Nathaniel Manheru: a lowbrow bedside operator 

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IN recent days certain bold but infantile statements have been made that have caused some of us to reflect seriously on the problem of political silliness and historical idiocy in Zimbabwe.
On the subject of idiots as an intellectual and political challenge, Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek provided two defining categories.
The first category of an idiot is defined by the arrogant and at the same time ignorant individual who runs into a battlefield between warring soldiers and shouts at one side, “stop shooting, there are people on the other side.” This idiot is idiotically oblivious of the nature of war and the context of deadly fire battle, but arrogates to himself the power to instruct and command one side of the war.
The second idiot, on the pathetic side of things, is the innocent and incorrigibly confident one that when asked by someone in small talk, “how is your day?” he goes on a pulsating and detailed description of the events of his day and his life. Though innocent, the second category of the idiot can be a nauseating reality when there is very serious business to attend to.
In the present article, I have reasons that I will advance below, to believe that Nathaniel Manheru, a paid cleaner of Mugabe’s mess, is a clinical idiot who collapses in himself the two types of idiots defined above. I have no intention to hang Manheru out to dry, but my intention is to alert most of us in the intellectual and political community to the convincing falsehoods and persuasive nonsense that Manheru recently circulated in the media ( and the general public sphere.
There is no doubting that many of us out there consider Nathaniel Manheru a diehard opponent of imperialism and fighter against all manner of forces colonial and oppressive.
I write here to observe that Manheru is an educated but uninformed colonised and colonising colonial subject who, while pretending to rebuke imperialism, feeds fat from what Valentin Mudimbe has called “the colonial library.”
This fellow has thrown a lot of textual and verbal mud in the eyes of many a reader and listener, pretending to be a warrior against imperialism and a loyal cadre in Mugabe’s ideological army, in the process concealing rather than revealing the important truth that he desperately needs firm hand-holding when it comes to understanding how the world works.Advertisement

Unfortunately, the knowledge and information economy is populated by researchers, thinkers and other personages that will not allow the unhindered circulation of nonsense as wisdom. Nathaniel Manheru specifically asked to be challenged, by anyone using “national platforms” whatever that means.
As things stand Nathaniel, you are not going to choose the venue of the fight or where respondents must place their blows. Now it’s Bolekaja! , come down let’s fight, as the Nigerians say.
Of late Mugabe does not sleep at night in fear of assassins and other enemies, not surprising for one who has offended and wounded so many, but I think you Nathaniel are the first assassin that Mugabe should fear for when you write you really expose him as worse than Idi Amin.
Locating Nathaniel Manheru
Those that have studied literature know that in order to effectively penetrate a narrative and make sense of the form and content of a text, one has to establish the setting in time of the narrative and the historical, social and political location of the writer.
The offending article, as we have seen, was written by a Nathaniel Manheru who has his eyes on the bread. Power is changing hands in Zanu-PF and a new guard is taking over, Manheru notes this himself in the article.
As an employee; and one who feeds from the partisan patronage machinery, Manheru must work overtime to prove to Grace Mugabe, to Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko that he is an able wordsmith that can silence angry critics and throw effective textual punches at any would be attacker of the new chefs.
Suddenly Emmerson Mnangagwa is affectionately called ED, and Grace Mugabe with her “bold frankness” is credited with bringing in new political wisdom into the party and the country. Critics of Phelekezela Mphoko and ED are viciously rubbished and threatened by a Nathaniel Manheru who admits that he is “debauched” from some binge in the village. The article which reduces the grave Gukurahundi massacres and the genocide to a “myth” is written by a Nathaniel Manheru who is dramatising his CV and displaying his “credentials” before new prospective employers.
Unfortunately for Manheru, “there is no amount of soap” in the clever words of Charles Mungoshi, or any verbal and textual antics that can wash clean the guilt for genocide that Mnangagwa and his league bear.
Recently declassified intelligence documents of the apartheid regime in South Africa confirm that Mnangagwa used to have meetings with the apartheid intelligence in South Africa to plot the downfall of ZAPU and the ANC, at the time when Mugabe was pretending to be anti-apartheid and pro-democracy. Those of you good readers who are interested in following up on the details can read Rationalising Gukurahundi: Cold War and South African Foreign Relations with Zimbabwe, an article by Timothy Scarnecchia.
