Zimbabwe: Memory, Knowledge and future pains
SOMETIME in a lonely day in 1749, a small scale thinker with a taste for music and a reputation for familial irresponsibility was walking on a foot path in a village a few miles from Paris in France. The whistle in his mouth stopped when he saw a poster announcing an essay writing competition on the topic of whether the arts and the sciences had bettered or impoverished humankind. On the impact of the topic, and the weight of insights that confronted him, Jean Jacques Rousseau fainted in excitement and anxiety. On waking up he wrote a treatise that disclosed how knowledge of the arts and the sciences served only to mask that human beings are still animals hiding behind their civility and beautiful cathedrals.
By nature, Rousseau, in the winning essay, observed that human beings are good, but knowledge, bad and evil knowledge had corrupted humanity and polluted the world. The events of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France and the mass deaths in Nigeria owing to Boko Haram seem to testify that as the world gets more technologised and informed, the more the animalism of man manifests its ugly deportment. All the evils of our world emanate from some knowledge by some thinkers. Bigoted racists still base their racism on Charles Darwin’s’ survival of the fittest thesis from his Origins of the Species. Vampiric capitalism that visited slavery on the peoples of the global South still feeds fat from the views of such thinkers as Adam Smith in his The Wealth of Nations, a book that is not shy to laud the commodification of other peoples and exploitation of their labour. Such evil systems as political and historical apartheid in South Africa were energised by insights from philosophers and professors; some of them still pace the corridors of the University of Stellenbosch and other universities in South Africa today.
The question that burdens my article today is; What knowledges have those who wish to forge a better world generated to confront and contest the knowledge that has enveloped the world in death and darkness through political and religious fundamentalism, slavery, colonialism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, orientalism and what I call today; ‘racist tribalism.’ I will begin by an illustration of political and historical fundamentalism and its visitation of cruelty in the world and its use of conveniently selective memory to justify as good its evils and cruelty. While my perspective is global and world systemic, my case study remains located in Zimbabwe. My conclusion will centre on the need for passionate thinkers and knowledge seekers of the intensity of Frantz Fanon, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Enrique Dussel and many others who have sought to generate knowledge that overturns the present world system to inaugurate a new inclusive global universality based on life and not death.Advertisement
Memory and the forgetfulness of Political Fundamentalism in Zimbabwe
When George Bush said “I will defend America no matter what the facts are,” he uttered a fundamentalist and extremist statement that projected a jingoistic political Americanism that is typical of the Eurocentric thinkers in the world. American interests and European interests have indeed been defended through war in the world, no matter what the facts have been, right or wrong the NATO allies invade and demolish any country and topple any regime that they dislike.
Without any sense of irony, the same George Bush asked, “Why do they hate us?”, when Al-Qaida jihadists mounted a spectacular attack on the American Twin Towers, on the 9th of November in 2001. The first quality of political fundamentalism is its poor memory and the way it sees itself as always right and all others that oppose it as naturally wrong. George Bush’s question was answered by Osama Bin Laden on the 29th of October 2004, he said “we had not considered attacking the towers, but things reached the breaking point when” they “witnessed the iniquity and tyranny of the American-Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon.” Al-Qaida was moved by “those moving scenes of blood, torn limbs and dead women and children” in Lebanon. As an individual Bin Laden says he could not stomach in Lebanon “ruined homes everywhere, and high rises being demolished on top of their residents, bombs raining down mercilessly on our homes.” Most noteworthy is that “in those critical moments” Bin Laden says “I was overwhelmed by ideas that are difficult to describe, but they awakened a powerful impulse to reject injustice and gave birth to a firm resolve to punish the oppressor.”
Besides brave British and Australian Journalist John Pilger, and international public intellectual Noam Chomsky, very few thinkers and writers in the globe have had the courage to tell America and allies that their economic, political, cultural and military imperialism is the cause of what is called terrorism today. What America and allies have called attacks on the West are in reality revenge by those whose territories, cultures, religions and economies have been violated as the Masters of the Universe bully the world, “no matter what the facts are.”
