via CZI: Listening to Monks of former Ages | The Herald November 2, 2013 Nathaniel Manheru
When you really want to stoke the furnace of misanthropy, the thought-ages to visit are the Augustans and the Romantics. But that is to reckon time by way of literary movements, something decidedly esoteric. In mundane calendar terms, I am drawing your attention to the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Or if you want it in human terms, I am recommending the ages of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope for the former, and the likes of Wordsworth and William Blake for the latter. The shared trait or deformity between these writer-age groups or literary movements is this bursting cynicism about human nature, about this despicable animal called Man. For Swift man could be some puny little thing of stupendous malice. Everything about him is so small, so Lilliputian, except his capacity for malice and destruction which grows by daily existence. And because Man is such a puny creature, he needs enlargement so you can see and comprehend him whole and accurate.
Man the yahoo!
Part two of Gulliver’s Travels shows Man bloated to overwhelming monstrosity. Thus in Gulliver’s Travels, man is at once miniaturised and enlarged, all to bring to the fore his foibles. And when he gets enlarged, he becomes a Yahoo: that ugly monster whose skin is so grossly warted, so offensive to the eye as to be so repellent. And whether belittled of enlarged, Man fares very badly in Swiftian terms. But when the reader of Gulliver’s Travels gets repelled by what he reads, sees in the Travels, he might not be aware that he is being repelled by his own misdemeanours, his own grossness, his own ugliness. That is the seductive power of art: in shouting at mankind, it enchants, entertains, luring him into unconscious self-condemnation!
Progress and the Romantics
I have never liked Romantic poets, greatly rated and celebrated though they may be. Who does English literature without reading some poem or two from Wordsworth, William Blake or Coleridge? Yet their attachment and romanticisation of Nature merely attested to their maladjustment to a rapidly industrialising world whose progress necessarily sacrificed Eden and its natural wonders. Today when you get that yell and hysteria from the Green Movement, I often wonder whether the world really knows how to situate this movement’s genesis, sensibility and politics. It did not start yesterday. It is rooted in history, arguably in the Romantic Movement which feared the passing of the pastoral, the coming of the industrial age, an age so ugly, so dark, so sooty like Blake’s Chimney cleaner, so murky so dreary like Dickens’ London, yes, so poor, so hapless like Pip.
I firmly hold the view of life as always moving forward, which is why our happy childhood is irretrievably gone, however pleasurable reminiscing about it may be. Similarly, however good life was in the biblical Eden, Mankind left it once our transgressing Grand-grand Patriarch Adam tested the forbidden fruit; once our Grand-grand matriarchal temptress Eve offered Adam that forbidden fruit to partake. Soon after that intense, passionate Fall, history started, and has moved linearly ever since. So please, don’t tell me about the good old days. They can only be good, they being old and, that’s it.
Bygone joys of the rustic world
That is my quarrel with the Romantics: they hated human evolution, hated human progress some would say. Hated to see Man the Yahoo evolve to that stage where “Yahoo” becomes nothing ugly, but only a feature of our IT-driven world. A search engine at that! And that is the word – engine! Gone are the days when we would sit around the fire singing alternately thus in a chorus: “Dee-dezengure uyo mutii-i?” To which the respondent under botanical test and trial would answer: “Musasa senguruse pano tsvee/ Mutohwe senguruse pano tsvee/ Mukamba senguruse pano tsvee/ Mubvumira senguruse pano tsvee/ Mugodo senguruse pano tsvee.” On and on would we sing, until we exhausted the respondent’s knowledge of trees. Whoever emerged with the largest number of tree names would become the victor. It was a wonderful school, a wonderful lesson in nature and its names, indeed an irretrievable case of learning as singing, as a shared and communal art. But all that was for a pastoral world which has since made way to a dot.com one. I don’t like you dot.com but I have you nevertheless, and must live my life in terms of your weird laws, songs and values. Too bad for me, but hey, I pity therefore I am!
The cynical world of Hazlitt
Within the Romantic movement is yet another strand of misanthropy. Oh, by the way I did not indicate in what way the Romantics were misanthropists. Simply, they hated Man for destroying the environment, for ever leaving the Edenic or pre-lapsarian world where Nature ruled supreme, where all was calm and settled like the waters of a pond.
So in place of Man, they put and loved Nature. Their raillery was against Man the destructive creature, which is what gave them anti-human affinities with the Augustans, albeit for different reasons. The Augustans hated Man for succumbing to impulse and emotion, when in fact he should have been a rational creature, a thinking animal. I was about to deal with another strand of misanthropy in the Romantic movement. This came by way of essayists foremost among which you had writers like William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Johnson and Coleridge.
