The trouble with Zim’s ‘Balcony Class’

via The trouble with Zim’s ‘Balcony Class’ – DailyNews Live 13 November 2014 by Alex T. Magaisa

KENT – Six years ago, in the run-up to the March 2008 elections I dared to suggest something that was almost taboo at the time, about Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC.

Tsvangirai was a brave man, I said. He was a courageous man who had served the democratic movement well.

But, I added, it was time for engagement with realism and that realism was that there were forces in Zimbabwe that would never allow him to take power and lead Zimbabwe.

That impediment, I argued, was steeped in the Establishment, which was heavily militarised.

They had threatened already, in 2002 and would do so again in 2008, that they would never allow him to lead Zimbabwe.

There was Simba Makoni, a former Zanu PF man whom, it was widely rumoured had the backing of big figures in Zanu PF, like Retired General Solomon Mujuru.

My calculation was that Makoni was more likely to lure the understanding of his erstwhile colleagues — he was one of them, he would understand them and they would understand him.

A unified force, with Makoni as the face of it, was probably a more potent force to achieve the change that most were yearning for, so I reasoned.

But such a plan would involve making what I called, “the ultimate sacrifice”, by Tsvangirai.

The matter divided opinion. I was pilloried for daring to make such a strange suggestion.

Tsvangirai’s supporters were apoplectic with rage. A few others understood the reasoning.

It was not because I did not like Tsvangirai, no. It was the reasoning of someone who was trying to find the best possible solution to an intractable problem.

Later, I tried, and with some hindsight rather unwisely, to soften the blow, with a follow-up article that summarised the responses that had come, which showed overwhelmingly that people did not want Tsvangirai to step aside for Makoni.

Commentating on politics is unlike commentating on the weather.

It involves making factual predictions on what people might (or might not) do and the consequences of those actions or inactions.

Predicting the behaviour of human beings is an inherently problematic exercise.

There are bound to be differences in the way people see things, even informed and intelligent minds.

I accepted that I was probably wrong in my thought process then.

It might have appealed to reason but it was completely out of sync with the prevailing sentiments and spirit of the time.

Later, when I worked with Tsvangirai and the MDC, I saw first-hand why that 2008 proposition never stood a chance. If it was the right idea, it was certainly the wrong time.

These days, I look back at that time with some fascination, not because I think I was right but especially because many of those who hammered me for my reasoning have become the most virulent critics of Tsvangirai, describing him in very harsh terms most of the time.

In the interim, I have gone on to work with Tsvangirai — very closely, and got to know and understand the man behind the political mask a little better than I did before.

I also got a better understanding of the MDC family and how it operates.

My upbringing and professional training, means there are things that I will take with me to my grave.

I do not betray trust. This may disappoint those who relish the prospect of what the younger generation refer to as “juicy details”.

I know there has been some discussion about the constitutional amendments and their implications.

I shall explain my own thoughts on that in a different piece, based on my understanding of the MDC.

For now, I only wish to address an issue that concerns me greatly.

I made reference to that article of six years ago to illustrate the difference that often exists between those who sit in the balcony and those on the dance-floor.

Those who have followed my writings will have come across the metaphor of the balcony and the dance-floor.

But today, I use it in a different context. In respect of political participation, I see Zimbabweans as being divided between those who prefer to sit in the balcony and those who are on the dance-floor.

Those on the balcony sit and watch the multitudes on the dance-floor.

They sit in the comfortable seats, popcorn and Mazoe Orange in hand, watching and engaging in tittle-tattle about the characters on the dance-floor.

I call this the Balcony Class and many of those reading this — yes, you! — are in that class.

The others are the Dance-floor Class and that is where the action is.

I have been on the dance-floor and I have a fair idea of what goes on there but I have also been on the balcony.

When I wrote that article six years ago I was reasoning from the balcony.

I was not in tune with what was going on the dance-floor.

Let me tell you something I observed on the dance-floor about supporters of political parties in Zimbabwe and this probably applies in many other places.

Political supporters are bit like sports fans — they support their teams for different reasons but most of all they are driven by passion and less by reason.

They believe there is honour in sticking to your football team, no matter how poorly it is performing or how lowly it is in the league.

Most football fans do not believe in switching teams just because it has fallen on hard times.

They are loyal to their team and passionate about it. The few fans who hop from one team to another are referred to derisively as glory-hunters. I saw something similar on our political landscape.

