Opportunity for a new political culture in Zimbabwe

Daily Maverick

The political crisis offers citizens an opportunity to examine the path Zimbabwe has traveled since independence. Zimbabwe needs to build a new democracy. Citizens must ask themselves whether they want to join the rat race towards self-enrichment of a few or work towards solutions that benefit all. That requires a new leadership that is totally accountable and dedicated to the people.

The events of the past 48 hours have been more than dramatic and have kept most of us on edge. Now that we are no longer speculating and a clearer picture has emerged, we need to start thinking about what brought us here, and more importantly, where we are going from here as a nation.

Given where we have been, perhaps this moment was inevitable and even necessary. However, a military intervention sets a dangerous precedent. If the current players in power do not manage the events carefully, we could end up in similar circumstances that led us where we are in the first place. The military cannot be the solution. The way forward is that the military should act purely for the good of the nation, with clear benevolent and non-partisan intentions. We need a transitional phase, where electoral reforms can be put in place and the field opened up for free and fair elections, within a stipulated period. I would even suggest an all stakeholder Indaba/Dare to be held as part of the transitory route towards elections.

We should also think in terms of a new dawn, a new political reset. We should think of the possibility of detaching from the continuation of the old, which has led us here, and to think everything afresh.

We cannot build a new democracy when we have internalized the same value systems that define the majority of the Zimbabwean elite in our communities today. You cannot transform to a new democracy when the change drivers remain greedy, continue to make vulgar consumerism a trademark of the culture, adopt lifestyles and value systems that distance them from their own people and make them lose touch with the real needs of the people. For the most part, the actions of the emerging and current ruling elite represent only their own narrow personal and class interests.

A society of mass poverty, on the one hand, and massive wealth in the hands of a few, on the other, cannot develop the necessary conditions for the creation of the national wealth to its fullest potential, nor can it be democratic.

Yet, it is in this very same depressed economy where the norm has been that the affluent flaunt their wealth and exhibit conspicuous consumption. It’s now clear that the stories we have heard of obscene greed and crude individualism are just the tip of the iceberg in an opaque and toxic environment where collective consciousness and social commitment have steadily been disappearing and in its stead replaced by a rapid decline in the moral and political values of those who lead or claim to lead.

It seems stealing has now taken a cultural proportion, and undoing it requires a total overhaul of supervision and other management structures – guided by a wholesome new thinking and a worldview that looks at the circumstances one is surrounded by and consciously deciding on an Ubuntu/Hunhu based response. Impunity, unaccountability and total disregard for standard procedures have become the norm for many entities (and other structures of government), and there is no doubt the rot has been injected from the top.

The pioneers and prime movers of this toxicity — lifestyle and value system — are found within the political class that was created by ZANU-PF, which is why it is difficult to solve, and has spread throughout the country. This is also why, even within the political opposition (and some civic organizations), this cancer stands out and now defines who we are as Zimbabweans today. What we have here has long since gone past partisan politicking and finger pointing. The point is to hold the whole nation to account and to alert people that this is a time that requires individual changes in approach towards life if we are going to come up with lasting national solutions to the problems that confront us.

The saying, that we cannot change our problems by the same thinking we used when creating them applies here.

There is no literal English translation of Hunhu/Ubuntu, but it is associated with a concept of humanity that entails qualities of human empathy and a willingness to share and forgive. These concepts would require our political leadership to break with the ideals of individualism, greed, and the private ownership of wealth that is less inclusive and ignores the condition of other human beings.

People are justified to ask how a total overhaul can be done when the political pillars that created and nurture this culture are still intact. To define change in this rot means you have to stick out and be fearless, to be a constant pain in the behind of the system, and to let everyone know that it is not going to be business as usual.

When we engage and condone acts of corruption, we help to seal our own fate and the fate of our children to lives of poverty and misery. This is because proper business enterprises cannot flourish in an atmosphere dominated by corruption. Without proper business activity, economies cannot grow. So ultimately, the problem of corruption becomes both personal and political; the temptation for private, immediate gain becomes a public and chronic nuisance, which also harms the perpetrator in ways one cannot immediately see or understand. No nation can hope to progress until it rewards and encourages those who have properly earned wealth (allowing them to keep it) not by virtue of position of power, but by virtue of the honesty and efforts by which that wealth was created.