These matched Alexander Pope in cynicism, often savaging Man like they were not a part of him. I want to borrow from Hazlitt, a romantic, a critic, an essayist, a misanthropist. One time he wrote: “A great chess-player is not a great man, for he leaves the world as he found it. No act terminating in itself constitutes greatness.” Maybe this kind comment does not quite bring out the cynicism of the man, of the age. Let me cull another one, a bit lengthy: “The greatest fools in practice are sometimes the wisest men in theory, for they have all the advantage of their own experience and self-reflection to prompt them; and they can give the best advice to others, though they do not conceive themselves bound to follow it in their own instance.
Video meliora proboque, etc. Their judgments may be clear and just, but their habits and affections lie all the wrong way; and it is as useless as it would be cruel to expect them to reform, since they only delight and can only exist in their darling absurdities and daily and hourly escapades from common sense and reason.” I am sure you get the sting, the unbridled savagery in the prose, dear gentle reader.
Where big businesses meet
Recently the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries convoked somewhere in the country. The surrounds were quite comfortable, quite salubrious and no doubt lifting and exhilarating. I don’t begrudge them for it. After all, they are big businesses, big monies. Or so we all assume. And great perorations, too, emerged from that august gathering of the mights and greats of industry, of our industry.
Government ministers were in tow, compliantly in tow for attendance to such has become a real test of legitimacy. We would rather miss meetings with the people — reschedule rendezvous with the people — than miss such great annual convocations. This particular one, happening straight after elections, processually was something of a catechism that precedes baptism. So our ministers, all dressed in their best, came in a row to be part of that great convocation, part of that baptism. Of course the High Priest was a Msipa: a good name, good pedigree from the standpoint of national politics. And such names, as always grants you something akin to poetic license. You can say what you want, how you want it and still get away without a wrong label politically. “Ko hamumuzivi here uyu? Mwana wavaMsipa-ka uyu! Dangwe ravozve-ka iri rokuroora murungu!” Thereafter, all sins are forgiven and your inner righteousness is presumed, political righteousness that is.
Hating a species, loving individuals
Gentle reader, these sentences in Shona bear no resemblance to anyone living or dead. Any likeness to persons living or dead is their sheer fault, a reckless coincidence! I have absolutely no interest in Msipa the person. I have absolutely no interest in CZI the organisation. None whatsoever. And I am being sincerely, very honest. Asked whether or not he was a man-hater, Jonathan Swift once retorted: I have no liking for Man, although all my love is for John, James and Julius. Something to that effect. Since that answer, gallons and gallons of ink have been spilt in trying to philosophically understand what Swift meant.
Or whether he actually meant it. I believe in simplicity, which is never the same thing as being pedestrian. Swift simply meant he had no faith in Man as a species, although he found within that species reasonable exceptions he could suffer. Got that? Hopefully. Msipa is not the first President, sorry president, of CZI. Nor will he be the last, much as I fear he just might be. The CZI of 2013 is not the first. Nor shall it be the last, whatever my fears about its bleak future.
These little gods in our lives
What I am addressing here is the institution of CZI and its leadership type. I am addressing the business sector of this country and its leadership template. That goes well beyond organisations, beyond persons, the same way addressing leadership of Zimbabwe is not quite the same as addressing Robert Mugabe, my President. Does Zimbabwe have the business it deserves, the business leadership it merits? Is the business of this country what is merited for this country? You see, there is a difference between political leadership and business leadership in a country. Political leadership shall always — barring dictatorship — shall always be decided by universal suffrage. We vote in leaders, vote out pretenders.
We have just done that, which is why we have a new government in place. As for business, hoo! We can never say we get the business we deserve. Never! And there are laws to ensure we never do, laws to ensure we need to feel justly excluded in ways that we never do in respect of business, however errant it turns out to be. After all these are private enterprises, private funds, private risks, etc, etc. And there begins my point, my punch: God defend us from structures we cannot make, remake or change, structures in which we have no say over yet exercising such an overbearing role in our lives. If I don’t like a Government, a politician, I suffer him for five years or even less, after which I deliver sweet vengeance by way of my vote. Not so, not so with Meikles, Delta, Caps, Lonrho, Anglo-American Corporation, De Beers, ACR, Dairiboard, Cottco, IDC, Econet, etc, etc.