For all his faults, and hard as it might be to admit for many, I realised that President Robert Mugabe has his die-hard supporters.

They are passionate about him. They love him and will not say a bad word about the man.

And it is not even that they are benefiting materially, NO!

Most are very poor people.

But they like him. And they will dance for him all day long.

Likewise, for all his weaknesses, Tsvangirai has people who love him dearly. They are passionate about him and would do anything to defend him.

While his critics pick and list his shortcomings and argue that his time is up, this finds little resonance among the majority of supporters.

This is something that opponents of both men have yet found a formula to attack.

And it frustrates their respective opponents no end. One of the reasons is that while the Balcony Class has all the propositions about how those on the dance-floor should behave, they themselves will not go down to the dance-floor.

I have called it the Balcony Class but I could have called it the middle-class.

I did not because I do not think Zimbabwe has a middle-class in the true sense of that term.

If it has, perhaps it is of the Fanonian type — the one that Franz Fanon called “the under-developed middle class’ — which is generally useless, unproductive, selfish, greedy and predatory.

The Balcony Class is largely engaged in the business of analysing politics as opposed to the business of actively participating in political activities and processes.

Newspapers have a tendency to refer to a few individuals, like myself, as “political analysts” but, in my view, that is inaccurate as there is a whole Balcony Class that qualifies as “political analysts”.

We are all political analysts and very few political actors.

The Dance-floor Class is the one that makes decisions while the Balcony Class looks around and asks, “What are they cheering for? Are they mad? Are they cheering for that clown?” They even feel pity for the people on the dance-floor.

The Balcony Class will not join the dance-floor and yet it wants to tell people on the dance-floor how to behave.

It refers to those on the dance-floor as “them”. Dai madai. (Why don’t you do this?) Apa marasika. (You are getting lost). I heard this many times last year when I was on the dance-floor. Too many times.

Of course, sometimes, it was genuinely directed to the leadership of the MDC, as things that the leadership should do.

But oft-times it was directed to “vanhu veMDC” (the MDC people). Upon hearing this, I would often ask myself — who are these people? Who are you? How do you see yourself? But I was polite and I would listen patiently.

I often heard people complaining about the quality of Harare City councillors, saying some were unschooled.

There were cases where the poor gardener at a suburban mansion stood for and became a councillor while his boss, a member of the Balcony Class, was reluctant to do so.

But the old adage rings true — people get the government they deserve.

Unless the Balcony Class is ready to assume a role on the dance-floor, it is those on the dance-floor who will continue to hog the limelight and determine who the champion is.

Meanwhile, those on the balcony can watch, engage in tittle-tattle while drinking the Mazoe Orange and eating pop-corn.

And yes, as I write this, I am on the balcony, catching my breath, but unlike six years ago, I have a better understanding that the people on the dance-floor have their way of thinking which is different from mine and a right to make their decisions and that if I am unhappy about it, I will do something to change it.

If you are Zimbabwean and have issues with the politics, pause and ask yourself, where are you – on the balcony or on the dance-floor?

And in this regard I ask not in respect of physical location by your mental location.

*Magaisa studied law at the University of Zimbabwe (LLB) and the University of Warwick (LLM & PhD) in Great Britain. He is a former adviser to the then Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Magaisa has worked at the University Warwick, the University of Nottingham and is presently based at Kent Law School, the University of Kent.

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 5
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    Dr Magaisa in 1980 when Mugabe came to power he gave one of the most amazing speeches of which if the words he spoke were actually practised he would be revered world wide and would be right there with Mandela and others. He would now be retired and giving speeches at packed functions. The country was booming. Twanas were shopping in Bulawayo. Food was in abundance. Opportunities were appearing for those with the skills to take them up. General labour jobs were in abundance. Zimbabweans relaxed. Life was good. Our dogs were eating T Bone steaks. Little did we know that a very clever dictator was just starting a well orchestrated plan to force his will on people. The beginning was to get rid of his biggest enemy and rival. Zapu. We all know what happened with that and how it began and ended. Who in his tribe unless it was the few that witnessed would believe that a man could authorize what he did? The Ndebele people lived and experienced it very early on in the 80’s. Phase 2 began when he realized that no matter what he done the white people, mainly the farming community who were in the front line during the war would not trust him. On the other side the workers unions were starting to see his machinations, and who because of same interest although they were of different tribes were making noises. It now inevitable that soon workers day would no longer be a speech day for Zanu pf. Through his defying them they formed their own party. The farming community quickly started to support this party financially and morally. We all know what happened with that. My point is that we all went to sleep because we thought Zimbabawe would go on being the jewel of Africa whilst Mugabe silently retired those in the Police, Army and security branches and replaced them with his own team. The courts were not spared. The Judges that gave rulings that favoured those against him were replaced. We all knew what then happened. I was in Bulawayo during the time when Zanu pf supporters backed by the riot squad were beating up people at will.These people were hand picked for their cruelty. They are still there and a lot goes about without us seeing because these days of technology an android phone can send a recorded movie to you tube within minutes. All I am saying sir is that I see two types of people in Zimbabwe. The very frightened people who don’t know if their own neighbour could sell them out, and the very secret informers who inform on others to the AUTHORITIES, using this in the contex of those with the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. I don’t think that there is anybody on the dance floor. I think Madebes looking into the future statue said it all.

