THE present condition of economic and political disrepair in Zimbabwe is not by some angry God up the sky or bad tempered ancestors down below the soil. We are in this hellish condition because of the thinking, decisions and actions of some men and women in the leadership of the country.
Like an abused child, Zimbabwe has been clobbered, raped, sodomised and in many ways violated by those who claim to love her most, and those from whom she expected protection and care. Our polity and economy have produced a social climate that has made beggars out of civil servants and turned resourceful entrepreneurs into vendors, hawkers and peasants in a few weeks. Curious and industrious journalists have been turned into, wanted dead or alive, dissidents. School teachers have been turned into small time willers and dealers who survive on petty corruption. All of us in this proud country, unless if one is politically connected and can extract bribes and rent somewhere, have been produced into second hand people who wear second hand underwear from the East and the West, scavengers of leftovers and droppings from our former colonisers and present imperial overlords from the East, as we are looking East.
In the political corridors, every morning, friends among politicians have to call each other to exchange silly jokes just to confirm if they are still friends since allegiances are changing over the night and the days. The politics of politics that I write about in this article is exactly that, the political, the thinking of how to do politics in such a way that it preserves life and helps enemies to live together rather than expecting that enemies will come to an end.
There is no day in Zimbabwe or elsewhere that we will achieve a world where all of us pray to one God, agree on everything and enjoy what Emmanuel Kant jokingly referred to as the “perpetual peace of the graveyard.” Among the living, perpetual peace is not feasible because of our diverse identities and the scarcity of resources and our competition for them.
As the economy further shrinks and the polity degenerates in Zimbabwe, enmities and conflict will escalate, if left unmediated they might explode into a bloody civil war, and make a big Burundi out of everything. The factionalism that is spectacularly playing itself out in the ruling party and the opposition political groups is present in the civil society organisations, in companies and even sporting clubs, churches and families. Everyone is either a friend or an enemy as the deprived people of the postcolony compete for real and imaginary power. Advertisement
The Friend and Enemy Relations
Carl Schmitt effectively soiled his good name with his dalliance with Nazi thought and politics. But, his moral insufficiencies should not cloud our appreciation for the intellectual wealth that he bequeaths the global academy. His observation that politics is fundamentally defined by “friend and enemy relations” is still a stubborn truism today. Called factionalism, divisions or whatever, friend and enemy relations in Zimbabwe have been left to rocket to the giddy heights. Time tested friendships that date back from the liberation struggle and jail times are being broken and history textbooks are getting expired as those that were called heroes have their heroism being taken away by the same people who used to sing their praises and exclaim at their legendary gallantry. The dictionary of politics is expanding everyday as new insults and profanities enter the language of daily politking in Zimbabwe. Striking symbols and signs have also entered the languaging of political communication in the country; a graphic of Professor Jonathan Moyo mounted on a clobbered looking crocodile is not an object of naughty Photoshoping, but a representation of the political semiology of the times. The political and historical moments in Zimbabwe have reached that level where signs indeed get to speak much louder than words.
Politically, Zimbabwe has arrived to that which Ulrich Beck ably called “a risk society” that is marked by the risk of death and fear for life. War types with the hardihood of monsters are living in fear in Zimbabwe and most of them except those who never had it in the first place are losing weight as political and physical futures increasingly become uncertain. Politics may be called all things from the art of the possible, the art of government, the management of public affairs and manufacturing of public consent for private agendas or whatever; in Zimbabwe it has dangerously become the risky handling of enemy and friend relations. It is for that reason that I argue that the politics of politics, the political as the art of turning enemies who must be destroyed into adversaries who are legitimate and can be tolerated has come. Thinking with Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, I argue that time has come for antagonistic politics in the country to be mediated for agonistic politics, the terms of the political game must change from the paradigm of war to ethical competition where the opponent can be overcome without being destroyed or else Zimbabweans must brace for a genocidal civil war. As I write, all political parties in Zimbabwe, Zanu PF included, have effectively become opposition political parties splintered along the lines of enemies and friends, and plotting the demise of the other and drafting their obituaries whilst they are still alive. Later in this article, I will signify the chilling meetings that Robert Mugabe recently held with his two vice-presidents away in the Far East. Before that, I seek to use the intellection of philosopher Achille Mbembe to view what exactly is taking place in the Zimbabwean economy and polity, so that we may appreciate why the times are ripe for the politics of politics in Zimbabwe, why the madness of war must make way for ethical political gamesmanship that does not produce many dead bodies and can allow the polity and the economy to mend for the political happiness of the multitudes.