A former CIO officer that Mugabe later detained, Kevin Woods, has published The Kevin Woods Story, a book that details among other things how Mnangagwa and others created dissidents, planted them in Matabeleland and created an excuse for the 5th Brigade to be deployed in the region to conduct ethnic cleansing and to destroy ZAPU. Woods also narrates how perpetrators of Gukurahundi tried to conceal the evidence of their crimes, some of them by changing their names, for example one Dominic Chinhenge changed his name to the present, Constantine Chiwenga.
For that reason, Nathaniel Manheru is in trouble if he thinks he will come up with some cheap shots to silence emerging voices on Mnangagwa’s Gukurahundi guilt and his bloodied hands.
Even unfortunate for poor Manheru is that not all expelled Mujuru allies will maintain silence; they are talking and they are still to talk, more bleeding evidence of Gukurahundi crimes and the guilt of perpetrators will soon emerge.
What Manheru will achieve at this ‘debauched’ rate of his is to add his name on the list of genocide denialists and those who were accessories to crimes against humanity. This will not be Stephen Chan or Pigou’s fault but yours Manheru.
The colonial and imperial politics of Nathaniel Manheru
Observant readers will note that Manheru, in his attempt to discredit Ndebele nationalism and to rubbish the calls of Gukurahundi victims and survivors for justice, he dismisses collective identities as a site of political struggles.
Previously, Manheru has dismissed regions such as Matabeleland and Mashonaland as manufactured and imagined figments that people must not be occupied with. The reference to Matabeleland and the Midlands as “Southern Zimbabwe” is part of the spirited dictionary attempt to erase Matabeleland and the Midlands as locations of identity, history and politics. Manheru also wishes forever to silence the voices and the history of these regions which is replete with evidence of crimes and a genocide that he prays was long forgotten.
I remember very well Manheru publicly expressing disappointment at Chinua Achebe’s book, There was a Country, in which Achebe documents the history of the Biafran war in Nigeria and defends Igbo nationalism against the imperiality of Nigerian centralism. Centralism and the erasure and silencing of other voices, histories, languages and cultures are what Manheru stands for.
The kind of political thinking that Manheru is selling here is not new. Samora Machel and FRELIMO in Mozambique, from their Marxist standpoint believed that ethnic histories and identities were “false consciousness” and that “the tribe must die for the nation to live.” Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, also believed that “tribal consciousness” was an enemy of nationalism that had to be eradicated.
From the outside, this political thinking appears to be admirable nationalism but in reality it is an attempt to force minority tribes and ethnicities to be swallowed up by imperial majority tribes. If this swallowing up is not done by the destruction of minority cultures and silencing of minority voices, and erasure of minority histories, it is done by ethnic cleansing and genocide as happened in the case of Gukurahundi. It is not possible to eradicate ethnic histories, languages and consciousness without eradicating some people.
In the world, prophets of Western and imperial modernisation such as Ulrich Beck ( may his soul rest in peace) have celebrated the death of “traditional societies” such as tribes and ethnicities and the birth of emphatic individualized “risk societies.” Apostles of Westernised globalisation such as Anthony Giddens have also lauded the birth of one global village in the “post-traditional” era that we are supposed to be living through.
This politics of one world, one nation, one culture, at the exclusion and most times the mass murder of those that don’t want to be forced to belong is colonial and imperial politics that is presently haunting the world.
American led Westernised globalisation seeks to marshal the whole world under one history, one knowledge, one politics and one culture and one universality. This politics of violent oneness projects itself in racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and tribalism.
The so called terrorists, the perpetrators of bloody 9/11 in the United States, the Taliban and Boko Haram are peoples that have become side effects of an imperial and colonial history of a Westernised globalisation that in the words of George Bush says “you are either with us or you are against us.”
These side effects of history; the excluded people whose languages and religions, whose cultures and history are being silenced, erased and destroyed tend to fight back very violently and catastrophically. Globalising and centralising politics at national or global level produces renegades, dissidents and so called terrorists who feel that they are victims of a domineering and imperial civilisation that has no place for them. The globalising and colonising model of politics that is unfriendly to minority histories, cultures and peoples has been represented in the world by captains of war like George Bush and Tony Blair who exported countless wars, overthrew regimes and destabilised the entire planet under the pretext of a crusade against terror, naming regions that were opposed to them as the “axis of evil.”
It is no accident that Nathaniel Manheru refers to Ndebele nationalism as “primordial” politics. The Eurocentric colonial and imperial “civilising mission” called the people of the global south and their cultures and histories “primordial.” All globalising and centralising political missions invent insults and demeaning titles for peoples and cultures that they colonise.