There is something called the Boardroom, much worse than a junta, much worse than a kitchen cabinet, far worse that JOC we chafe about in newspaper headlines. There in that arcane world of Masons, great decisions which impact you and me are made, well away from us, the madding crowd. Absolute power, zero accountability. That is the first problem.
When bad twins fall out
The second problem is rather cosmic to our small world. We have created a distorted environment where all wrong things are explained by, are explainable through the deeds and misdeeds of politicians and their politics. Look, let’s face it, there is a certain un-washable ugliness that fastens to politicians and politics. All politicians are ugly, decidedly so. They are the worst of bipeds, although I love Robert, Morgan, Welshman and Lovemore! But if these despicable politicians have such power to spoil everything, how come they have not ruined astronomical profits of private businesses, high salaries and dividends that have registered and continue to register in this wasteland of abhorrent actions of wayward politicians?
Would it be strange to suggest that it is that so-called ugliness of politicians which underlie that good result, which makes possible that good salary, that good dividend behind our big businesses? Is this not a fawned altercation of sworn partners, conscious or unconscious partners? Acknowledged or unacknowledged partners? How real is this altercation? How real is the charge so routinely given us by big businesses that things are so bad because our politics are ugly, bad, badder, baddest? Are things really ugly for business in the first place? If they are, is that badness causally connected to the politics of the country? Where is the platform where this issue is interrogated with truth-yielding detachment? CZI Conferences?
In such a monologue . . .
I doubt that. Historically, bad politics has never been a hindrance to good business. Nowhere in the world. I remember some white executive who used to head Radar Industries in the late 90s. Very outspoken, he boldly asserted this country needed a Pinochet, a brutal but pro-big business dictatorship as banefully hit Chile after Allende’s fall. And under Pinochet, Chile got governing orders from Washington, never from its people. But that is to go far. However, would UDI have survived if good business necessarily favoured good, democratic politics? Back to CZI and its mighty palavers. They have always amounted to one dialogue founded on unevenness, founded on unequal interlocutors. Government is towed there, guiltily towed there.
Government is interrogated, interrogated more intensely than in the charge office. And those interrogating it do so with a view to perfecting its entrapment. Soon after, we all disperse, with big businesses feeling stronger, better at outflanking policies, undermining measures designed or intended by Government. And quite often, politicians goof themselves into the snare, allowing representatives of business to pontificate, to chastise politicians publicly like errant boys trespassing just outside the school yard. It is an encounter between incorrigible sinners on the one hand, and righteous sinned-against-s, on the other.
How old are you now?
In that Manichean world of bad government and good business, no one discovers or takes responsibility for what I have seen in the past few weeks during which I have been touring our industries. Firm to firm, zone to zone, sub-sector to sub-sector, you are hit by lumps and lumps of metal scrap, heaps and heaps of decrepit technology masquerading as “big businesses”, and when amalgamated, masquerading as CZI! Is this what CZI means, what we call CZI?
What bears that refulgent gloss? What deserves those huge, eating convocations? VaMsipa wee-e, if your industries were humans, how old would they have been today in the Year of Our Lord Twenty Thirteen? How old technologically? How old by way of business models driving them? How old skills-wise? How old by way of their leadership? How old by product range? How old by way of world competitiveness? Whose responsibility is it to raise these questions, address this monumental grotesquery we politely call confederation of industries? When you look at those lathe machines, what is their age? Who is older between those machines and our Independence?
And those lathe machines and our so-called bad political leadership? Who? Just what has been happening in those years of good leadership, good profits, and ever good salaries? You can’t tell me bad political leadership has been unremitting from day one of our Independence? Surely? Where are the fruits of those moments of leadership respite? And since when has big business followed bad politics anyway, anywhere? And since Independence, CZI has been meeting, year in, year out. What has been the effect of all those meetings? Mere games of chess that leave the world as found?
The flea market we have become
So the one resounding outcome of the recent CZI conference is the hint that the implementation of the policy on indigenisation shall be revised. But does that explain why we have had lumps of iron on industrial shop floors since the 1970s? Throughout the 1980s? Right through to the ESAP days when the whole business ethos shifted towards unconditional concessions to big businesses, against small workers? This Kasukuwere boy you blame, when was he born? When did he become a bad Minister of Government? And now that he is out of the way, will industry see hi-tech transformation processes?