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    Njabulo Gwesela 7 years ago

    So there you go, referring to the balcony class as “useless, unproductive, selfish, greedy and predatory.” I disagree. That should be a label for the ruling class, with all their PHD degrees, multiple farms, and ‘small houses’. Yes we’re not down on the dance floor, who wants to have their bottom pinched, or worse still shoved around while the music is playing. Some of us aren’t on the balcony either…we have left the building. We have heard this song over and over again, and we are now well aware of its ending. The dance involves some so—called elections every couple of years, some so called campaigning with rallies and sloganeering, followed by massive electoral rigging. No I’m not going to the dance floor, this song has been overplayed….and there is always the risk that if I get down there….I’m going to step on somebody’s toes. I have thought about it really, the thought of doing the tango with the likes of you and the ruling class…but I know it wouldn’t end well, somebody’s teeth are going to get knocked over…when I get down to doing the twist. There is no telling how far my elbows are gonna sway. Sooner rather than later the music is going to change. We will probably pause for a moment, mop the dance floor and yes Zimbabwe will dance to a new beat. I’ve been practicing the “moonwalk” out here.

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    Wilbert Mukori 7 years ago

    DR MAGAISA WAS EMPLOYED TO ADVISE TSVANGIRAI AND HE FAILED TO GET MDC TO IMPLEMENT EVEN ONE REFORM. EVER SINCE HIS RETURN FROM HIS FAILED MISSION DR MAGAISA HAS WRITTEN ONE HEN’S TEETH AFTER ANOTHER TO EXPLAIN WHY HE FAILED.

    HERE HE IS WITTERING ABOUT BEING ON THE DANCE FLOOR AS IF THAT HAS MADE HIM WISER THAN SOLOMON. WHAT HE FAILED TO EXPLAIN IS WHY HE STILL FAILED TO GET EVEN ONE REFORM IMPLEMENTED EVEN AFTER SPENDING THE TIME ON THE DANCE FLOOR.

    THE CONCLUSION IS HE WAS NOT WISE WHEN HE HAS ON THE BALCONY, HE LEARNT NOTHING WHEN HE WAS ON THE DANCE FLOOR AND NOW HE IS BACK ON THE BALCONY HE IS STILL THE SAME INCOMPETENT MAN HE HAS ALWAYS BEEN.

    WHAT MATTERS HERE IS ZIMBABWE LOST ITS GREATEST CHANCE TO END THE ZANU PF DICTATORSHIP BECAUSE OF MDC’S BREATH-TAKING INCOMPETENCE. ALL THE SACRIFICES THE NATION HAD MADE TO GET US TO THE GNU WERE ALL FOR NOTHING.

    I DO FEEL REAL SORRY FOR THE STUDENTS WHO HAVE TO LISTEN TO HIS LECTURES.

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      Tinomunamataishe 7 years ago

      @Mukori, I think this is an overreaction on your part. I have never read anywhere where Magaisa claims to have been successful with his adviser role but let’s all remember that he was only an adviser. You can give your opinion and advice but it doesn’t mean it will be followed and implemented, it happens so many times even in the corporate world.

      Remember you are also a public figure who is subject to constant scrutiny and therefore your reaction must be measured, we are fallible human beings after all.

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    Tozvirevakupiko 7 years ago

    Zvadinizve va Mukori? Magaisa has not claimed any success – he is just commenting/writing his thoughts. Yes he was advisor – not the Prime Minister. Failure rests squarely with Tsvancry & co – meaning MDC!When lecturing, I dont think Magaisa will be advising – they are 2 different jobs! You are just on the balcony as well like me!