What Nathaniel Manheru, who belongs to a party that makes loud claims to fighting against imperialism, is doing dabbling in colonising tribalism and imperial centralism boggles the mind. If he did not know it, he should know it as from today that he is a practitioner of colonial and imperial tribal politics that feeds on the eradication of minority tribes, histories and languages.
African thinkers, thinking and writing from Africa have effectively discredited this model of colonial and imperial politics. Paul Zeleza of Malawi has complained of there being “chiefs and commoners in the global village” and has argued for the peoples of the global south to resist the erasure and silencing of their histories. Thabo Mbeki of South Africa loudly argued for a movement from “global village to a global neighborhood” where all peoples of the world can preserve their languages, identities and knowledges under the sun. The vast archive of scholars writing under the CODESRIA grouping is pregnant with works that privileged indigenous knowledges and languages as opposed to the colonial decimation of local identities and cultures. Closer to home Manheru can go to the African archive at SAPES and peruse the volumes of African texts on decolonial politics. It is a painful paradox and a very rude irony that Nathaniel Manheru of ZANU-PF is loudly amplifying the same political thinking as Tony Blair and George Bush, and using the ideas to suppress a Zimbabwean cultural and historical group.
The colonial Linguistics of Nathaniel Manheru
Some of you good readers, like myself, you circulate in universities and other institutions that have people who are paid to read, think, write and teach, full time researchers who dwell in the knowledge and information economy. Never in these corridors have I met a professor who claims to have read ‘enough’ of any subject in any discipline.
For that reason I was alarmed to read Manheru’s claim that he has “read more sociolinguistics, done more semiotics than anyone” who is likely to respond to his article. Besides my lingering suspicion that Manheru might be educated but not informed, and that he might actually be an arrogant and ignorant idiot, I was forced to take a closer look at his understanding of linguistics which he tried to use to shout down those who were understandably aggrieved by the butchering of the Ndebele language by one entity called Chicken Slice. Being a researcher and an educator by profession, I have the patience to teach those who desire to understand those subjects that are within my province of thought, but I must say that it makes me sad to feel that I have to hand hold Nathaniel Manheru this way.
Manheru seeks to downplay the cultural imperialism and crime of Chicken Slice by reducing it to innocent “poor communication” and poor “language discipline” that can be laughed off. Those who feel otherwise are coming from “tribal narrowness” or they are disgruntled Ndebele elites thinking from far away.
I beg to address Manheru directly on this lesson that will benefit him and his like. You must remember well Nathaniel the observation by Frantz Fanon that “to speak a language is to take on a world, a culture.” Fanon emphasised that “a man who has a language” consequently “possesses the world expressed and implied by that language.”
What Fanon meant here Nathaniel is that a people’s language carries their history, their identity and their culture. You cannot therefore, Nathaniel, believe that the butchering of a people’s language can be a laughing matter unless you are the proverbial idiot that sings wedding songs in a funeral.
You must know it by now that language is a network of signs and symbols that are indexical of power relations and cultural differences. Disrespecting and messing a people’s language can be compared to laughing at their gods and urinating in their temples. I know for a fact that Rino Zhuwarara, just like some of us, introduced you to Paulo Freire, Ngugi wa Thiongo and Chinweizu amongst other thinkers of Africa and the global South. So, what are you doing with this nonsensical colonial linguistics that you are even failing to explain? You make me feel that you have been a big waste of school fees. Come on Nathaniel; don’t be such an excitable victim of the colonial syllabus. On language please revisit Fanon: “Language carries the weight of a civilisation.” Learn that. Don’t make it your pre-occupation for cash or for whatever cause to make jokes out other civilisations that are not your own.
For your benefit Nathaniel, and the benefit of others that might not know, let me explain to you your problem. When colonialism came, the colonists found our ancestors with their many gods and they replaced the many gods with one God. They found them with many languages and they sought to replace the languages with one language, the English language in our case.
Lewis R. Gordon has written that the colonists found many knowledges and sought to replace the knowledges with one Eurocentic knowledge. Where colonialism found multiplicity it replaced it with an imperial singularity. In that logic Nathaniel, decolonisation must be a defence of multiplicity. You become a colonist yourself when you celebrate the death of any Zimbabwean or African language Nathaniel! It is the duty of all decolonist to preserve the multiplicity of our cultures, identities and indeed languages.
