via Zimbabwe’s political culture needs to change – The Zimbabwe Independent March 13, 2015
FUNDEMENTALLY there are two contesting traditions of politics in the world. The first hegemonic tradition which is championed by the Euro-American Empire in the present world order is the tradition of politics as war.
The second tradition which is privileged by de-colonial philosophers and politicians is the tradition of politics as the oxygen of peace and life.
I write in this article to gesture that more than ever before, Zimbabweans need to embrace the tradition of de-colonial politics that acknowledges the conflictual nature of politics but prioritise peace and tolerance.
For more than five hundred years now the world has lived under the specter of the Euro-American Empire. Through violent conquests; from the voyages of discovery to the recent militarized humanitarian interventions of Nato, Europe has turned itself, from a modest province of the world into the centre of the universe, the source of life and all meaning.
The makers and the keepers of the atomic bomb are also the teachers of human rights, the paragons of democracy and prophets of development. The “European game” has been turned into a world system whose civilisation boasts of such historical furnitures as the Enlightenment which lit the West with industrialisation and prosperity, while at the same time it darkened other parts of the world with slavery and human trafficking, and bloodied the global South with colonialism.
This Euro-American civilisation has divided and classified humanity according to race, and turned war into a normal accompaniment of life and peace only a rare event. Correctly, Aime Cesaire called this civilisation “a civilisation of death” which is “decadent” because it creates problems that it cannot solve.
The Euro-American Empire has bequeathed to us as colonial subjects and imperial objects an understanding of politics as war and war as politics. From the thinking of Heraclitus to the opinions of Carl von Clausewitz, Henry Kissinger, George Bush and Tony Blair; the philosophers and politicians of Europe and America largely take war to be a permanent condition of life and peace a temporary eventuality. Daniel Hallin, a war and media researcher, put it neatly about Europe that “you have to understand war in order to understand our culture.”
The present high-voltage exchange in Zimbabwe between Robert Mugabe and his latest challengers, especially Joice Mujuru, Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo, bespeaks of politics that is sick and infected with the paradigm of war and death.
The ghoulish witchcraft stories and graphics of alleged witchcraft scenes, genuine or fake, which have recently been circulated, all signify death and decomposition.
Our politics is possessed with the negative energy whose inspiration is that our opponent and our enemy in politics must die because he or she wants to kill us after all.
There is no middle road, one is either a patriot because he agrees with us or he is a sell-out because he does not fly the flag of the party or that of the dear leader.
This is the same in the opposition, the opponent of the party leader becomes a Lucifer; the party rank and file get divided into some angels and others demons overnight.
Camps, factions and cliques that have nothing to do with ideology or the country; but everything to do with personality cults and secret societies like the Freemasons and the illuminati in Europe become normal business.
Philosophers of the global South such as Argentinean and Mexican liberation thinker, Enrique Dussel have proposed a politics that is a “will to life” where political practice is not a “corruptible profession” but a “vocation.”
Dussel has questioned the power, the knowledge and the being of the world as represented in Eurocentric narratives in preference of a planetary conversation that sees the peripheries of the world as a source of hope for the future.
Similar to the Christian belief that the stone that the builders reject will turn out to be a cornerstone of the future, Dussel and others believe that the oppressed of the world have the answers to the problems that the modern world system has created.
Dussel and other decolonial philosophers have highlighted the Zapatista ethic of ‘obediential politics’ where political leaders must “walk while asking questions from the people,” and not “walk while preaching to the people.”
Zimbabwe today is dying for a model of politics that has politicians who, like the Zapatista of Mexico, “command while obeying” the people who elected them into office. This decolonial model of politics rejects the Marxist and Leninist politics of a vanguard of a few elite leaders who arrogate to themselves the right to think and decide for the population, in preference of a rearguard of leaders who are servants of the peoples’ will.
Most of our leaders in the ruling party and the opposition in Zimbabwe have become eccentrics on top of ivory towers, scandalising and sometimes entertaining the world and the Zimbabwean populace with strange statements and bizarre claims ranging from the religious to pure witchcraft theories.
Some of the statements sound like pure noise from the taxi rank or the downtown pub, yet they are statements uttered in parliament and other serene fora.
Another de-colonial philosopher, Walter Mignolo of Argentina recently pleaded with other de-colonial thinkers to think of decoloniality itself as an “option” and not another “mission.” When politicians take their ideas as options that can be accepted or rejected by voters, they maintain humility.
But when politicians take their opinions and wishes for missions, they elevate themselves to missionaries and messiahs who see their opponents as devils.
The missionary position in politics turns politicians into fundamentalists who believe that they are sent of the gods and the ancestors; and all those who oppose them must die. What Walter Mignolo is asking for in politics and in philosophy is the humility that no matter how strong our position is, it may still be less than another person or another party’s position.
In de-colonial politics such as that of the Zapatista, the knowledge that one is a hero but not the only hero in the land is the very beginning of political wisdom and maturity.
Morgan Tsvangirai took a missionary political position when he reacted to Elton Mangoma’s letter last year requesting him to step down, with anger and violence.
Robert Mugabe became politically missionary when he took Mujuru’s understandable and expected ambition for the presidential throne for a coup plot. Outside the paradigm of politics as war, and outside the political missionary position, one may challenge your position in the party and the government without wishing you dead.
In de-colonial politics, being challenged or being removed from office by more able and maybe younger cadres becomes part of the beautiful mess of democracy, and part of the painful pleasure of being an obedient servant of the revolution.
Clearly, from the language of war and hatred that has assumed currency in Zanu PF, it is possible for a liberation party to be anti-colonial but still remain not de-colonial.
The political missionary position in Zimbabwe is not only isolated to intra-party and interparty fights in the MDCs and Zanu PF, but it is present in the media and in the academy. Either on the basis of your surname and ancestry, or the newspaper stable that you work for, other Zimbabweans can choose not to listen to you or your story.
A friend of mine with emphatic Zanu PF sympathies drove all the way from the Rustenburg to Pretoria to bludgeon me to death, in her view, with a book by Ian Scoones that is supposed to be a book that explodes some myths about the Zimbabwean land reform.
She, in her view, had come to liberate me from my misery concerning my mistaken and misguided critiques of the revolutionary and historical operation that I have carelessly reduced to a charade and a chimera of Zanu PF partisan and personality politics. She had come with a talisman to exorcise me of the demon of ignorance on the Zimbabwean land reform.
Our friendship came on trial when I told her that there is absolutely nothing that Scoones and others have said on the Zimbabwean land reform project or the agrarian question itself, in affirmation or negation, that Professor Sam Moyo has not said better and with much more compelling relevance.
The monumental challenge is that, on a missionary sort of way, we Zimbabweans will not listen to each other. One would rather fly all the way to the University of Sussex in England to listen to Scoones’ observations, arguments and conclusions on the Zimbabwean land reform, leaving Moyo’s archive unexploited.
I have no fundamental problem with the scholarship and erudition of Scoones, but closer to me is what the poet Musaemura Zimunya told Flora Veit Wild of Germany, that he, from his ‘village morality’, will not listen to tourists from Europe lecturing him on elephants that eat leaves behind the Zimunya village. Zimbabweans need to listen to each other.
Concerning the good habit of listening to each other as Zimbabweans, I can guess that very few of us were listening when Grace Mugabe spoke recently.
As she launched the International Women’s Day commemorations, Grace departed from the vitriol she has become known for and beseeched the police not to confiscate the wares of poor vendors and hawkers who ply their trade in the streets.
The police were reminded that some of them went to school and qualified as police officers because their mothers paid school fees from the proceeds of selling tomatoes in the streets.
There is no difficulty in seeing that as a politician Grace once in a while desires to associate herself with some concerns for the toiling majority and it is also easy to see that she might as well have been building and managing her own reputation as a mother of the nation figure. My take is that whenever powerful and influential politicians like Grace Mugabe seek to remind the powers of the day to care for and protect the poor, the ends of good politics are served.
One can only wish that Grace Mugabe would extend her counsel to the plight of university students in Zimbabwe who lack funding for their education and poor villagers in Maleme Farm whose livelihoods are threatened by an influential securocrat who wants to add another farm to a long list of his properties.
In the fashion of politics as war and the tradition of the political missionary position, when Priscillah Misihairambwi resigned from the MDC, for the majority of the party supporters, it was time to throw mud at her. Shepherding the party away from that toxic tradition, Professor Welshman Ncube said “as Africans we must dig deep into our traditional values of empathy, of love and kindness, of solidarity, ultimately of ubuntu.”
Party supporters were reminded by the leader that they “must never allow our hearts to be filled by hate and loathing, if we do our struggle is reduced to nothing more than the pursuit of power for its own sake.”
It was easy for Ncube to set the hounds on Misihairambwi and then fold his hands and relish in the dust of insults and profanities thrown at his former lieutenant as just deserts, but the call of higher politics and the politics of life demands the strength in leaders to counsel peace where war would have been forgiven.
So much investment is made in Zimbabwe on elections and electioneering, which is fine, but it is even finer for our politicians to invest time and effort in reforming the culture and tradition of our politics. As long as the tradition and culture of our politics remain steeped in the language and practice of war, elections themselves will remain an occasional lottery that delivers no meaningful change in the direction and therefore destiny of the country.
The examples of Grace’s recent gesture and Ncube’s exemplary statement indicate that our politicians can find it in themselves to champion decolonial politics. No messiah will land from another world to transform our politics; the transformation must begin in the minds, hearts and mouths of our present leaders.
Macaphulana is a Pretoria-based Zimbabwean political scientist and semiotician. email@example.com.