Zimbabwean politics in underwear moments

Zimbabwean politics in underwear moments
Published: 10 August 2015 (1164 Views)

In the opinion of philosophers, Man the angriest and the saddest of all animals invented laughter to cushion himself from the pains of the universe. Man has invented gods, music, dancing and beer to manufacture the feeling that the world is better than what it really is; a huge cemetery. Man must find straws on which to clutch in this wild sea of tragedy and life. The ugly geography of our bodies we have covered with clothing of all shapes, colours and sizes. The death that we are born with keeps us permanently decaying but we have all sorts of fragrances to cover the stench. Man is a creature of cover. Under cover, Man is happy. Unhappiness and pain makes man turn everything from sex to science into a sport. With our thoughts we build illusions and fantasies that comfort us and insulate us from the ongoing death around us. We dress up life. The tendency to dress up and to cover is a creative quality of Man from the fall from grace to the present. One can see how we are trying so hard to turn death into a celebration, reducing funerals to parties and decorating graves with flowers and state of the art tomb stones. We can't look death in the eye as a moment of loss; we are better pretending that death is a member of our family, not a cruel thief of life.

In our private and public lives, to be alive is to be able to dress up things, pray, sing and dance away our realities. We fear death and the truth of our nakedness so much that we cover it with choreographed faith and happiness. In the history and politics of Zimbabwe we have elevated the human art of dressing up and covering to the level of a national habit. I suspect the fiery womanist parliamentarian Priscilla Misihairambwi sought to jolt us out of the slumber and cover of our dressing when she brandished, in the August House, a couple of items in shape of used female underwear. It was a moment of history. Our historical encounter with second hand underwear; in Parliament. "She surely could have made her point without bringing exhibits," was the wisdom from a senior wartime male politician. Misihairambwi had made her point, not only for the womanist movement but for the human condition at large. Zimbabweans have been reduced by the economy and politics to second hand people who consume second hand goods and services from our former colonisers in the Northern parts of the planet. The colonists that we chased from our mines, factories and farms are now sending us, with love from Europe, second hand underwear. We can endure talking about that, but we don't want the "exhibits!" we don't want the naked evidence of our nakedness and death as second hand people of the Third World.

I write today to observe that Zimbabwe, in history and in politics has arrived at its moment of ripeness. All pretenses have been stripped down to our national dirty underwear. Zimbabwean politicians and thinkers must face up to the nakedness, the ugliness and death of our condition. Political gamesmanship, stratagems and covert intelligence projects can protect certain politicians and political parties but they will not rescue the economy that is turning more employees into vendors. Instead of talking to China, to Britain and America, Zimbabwean politicians in the ruling party and the political opposition must urgently talk to each other. The struggle for power can wait because presently, economically and politically there is no power to win or to lose in Zimbabwe. When the time comes to engage China, Britain and America on the Zimbabwean condition, these foreign empires will not listen to a regime or a political party, but to Zimbabwe. Dressing up as party this and party that is presently a profitless enterprise, the Zimbabwean question demands stronger answers than pretending and inventing excuses.

What is an Underwear Moment in Politics?

A fellow by the name of William Zartman described in politics what is called "a ripe moment" for negotiations that arises from "a mutually hurting" political and historical "stalemate." This moment happens when contesting parties in history and politics find themselves unable to win totally and unable to lose totally as well. In that moment history dangles possible penalties for non-action, history demands action, negotiations and a political settlement that rescues all the contesting parties from a political and historical imbroglio.

The South Africans had their own. Inspite of the infamous "Total Strategy" of Magnus Malan, and the "Cossing the Rubicon Speech" of 15 August 1985 that announced the intensification of apartheid and racism, the Botha regime was on its knees from punitive sanctions, a collapsing economy and multitudes of angry black people in the streets.  On the side of the liberation movement, the militants such as Chris Hani, Mark Maharaj and Siphiwe Nyanda, under the "Total Onslaught" strategy were plotting "Operation Vula" to violently take power in South Africa. But the liberation movement as well was on its knees, the Soviet Union was collapsing with all the supplies of money, food, training and weapons for the guerrillas. Both the apartheid regime and the liberation movement were publicly dressing up, covering up the fact that both contesting disputants were stark naked in a mutually hurting and punitive stalemate, none of them could win totally or lose totally either. Compromise was needed.