The Trial of Achille Mbembe
In the powerful rendition on the “representations of the intellectual” and their responsibility to society, Edward Said says something beyond his famous statement on the need for intellectuals to “speak truth to power.” Edward Said notes the importance in intellectuals to be embarrassing, to embarrass and to be prepared to be embarrassed in the process of thinking and intellection on power. Thinking and writing about power, politics and the powerful people is a dangerous experiment that needs a person who is prepared, passionate or high on some cause and some sensibility that prepares one to be a burnt offering if necessary, as long as the point is made at the end.
In effectively departing from the beaten path of the social sciences and to open new avenues of looking at power and politics in postcolonial Africa, Achille Mbembe has taken risks, experimented and gotten properly high on sensibilities that have allowed him to speak in the university seminar room and the library from the locus of enunciation of the taxi rank and the flea market. Mbembe has brought to life in the academy signs and sensibilities of politics of the barbarians, hooligans and touts in their laughter and crying. In theorising the voices from below and from outside, Mbembe has made a contribution to the politics of politics, the attempt to forge another way of thinking and doing politics. After Mbembe’s intoxicated and indeed intoxicating intellection, one may ask, what the importance of powerful ideas is if thinking about power and politics can be fleshed out in the beautiful, ugly and sometimes devastatingly embarrassing sensibility of the poor people.
In the chapter “ Aesthetics of Vulgarity” which also appears elsewhere as “ Provisional Notes on the Postcolony” Achille Mbembe thinks and writes of the African post independence political condition and experience of power in importantly disturbing ways, risking waking up sleeping devils or disrupting the busy gods. In portraying how the powerful behave in Africa, and how the powerless respond to the behaviour of the powerful, high on the motivations of kwasa kwasa, and imaginative provocations of the novelists in Africa, together with his long access to the classical French philosophy, Mbembe becomes a Peeping Tom, peeping through the keyholes of the bedrooms of power and nests of the powerful, to witness the nakedness and orgies of rulers and the ruled. As a result, body parts, sex organs, orifices, body fluids, gratuitous sex and going to the toilet are all mobilised by Mbembe as ways of understanding how power lives and works in the postcolony such as that of present Zimbabwe.
The grotesque and the obscene, economies of pleasure and pain, distortion and exaggeration are all terms in which the lies of power are masked and equally unmasked. Thinking of governments and governors by analysing; seeing them as the big anus that dispenses the big shit is an experiment at understanding the shitty condition of the poor in Africa, such as the troubled people of Zimbabwe.
In this Kwasa Kwasa world in which Mbembe thinks from the dirty bodies of the poor who are in misery but are singing and dancing, chanting the party slogan and also mocking power, shit is a powerful language. The dictionary of thinking and speaking about politics is expanded, vulgarity and hooliganism, sick jokes and profanities are used to carry the weighty political feelings and thinking of the day. For example, in the Zimbabwean political moment, rulers of the land are no longer cartooned in the media and in toilet graffiti; they cartoon themselves in words and indeed.
The big rallies, ceremonies and processions where the state parades its magnificence and displays its generosity once or twice a year are not different from the big opposition rally where the opposition leader shows his attendance, his people force. The big message of pomp and ceremony just reveals a lot of noise and dust but hides that in actuality one person has become the state, and that all that appears as the freedom to sing and dance is a big celebration of domination. The chickens and the turkeys celebrate the same Christmas when they are slaughtered in the hundreds in big festivals that are naturally followed by massive shitting, and the smell that approaches the heavens. In this way, the oppressed participate in their oppression and the oppressor participates in his impending destruction. The same faithful mob, the singing crowd and ululating multitude is the same that will tomorrow morning participate in theophagy, tearing apart and eating without salt the same god that they prayed to yesterday evening. For that reason, power, in such a postcolony as Zimbabwe is a big lie and a weakness, because many people might seem to have it in abundance but they, in actuality, don’t. Deep inside the praise song of the flatterer and the slogan of the sycophant is mockery to the autocrat. State events and party ceremonies of the opposition and the ruling clique where colours, shapes and sizes are displayed turn the powerful and the powerless into zombies, political activity becomes a celebration of zombification with emphasis in suspending thinking and exaggerating action, even thoughtless action. Presently in Zimbabwe, most political and economic activity is thoughtless beyond repair.