See a return to manufacturing, away from warehousing and trading in imports? See the arrival of substantive CEOs in place of window dressing, glorified PROs whose sole remit is to engage Government for macro-environmental concessions, and never to make substantive decisions which I know are made elsewhere in London, Washington, Paris, Berlin, Switzerland, etc. etc? It is amazing that our so-called leaders of business are busy slighting the little national power we wield in the enclave of politics, but without bemoaning the powerlessness that afflicts them in their oversized, ornate boardrooms, the powerlessness which in fact explains why we have become a warehouse we should never be, a real flea market manned by persons who egoistically regard themselves as “presidents” of business, of confederations. We find an easy scapegoat in policies, in politics and politicians forgetting shouting deficiencies in businesses. And these deficiencies persist, thanks to the irreducible alibi of bad politics.
Pawning the feel-good factor
As I write, the story ringing on wires is the hint that the pace of indigenisation shall be modulated, softened. I don’t know how far true that is. But I find it curious that soon after this hint, Zimplats declares an upward trend in profits. So does Mwana Africa. So do gold miners. I can assure you the trend will get bolder and stronger for as long as this reading lasts. It sounds like some kind of blackmail: that unless you drop your “bad” policies, we will not grant you those feel-good headlines! And very soon, very soon banks will follow suit, what with another indication from the Finance Minister that all the FCAs raided by Government through the RBZ will be made good by the same Government! No one talks about the over US$600million which was spirited away from this country in the run-up to, and on the eve of elections. No one talks about zero lending by banks here against ever rising deposits. And such topics are out of bounds at CZI summits.
The whipping boy is Government. So what will happen is that the so-called improved environment will see resources companies thriving, declaring fat dividend abroad, while CZI and its decrepit lumps of iron acquire new layers of cobwebs, in readiness for another Conference next year! And this myth of foreclosures? What is coming under the hammer? Those old lathes? Why give Government and the Nation a false focus on auctions yet in reality your auctioneers are mere scavengers picking on ashen bones, cleaning an industrial veld which had long become a wasteland under CZI watch? What in that auctioned lot was salvageable? Really, what has been auctioned able to trigger an industrial revolution in this country?
Fabled foibles of politics
One gets weary of recycled discourse, recycled blame-game led by our “wisest men in theory”. Does it need a good government to know that your technology must be updated? And how many firms have come to Government with proposals to acquire new technology, not to patch up this UDI-era industrial anachronism? What are the barriers? Do we even know what new technology there is? Where it is sourced? On what terms ? Do we even know that the world has turned East? How many within CZI have visited China, let alone developed relations with China, India, Brazil, etc, etc? They have never come to Government for passports to go to London! But when it comes to China, India, Brazil, all sorts of excuses are given. And of course the IMF mantra! What a lovely song, what a credible excuse? Which country in this whole world has industrialized on the strength of an IMF programme? Or western goodwill? What is the real issue? For me it is an accretive colonial historical tendency which besets our industry and its leadership, seeking self-exculpation by pointing to the fabled foibles of politicians, to the shortcomings of politics.
Dark soothsayers of yore
The day we will admit that the politician is in fact miles and miles ahead of the businessman, is the day we shall begin to fix this economy. The day we begin to agitate for a business we deserve, the same way we demand a government we deserve electorally, is the day matters of the economy will begin to look up. And we deserve a national business, a national confederation of industries, a nationalist Msipa and his successors. Indeed a CZI we can call a national institution, never an assemblage of proto-managers of overseas interests. The time to ask difficult questions to industry may have come. Bad politics has never stopped good, new technology from coming in.
That is why all our resource companies have retooled in record time, led by ZIMPLATS. We need to ask searching questions. And we don’t do it by being summoned to CZI’s self-glorifying summits. We do it by asking it to account for its performance, to explain the use and deployment of the profits its members make from here. This economy deserves better, deserves more of its own, more from its own than what has been retained and enjoyed hitherto. I hope the institution to answer such questions, make good such welling expectations, is CZI. I hope the leadership to account to this economy is the current one, the current type so disposed to giving “the best advice to others, though they do not conceive themselves bound to follow it in their own instance.” Or would it be “useless as it would be cruel to expect them to reform”? Someone must ask CZI what is more backward, our politics or our industry and the philosophy that drives it? The politician has been modernising the political deck. How about you Mr CZI? I don’t know, for when I look around, I find no beautiful ones. Soothsayers mouthing dark times ahead from supreme detachment. I find only hoary, palsied monks of former ages. And to give Jonathan Swift the last, cynical word, maybe we must learn to expect no more from Man than he is capable of.