FROM the outside Zimbabwe is a true object of political and intellectual tourism, somewhere to explore and experience but never really dwell in. This country is also politically pornographic, well understood and sometimes liked but an item of polite shame, and sinister admiration.
Robert Mugabe has presidentially said and done many things that other African leaders admire but would never emulate, out of their own modern wisdom, making Zimbabwe what the able philosopher Achille Mbembe describes as an “aesthetics of vulgarity,” something beautiful to watch at a distance but never to be and to own.
From the inside Zimbabwe, politically and economically, can be a ghastly nightmare from which many urgently want to wake out of. It is an impossible space, where things that should really not happen have been normalised and sanitised as business as usual. The story of a dozing and sleeping, stumbling and falling 91-year-old president, presiding over a free-falling economy and decaying polity only tells less than half the truth of the condition of the country and experience of its people.
But there is a privileged political and economic elite, in Zimbabwe and outside, that profits from this decay. The international diamond black market for instance feeds fat from Zimbabwe and the local part-time mafia tycoons who can drop the name of the father and the mother here and there, the connected ‘men of God’ are in brisk business. Everything in Zimbabwe happens in oversize and out of proportion, in bizarre extremes.
The present Zimbabwe is unsustainable though; the few oppressors who profit from the misery of many are not sleeping on account of guilt and fear, misery eats them up. The oppressed and the exploited multitudes who endure Zimbabwe do not sleep on account of anger and fear, toxic pathos consumes them. The common denominator of the Zimbabwean political and historical experience is what Wole Soyinka called “a climate of fear” of the known and the unknown that may happen any time.
Something must urgently die in Zimbabwe so that another thing might live. Sadly many among us believe that it is Robert Mugabe who must die. Other washed out low lives among us even believe that the sad death of some innocents can be celebrated as a victory of some kind. Yet, in actuality, something bigger than persons; evil and innocent, in the very spirit and political culture of Zimbabwe must urgently die. The political culture and some bad national habits must die so that Zimbabwe can be.Advertisement
Or else someone might have to build a bigger evil than the evil that presently rules Zimbabwe, and carry out a sustained and systematic physical elimination of these political and economic elites that sustain the present mess, and then grow Zimbabwe afresh from the ashy and bloody ground. This would be necessary and even politically holy as a very last resort because the whole of Zimbabwe and the things that happen in it has become foul play that stinks high to the heavens. In a strong way, this place has become a political Sodom and Gomorrah, what deserves to be finished off for a fresh beginning to germinate.
I previously described the Zimbabwean political setting as marked by transitional injustice and uncertainty, where those who wield state power have no legitimacy and where those who oppose the regime and seek state power have legitimacy but do not have the political, and sometimes the intellectual stamina to ride on legitimacy and seize power.
This stagnation where there is no total loser or total winner, and where guilt, fear and anger are the spirit of the nation is fertile ground for the antichrist, for Lucifer and the expelled angels. A coup, genocide and or a bloody intra-elite civil war are stubborn possibilities in the present Zimbabwe that is now the land of certain uncertainties.
A Zimbabwean Spring would do; an insurrectional war, a beautiful one for its messy effect of punishing the evil doers with fire and bombs and paying the exploited with sweet revenge. There are many powerful nihilists in this world to promote such nihilism than there are to fund a peace conference.
As a departure from nihilism and the Zimbabwean political paradigm of power as domination and politics as war, I write to suggest a new spirit and a new grammar for articulating a politics that would expel guilt and fear, which will liberate both the perpetrators and the victims of the present Zimbabwean injustices. In doing that, it is important to start by exposing the limits of transitional justice mechanisms that some in Zimbabwe and outside have suggested.
The proposal that I make is painful but less taxing than an insurrectional war or a civil war; it entails both the perpetrators of injustices and the victims committing mercy killings and suicides of themselves and some of their deeply held interests, in every way but physical. The spirit of this short article is that, never mind the vaunting threats and promises of both the ruling political protagonists and their opposing disputants, under the silence that is mistaken for peace, if nothing big happens urgently, Zimbabwe is Africa and the world’s next trouble spot, in a few months from now.
Can the truth alone set us free?
There are many among us who have been thoroughly bewitched by the South African example of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Here perpetrators of political violence and criminals against humanity are expected to confess the truth of their sins to earn the forgiveness of victims, and amnesty from the state. The truth is expected to set both the victims and victimisers free; itself a beautiful idea in the poetic sense of the word, neatly cut and dry.