For a long time now I have been trying to press it into the head of genocide denialist, and political fundamentalist (by employment not by cause) Nathaniel Manheru that the cries and protests of Gukurahundi victims and survivors are not a joke or empty acts of politicking, but what he continues to say is that I must show him my “torture marks” and scars from Gukurahundi. For me to read, think and write of the injustice of Gukurahundi, in the reasoning of Nathaniel Manheru, I must first be one of the skeletons in the disused mine of Bhalagwe in Maphisa. Osama Bin Laden was not bombed in Lebanon in 1982, he was enjoying the Billions of wealth that his father, a friend of George Bush Senior amassed mining oil. But Bin Laden left all that behind to fight what he believed to be “injustice” by “oppressors” in his own words.
Nathaniel Manheru has written emphatically and vividly about the colonial wound that Zimbabwe suffers from years since conquest, he says “it was a huge bill. We still pay it today… more than a century” since the colonialist landed. Nathaniel Manheru also observes how in the world “only westerners die and are mourned…” while Africans and others in the global South remain what Walter Mignolo calls “dispensable lives.” But Nathaniel Manheru, together with his network of ‘patriots,’ who have done so much work to alert Zimbabwe to the injuries of colonialism, are very loud in silencing the survivors and victims of Gukurahundi as malcontent elites who should shut up because the villagers in Matabeleland and the Midlands have long forgotten a genocide that only ended in 1987. A genocide whose mass graves still open up in Lupane and Maphisa when heavy rains pound, a genocide whose orphans still walk the paths and the streets in misery. To Nathaniel Manheru and his network, tell us why in the name of all the gods you think victims and survivors of Gukurahundi should remember their colonial wounds and forget their still fresh Gukurahundi wounds? Give us guidance on how these populations can ignore the “huge bill” of Gukurahundi that they are still paying and paying in many ways including enduring your taunts and laughter at their condition?
In my view, similar to George Bush and his NATO network you are asking the questions: Why are they angry? Why do they hate us? Why don’t they feel part of this country? And then you go on to give yourself comforting answers, they are tribalists, it’s a few elites in the diaspora, they are just trying to create political leverage and so forth. My argument is; check the historical, social, spiritual and indeed political bill that these people have paid and are paying. You Nathaniel Manheru and your network as anti-colonial thinkers, if you are, why you, in the words of Ramon Grosfoguel, doing leftist politics with right wing thinking?
E. W. B. Dubois made a compelling argument that has since been ably amplified by Lewis R. Gordon, that, there is a problem in this century and this particular world order of “treating people with a problem as if they are people that are a problem.” It is my observation and also my argument that Nathaniel Manheru and his network are employing the same “moment of madness” thinking that created the Gukurahundi genocide to try and silence the survivors and victims of the genocide, and that normally does not work. The reason why the war against terror crusade; from the times of Ronald Reagan to date have not stopped terror is because the crusade itself is terror and in a big way it is the root of terrorism. When Robert Mugabe described Gukurahundi as a “moment of madness” some of us thought a beginning to the solution was near, but when such people as Nathaniel Manheru suggestively say that it was not a moment of madness, and these are people who are positioning themselves for places in the new era, the future of Zimbabwe really looks difficult.
Knowledge and political denialism in Zimbabwe
The multi-disciplinary intellectual, and philosopher, Frantz Fanon in his rendition of the ‘pitfalls of national consciousness’ noted that “ as far as national unity is concerned the party” in an African post-independence setting “will also make many mistakes, as for example when the so called national party behaves as a party based on ethnical differences.” Fanon stresses the point that “It becomes, in fact the tribe which makes itself into a party, and which claims to speak in the name of the totality of the people, secretly, and sometimes even openly organises an authentic ethnical dictatorship.” Zimbabwe has seen many years of this pathology where ZANU-PF has claimed to speak for the nation when it speaks for a fraction of the nation, and now it is even worse as what is called ZANU-PF is the Mugabe Family and very little more, this is a truism that people like Emmerson Mnangagwa might yet to see soon if they don’t quickly see and implement the need for change in the nature of politics in Zimbabwe.
