via Abortion of the intellect | The Financial Gazette 27 Mar 2014
HOW did Zimbabwe, once described by former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere as the ‘jewel of Africa’ become a crisis country? Today, Zimbabwe holds records of crises – leadership crisis, economic crisis, health crisis etcetera.
One of the constituencies that has let Zimbabweans down has been the public intellectuals. Most Zimbabwean intellectuals just do not matter as they do not weigh in the public discourse. In fact, the academics and intellectuals must take part in public debates so as to translate their theories into policy proposals. If they speak it is almost always because there is some non-governmental organisation (NGO) money lurking in the shadows. If it is not political propaganda, NGO speak is the new language.
Thanks to the country’s education system that has since fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience, the education system celebrates mediocrity as the standard, and anything beyond is ridiculed. It does not prepare one for real world analysis.
For all the glory that Zimbabwe derives from being lauded as the country with the highest literacy rate in Africa, it has nothing much to show for it. Yes, Zimbabweans can read but they cannot think. It seems Masipula Sithole, John Makumbe and a few others who debunked this trend went to their graves with the ideals of public intellectualism that is required for Zimbabwe to be a robust country of ideas and vibrancy.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwean universities have long become inhospitable places for public intellectuals. And the real problem is not just money. It is culture, an anti-intellectual culture in Zimbabwean life. Zimbabweans, as a people, have never been curious enough to engage with the problems they face. They wait for their leaders to solve their problems.
Is it not shameful that technocratic Cabinets manned with PhD holders have just pulled the country down the abyss? This slow strangulation has been taking place since day one of independence. It has been deliberate and as a side-effect of simple greed. Those who claim the roles of public intellectual or public servant are busy spreading propaganda while raising a selection of emotive ideas: ideas of national unity, of sovereignty, of the sacrifices of liberation, and of patriotism. These have monopoly control of the means of communication to exclude any scrutiny of the detail or veracity of the ensuing arguments.
Perhaps we are not being fair to the likes of Vimbai Chivaura, Isheunesu Mupepereki, Tafataona Mahoso who are indeed public intellectuals. In another life, they would have been our heroes but their misdirected, overzealous dumping down of a country into a patriotic lecture becomes nothing but ridiculous. There is no doubt that these were trail-blazing academics in the 70s and 80s but they have since forsaken all that for political expediency.
Perhaps, as a society, Zimbabweans prayed too much to the temple of intellect, and have not spent enough time letting themselves be actively involved in governance; participate in policy formulation, making their way the way.
Have we put too much trust in our leaders and intellectuals? That their ideals matter more than ours because they have a high IQ or more political clout. What a joke. There was a time when the government of President Robert Mugabe censored political discussions and restrained anyone from participating in the free exchange of ideas through the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act. The idea was to instill fear. Fear to question or challenge the prevailing ideology and status quo.
One of the disturbing black holes on the Zimbabwean scene has been the long-standing absence of serious non-partisan forums for discussion of cultural, social, technological, political and other issues. We need our public intellectuals and think-tanks to generate ideas, interrogate policy and leadership in a way that makes Zimbabwe vibrant.