In the Zimbabwean case however, this simple path is complicated first by the fact that the personages who presently run the state are themselves indisputable offenders against humanity and are guilty as sin. These dark fellows are unlikely to subject themselves to the discomforts of confessions and disclosures. Secondly, the truth on who the offender is and who the offended are in Zimbabwe is officially denied but it still remains in the public domain. Thirdly, the attractions of the South African truth seeking and truth telling processes themselves are misplaced as the TRC, as a success, is overrated and, as a failure, not so much discussed.
Further, public truth seeking and truth telling in the case of Zimbabwe may lead to further conflict, denialism and even violence as guilty offenders try to cover their dirty backs. The naked truth about atrocities may also further infuriate the victims, inspiring revenge and more hatred that does not provide national continuity but fuels deeper decay and chaos.
What Zimbabwe needs is not the truth; the truth is known. Knowledge is what may set Zimbabweans free, a political deeper understanding by both the victims and their victimisers that the past was a crime and that both the offenders and the offended can become survivors of that criminal past and sing one anthem, salute one flag and build one economy. Ugandans, Mahmood Mamdani and Dani Wadada Nabudere separately fleshed out the importance of political knowledge ahead of the naked truth in conflict resolution and transitional justice.
In that logic, as a disillusioned and scared Emmerson Mnangagwa recently said in the context of Zanu PF, Zimbabweans need to look each other in the eye. Coming from Mnangagwa a person who has a lot of looking straight in the eye to do for the past and the present injustices, this may be a starting point. For many years now, people like Mnangagwa and others have been looking down, up and by the side; time for eye contact is here, farewell to innocence.
Trials and Tribunals
From the perspective and experience of victims of political violence and those who are at the receiving end of venal tyranny, prosecuting offenders and sentencing them to death and to jail has always been the first choice. World experiences have proven that trials and tribunals do not help in a situation where offenders and the offended are still to continue living in the same country. The Nuremberg trials of 1945 to 1949 brought many Nazi criminals against humanity to book and Master Sergeant John Woods enjoyed doing the hanging job. In this case the victims of Nazi atrocities were to get out of Germany, away from the bleeding families and friends of the hanged criminals.
In the case of Zimbabwe, if trials and tribunals were to be used, families and friends of the jailed and hanged offenders would still share national space with families of the appeased victims of political violence. New conflicts would arise; tension and turmoil would derail nation and state building, throwing the country deeper into another climate of fear and uncertainty. Political violence, genocide and large scale looting and corruption such as has taken place in Zimbabwe requires political instead of legal solutions.
Ahead of legal measures, political processes are more likely to rehabilitate both the perpetrators of injustices and their victims, creating more fertile grounds for durable reconciliation, peace and healing that can permit economic and political normalcy. Zimbabwe, from the Gukurahundi genocide to Murambatsvina and the large scale electoral political violence, the looting of the economy and corruption, cries out for a robust political intervention.
Politics proper tends to speak louder and much clearer to life than the laws, that are normally cold and dry, and very much blind. After discrediting truth seeking and truth telling, and trials and tribunals as options in mediating the Zimbabwean condition, I seek to advance those mechanisms that I believe can recover Zimbabwe from its present climate of fear.
Reparations are not simply the act of paying victims which may amount to political and legalised opportunistic bribery to buy political silence and still not ensure durable peace and happiness in the country. Instead, reparations entail repairing the damage suffered or cushioning victims of political injustices from the effects of the damages, physical and spiritual, that they have suffered.
Victims may recover what has physically or spiritually been lost. Physically they may recover lost properties and lost opportunities, while spiritually apologies and other gestures may restore their lost dignity and pride as human beings. Under reparations, the losses and the wounds of the victims are publicly acknowledged, compensation and restitution may be considered while the primary effort remains being the satisfaction and happiness of the victim who is enabled to move on with life after pain, loss and disadvantage.
It is noteworthy that not necessarily the offender or perpetrator of injustice has to pay reparations, a responsible state supported by regional or international supporters, of which there are many, takes the responsibility to educate orphans of victims, pay life support to those who lost breadwinners and provide social and economic opportunities for the previously disadvantaged as communities and as individuals for example.
Reparations focus on healing the physical and spiritual injuries of victims of conflict and political violence. After reparations, previously angry and aggrieved victims are normally able to be part of the spirit of a new dispensation, and to be faithful citizens. After reparations, former perpetrators and former victims of crimes against humanity may still have a good night’s sleep.
Institutional and Personal Reform
Moving on with food and drink, laughter and music together with other furnitures of life is one of the toughest trials for those who have been under the shadow of death, punished by genocide, electoral political violence and other crimes. Making it even more difficult for survivors of violence to feel part of the country is to see their victimisers and perpetrators of the crimes occupying important positions in the life of the country as Commanders, Generals, Ministers, Judges and other positions that touch national life.