Fanon was not yet done with the African condition, he noted that “these heads of government are the true traitors in Africa, for they sell their country to the most terrifying of all its enemies: Stupidity.” And what stupidity was this that Fanon was decrying, it was “the tribalising of the central authority… and the nation falls into pieces,.. and the leader who used to call for African unity…now thinks of his own little family…”
In Zimbabwe now, in order to be called national one must belong to ZANU-PF and shed off any signs of belonging to any other culture, speaking any other language or paying homage to any history besides that which endorses the Mugabe family as the owners and rulers of the country. Even Terrence Ranger, the departed historian is now chided of having lost his way once by ever writing on the history not of Zimbabwe but that of Matabeleland. This is the centralist, fundamentalist and tribalist knowledge that fires up Nathaniel Manheru and his network.
Good Kalanga people are those that marry into Shona families and drive themselves silly, learning the language of their husbands, when Dumiso Dabengwa makes disclosures about Phelekezela Mphoko whom he knows more than all of us, he is only being a loser regionalist, any point that Welshman Ncube raises politically, it is a naturally tribalist point, not national. There is a 1977 speech in which Robert Mugabe said Zimbabwe was to be “an essentially Shona” nation. A dangerous and fundamentalist statement, coming from one of the world’s most educated leaders. Observably, as events and developments will show Mugabe has shrinked his interests and projects even narrower, to what Fanon calls “his own little family.” Veterans of the struggle such as Solomon Mujuru, Joice Mujuru and Didymus Mutasa have not only been reduced to nobodies but are being viciously vitiated by toddlers of the struggle like Nathaniel Manheru who read the history of the country as if it was a novel, when it is a narrative written in the blood of many men and women. Common wisdom and maturity dictates that Mnangagwa should see a part of himself in Joice Mujuru, and defeat her with humanity not contempt, ngoba kusasa kungawe ngwenya.
Individuals like Joice Mujuru, Didymus Mutasa, the victims of Murambatsvina, victims of political violence and those of the Gukurahundi massacres are all “ dispensable lives” and “ side effects of history” that must comply with the march of the Gushungo family, “no matter what the facts are.” As well as George Bush said “you are with us or you are against us” if right now in ZANU-PF “you are not with Dr Amai, you are against us.”
It is a monumental pity that as Mugabe prepares to depart from the Zimbabwean political scene; pretenders such as Nathaniel Manheru and his network want to turn this ethnic bigotry and racist tribalism into common sense. It is racist tribalism because it has its roots in the colonial and imperial fundamentalism of Islamophobia and xenophobia projected by such entities as George Bush and others in the NATO alliance.
There is in Zimbabwe, represented by Nathaniel Manheru on whom my inbox is bludgeoning with dark disclosures from angry subordinates, and some friends and maybe relatives of his wishing to arm me, a kind of philistinism that make the bigots to wish to eliminate other voices from the debate. That will not happen. Whoever and whatever Manheru believes I am I will meet him and pay him with his own currency, and he must not cry foul when the mud hits the fan. It’s not enough to think you know who you are dealing with, it’s more important to know what you are up against and what informational resources they have. My simple ‘village morality’ in the words of the poet Musaemura Zimunya prevents me for now, to come down to muddy business.
From my grade one to my PHD studies, I have had people challenge my thoughts orally and literary, it is the life I have chosen. I relish in intellectual combat. I do however get irritated if not entertained sometimes by the judgement of a pillow professor on my intellectual and scholarly work. In my university I am subject to peer reviewers and scientific committees that question and comment on my work and that is fine. For Nathaniel Manheru, who subscribes to that bedroom university where there are pillow-talk lectures, where the husband is the supervisor and the examiner and ultimately the chancellor who awards the three months PHD to question my intellectual profile is a joke in bad taste. But I understand why Nathaniel would wish that I was not a scholar. There is a story of an old professor at the University of Rhodesia who when he encountered a forceful essay written by a black lad first denied that the lad wrote it, when evidence emerged that the lad indeed owned his work, the professor said “ but you have Egyptian features” meaning to deny the identity of the lad. Manheru is equally refusing to deal with the content of my arguments: You are not a victim of Gukurahundi, You are not a true Semiotician, You are not really Dinizulu? You are a charlatan! And all that nonsense. Philosophers call it “disciplinary decadence” to navigate away from an argument and concentrate on disciplinary issues such as the learning of your opponent and his identity instead of the substance of their argument, disciplinary decadence is the weapon of washed out sophists and intellectual cowards who don’t know the difference between a song and music.