In the postcolony, Mbembe observes a lot of silliness which is dressed in the jacket of nobility and majesty, allowing very important people to totally make fools of themselves in the guise of doing power. Fictions, myths and fables of power are taken to dizzy heights, in the process, instead of talking sense to the masses, politicians openly engage in delirium and hallucination, and the press prints this in the morning as headlines. Credentials, titles and honours are venerated leading to the faking of academic and struggle credentials, and the important history of the country is re-imagined after the image of the Father, the head of state, even if it is a female head of state, that which Grace Mugabe has poetically become, she becomes a father because the postcolony is a phallocracy, rule by the stiff penis. Ali Mazrui presented this as warrior politics in Africa, but it actually becomes reducible not only to spears and bullets but the penis as, in the observation of Mbembe, politicians and leaders make it an occupation to spend time “exploring virgins.” In Zimbabwe, this has been witnessed in the holy churches, ruling party and the political opposition where the leaders of the people and the men of god have “open zips and closed minds” bringing many babies into the violent world of the Zimbabwean postcolony.
The world of the postcolony that Achille Mbembe observes and in a big way constructs is strangely colonial in that the leaders of the people behave like settlers from another continent or even planet. The authority, or the commandment as Mbembe calls it elsewhere, behaves like people with exceptional knowledge and rights, the divinity, who treat citizens as primitive natives and barbarians who can only survive by being guided and civilised by the almighty rulers. That is why Mugabe’s wife believes she can rule Zimbabwe even by pushing around a senile and finished Mugabe in a wheelchair. If this is not achieved by the systematic distribution of fear and pain, violence; it will be achieved by domination through pleasures, money handouts, food, donations and the tyranny of the penis, after all this is a domineering phallocracy.
In thinking of politics, power and the people in Africa, the way he has done, Achille Mbembe uses his trained mind and refined prose to express the political sensibilities of the taxi rank, the village watering hole and the graffiti on the toilet halls scripted usually in shit itself, commenting on power. The profanities uttered by taxi rank marshals as the presidential motorcade wails in a safe distance, the insult of the unpaid civil servant and retrenched worker, together with the curse of a deposed government official and party functionary scream throughout Mbembe’s narration. This is a trial as Mbembe himself tries and experiments with another way of reading power, politics and the people in the postcolony. It is also a trial in that Mbembe himself is tried, on what exactly he is high on, the sensibility that sponsors such thinking and expression, that is generous and dangerous, excessive and naughty occupies the interested reader. In thinking and writing power from the sensibility of the vulgarity and hooliganism of those who are outside and who are below power, Achille Mbembe delves in what Ngugi wa Thiongo has recently called “poor theory” that thinking which comes from the poor and peripherised but is deeply rich in its meanings, which is the kind of thinking that present Zimbabwe is dying for, not the tired thoughts of the tired incumbents, not even the big ideas that Mhofu burns the late night candles looking for.
Zimbabwean political rallies of the ruling regime and the opposition are spectacular dramatisation of imaginary power and glory in a land of abject poverty and scarcity. Both the leaders and the led have a dangerous understanding of power as domination and politics as a dirty game of fraud, force and foul play. The leaders of the opposition who propose to replace Robert Mugabe reproduce him in every word and deed and mimic his tyrannical style of leadership in letter and spirit. The unity of the opposition political parties that will enable them to defeat the ruling regime remains unachievable because some opposition political leaders have a go it alone and one man show approach to leadership that they have copied from Mugabe himself. The observation of Professor Masiphula Sithole that if you leave two Zimbabweans on the moon for a week when you return you are sure to find them having formed three political parties remains true as Professor Siphas rests in peace.
Even more dangerous in Zimbabwean politics is the naturalization of the myth that there are politicians who have people and those who do not have people; owning the people is a hallucination Zimbabwean politics have turned into commonsense. Morgan Tsvangirai became a crowd puller in Zimbabwe because he was packaged as a hero by the international and local media, and the hope and the fear of oppressed Zimbabweans made them believe at the time that Tsvangirai could use the labour and the students to do to Mugabe what Chiluba in Zambia did to Kaunda, a dream that turned into a nightmare. No matter how many blunders Tsvangirai makes and how many women he abuses he continues to feed on the myth that he has the people, he has a big tent as if he was born at a rally. In modern liberatory politics people are manufactured through campaigns and are not owned by any politician, and this should be true in present Zimbabwe.
The divisions in the ruling party and the political opposition have turned all the political parties in Zimbabwe, the ruling party included, into opposition political parties that have to defeat themselves and their thinking first before they are able to set afoot a new imagination of a new Zimbabwe. As a result, elections in Zimbabwe will remain what Thandika Mkandawire called repetition without change. So deep in Zimbabwe is the false thinking that Zimbabwe was born one day and that it will remain the same, when gifted scholars such as Benedict Anderson have correctly observed that nations (and countries) are imagined communities that must continuously be reinvented to better them and their people. Both in the ruling party and the political opposition in Zimbabwe imagination and the fantasy of a new Zimbabwe that must guide liberatory thinking is forbidden. What continues to happen is the revision of the history of the country after the image of the Father, Robert Mugabe. As a result, in the main, politics in Zimbabwe continues to attract strange individuals who are surprisingly popular but are not capable of any performance in the politity; turning the Zimbabwean parliament into some kind of an asylum of many personages with strange and worrying conditions.
Once Upon a Time in Dubai
Before I enter a signified exposition into the interesting encounters between Mugabe and his two vice–presidents in Dubai recently, I must observe the condition and experience of journalists and journalism in present Zimbabwe where politics have degenerated to the extent where the poor messengers are being politically shot at point blank range. Visibly, it is the scribes from the privately owned and independent media that are in trouble but behind the scenes where the devil hides, journalists from the state controlled media are in more serious and increasing trouble. As Zanu PF splinters the scribes in the public media have to watch their steps, check who they quote and make sure that they play within the right political basket. These fellows literally walk on eggs every day as they seek to avoid stepping on sensitive factional and political toes in the ruling party; for these guys, journalism has become a hard hat area where each scribe secretly wishes they were a sports or environmental writer, away from the economy and politics that is filled with crocodiles that have left the waters and wander in the forest, as Minister Mushowe has indicated. Journalists are being warned away from peeping into affairs of the army because a powerful but drowning Crocodile is busy trying to clutch at the military as the last straw, for survival. The desperate hope is to angle the army in such a way that Mugabe will say, I cannot demote this man without angering the dangerous soldiers, only him can calm them, it is too little too late by me. Robert Mugabe is still alive and wide awake to what is good for his political legacy, his family and his fortune when he goes. Never mind the international intelligence agencies that yearly create rumours of his death in order to observe the mood on the ground in Zimbabwe and attempt to provoke delicious political drama, the CIO feed on this as well and they help the rumours, preparing the world for a back to life Mugabe who runs down the plane in triumph as he arrives in Harare from the Far East, esizakubona lonyaka!
Separately, the two vice presidents have been summoned to Dubai by the presidency, Robert Mugabe and his wife. The first question to each of the vice-presidents, in this signification was “so when exactly do you want me to leave?” Cleverly, both of them threw their hands into the air and said words roughly to the effect: “why are you thinking of that your Excellency? You are not going anywhere; thank God you are getting stronger by the day! We still need your wise guidance,” uttered in feigned complaint and surprise. After total loyalty and allegiance had been established, came the long rope from Mugabe, “You can see the condition of the country and the happenings in the party, the divisions and infighting, and the threats from the opposition and their backers, if you were me, what were you going to do?” To this, the Crocodile threw the live snake back to Mugabe, “ you are the leader Gushungo, and Amai is here, give us the wisdom and the orders and we will do what must be done,” with emphasis on “ Amai is here” as she rolled her big eyes in affirmation and silent celebration. The Leopard fell back to his strength of being the supposed unifier, the representative of ZAPU in the unity government. “All of us your Excellency, under your leadership should do more to unite the people, the trouble makers are few and they are isolated in few provinces in Mashonaland, we should quickly rein them in before the preparations for 2018 elections begin in earnest.” In brief, Dubai was a moment for the presidency, led by the First Lady, to look at each of the vice presidents in the eye and demand loyalty. They were given a long rope and they used it to tie themselves to the possibility of demotion early this year, to make way for a female vice-president as per the demands of the Women’s League and representations of the last party gathering in Victoria Falls. The whole world and all of us must prepare for the political will of the Mugabes to be done in Zimbabwe if a bolt of creativity does not strike some people in the political corridors of the ruling party and the political opposition in the Zimbabwean postcolony.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Pretoria based Zimbabwean Political Scientist and Semiotician: firstname.lastname@example.org.