I AM very clear about what works and what does not work, clear about what edifies and what damages. There is nothing to be gained by seeking to interfere with the circulation of Morgan Tsvangirai's useless book. I reviewed it a few weeks back. It is a false testimony by a small man - an outsider to events - yet with enormous ambitions to be the centre of the universe.
The book collapses that intention remarkably, spectacularly. It is likely to coagulate before it even begins to circulate. It is neither a propaganda breakthrough nor a commercial success.
Why bother about it? Why give it an undeserved profile, an undeserved lease by lifting it to the status of an object of wretched pity? Why? The false saga of a little known bookseller in Victoria Falls and the State must end. Impedimenta too!
I say this with the formidableness of being Tsvangirai's most implacable opponent. I have no favours to grant him, which is why I can't suffer any flowing to him from the State through sheer inadvertence, sheer bungling even.
A Salman Rushdie?
This reminds me of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. Decidedly bad, decidedly opaque, the book hit international headlines not on its merits so hard to find, but simply because the Iranian spiritual leadership pronounced a fatwa on the author for insulting Moslems, more accurately for an irreverent view of figures apotheosised by their belief.
The Western world rose to the propaganda occasion. Rushdie, himself an anglicised Indian, became a focal point of Western security, less to protect him, more to defeat the threat from Iran, more to defeat Iran itself.
Remarkably, he became some tiny pawn in some planetary conflict between Iran and the West, a conflict which onion-like, permitted many layers of ideological interpretations: austere Islam versus permissive Christianity; the mullahs versus liberal democrats; autocrats versus the free world; religion versus free speech; faith versus the arts; conformity versus artistic freedom and licence... The list went on and on and the West was simply gloating all the way.
Here was the hemisphere of universal freedoms, the warrior hemisphere, extending its beneficent legacy to some Third World man of letters mortally threatened by the mullahs.
When mere possession brings utility
Rushdie the person went out of circulation. Rushdie the Satanic Verses went into sales overdrive. I also bought a copy of the book just about that time. I wrapped it in opaque paper and flew it into Zimbabwe, defiant on the brow, melting with mortal fear at heart. It went straight into my bedroom, never to be touched, never to be read anywhere else except in that small cubicle of nocturnal creative endeavors.
The day I opened the first page is the day I gave up reading the book at all. The book was decidedly opaque, both by way of style and by way of its preoccupations. I am no average reader, I can assure you, certainly not the type that gives up too soon on a literary piece. I ploughed through hard texts, including some written before medieval England, texts whose recondite meaning would only be recoverable through sound.
You had to listen to what you read, to grasp what the still-unknown author of Sir Gawain and the Green Nights meant.
But Rushdie was one hell of insuperable labour, much worse some stupendous labour in vain. I had more important matters to deal with. Yet to this day I hold this dubious satisfaction of owning a book that caused death, more accurately the threat of it.
When banning builds vocabulary
That cosmic altercation pitting Iran against the West did me one favour. It introduced me to two nouns: fatwa and Salman. I hardly use the former, except in jest to convey playful severity. As for the latter, well, Salman is now part of my literary collection. Less his novels, more his essays which are eminently readable, quite provocative and ticklish to the brain. I like him and thank Iran for introducing me to him, negatively.
It is the same with DH Lawrence. I read him copiously both because he writes well and because the so-called free world once banished his works or exactly the same vices which the West now parade as virtues that open avenues to Western aid.
It is the same with many Soviet writers. I mean Russian writers who got banned under the Soviet Union.
Same with prison endeavors of the likes of the radical Ngugi, the infiltrated Wole Soyinka, Dennis Brutus, the late Solomon Mutsvairo and his legendary Feso.
Man, woman the curious
Such is the puzzling nature of the human mind. Where you bar it from going, it strives exactly in that direction, preferably to be there, minimally to catch a quick glimpse of where angels are forbidden from treading.
This is why each time we squat to bless a reluctant tree, away from the madding and prying crowd, we always favour the smelly aftermath with a quick glance, albeit moderated by a shot of globule saliva deployed audibly, to creased face. We see, however briefly, what we have expelled from our bowels, then curse it with a gob of ferocious spit.
It is the same for all matters: from vomit to death, we always steal a glance at the odious, at the terrible, before turning away in utter disgust. After all, how do you gossip if you don't carry the ace of sight, of proximity at the very least? That is us, Man, Woman the Curious!
So, careful, let's not create heroes out of mediocrities. Much worse, Ian Smith's Great Betrayal circulates freely, only impeded by its own hidebound, racist views. You go to Avondale Flea Market, you find many copies of the book, untouched, presumably unread. We look absurd to interfere with bad output from one of our own, while enduring racist drivel from one who killed us for so many years.