The source of this problem of yours Nathaniel is not difficult to decipher. You have in your disposal what Valentin Mudimbe has called a “colonial library.” You cite in your article, to defend your colonial linguistics M.A.K Halliday. Nathaniel Manheru; that is where your problems begin.
However, let me assist you. Michael Alexander Kirkwood Halliday is an agent of imperial and colonial linguistics. He was deployed by his teacher at the London School of Linguistics, John Rupert Firth to China as an attaché to spread the gospel of “general linguistics,” a model of linguistics that took English as the language of the world and other languages as potential languages. When Firth made the popular phrase “you shall know a word by the company it keeps” he meant many things including that the languages of backward people were backward languages.
Firth, the teacher of your linguistic hero Nathaniel was a cultural imperialist. He deployed T. F Mitchell to Arabic speaking countries, Michael Halliday to China and Frank Palmer to Ethiopia as his agents that would help assimilate other world languages to the English language. Their gospel was that languages are just “acts of meaning,” and as you echo them, have nothing to do with worldviews and identity politics. These cultural imperialists and colonial linguists called themselves “generalists” who are “wandering” in the “highways and byways” of world languages. These were imperial linguistic and cultural tourists that can be compared to Joseph Conrad in literature. This gang of cultural colonist took other people’s languages as museum objects and simplistic codes for the exchange of meaning, not living languages.
The work of these cultural imperialists Nathaniel was a kind of cultural and linguistic voyages of discovery. What in your side of hell Nathaniel are you doing with this imperial linguistics in your library? And how dare Nathaniel you waste space in a national publication preaching colonial linguistics to Zimbabweans in the guise of fighting imperialism? You are in the wrong basket in linguistics Nathaniel, just like you are in politics, I am beginning to suspect that in a big way you have misled the leadership of Zimbabwe with your incompetence at handling political and cultural issues in a post-colonial setting. If you Nathaniel, or anyone wishes to achieve a handle of decolonial politics, linguistics and semiotics try and read Argentinean philosopher and Semiotician, Walter D. Mignolo, and he will liberate you from your misery.
Away from that colonial linguistics of yours, Nathaniel, every language and identity in the world must exist and must have a right to be protected from vandalism by cultural imperialists and colonialists. Urgently unlearn that nonsense that you have learnt from cultural imperialists that gestures to that languages have nothing to do with identities, lives and cultures of their speakers and writers. The colonists said languages were not sacred because they wanted to savage and destroy other languages to build their own, get out of that frame Nathaniel; you are not impressing anyone but nauseating all those who understand these things better.
The Political Silliness of Nathaniel Manheru
Besides his colonial and colonising politics, together with his imperial and colonial understanding of linguistics, Nathaniel Manheru can be very silly politically. He claims, for example, that Mugabe has a “wily personality” that allows him to fool his opponents, including “like to appear dozing” in public. What are you smoking Nathaniel? Mugabe is a ninety something year old man who is doing poorly in health and who now sleeps in public and suffers frequent explosions of senility. Don’t try to fool anyone; was he also being wily when he said “pasi ne ZANU-PF!” at the congress?  Stop being a sit down comedian.
Grace Mugabe’s rantings against factional opponents is called by Nathaniel Manheru the arrival of “new politics” in Zimbabwe and possibly in the region. This is pure baloney Nathaniel and don’t repeat it in public. Grace Mugabe has squandered an opportunity to introduce new politics that is divorced from the paradigm of war and genocide by going back to the old ZANU-PF politics of insults and violence. As things are Nathaniel, the toes that you and Grace Mugabe are busy stepping on, might be toes that, as they say, are attached to hinds that you will soon be forced by history to kiss and lick. Humility in victory or in loss is the biggest strength in poilitics.  As soon as the protective shadow and symbol of Mugabe is gone, that excitement that allows you to describe genocide as a myth, and that allows Grace Mugabe to rubbish war heroes and tell the men of Gwanda to stop having sex will evaporate.
There is also this silly claim that you make Nathaniel, to the effect that the Zimbabwean “masses found their power” and that there was “energy from the village” when Grace Mugabe forced Mugabe to restructure your party by expelling some of his war time comrades. Don’t try to perfume nonsense and lend dignity to a bedroom coup by pretending in public that it is people power. As things stand Nathaniel you are a poet and a court jester speaking on behalf of a family oligarchy and pretending that it is a national party. The Mugabes long forgot about the nation and the party, you are a family megaphone, get used to that, and you are reporting straight from the sidelines of the bedroom.
