Zimbabwe: How people start jokes that could hurt them

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By Seewell Mashizha

THE number of Zimbabwe’s political parties keeps growing, with no let-up in sight. We are now at 134 contestants for the 2018 harmonised elections. It would not be at all surprising if between now and July 30 we there are more expressions of political intent by individuals and organisations we can justifiably describe as oddities rather than serious contenders in the power game.

Wanting the Political (Finances) Act amended, two minority political parties recently filed an urgent chamber application to have the 2018 harmonised elections deferred. Kisinoti Mukwazhe’s Zimbabwe Development Party and the Voice of the People party, presided over by Moreprecision Muzadzi, had their eye on what they probably see as a political cake whose financial windfall can breathe life into their largely academic campaigns. This is what prompted the wry comment from Chief Justice Luke Malaba who made the observation that the formation of a political party is not an income-generating project. Chief Justice Malaba directed that new political outfits desist from burdening the courts “with claims of a share from the election campaign fund awarded in terms of the Political Parties (Finance) Act.” He had no kind words for the action brought by the minority parties and unequivocally declared:

The formation of a political party is not an income generating project. The taxpayer’s money cannot be used to fund upstart political parties which may not be bona fide.

Even more emphatically Chief Justice Malaba went on to observe:

A situation where political parties are formed and registered to participate in a general election, simply to secure funding by the State, cannot have the effect of promoting multi-party democracy.

It does seem that the Chief Justice’s assessment of the situation is spot-on. This becomes even more apparent when you look at some of the names of the political parties. How can any serious political aspirant lead a party he or she calls the Democratic Opposition Party? To enter the political fray with one sole aim – that of becoming the country’s opposition is hare-brained and ridiculous, and invites suspicions of being motivated by expediency and avarice.

In potentially tense situations such as those usually associated with elections, some comic relief is always welcome, particularly if it is well-planned and intentional. There are, of course, instances in which, willy-nilly, we reap farcical dramas that set the whole country laughing. As I write this I can hear the Bee Gees crooning the song “I started a joke” in the background. The lyrics of “I started a joke” are thought-provoking and evocative, and are carried by a bewitching melody: The most pertinent words in the song go this way:

I started a joke, which started the whole world crying,

But I didn’t see that the joke was on me, oh no.

I started to cry, which started the whole world laughing,

Oh, if I’d only seen that the joke was on me.

I looked at the skies, running my hands over my eyes,

And I fell out of bed, hurting my head from things that I’d said.

Before we go into how this song relates to Zimbabwe at this point in time, I must beg everyone’s indulgence regardless of where you situate yourself in our country’s current political matrix. Comic relief will do us all some good. Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu got it right in an article of his from years ago where he unequivocally extolled the virtues of introspective humour, even when that humour borders on self-derision. In other words, Ndlovu was saying it can do people a world of good if they learn how to laugh at themselves whenever the occasion demands it. Since we live and learn at the same time, there is always something that comes out of the kinds of situations in which we may not have put our best foot forward. We can always glean a few words of wisdom here and there, and sometimes the hard facts of life blast our ego to smithereens and thereby restore a sense of equilibrium to our skewed sense of reality.

Back to our song. Like the persona in “I started a joke” Comrade Wamba started a joke that started the whole world laughing. The problem, however, was that he did not, in the end see that the joke was on him. This is why the Chamisa Challenge has been trending on twitter and left right and centre, people came in with fantastic claims about Nero having been there wherever and whenever something important and novel was occurring. Thus, for example, according to these comics, Chamisa was there when Jesus Christ of Nazareth had to feed the five thousand. It was he showed Jesus how to stun the multitude with a brand new miracle involving five loaves of bread and two fish. Wamba was also the one who coached Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton, thereby enabling them to enunciate the theories that have kept them relevant long after their demise.

It all started with an incidental handshake in Davos years ago. Nero has since released a picture in which he is seen looking sheepish as he shakes Rwandan President, Paul Kagame’s hand. The picture was meant to authenticate his claims about being the genius behind Rwanda’s rapid economic development and transformation and that indeed it was his ICT blueprint that set everything in motion. But Kagame brought Chamisa back to earth with a nasty bump. Writing on his twitter handle Kagame made the following frosty entry:

“1st my name is Kagame not kagama 2- I don’t know this man & no discussion ever happened with him anywhere . . . 3rd Rw’s ICT policy,projects & progrm started before mdc formation and politics! I wish the people of Zim well!”

The way incensed and flabbergasted Rwandans rallied behind their president is not only a lesson in patriotism to the out-of-sorts Nelson Chamisa, but could also have sparked a diplomatic incident given the status of the MDC-T in the country. One Rwandan civil servant, Yolande Makolo writing under her twitter handle @YolandeMakolo said: “He’s lying. Never heard of him. He has nothing to do with any part of our economy. And Rwanda’s ICT plans were already being implemented in the 90s. Before the MDC even existed.”

If that is not a slap in the face, I wonder what is. There is no way that Yolande can have known about Advocate Chamisa having earned himself the nickname “Comrade Lieson” for lying so openly and frequently in an attempt to stun his audience with his now predictable name-dropping stunt. He is trying too hard to gain capital by association with known icons and other not so prestigious characters like Donald Trump. He is looking for third party endorsement.

What Chamisa seems unaware of is the linguistic affinity between Kinyarwanda (Rwanda’s common language) and ChiShona. The two languages are intelligible to each other. In fact, veterans of the DRC war will tell you that no translation was ever needed when interrogating a Rwandan prisoner of war. History records that on their way south groups that became what we now know as Shona-speaking people passed through the Great Lakes region and in fact, sojourned there for a while. In consequence, the language of those passing through and that of indigenous others as well as that of the travellking groups that opted to settle coalesced.  This is the kind of relationship that exists between the language spoken by the people of what used to be Barotseland in Zambia and the Sotho language introduced among them after the Makololo invasion and conquest of their area. So Paul Kagame did not need an interpreter, hence the swift reaction. Now Chamisa has a headache arising out of questions pertaining to his credibility and from the things that he himself enunciated. That is the import of the lines:

I looked at the skies, running my hands over my eyes,

And I fell out of bed, hurting my head from things that I’d said.

Chamisa must rein in his runaway tongue and pay closer attention to detail. It is probably not far-fetched to say that he probably needs official speeches despite his “hyped” oratory. Eloquence must be weighed against substance. Failure to always do this reduces a man’s words to a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the English bard.

Chamisa’s flippancy and the frequency with which he makes pronouncements that are in the end an embarrassment to himself and to his communications people and supporters who must defend him regardless, is a trend that he might live to regret. He is threatening, even if inadvertently, to walk in the footsteps of those who give Africa a bad name. What with sexist outbursts such as promising his eighteen-year old sister to ED Mnangagwa if the latter should make an impression in the harmonised elections of 2018.

We need to make our elections more dignified and less farcical by taking the voting public more seriously.