In this porous age, you cannot ban, harass ideas. You defeat them through compelling counterpoints. This is how ideas are tamed, spoiled for the human mind. Don't seek to kill books. You don't win that one. So let Tsvangirai's book reach its deep end, soonest. It's there already, so why delay it? Much worse, don't create needless dilemmas to those of us who live by words, by reading, whatever it is.
When authors of ruling ideas falter
Another useless endeavour relates to the Zimdollar debate. I don't know who started it, still less who has an interest in it, or profits from it. The returns seem too slender to mind the bother. But I certainly know who suffers from it.
Sometimes you think Zanu PF has lost its instinct for self-preservation. Zanu PF ended the reign of the Zimdollar, well before the formation of the inclusive Government. Patrick Chinamasa, then as Acting Finance Minister, presented this new policy package in the last budget of an exclusively Zanu PF Government, and this following endless days and nights of inter-agency brainstorming. Yours truly had something to do with it.
The policy and decision to dollarise was a Zanu- PF one, for better, for worse. As it has turned out, the idea is Zanu PF's for better! Biti inherited it and wants to give it an MDC-T patent.
The inclusive government inherited it and has been governing on the strength of it. Much worse, the inclusive Government wants to share it, so the accolades due to and deserved by Zanu PF, are shared or dissipated.
If the gentle reader recalls my last instalment on who rules, who governs, then he/she has part answer from this matter. The inclusive Government has been governing on Zanu PF's ideas on ruling. Only Mutumwa Mawere has problems in grasping this, less from diminished intellect, more from bitterness. He shall overcome that some day, hopefully some day soon. But that is the way things are, may be for a long time to come.
Money, Zimbabwe's camel
But Mawere is not my point. My point is why Zanu PF, dog-with-rabbis-like, turns around to attack its own ideas, at the most unseemly of times. Ideas which its opponents are dying to pilfer. Or to pick and run with upon reckless dropping. Again make no mistake about it. I am Zimbabwean to the cell, furiously so. I am ready to kill for this country, most probably will do it in broad daylight, well in front and full view of awesome retribution.
I know what the Zimdollar does, whether as a unit of exchange, as a store of value and as much else that money does and is. Above all, I know what the Zimdollar means, as a national symbol, as an expression of full sovereignty. It is our national flag made mundane, our foremost symbol but with daily universal utility. I know all that. Kubasa kwangu uko!
But a symbol has to have a healthy relationship with its referent, please! It is that healthy relationship which gives a symbol potency, which gives it inexhaustible power. This even the more so where an object has value both in itself and associationally. As is the case with the Zimdollar. It must buy me something, including buying me other people's monies. It must keep my estate, look after my heirloom. All these and much more, it must competently do as an object-in-itself. When it does all those things, it is like a father in a stable home: too important to be done without, yet too commonplace to be noticed. It becomes your camel to an Arab, so critical yet hardly acknowledged.
Making subversion cheap
Between 1997 and 2009, the Zimdollar came under a withering attack. We could not defend it. Our Western opponents were going for the very pith of our being, both by way of sanctions and through this run on our currency. Savings were ruined, our monetised market was attacked. We reverted to barter, like days of yore. Our dollar became tattered, alongside it tearing the national spirit and the party's support base.
Much worse, subverting Zimbabwe became very cheap. You only needed a few thousand dollars to get trillions of Zimdollars for renting crowds and mischief. Above all, a mere hundred US dollars to alienate hearts and minds from own legacy, own heritage, from love for own cause, own country.
We lost a whole generation, a generation we are still to recover. We lowered the costs of our own subversion. We recruited for the West through myriad NGOs which did not have to levy heavy budgets on their Western sponsors. In the days of the Zimdollar, there was nothing as easy as funding an NGO, as keeping its workforce well motivated, living above the common condition.
Diamonds, a new symbol
The damage to national consciousness shall never be quantified. The damage to national pride shall take years and years to repair, if at all. We are a wounded consciousness, something we are beginning to rebuild through a complex mix of measures, not least among them our diamond find which the Americans still try to attack in order to keep us in insufficiency.
The diamonds have become objects that solve daily national challenges; but they have also become little glistening symbols of what we exclusively have which the world badly wants and therefore needs.
And that we control or may control up to 25-30 percent of world supply, readily meets of long-felt national craving for global importance. And vengeance too, with the attendant cathartic effect. We have been hurt by spiteful nations and have nursed deep injuries that will not heal unappeased.
Today diamonds come in as that anodyne, that antidote to a long-nursed national injury, too long suffered low national self-esteem induced by unremitting, media-led attacks on the national soul. Come to think of it, that is one reason this column came into being, back then in mid-2000.