When you patronise your “little mother” and the other unfortunate lady who married into your clan and invite us to laugh at their problems while trying to learn Shona you are not doing a good job. Tell us one other Zimbabwean language that you have tried to learn. In that episode of your “debauched” article you sound like an old colonial and slavish master laughing at a sweet little native trying to learn the language of the master.
Languages and their content are heavy historical and cultural symbols that you may not at your pleasure reduce to a comic strip, let others learn your language and learn other peoples’ languages, and a nation will be built. Don’t fold your hands and laugh at servile daughters in law scrambling to learn your language the way Cecil John Rhodes might have done. The Kalanga people that you wish to patronise as victims, ask them, talk to their historians and researchers, you will learn that they have a proud history and glorious legacy that your party and government has stifled and silenced. This is the same with the Venda, Tonga, Sotho and other language communities in Zimbabwe.
When you complain that your critics who are aggrieved at the butchering of the Ndebele language are elites in Harare and in the diaspora you say more than you intended Nathaniel.
I can argue now that you are sure that Gukurahundi closed all the schools, it killed most breadwinners and you are sure that no Ndebele child was educated enough to be able to challenge you except a few who escaped to the diaspora. And how do you know that it is only Ndebele people who are angry with you? Somehow you are right in that belief. The objective of Gukurahundi was exactly that, to erase a history, to silence a culture and to shut some mouths and leave only yours as the mouth of mouths, like any other imperialists you will have a world after your own imagination; but that is silly and idiotic Nathaniel, all your life you won’t sleep, fearing the vengeance of some victims and survivors, not knowing when judgement will visit you. Observably, Nathaniel you are one arrogant but very ignorant quantity, so uninformed but confident in that bliss. At another level you are, as a thinker pathetic to a point of innocence and needing serious hand-holding.
Finally, for a long time now you have been complaining, Nathaniel, about the victimhood that victims and survivors of the Gukurahundi genocide are perpetually holding onto. Nathaniel, there can never be any victimhood without victimisation in the first place. Take for instance the plight of Khulekani Ndlovu, a 33 year old poor, unemployed and unemployable villager who does not have a birth certificate, or national ID, and never went to school because his parents, victims of Gukurahundi are dead and buried in a shallow mass grave in Lupane. Do you believe, even in your simple mind that Khulekani is the same villager as those that you were dancing with in Chinamhora? Can you blame Khulekani for bearing a permanent injury? Khulekani cannot even vote in the elections that you claim Mugabe always wins. Khulekani is not alone, many of his like are in Hillbrow in South Africa scrounging for survival, and they all know how their problems began. Are you not lucky that no one from ZIPRA has so far mobilised all the Khulekanis in Tsholotsho, in Hillbrow and elsewhere, trained and armed them, and came to make war upon you?
Talk first about the restraint, the responsibility and the peaceful suffering of Gukurahundi victims Nathaniel, before you rant about victimhood. Before you make the irresponsible allegation that some people are “inventing family tragedies” to appear as victims of Gukurahundi, you are only laughing at other people’s bereavement, and it is not a wise thing to do.
Another Politics is Possible
It’s not all lost with the colonial politics, imperial linguistics and political idiocy of Nathaniel Manheru. Zimbabwe can still achieve another politics and another life.
Politics, as those who have explored the works of such thinkers as Chantal Mouffe will confirm, can remain conflictual, with us versus them, but it can stop being antagonistic and become agonistic. There is no need for a moral register where those who oppose us in politics are enemies, but we can have fierce political competition as adversaries and not as enemies. We can move from politics as the ‘will to power’ and achieve politics as the ‘will to live’. The Kalanga, the Nguni, the Tonga, the Venda, the Sotho, the Nyanja, the Tonga, the Shona and all other cultural and historical groupings and collective identities can be allowed to celebrate their culture and worship their gods in Zimbabwe without anyone fearing anything, it must be the job of nation builders and politicians to weave these different groupings into one political community under one flag, what Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau call, a “unity of wills.”  It is possible in the political to get different language and cultural communities to willfully and happily sing one national anthem without colonising and imperialising them, and that should be the mark of decolonial and liberating politics.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Pretoria based Zimbabwean Political Scientist and Semiotician: