'Sometimes, there is just no holding back the river'
Dr Alex T. Magaisa
Farai, an engineer colleague recounted his experience during his stint at a mine in Bindura, a small mining town located about 55 miles from Harare.
Having been at the mine for a year and armed with knowledge gained from years spent at University, Farai and his colleagues thought they could bring in fresh ideas to improve the inefficient systems and procedures at the mine.
It did not take them very long to realise that each time they tried to make suggestions for change, they simply hit a brick wall. The old timers who had been at the mine long enough to have become inseparable parts of the mine architecture were not ready for change. They were afraid of change, even when Farai and his fellow colleagues proved to them that it was more efficient to make certain changes.
The old timers would respond with a nonchalant shrug followed by a calculated pause during which they contemptuously stared at the young fellows from top to bottom, repeated for maximum effect, and then say dismissively, “Young man, I have been here 35 years, my father was here 30 years and before that my grandfather was here since he was a boy. During all that time, things have been done this way and they have worked for us. Why change?”
Most readers may find this scene familiar or similar to situations they have encountered when either they have faced resistance to change or they have been the ones that have resisted change, for no reason other than that that it is the way things have always been. If not, it is probably just a matter of time.
Change is a phenomenon that most people find difficult to deal with. Even when it is necessary and inevitable, many people still find it hard to come to terms with change. Sometimes even the mere thought of change strikes fear into the hearts of most people.
Having observed events and circumstances obtaining within Zanu PF (the ruling party) circles in recent times, it is arguable that perhaps the single greatest challenge it faces is to overcome the fear of change. This is not simply change on the broader political and economic landscape, but change within its own ranks – internal transformation.
Given the malady currently affecting the MDC and the consequent loss of momentum within the opposition movement generally, most eyes have once again focused on Zanu PF and whether or not it has the capacity and will to change. This has admittedly been a narrow focus, which is centred not on the wider politics and policies of Zanu PF but simply on the issue of succession of President Mugabe.
It is part of the biographical approach that has been largely applied in conceptualising, analysing and understanding the Zimbabwean problem; an approach under which essentially all the shortcomings and challenges facing the country are invariably blamed on the leader of the ruling party, President Mugabe. This school of thought posits that if there is internal change in Zanu PF and President Mugabe retires sooner, things are more likely to get better in Zimbabwe. Simple and straightforward as it might appear, it is not entirely convincing that his departure will easily wash away the myriad of problems, which arise from more than one source.
Nonetheless, it is hard to dismiss the view that, even if only for image purposes, change in leadership is a necessary consideration at this stage. It matters no more whether it is right or wrong, but it seems clear that the problems of Zimbabwe have become so closely aligned to the name of the President that one would be forgiven for suggesting that whoever replaces him, whether or not he belongs to Zanu PF, there is likely to be a change in perceptions, both locally and internationally, putting aside the argument that the changes in perception may be misguided. Implicit in this approach is the assumption that new leadership could usher a new approach to the political and economic issues affecting the country.
Undoubtedly, those who have considered the Zimbabwean problem through the biographical approach that focuses principally on President Mugabe would probably be persuaded to take a different look at the country in terms of engagement. Perhaps that is why even the staunchest critics of Zanu PF have probably been willing it to drive change from within, seeing as it is that the body and spirit of the MDC seems to be dithering at critical times.
This approach may be too simplistic and narrow since it ignores the myriad of causes of the crisis and the impact of the political culture in Zanu PF, which even President Mugabe himself has struggled to control and contain. Yet still, in a country where hope is waning by the day, anything that represents change, even in the form of personnel at the top level is probably regarded as a credible goal and achievement
Surely, some people in Zanu PF realize that change is necessary and is ultimately inevitable, no matter the attempts to postpone it. How come then, from time to time, there does not seem to be an appetite for and the will to pursue change that is ultimately to its and the country’s benefit? It seems to me that there is the familiar reluctance in Zanu PF, and even fear to accept and cope with change.
A story is told in my favourite book, Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist, of a man who finds it very difficult to embrace change, even when he knows that it could benefit him materially. Having joined the merchant whose business is to sell crystal glass, the main character, the boy on a mission to find his treasure at the pyramids, proposes that the business could be enhanced if they install a display cabinet outside the shop, showcasing the crystal glasses. The merchant is reluctant at first because he fears people might knock over the cabinet and break his glasses. After some persuasion, he concedes to the plan and the level of business increases. Later on, the boy notices that people who walk up the hill where the shop is located, often complain of thirst and tiredness. He proposes to the merchant that they should start selling tea in the crystal glasses. The people would find something to quench their thirst and having tasted tea in crystal glasses, they might even end up buying the glasses as well.
One would have thought this would be a great plan for the business, which any merchant would be keen to embrace. But our merchant reacts rather differently. He explains to the boy that he has been in the business of selling crystal for three decades and knows the character of crystal very well. He admits that if they start selling tea in crystal glass, his business will expand but he says he is reluctant to do it because he fears that it would mean he would have to change his way of life. He says:
“I am already used to the way things are … The shop is exactly the size I always wanted it to be. I don’t want to change anything, because I don’t know how to deal with change. I am used to the way I am."
I sometimes wonder whether this is the same mode in which Zanu PF operates. Perhaps they cannot even imagine a world without President Mugabe. He has led the party and the country for so long that for them he is now part of the natural order. They see no reason to change anything. They probably fear change because they do not know how to manage it. Unlike his detractors, they see him as a victim of external machinations. They are used to the way they are and do not know how to deal with change, especially given the factional divisions centring on the battle for succession. They cannot even dare talk about succession openly because they do not know how to deal with it. Like the merchant, they do not want to be forced to “look at wealth and at horizons [they] have never known”. But in the end, as did the merchant, Zanu PF just has to realise that, “sometimes, there is just no way to hold back the river”.
Hard as it might be for many people to swallow, it is futile to deny that Zanu PF is a critical player on the political landscape, more so now than a few years ago when the MDC was seen as the agent of change and salvation. The MDC leadership in both factions must pick up the pieces and realise what most of their ordinary members have said all year – that they ought to become a more solid and focused unit. For the MDC as well, the message is: Change or Perish. Arguably, attention is shifting to Zanu PF not because it promises greatness but because it has remained entrenched in power and observers sees little chance of overcoming it especially with the opposition in its current sorry state.
erhaps some people have come to the point where they think that sometimes you just have to face the harsh reality and live with what you have, hoping for the best. Zanu PF has never had a better opportunity in recent years to make positive steps and rehabilitate its image in the eyes of the people. Yet Zanu PF has shown a remarkable reluctance to embrace change. It has postponed inevitable change whilst not reducing the burden on the citizens. In fact the postponement serves nothing except to perpetuate the misery of the citizens.
It is gratifying to note that when our dear merchant finally accepts the boy’s proposal to sell tea in crystal glasses, business flourishes and he realises he has done well to overcome his fear of change. He hires new staff to help him cope with change. Perhaps one day, as did the merchant, Zanu PF will overcome its fear of change and shall embrace it and learn to cope with it. It is a big player on the scene and Zimbabwe desperately needs it to change.
Dr Magaisa is a Zimbabwean lawyer and can be contacted at email@example.com
All material copyright newzimbabwe.com
Material may be published or reproduced in any form with appropriate credit to this website