Fortunately, the publishers in the African academy are not The Herald that currently suffers Manheru as a gatekeeper, my work will be read. Manheru can keep his advice from the bedroom campus and the pillow lectures, I for one do not need supervision from a pillow professoriate. If Manheru is a thinker and a scholar or whatever he is, I said it before, let us have a pound for pound exchange on the condition of Zimbabwe and the world and good Zimbabweans might, maybe learn a few things from us and or teach us a lot. The “technicist sophistry” in the words of Kwesi Prah, of dunking and diving, making excuses and not confronting the questions in the debate will not for any longer help anyone. One cannot discuss any philosophy with a disciplinarily decadent person. No. He will ask you “when did you become a philosopher?” because he last saw you at pre-school singing “Baba baba black sheep” he expects to see you do that till your funeral.
Seasoned image makers and image managers; who understand semiotics as a communicative science of signs and symbols; scatter around their subjects and employersbewitching imagery and mesmerizing metaphors, charming the nation and uniting diverse peoples around the leader. Poor Robert Mugabe with a name and an image already as ugly as sin itself has a divisionist, a confused confusionist who creates more and more enemies for him with irresponsible communication.
Zimbabwe and the difficult Future
Based on the bigoted arguments and fundamentalist and tribalist/racist sentiments of Nathaniel Manheru and his misguided network, the future of Zimbabwe looks bleak and conflictual if not bloody. I seek to share here views of some thinkers including myself that might help to contribute to efforts at seeking healing for victims of the many political and violent conflicts in Zimbabwe, including the Gukurahundi genocide. I do this because, in actuality describing conflicts, shouting down opponents and throwing mud might polish the egos of individuals but may not help countries or empower victims and survivors of conflict.
To start with, the worry that has kept Nathaniel Manheru awake is that victims and survivors of Gukurahundi have held on the genocide which he nicknames “disturbances” as property that is “owned.” A research by Nils Christie, a criminologist, in 1977 concluded that indeed unresolved injuries are kept by the victims as “property” which they feel the “perpetrator” wishes to steal from them when he seeks to erase their memory of the atrocities. In the view of Christie, perpetrators continue to harm the victims when they deny that the victims were ever victimized. It is for that reason that such people as Nathaniel Manheru are perpetrators and not just denialist of political violence in Zimbabwe.
Critiquing the rather overrated South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission process, Mahmood Mamdani suggested that “there can never be reconciliation between victims and perpetrators of political violence” instead, reconciliation is possible between “survivors” of violent conflict. In the wisdom of Mamdani, the State in a country that is dealing with conflict should take over the position of the perpetrators and also that of the victims, and turn both the victims and perpetrators into “survivors” of a painful history. In that case history becomes the accused. In Zimbabwe so far, this has been impossible because the government that has controlled the State has always been defensive as the perpetrator itself. With new faces in the regime emerging, there might be new possibilities.
Dani Wadada Nabudere, the late Ugandan Afrikologist also decried the missed opportunities of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission on its emphasis on the “Truth.” To Nabudere the “truth” on its own, can worsen the situation and possibly lead to more conflict. As victims get to know the perpetrators in detail, revenge and repeat victimisation may happen. Nabudere suggested “knowledge” and “knowledge management” as the solution. Knowledge has the power to assists both victims and perpetrators of political violence to understand each other’s positions and to see the collective need for a common future and healing. Knowledge in the wisdom of Nabudere helps everyone not only to know but to understand why and how the conflict happened, and how everyone can move on from the conflict and avoid it in future.
