People need advocates who stand up for them and speak truth to power.

Representation is critical and in my view, that is how we build a nation. In Zimbabwe there has been some progress in that vein because now we seen people from formerly marginalised communities coming to the fore. That is to be applauded but it must go beyond tokenism to a point where our leaders are able to embrace symbols and practices which entrench the idea of weaving a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic  tapestry of people.

At this point I must submit that regarding languages other than Shona and English, radio stations have slowly but surely been coming to the party to use a cliché. We have sixteen officially languages as per our constitution and it is part of the nation building project to allow for all these voices to be heard in public spaces and being utilised liberally by those high and low in all manner of for a.

That is how it must be and more. The one time I heard South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, a Venda by tribe speak eloquently in isiZulu. I marvelled at that very fact and for me the value of that very communication act is great. Yes, he did falter recently when he attributed the recent looting to ethnic mobilisation by the Zulus.

It was not his finest moment and he rightly received criticism for and he did walk back on the comment. Even if it were true and I do not say it was, that the Zulus had ethnically mobilised, he was not the right person to say it. Leaders must go beyond the base instinct and not view issues with the narrow lens of tribal narratives.

It is dangerous. Still, Ramaphosa’s ascendancy to the national office suggests that South Africa is doing a lot to evolve from its segregated past and allow minorities to dream and rise. Some will argue that that is a simplistic rendering of the socio-economic rubric of that country. I am a dreamer. I believe that Africa’s major scourge has been ethnic mobilisation and wasteful fixation with power for its own sake. Political leaders in Africa generally appear enamoured with power and its trappings and the benefits accruing to their families and lackeys.

Evidence

In the week, Malawian president Lazarus Chakwera found himself trending on social media. The reason was that he took a delegation to the United Kingdom to attend a virtual meeting. Appearing on BBC in an interview, he was at pains to explain that having his daughter, wife and son in law in the ten member delegation was not proper. He insisted that they were Malawians with specific duties to attend to.

He sounded feeble and hypocritical for a leader who campaigned on a ticket of reform and being anti nepotistic.  So the question I fixated upon this week is just how sincere African politicians are about the shifting the narrative of banana republics. I fixated much on the subject of whether there is any sense amongst them all of actually not feeding the stereotypical African leader who is quick to fly to Europe or Asia for even medical care and leaving millions wallowing in decrepit public health facilities. Mugabe, the late perfected the practice, Muhammad Buhari of Nigeria does it willy nilly and so on.

Parting shot

All said I am fixating on the idea that someday we will produce a new cadre of leaders with a spirit of excellence and who love Africa to the point of actually working for its tangible progress and not fixating on merely crushing the opposition rather than leaving solid institutions which outlive their puny lives.

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