One conversation that haunts
"Ko imi vanhu veHarare maakuita sei futi?"
"Chiiko nhai Sekuru?"
"Hanzi mavakuda kudzosa Zimdollar zvakare?"
"Ko hamudi mari yenyuwo here senyika? Zvakare hamuoni here kuti USA racho raveZimdollar?"
"Kwete, zvitori nani panekutiunzira Zimdollar mematambudziko atakabva kwaari. Chiona nhasi, pension yangu yese tsvai! Saka ndakashandirei makore ose aya?"
What symbol money buys
This is one conversation I had in my rural home. My interlocutor was a close relative and a well-known party supporter who is also a pensioner. You could not miss the horror of recall shooting, through his dwindling eyes.
I bet this conversation is typical, only modulated by the degree of reverence and respect. In some cases it projects itself in violent terms, itself some release to pent-up anger from ruined prospects, ruined lives.
But there is quick acknowledgement that the US dollar is hard to come by, indeed has severely restricted and curtailed rural commerce, rural transactions. But such woes pale into insignificance when you suggest the return of the dollar against felt fragility on the national economy, against continuing hostility from the West. Much worse, against the prevalence of the US dollar in the economy.
Let me make a simple yet missed postulate. Money as a national symbol follows on money as a transaction unit and storer of value. With money we all become practical before we become willing consumers of symbols. Money must buy for us before we can buy into it, into its symbolic value beyond the transactional. I am sure I am not developing a new theory of money, merely restating it with a touch of an ordinary man and woman's view of it.
When the doorman calls the shot
Let us be careful, very careful. We should never seek to glorify money before it has glorified us at the marketplace. Maslow does not allow that. Symbols operate at the superordinate, while objects of utility - money included - operate at the lower order level.
First things first, please! Which is to say what? Well, to say there are things we need to do first to steady the wobbly economy and our wobbly faith in its instruments.
My gosh, why am I sounding like Biti? Of course I am not sounding like Biti. I, Zanu PF, have allowed Biti to sound like me without forcing him to acknowledge by at least a footnote! Zanu PF invented the train of dollarisation, itself as a tactical panacea to an all-out assault on its economy by the spiteful West. Somewhere down the track, it picked up a doorman and drove on. Today the doorman tells the inventor-owner how far to go with the train?
Let me restate: the idea to dollarise was Zanu PF's. That idea happens to be administered by Biti in the inclusive Government. His little addition to it was simply to source coins for it, even then to great, forbidding cost which made the tiny idea dissuading enough. Today he pranks as the-dollar-must-continue warrior, assisted by our own reticence or even suicidal confusion. Why? Why perforate our vote through a useless proposal, made more hideous by very poor timing?
We are going for elections shortly. Why divide or even throw doubt into our support base, through an inane argument over the Zimdollar? In the end we lose the argument, the election, the country and the Zimdollar? Toti taitei? When in fact all it takes is to go to elections, wallop these quislings and then rule by effective governing. Totonga marudzi! What's wrong with us?
Yuanising the economy?
I would have understood and deferred if someone was pursuing VP Mujuru's brilliant idea of yuanising our economy. It would make sense practically, given Chinese readiness to open banks in Zimbabwe the same way they have done so in Zambia. It would reinforce our Look East Policy in a big way, while reposing our value in a more stable currency of a dominant economy which is becoming a major source market for raw and capital goods.
Not this one. Let us face it, the fate of the Zimdollar will not rest in the ingenuity of the man at the Central Bank, whether current or prospective. We are not an ordinary country. We are not surviving in ordinary times.
The fate of the Zimdollar will be tied to two major factors: our economy and our relations with the West. Both are outside the dollar, while shaping it. Both remain implacably bad, worsening even. What an inauspicious moment, what horrible timing!
A lesson from a karateka
My parting shot flows from the dodjo, or karate ground. One basic lesson you are taught quite early in your training is never to give your opponent a wide target. This is why a karateka's stance is always sideways, projecting the shoulder side of the thrusting forehand.
Your opponent only sees the narrow edge of your body, trimmed narrower by tension, but also formidably defended by a restless hand and nimble forward leg. Never give the enemy your whole body; never punish your hand and leg by giving them too large a surface area to defend.
Restoring the Zimdollar at this stage is like swerving a combat body forward, baring the chest, stomach, groin and all. From head to cuff, the enemy will pick and choose, possibly preferring to gut your manhood, dropping it to the floor with a mighty thud, leaving it to wriggle, toss and turn much like a broken tail-end of a wall lizard. You will be your opponent's delight, granting him an easy IPON. Wake up Zanu PF!
Nathaniel Manheru is a columnist for the Saturday Herald newspaper. Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org