Both Mamdani and Nabudere make compelling arguments that provide for an emphatic current that can inform policy makers on national healing and reconciliation. Especially combined, the two approaches can deliver desired results. My own contribution to the debate that was through my post-graduate research emphasised the use and the abuse sometimes of symbols, signs and rituals in the communication of conflict for the purposes of healing and reconciliation. I argue that Desmond Tutu used his religious profile to sing hymns, to ritualise by lighting candles and invoking biblical verses, and exploding into tears and wailing aloud to preach the victims of apartheid and bludgeon them with heavy symbolism of bishoply tears into forgiving unrepentant apartheid perpetrators who still controlled big business and the economy at the expense of the victims who continue under ‘nervous conditions’ of poverty and disease. The bewitching metaphor of the “rainbow nation” was also marketed and it went viral shepherding the imagination of both perpetrators and victims of apartheid into an imaginary country which in reality is not South Africa as we daily experience it. Some kind of an Orwellian ‘sugar Candy Mountain’ was constructed and deployed to lull bewitch South Africans into national hope. Nelson Mandela himself was re-moulded from a ‘terrorist’ to a hypnotizing metaphor and symbol of a saintly statesman whose word became the word of God as he hushed angry victims of apartheid into unconditional forgiveness of their victimisers.
What Desmond Tutu called Ubuntu and which was used to press forgiveness out of victims was actually the Christian ‘turn the other cheeck’ doctrine, I argue. Ubuntu cannot be a philosophy, it is a convenient sign that was found usable in justifying forgiveness, it is only a description of the qualities that define a human being, the philosophy is “isintu” that describes the thought and practices of the Bantu, and it does not start and end with being nice to perpetrators of atrocities. Inevitably, my conclusion is that symbols, signs, monuments and rituals can be mobilised to communicate conflict in a way that arrests the imagination of all, perpetrators and victims into new utopias and desideratum, that can be part of healing and nation building. Carefully communicated, any conflict can be consigned into the toilets of history and former victims and perpetrators of conflict can emerge as citizens of the future singing one national anthem.
Can we think Zimbabwe out of this?
Yes. If we abandon bigotry and bigots as a nation we can study and think Zimbabwe out of her present conflictual political condition that is seeing heroes and heroines of the struggle, orphans and the maimed being rubbished by individuals with dubious agendas and of questionable intentions. Excitable and excited bigots and fundamentalist must not be allowed near the buttons of the destiny of a country.
Belgian political theorist Chantal Mouffe has contributed to political studies some refreshing insights that include the important need for politicians and thinkers to distinguish between “politics” and “the political” proper. Politics is the daily business of seeking and keeping power through elections and other rituals of power contestations. The political is that realm of thinking that is occupied with changing the nature of politics itself, or what Mouffe calls “democratising democracy” by changing the political culture itself.
In the view of Mouffe, politics must remain conflictual but not antagonistic but agonistic. Political opponents must not be allowed to degenerate or else escalate into enemies; they must just be adversaries that we can defeat but not slaughter. My view is that as Zimbabwean individuals and groups, we have put too much investment in bare-boned politics, occupied with elections and fist fights, and neglected the political where we must discipline our politics, and come up with rules of politicking that are not anti-life. While politics is important, it can never come right if the political is not in order. We need in Zimbabwe researchers, thinkers and impassioned activists that like Jean Jacques Rousseau can generate liberating, uniting and most of all happy political knowledge, individuals that can imagine with us what I call a ‘history of the future.’ In Zimbabwe’s universities, in the civic society, in the opposition and indeed in the presently ruling party, and the wide diaspora; there are many men and women who are equal to this task. If nothing disturbs, my next article should be on the lessons that Zimbabwe can learn from the South African TRC and the Rwandan post-genocide era, and how Zimbabwe can come up with her own unique healing and reconciliation regime.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Pretoria based Zimbabwean Political Scientist and Semiotician: firstname.lastname@example.org.