Why Mugabe and Malema are heroes to some

The death of Fidel Castro, one of the world’s most iconic leaders of 21st century last week was received with mixed feelings. And rightly so, he was a man of contrasting contradictions as one Chofamba Sithole put it. A polarising figure, even in his death. Regarded as a champion for the poor by some and a ruthless dictator by others.

For us socialists, Cuba is a living testimony on the virtues of socialism. Despite harsh and spiteful sanctions by the almighty powerful United States and her allies Cuba managed to provide quality health care, education and public transport free of charge to all its citizens.

Lest we forget, Cuba is only but a tiny island of about 11 million citizens but its contribution to Africa’s liberation struggles is solid and impeccable. Even during this post-colonial era Cuba has remained our friend, with some African countries benefiting from the health services provided by Cuban doctors visiting on a rotational basis.

The Paradox

However, being a social democrat, my love for Fidel Castro who was an autocrat by any definition is by itself a paradox or rather an oxymoron. I am sure many other social democrats are at pains trying to explain away this contradiction. For fear of being too simplistic, I will not join in this Castro bashing bandwagon. That would tantamount to throwing the baby out together with the bathwater. Fidel Castro had his flaws, he was human after all but to look at his flaws and ignore what he achieved for his country is nothing but reactionary.

For all his flaws, he cannot be faulted for not having a genuine concern for the poor, the underprivileged and the oppressed unlike some thieves, we erroneously address by some fancy titles such as presidents and prime ministers here in Africa. All they are good at is just talk, they preach the virtues of socialism by the day and practice their crony capitalism by the night.

These thieves and murderers, masquerading as revolutionaries surprise me, they too have a strong following and support base like the iconic late Fidel Castro. I must admit, I have struggled to grasp this paradox for a very long time. I just could not understand how an incompetent, corrupt, murderous thief like Robert Mugabe, could be so popular on the continent more so considering the state of affairs of Zimbabwe and its citizens.

Dear reader, if you are a Zimbabwean I know it is a hard pill to swallow, but yes, Robert Mugabe is actually received to wild cheers at international gatherings across the continent. They sing him praises and even glorify him as the true champion of black people.

These praise singers have no desire to acknowledge Gukurahundi, the murderous military campaign he carried out in the provinces of Matabeleland and Midlands in the early 1980s. Their so-called champion of black people is actually a murderer, but do they care? It does not seem so. Have they not heard about his glaring incompetence and corruption?  Yet they remain unmoved, Robert Mugabe is their champion and their hero doing a sterling job, ruining and transforming our beautiful Zimbabwe into the mess it is today.

During my stay in Europe, I have encountered a lot of Africans who see Robert Mugabe in a positive light. In the beginning, I always tried to offer a counter narrative, pointing them to Gukurahundi and how the country was run down by his incompetence and corruption. But I quickly learnt that no one was buying into my narrative. Thus, I began to speak my mind less and listened more to what they had to say.

During that process, I gained some valuable insight into this paradox. If you will allow me, I want to share them with you. They might not be profound, but they can help explain why these thieves have a solid support base and can be at times very popular.

We are creatures of habit

We are told human beings are by nature creatures of habit. I was reminded of this truism a week ago, when a friend of mine was celebrating Obama’s legacy on his Facebook wall. He was expounding how much he loved and admired Obama. Being the eager pan African I am, I sought to expose Obama’s imperialist credentials and put his legacy into a different perspective. I commented on my friend’s post with a website link to Obama’s drone policy record in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, where 90% of the several thousand killed were civilians. Mind you that Amnesty International and several other human rights organisations have even suggested that the US drone strikes could be classified under international war crimes. But no sooner had I shared my link than I received a harsh rebuke, I was told in plain terms that anti Obama sentiments were unwelcome on his wall.