Quietly, behind the noisy bravado of both the apartheid and liberation movement that sought to mask the truth, a few philosophers from the University of Stellenbosch, and some brave members of the intelligence reached out to exiled Thabo Mbeki and imprisoned Nelson Mandela for talks. Mandela and Mbeki, Niel Barnard, Willie Esterhuyse all took a huge risk. The participants in the secret talks were not mandated by their parties to talk to the enemy. Costly penalties were due if any of them were caught. Party lines, codes of conduct and oaths of secrecy had been broken by a few details from the apartheid regime and the liberation movement to meet half way and shape a new South Africa. As all politicians would do in such situations, both Botha and Oliver Tambo were deliberately ignorant of what was happening. Those of us that have read the books by Esterhuyse, Maritz Spaarwater and others will attest to it that the secret talks were true underwear moments where ‘enemies created impossible friendships' that led to the historical and political transition in South Africa. At a dingy basement of the Compleat Angler Hotel in Marlow, England the Afrikaners became naked about their fears of black rule as much as Thabo Mbeki became clear about the expectations of the black poor of South Africa. A meeting point was found.

As fragile and faulty as it is, what is called the South African miracle today is not a miracle at all, or is there anything called the Madiba Magic. Stripped down to its underwear, what happened in South Africa from 1985 to 1994 was the courage of a few politicians and thinkers to think and act outside the party line and to admit nakedness. It was tense; Oliver Tambo the leader of the liberation movement and P.W. Botha, the "great crocodile" of the apartheid regime both suffered strokes that led to their premature death. Chris Hani was gunned down by those that thought he was a stumbling block to the negotiated settlement. In history and in politics underwear moments are moments of death as much as they are moments of life. Mandela the "terrorist" and revolutionary died in that underwear moment and a saintly conciliator was born. Thabo Mbeki the communist guerrilla commander died, and a philosopher of liberation and reconciliation was born. Niel Barnard a bullet dodging spy boss died and a mastermind of peace was born.  The "Stellenbosch Connection" of philosophers, members of the "Afrikaner Broederbond" sat down with Umkhonto weSizwe details to plot how to stop the violence in South Africa and allow a transition, as imperfect as it became. Underwear moments are historical and political moments of truthful nakedness and honesty.

Zimbabwe's Underwear Moment

It is my argument in this article that Zimbabwean history and politics have hit a ripe moment for a negotiated political settlement. I argue that "a mutually hurting stalemate" where the ruling regime cannot win or lose totally, and where the political opposition cannot win totally or lose totally has arrived. This is a true historical underwear moment where the disputants in Zimbabwean history and politics must take the risk of nake.dness, abandon the cover and talk about Zimbabwean politics and the economy, and conspire about a transition. Failure to do that, the vendors that Zimbabwean history and Zimbabwean politics is producing in huge numbers these days will soon overpower the police and the army, who are also glorified vendors, and throw Zimbabwe into chaos.

Let me flesh out my argument before I raise any alarm. If an election is called today, ZANU-PF will deploy coercive machinery or engage the covert expertise of the local and international intelligence and win the elections, manufacture victory. But ZANU-PF will not win legitimacy. The political opposition will lose political power and win the status of being brave victims and moral warriors. After that, both the contesting parties will pretend to be doing something great, and to be the future of the country but the economy will continue to produce more vendors and more victims whilst we wait for the next election where history will repeat itself as a bad joke on all of us. ZANU-PF as divided as it is, has enough political stamina and the hardihood to keep power. The opposition, even as a grand alliance, has only enough power for now to deny ZANU-PF legitimacy. For now in Zimbabwe elections are a useless lottery that produces no winner but turns the whole country into a big loser as political parties pretend to be great, dressing up their inability to deliver meaningful change.

 As an individual, if I were to find a lion as big as Cecil preparing to eat Emmerson Mnangagwa, I would smear spices and other flavours on his body so that the good lion may not only eat but may also enjoy the trouble. I would offer the lion tooth picks so that no piece of his flesh hides between the teeth, every cell of him must be swallowed. But I must say now that I sympathized with him after listening to that sad interview concerning the China visit.  I saw a sweaty Mnangagwa walking on eggs. At the underwear moment of that interview Mnangagwa promised the world reforms with the same tongue assuring Robert Mugabe that his legacy is not under threat. In summary in that interview Mnangagwa said nothing in saying a lot. (In the thriving Zimbabwean PHD industry, someone must give the man a PHD in balancing acts). Importantly, Mnangagwa disclosed that Zimbabwe "is behind by 15 to 16 years" in economic development and political progress. He said it that China will not help until reforms were in place. The political opposition went to town with Mnangagwa's nakedness, celebrating that China and Russia have given up on ZANU-PF. That is dirty underwear thinking. The poor voters in Zimbabwe and the rich donors of the world know by now that the political opposition in Zimbabwe, in their current shape, can and will win any election but will not take control of state power. Instead of looking East or North, or even South, Zimbabwean politicians and thinkers must sit down and talk to solve each other as problems that have punished the politics and economy of the country. After that they can approach the world in strategic engagement. The fears and expectations of the historical and political disputants in Zimbabwe must be discussed and a compromise found before everyone is a vendor and wears second hand underwear from England.

Enter the Rogue Elephant

I have just given an impression that I lack faith in the Zimbabwean political opposition in its current shape. It is not my lack of faith but my clear understanding of ZANU-PF abilities in covert intelligence activities and manufacturing electoral victory. As I write many intelligent people in the world and in Zimbabwe still don't understand that the face of the Zimbabwean political opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai would make a decision that reduced the number of opposition MPs in Parliament and boycott elections in a way that empowers ZANU-PF. That is strange. But not strange if one knows how the CIO operates, and that they are Robert Mugabe's secret to staying in power to date.

 On the 15th of August in 2008, after receiving advice from some of Mugabe's intelligence details, he said it himself; Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted the presidential run-off election and fled to Botswana. During the campaigns towards the 2013 elections that the political opposition lost, Tsvagirai boasted in a rally that some of Mugabe's intelligence details supply him with full intelligence including what Mugabe eats for breakfast. What Tsvagirai and others have not realised up to now is that those intelligence details that bring information to the opposition are not working with the opposition against Mugabe but are working on the opposition in the interests of Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Beside the intelligence agents who are sent to mislead the political opposition, it is a fact that political organisations and civil society organisations in Zimbabwe are infiltrated beyond repair by the CIO. Key decisions in most of these organisations are made by the CIO from within the organisations. The art of infiltration has been perfected by the CIO to the extent where they provide girlfriends and even wives for some influential people in civic society and the political opposition. Currently, the political opposition in Zimbabwe is too wired and peopled by the CIO to do anything major to topple ZANU-PF.

If anyone doubts the abilities of the "invisible" Zimbabwean "state" to infiltrate the opposition and civil society, they should watch the few but busy agents that have been planted in the diaspora. The characters join every organisation in Zimbabwe; they are always on the phones and on skype from the UK and elsewhere, checking what activists and politicians are doing in Zimbabwe. They pose as extremists and radicals in the opposition cause, they connect with everyone meaningful, and in some instances they even fundraise and fund oppositional activities. They run a multiplicity of Facebook accounts under different names, and actually lead opinion. No one can ignore these fellows who come in the guise of dependable cadres of the opposition, scholars, activists and even secessionists when their job is collect information, report to the base and destabilize civil society and the political opposition. Carefully, and neatly they spread mud and dirt on genuine activists, and they influence splits in organisations and political parties. Through the CIO Robert Mugabe controls the political opposition not only from their offices, even from within their families. Hans Born and Marina Caparini, scholars who have studied the uses of the intelligence by regimes have summarised their effects as the activities of a "rogue elephant" that has made itself a powerful but invisible government in some countries. With the CIO fully paid, and by his side, Robert Mugabe can and might run Zimbabwe from his grave. Unfortunately, the CIO can spy and infiltrate organisations but they cannot manufacture legitimacy for ZANU-PF or fix the economy, they need all Zimbabweans and the political opposition for that. The CIO can secure regime security but they cannot guarantee national security that is now threatened by the economy and its rapid production of angry and ‘nothing to lose' vendors. The underwear moments are upon us.

Zimbabwe: Thinking about Thinking

I normally make the claim that I write my articles for politicians, political thinkers and activists. A piece of helpful arrogance that I learnt from the late Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo who when confronted on the score that his poems did not make sense he said: "I write my poems for poets," silencing critics. I write for those who think deeply about politics beyond the normal business of politicking. To most day to day partisan politicians it makes for nonsense that Zimbabwe needs a political settlement between the ruling regime and the political opposition. For those who think about politics at the level of "the political" as defined by Chantal Mouffe, it must make perfect sense. ‘The Political' as a way of thinking about politics invites us to think about how to change politics itself from the Olympics of power and a dirty game to an art of preserving life. The Olympics of power in Zimbabwe are presently killing politics itself and the economy, producing many angry people, second hand people who put on second hand underwear and might soon turn against all politicians and the state. The Political demands that we turn our enemies in politics into adversaries, while enemies must die; adversaries are fellow men and women that we can negotiate with and reach settlements that can preserve the future. The enemy construct in Zimbabwe between the ruling regime and the opposition must be dissolved to allow an adversarial relationship that can permit negotiations for a political settlement that will produce a team of Zimbabwean talents that can engage with the world to restore Zimbabwe to normalcy. Lately Douglas Mwonzora has been proselytizing and fundraising in the UK, Welshman Ncube has been producing punchy weekly articles that bemoan the Zimbabwean condition, and Emmerson Mnangagwa has been to China to attempt to "upgrade" Zimbabwe's relations with China. Zimbabwe is too open to everywhere and closed to itself. A time has come for Zimbabweans to talk to Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe.

After following the thoughts of Ghanaian philosopher, Kwesi Wiredu and Zimbabwean philosopher Bernard Matolini on political parties as part of the problem and not the solution in politics, I have given some thought to political parties in Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe, political parties, the ruling party included, have become the enemy of politics, development and the economy. Partisan thinking is a stumbling block to national and progressive action. The party line is line of death to the truth and to creativity. Party thinking creates extremism that provides irreconcilable differences between politicians and political parties. Individuals become more loyal to the "party doctrine" than to the country and even to reason itself. Wiredu even argued that party thinking leads to opposition for opposition's sake. Party thinking creates big winners and big losers, and this leads to sour grapes that have made electoral outcomes a problem in Africa, accepted by winners and permanently disputed by losers. Political parties also activate ethnic lines which turn elections into ethnic censuses where bigger tribes are permanently in power while smaller tribes are outside and bitter no matter how talented their politicians may be. It is my view here that the present political parties in Zimbabwe, including ZANU-PF itself, cannot be able to recover the country from its current condition of crisis. Another creature, an entity from all these parties can be negotiated and created that will do the homework of talking to the world and getting Zimbabwe back to normalcy. The current antagonism between the parties has to give way to an agonism that will allow enemies to talk and plot what to sell to the British and to China to set the economy afoot. Too much Zimbabwean energy and talent is spent by men and women plodding the party line as the parties themselves become smaller and smaller.

Following the challenge of political parties is the problem of elections. Elias Canetti explains that elections were invented to replace war as a method of negotiating and deciding power. Elections are a form of political war without bullets and dead bodies, but they still retain the competition and anger that defines war, and that anger and competition cannot be sustained by a fragile economy like the present one in Zimbabwe. We are better thinking in terms of John Holloway who has taken the trouble to explain how a people can carry out a "revolution" and "change the world without taking power." Presently, Zimbabwe needs men and women of "The Political" who can change Zimbabwe without direct interest in taking political power in the sense that political parties are engrossed with.

 The challenge to imperialism that ZANU-PF and Mugabe have been acting out is limited in that the hegemony of the Euro-American capitalist Empire cannot be defeated from one small nation state in Africa. Empire has the ability to use that nation state as an example to other nation states that challenge to the hegemony of Empire brings collapse. Zimbabweans are not wearing second hand underwear by choice; they have been beaten beyond repair by a cruel and angry global Empire. Strategically, Zimbabwe can achieve its own dominant space in the world within this hegemony of Empire, but to think that from Zimbabwe we can dethrone Empire and achieve hegemony in the world is not to think at all, but to commit senseless suicide. As Ranajit Guha has influentially argued, colonisation itself was "dominance without hegemony." Decolonisation cannot in a single moment from a single country set a post-colony to achieve hegemony in the world; it can fight for and win dominance economically and even politically. All the politicians that are active in Zimbabwe presently and all the political parties are perishable entities that will pass with time, and there is no scandal in minimising them and their activities to allow a process of recovering Zimbabwe's economy and politics. Elections may indeed deliver popular leaders but there is no guarantee that the popular leaders are performers who are equal to the task. For now political parties and partisan politicians can afford to stop and disrupt each other, not to get Zimbabwe to work in the world or to get the world to work with Zimbabwe again.

Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Pretoria based Zimbabwean Political Scientist and Semiotician. dinizulumacaphulana@yahoo.com.

- Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana


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