Walter Rodney characterized the politics of the African petty bourgeoisie in Africa and the Caribbean as the politics of retrogression. The politics of retrogression comprises many features: the concentration of power in the hands of the petty bourgeoisie; the destruction of popular participation and expression; the manipulation of race, ethnicity, religious differences and other divisions among the people; the institutionalization of corruption; the vulgarization of the ‘national culture’ as an element of class rule; and the deliberate distortion of revolutionary concepts.

The political groupings that house our politicians are the fertile grounds for an ideological framework that allows the old politics of retrogression. There has to be movement towards institutionalizing a new political culture that will eventually shift power from the current corrupt and unrepresentative political groupings, to local communities whose chosen representatives will primarily be accountable to the interests of local communities and not to those of a small center that monopolizes power in the national political groupings.
This monopoly of political power and control by a small center has made it difficult to cultivate leadership based on local politics (as in communities people live in). People should create leadership résumés with traceable footsteps going back to where they came from. The norm, rather than the exception, should be that by the time someone gets to the national arena, they have clear leadership footsteps showing, among other things, their ability to lead, their moral caliber, and their ability to articulate and solve issues. We need to think afresh and develop new forms of self-organization.

One can argue with some level of accuracy that the whole gamut of political riff-raff that is in the arena today is not interested in transforming that environment, but in maximizing its domination and establishing a single authority as a vehicle to control the environment towards desired ends. The toxicity of a 37-year entrenched mindset that ZANU-PF created has to be transformed. One cannot pretend to work within it without replicating the same behaviors.  We need to hear more discourse articulating alternative scenarios!

Among its many elements, the toxic environment creates a mindset that sees individuals as invincible. It has created a political system where, among other bad habits, a few power players can choose representatives on behalf of constituencies, where the Executive, created by this corrupt party system, has demi-god status with the power to seat and unseat any institution in the country, from parliament to the land’s highest courts. This is what we have right now and it is not changed by circulating people who were mothered by the same umbilical cord and were raised from it, but by cutting off the cord and intentionally creating conditions for nurturing a new thought process.

The struggle should be looked at as stages where different generations have to identify issues of their time and make the decision to carry the struggle to the next stage.

In our case, the nationalist phase of the struggle is clearly coming to its conclusion – another generation should grab the torch to make its own decisions and to take its own route. The struggle is not necessarily a continuous/linear route joined together by an unbroken chain of events. It might start one way and end up completely different – diluted and corrupted. On the other hand, most of us have very short term expectations and vision. We expect instant results and gratification. We fail to visualize beyond what is in the immediate vicinity. In our quest for instant victory, we fail to see the larger goal, to realize that struggles can be in stages, each setting a block to build a foundation that the next struggle (or generation) can step on and lay another brick following the tradition of the struggle – in our case, the Chimurenga tradition.

What is important for each generation is to have guiding pillars of what constitutes the struggle. Some have alluded to “total emancipation” of the people as one such guiding pillar that each generation could use to measure stages of the struggle. Distribution of national resources could be another, and so on and so forth. If these pillars of the struggle are well defined in a manner that provides each generation with basic guidelines, it makes it easier to not only identify the “bootlickers and running dogs” but also, as Marley told us at the start of our independence, to see “who [are] the real revolutionaries” working towards defined goals to change the condition of the people.

Laying solid bricks to build these foundations – even one at a time – would be a check on the individualism and greed, which is fueling the politics of retrogression; on low self-esteem, which makes people vulnerable to vices like bribery; and on ignorance, which can make a neighbor to slaughter another at the command of corrupt politicians. This is the kind of self-hatred that brings disregard to other humans who look like us.

We are at the crossroads and as individuals we have to ask ourselves whether we want to join the rat race towards the self-enrichment of a select few by any means possible – including prostituting our souls – or work towards solutions that will intervene on behalf of the whole.

The question for this generation of Zimbabweans is why are we waiting for leadership to reemerge from the same generation of people who we criticize as having failed us? There was a time in the lives of these leaders when the conditions of their times called upon them to lead. They took the challenge against incredible odds and created conditions that brought about African nation statehood. Where is the new generation of visionaries to give Zimbabwe another era of people-centered movements to usher in economic independence? If we are not prepared to take leadership roles and make our own mistakes as we try; we will continue to be an invisible generation immobile to the demands of our times.

Where are the new cadres of visionaries in economic liberation? What are the important issues of our generation? What is the prize on which our eyes should keep focused?  These are the issues African movements in opposition to the existing establishments must preach about verbally and practice in deed.

These roles are not delivered on a silver plater.

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