When people fall in love with a political party, a politician or a demagogue, logic becomes secondary to their emotions. Never expect these people to be rational, like a woman in an abusive relationship they will make excuses for their party or leader. Just like my friend who did not want anti-Obama sentiments on his wall or the American people who elected Donald Trump, when people are in love with their party or politician they are unwilling to listen to facts, they are in a ‘post truth’ bubble, the truth does not matter to them.

The same bubble had to burst for the former vice president Joyce Mujuru and her party members to see how Mugabe and their Zanu PF they adored so much had destroyed our beautiful country. If it was not for their expulsion we can only but guess that today they would still be in Zanu PF, glorifying Robert Mugabe.

In the land of the blind the one eyed is a king/queen

malemamugabe

The average African citizen has given up on the leadership on the continent. Poor leadership is ingrained in his/her subconscious, he/she does not expect much anymore. Despite Mugabe’s many faults and shortcomings Africans regard him as their hero. They respect him for standing up against the ever bullying and patronising West. This is because leaders in their home countries share Mugabe’s many faults and weaknesses, but they do not have the spine to stand up to the West. Surely in this land of the blind the one-eyed Mugabe appears as a king.

The same goes for Malema. I do not need to work in the South African public protector’s office to know corruption when I see it. Everyone knows he was a ‘tenderpreneur’ benefiting corruptly from his ANC association. Yet Julius Malema is the most popular politician across the continent under the age of 40. It is because he is bold enough to talk about the difficult questions that South Africa cannot afford to ignore. Another one-eyed king in the land of the blind.

In as much as one might despise Robert Mugabe and Julius Malema for their lack of integrity, one cannot disagree with their views on land and our natural resources. For Africa, cannot begin the serious talk of decolonisation without addressing the land question and the exploitation of our natural resources.

Young people Arise

When ordinary people celebrate mediocrity, it is a clear sign that there is dearth of leadership on the continent. But as long as young men and women of integrity shun away from politics, from speaking about Africa’s natural resources, from standing up to the ever bullying and patronising West, Africa will forever be held at ransom by these fake revolutionaries.

A new generation of leaders must arise, leaders who will speak to these Pan African issues and more importantly visionaries who will fulfil Africa’s full potential.

Reflections on why the Bond note demonstration failed

Ndabaningi Sithole replying to his younger brother in a letter in 1977 raises a very interesting point on renewal and regeneration: ‘Seriously though, Mas you and your generation must begin to formulate and express your views on all and every issue. My generation is on its way out, whether we like it or not. We have done our part, sometimes not as well as we might have liked to.’

Unfortunately, four decades later we are still stuck with the same leadership; yes, that very same leadership that Ndabaningi Sithole said in 1977 was on its way out. Even the heavens seem to be conspiring against Zimbabwe’s regeneration. The old is refusing to die and the new cannot be born.

However, this year has been a bit promising. Young people have stepped up and have begun to play their part, reclaiming their space and taking full ownership of their own destiny. They are leading from the front, calling and organising demonstrations and stayaways. Doing exactly, if not more than what Ndabaningi Sithole expected from his young brother’s generation.

But if we are to be truly honest with ourselves, recent demonstrations and stayaways have been quite unsuccessful. It might seem we have taken a step back but rest assured our struggle is going forward. At such times, we can only but draw inspiration from Abraham Lincoln’s words ‘revolutions do not go backward’. But to make this statement true for Zimbabwe, we must interrogate the reasons why recent demonstrations have flopped and learn our lessons.

Thus, this article is not meant to bash those who are stepping up, but is an attempt to provide a few lessons for our struggle going forward.

Coalition building

Winston Churchill’s remarks to his private secretary just a few hours before the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union are quite instructive to this politics of coalition building. The secretary inquired how Churchill, an anti-communist, could reconcile himself to being on the same side as the Soviets. Churchill’s reply was clear and unequivocal: ‘I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler and my life is simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of commons.’

This is the attitude pro-democratic forces need to embrace. They might not agree with one another on many issues but they must build alliances and work together for they share a common enemy.

It does not help that student, labour union, political party and other grassroots movement leaders learn about a demonstration they are expected to participate with their constituencies through social media. If constituencies they represent are important in making a demonstration successful, it follows that they must be involved in the planning and organisation of the protests.

Everyone is free to exercise their right to protest. But to build proper mass protests, we must start working together and stop trying to outdo each other.

Grassroots mobilisation

This takes me back to my time as a student leader at Great Zimbabwe University. We once organised a demonstration against an increase in the catering fees. We knew everyone was against the fee increase and therefore assumed that everyone would join in. Unfortunately, our demonstration was a flop not because people did not agree with us, but because we failed to prepare.

At least we learned a valuable lesson grounded in political realism. Human beings do not always do what they ought to do, sometimes they need a strong push. Mass action is rarely impulsive, it needs cultivation and proper organisation. Twitter and Facebook might be good tools to help spread the word but they are inadequate. There must be mobilisation on the ground and yes this requires a serious investment in both human and material resources but there are no two ways about it.

What is the end game?

This is the most burning question we still need to address. People want to know the immediate objective of any action they are to undertake. It is perfectly legitimate for people to raise this question because in the arena of politics, people are primarily moved by self-interest, after all protesting in Zimbabwe can be quite costly.

People have participated in demonstrations in the past and yet none of their concerns have been addressed. Under such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that some people can become a little disillusioned.

In order to counter this disillusionment, we must make our objectives unequivocally clear for everyone to understand. Secondly, we must learn to pick our battles. We can’t call for a demonstration after every two weeks, this makes the whole exercise very tedious for most people. We ought to be a little more creative in our protesting, we should not restrict ourselves to just street demonstrations. Finally, we must pursue our objectives to the end. We cannot protest against corruption and stop when no one has been arrested or at least fired from government. If through our actions we  do not achieve our objectives then we must do a rethink of our actions.

Change means friction

As Saul Alinsky in his book Rules for Radicals informs us ‘change means movement and movement means friction, we should never expect change to come without the abrasive friction of conflict.’

When we demand change, we must be sensitive to the process of action and reaction. We must anticipate the regime’s actions and adapt our tactics to shifting circumstances, we cannot afford to become trapped in our own ways.

I sincerely believe that our ability to pick ourselves up and learn the valuable lessons we can learn from last week’s temporary setback will determine if this generation of young men and women have what it takes to give birth to a new Zimbabwe.

I remain hopeful, a new Zimbabwe is possible in Mugabe’s lifetime.

Tendai Biti’s National Transitional Authority is nothing but a distraction

The so much hyped American election has come and gone. Who would have known that the people were so much dissatisfied with the American establishment? They voted for Donald Trump showing their contempt for the establishment.

‘One cannot disregard the people’s concerns, taking their lives for granted for over a very long time and expect them not to react.’

This should have been the message the Zimbabwean opposition got from the American election. Unfortunately, our opposition and civic organisations are far more concerned about their funding which is threatened by a Trump presidency.

We must embrace and rephrase this anti-establishment rhetoric sweeping across the western world. Make it suit our local context and re-energise our support base. We can and we must win elections against the Zanu PF rigging machinery. It’s not like we have never been there before, we beat them hands down in 2008.

Zanu PF is vulnerable and it knows it. There is too much infighting and a glaring lack of cohesion within the party and its hierarchy. We must utilise this moment, 2018 is not far, elections are upon us and boycotting is not an option. We boycotted all the by-elections and neither did that stop the sun from rising nor did the AU or SADC lose any sleep over it.

We must wake up and make hay whilst the sun shines. Zanu PF is already preparing for 2018 elections. It has realised the impact and implications of its fight with the war veterans, which is why it is now frantically trying to woo them back by splashing $20 million on new vehicles.

Contrast this with the opposition which is still in disarray. It’s less than two years before the next elections and the opposition does not have a plan. Instead of concentrating on making the coalition a reality which is supported by nearly everyone, some members within the opposition are throwing new ideas up for discussion. This proposed National Transitional Authority (NTA) has become nothing but a distraction to the opposition. I have no doubt whatsoever that Tendai Biti and his party have good intentions but we must not forget that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Since this idea is already in the public domain the sooner we can conclude this discussion the sooner we can start concentrating our energies on the creation of the coalition.

What is NTA?

For the Benefit of those who may not be aware of what this NTA is, I will recap just a few pointers so that we can be on the same page. Tendai Biti, his party and a few other intellectuals are saying that Zanu PF cannot be defeated through elections under the current conditions. They also think that the opposition is too weak to demand electoral reforms or to mount a credible challenge against Zanu PF 2018. Thus, in their view the only viable way to ensure free and fair elections in the future, is for all political players and civic actors to negotiate and create an authority that can manage the economy and the transitional period. The NTA is to be comprised of apolitical technocrats and guaranteed by AU and SADC.

Why would Zanu PF Give Up and Accept this Transitional Authority?

This whole proposal hinges on Zanu PF’s willingness to give up power and capitulate to this new authority. Forgive my ignorance but I have tried and failed to understand what magic trick would be used to force Zanu to agree to this arrangement.

I have asked leading and prominent members of PDP the very same question but no answers were forthcoming. How then do they expect ordinary citizens to buy into this idea when they cannot answer this primary question?

Of course, this is nothing but my simple logic at work here, if at all Tendai Biti and company can devise something that can compel Zanu PF to give up power, why not use that something and force Zanu PF to accept free and fair elections?

AU and SADC are the Guarantors of this NTA

Expecting the AU and SADC to play a significant role in this NTA is contrary to reason. I thought Tendai Biti at least learned something during the Global Political Agreement negotiations which were facilitated by the AU.

Let me put it bluntly, the AU and SADC are neither interested in democracy nor in regime change. Their philosophy is plain and simple ‘they believe in the sovereignty of each individual state and in the case of conflict within the state they believe in peace at whatever cost’.

As far as they are concerned, Mugabe won democratic and peaceful elections in 2013. The AU and SADC no longer have the will nor the desire to take on Mugabe on this issue. Mind you South Africa which is one of the most influential countries within both the AU and SADC is facing its own challenges. There is massive social unrest in South Africa and Zuma is battling for his own survival in the ANC.

I so much doubt that the South Africa government would want to add anything on its plate at the moment.

The legitimacy of the TNA

Tendai Biti attempted to answer this question in some video that was posted online. In his view, this question was a non-issue, he said the NTA could be treated in the same way the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was treated in 2008.

I find this response quite surprising coming from a democrat, how can the issue of legitimacy be a non-issue in any political discussion? Is he forgetting that the political parties that negotiated the GPA derived their legitimacy from the March 2008 elections which were deemed free and fair by everyone?

So, if we are not going to have elections in 2018, where would those who are going to negotiate this NTA derive their mandate from? If the mandate is to be derived from the 2013 election, then Zanu PF has got almost all the political bargaining chips in its hand. In any case, this presents legitimacy issues since the parliament’s term of office will be coming to an end.

Mugabe will not be negotiated out of power

To visualise Zimbabwe’s present day dilemma we must borrow from Antonio Gramsci who said ‘Our crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born’.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind in Zimbabwe that Mugabe and his Zanu PF are an impediment to the country’s progress and development yet so far we have been unable to organise ourselves and build momentum to force them out of power.

Mugabe will not be negotiated out of power, he is so much preoccupied with a strong desire to die in power. He is not even prepared to hand over the reins to one of his lieutenants. When are we going to wake up to this truth? We know it in our hearts of hearts, if Mugabe is going to leave it is because we have pushed him out of power.