In Zimbabwe this is one of the biggest challenges that those who wish to recover the country need to surmount. Some well-known perpetrators of atrocities and crimes against humanity have been elevated to important state positions; some of them are even jostling to preside over the country. Faces and voices of genocidists in public life make the wounds of many decades ago bleed again. The victims and survivors are not assured by the continued importance of the criminals against humanity that atrocities will not be back again.
Those officials and offices that perpetrated political violence, or failed to prevent it when it was in their power to do so should be removed from public life or reformed to ensure that a new national life is unleashed that is not burdened by images and symbols of a painful and unjust past. Repentant perpetrators of crimes against humanity should be the first ones to smell their own armpits and play other roles in national life than pretend to be the future when their hands are dripping with blood. Old bitter wine in new skins as some familiar people have recently intimated, and reminded us, causes disturbing explosions.
The Semiology of the Future
One of these days a competent theologian should tell us what exactly offends God the Father about idols and figurines if they were just wooden and stone items that have no spirit to save or to punish anyone. From a simple semiological stand point, idols, statues and signs are a vivid language whose grammar and vocabulary speaks directly to the imagination and the psyche of individual and collective audiences. Idols, statues and signs have a commanding voice that can steal some believers from the gods themselves and give religious and political currency to things and objects. The planet in itself is a universe of symbols and signs, speech and text, our daily language of sounds in the air and shapes on the surface is only an imitation of the symbolic planet.
Recently in South Africa an angry student, Chumani Maxwele, besotted of Fanon and Steve Biko, threw human dung at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes and nearly brought the apocalypse itself upon us as support and condemnation came down. The spectacular language of a handful of human droppings brought down the towering statue of Rhodes in days, a task that a legal application or political debate, or even a physical war would have accomplished in years.
Something else happened there. Cecil John Rhodes was the haughty imperialist whose wisdom was that “the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise.” Rhodes believed that as imperialists “we must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa,” and he made it clear that “I prefer land to niggers.” So, when in 2015, a young nigger uses a kind of soil to bring down a symbol of Rhodes, it becomes a philosophical event and historical dialogue, a violent one for that matter, but bloodless in signature, yet deadly.
The self-immolation of one vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi on the 17th of December 2010 toppled Beni Ali in Tunisia and sparked a string of uprisings that became called the Arab Spring whose scale and import, merit even, remains a story for another day. Signs, images and symbols, in silence, drama or in spectacle, such as communicating with items of the toilet, speak in a language more compelling than what armies and their tankers can achieve.
For that reason, in a setting such a Zimbabwe, painful national memories of genocide, violence and decay can only be marshalled and managed through effective use of symbolic signatures in shape of memorials, monuments and shrines. Statues and memorials are not erected for the dead but for the comfort and glory of the living and they provide a solace to the victims that is bigger than the loudest political sorry.
New national myths and signs that promote the imagination of new futures need to be manufactured and deployed to dispense fresh political oxygen that effectively buries the dead and the painful past. For example, the defenders of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, mainly beneficiaries of his plunders, cried more than they could ever have cried for the Rhodes of flesh; memorialisation gives to the dead more life than they ever had alive, and peace to the survivors. The memorialisation, positive, of those who fell to the violence and crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe is likely to create a new epoch in the troubled and deeply worrying country.
Suicides and Mercy Killings
In summation to this article, as short as it is for the weight of the subject it treats, I seek to observe that Zimbabwean political leaders in the ruling party and its oppositions are extremists and fundamentalists of a kind. The good or the bad that each one of them has, they dispense it in extremes, making everything either too good or too bad, and therefore wrong. The world we are living in now is in crisis because capitalism has been too successful and triumphal; it needed a bit of socialism for its own survival.
The same, socialism collapsed because it lacked a capitalist habit. If in this world we could produce as effectively as capitalism commands, and consume as responsibly as socialism dictates, there would be no need to pray for heaven, and there would be no terrorist attacks by the dispossessed on those who have profited from plunder in one way or another.
Coming back home after this illustration, the opposition in Zimbabwe need a bit of the Zanu PF spirit, minus the record of genocide and political violence, and in a big way, Zanu PF needs to be saved by the spirit of the political opposition. In that logic something in the opposition must commit suicide, and something in the ruling regime must commit suicide.
Both contending political disputants in the country need some mercy killings of parts of themselves and some of their deeply held interests to allow political and economic normalcy in the country. Each one of these parties and the factions imagines itself to be the big solution, yet, in a word each one of them hold but an ingredient to the historical stew that will set Zimbabwe on the road to political and economic normalcy.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Pretoria based Zimbabwean Political Scientist and Semiotician: firstname.lastname@example.org