We must show our seriousness in our quest to remove Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF from power by coming together without fail. The opposition must sign a memorandum of understanding with one another and start organising and leading protests, demanding clearly stated electoral reforms. The united opposition must go into Zanu PF’ stronghold areas campaigning vigorously on Zanu PF corruption, exposing the lavish lifestyles Zanu PF leaders are living at the expense of the rural folk.

Let no one be fooled, removing Mugabe and Zanu PF from power is not be a stroll in the park, our recent history has shown but this is not a fight we can afford to shy away from.

A new Zimbabwe is possible.

 

We must take a stand together: No to Violence

I had initially planned to pen an article challenging Tendai Biti and his party on their proposal of the National Transitional Authority this week but I just could not bring myself to ignore some videos I saw on Facebook. I found those videos quite disturbing. How can a normal human being bash a woman like that for failing to repay $6? Honestly where did our humanity go?

Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to discuss this simmering problem in our society. Violence has become so rampant. It has spread like a cancer to every aspect of our society. Its used to settle social disputes, to whip political opponents into line by the political elites and by the state to suppress dissent. If we are to meaningfully reduce violence in our society, we must look ourselves in the eye, confront some of our behaviours and certain aspects of our social life that have enabled this vice to thrive.

Social learning theory

Sociologists in what they term the social learning theory suggest that an individual learns behaviour, including criminal or violent behaviour by observation. They say our social environment has a direct impact on our values, beliefs and our general behaviour. Children who were victims of abuse or who often witnessed their parents resolving their differences through violence learn to believe that violence is a reasonable way to resolve conflict.

Kids also pick up on inconsistencies between what we say and what we practice, which is why I think we need a serious rethink on the philosophy of spanking kids. They say ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’, but disciplining a child is not synonymous to spanking them. Spanking sends a message to the kids that violence is a tool to either settle differences or to set someone straight. How can we be surprised by the level of violence in our society, if we are actually teaching our kids that violence is okay?

We must also hold our patriarchal culture to account for some of this violence in our society. It has falsely taught young men that they must enforce their natural rule over their wives and children then as they are the head of their houses. More often than not this justifies and encourages male violence and mistreatment of women. Although women are most often the victims of domestic violence, gender roles can and are at times reversed.

What is more worrying is that this violence permeates right to the top in our society. At one point in time, Robert Mugabe bragged that he possessed degrees in violence, boasting on how he beat Morgan Tsvangirai “takachidashura”. Such statements from the highest office in the land condoning violence can make young people believe that violence is an acceptable behaviour in settling differences.

The stain/stress theory

Let’s face it, everyone in Zimbabwe is under some level of stress. A majority of our citizens are living in abject poverty. Even those who can make ends meet, struggle with the level of uncertainty in our economy. In as much as most individuals can deal with stress in socially acceptable ways, the strain/stress theory argues that stress has the ability to trigger drug abuse, violence and aggression in some individuals.

Thus, as part of the fight to reduce violence in our society, we must also confront our government that has pauperised a majority of our citizens, forcing them to engage in petty crimes and prostitution in order to keep their homes afloat.

It is not surprising that when people who are struggling and in most cases failing to make ends meet catch these petty criminals they unleash violence and dehumanizing treatment. It’s because they have so much stress, anger and frustration bottled inside. Whilst I do understand their levels of stress and frustration, I think they must channel and direct their anger and aggression towards the government which has failed in all its responsibilities.

I hope by paying attention to these social factors that contribute to an increase in levels of violence in our communities, I am not seen as making excuses for those individuals that engage in these violent acts. Rather, my intention is to identify these factors that can help us reduce the levels of violence in our society.

We are our sister/brother’s keeper

We must stand up and make it equivocally clear that we do not tolerate violence as a tool to settle our differences, emulating that group of fearless women who went and confronted the man who had beaten a woman over $6. However, perpetrators of violence must not just be confronted and condemned, but must also be offered treatment and healing.

Our society must show zero tolerance to violence.