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Tale of a society in self-denial

By Chido Makunike

ONE reason Zimbabwe’s problems continue to worsen is not just that many of them are now of a nature that defies quick or easy solutions, but that we as a society are often less than honest

about even owning up to them.

There are many aspects about our reality, past and present, that we need to confront with more brutal honesty than we do now if we are to have any hope of grappling with the many challenges before us in any sustainable way.

The official violence that has been unleashed by the government against the people in the last few years is not at all a new phenomenon to this society. Zimbabwe has certainly been fortunate to have escaped the nation-wide post-independence civil strife we have witnessed in many other African countries. But we have also been “peaceful” in a way that has been misleading; by dint of having certain narrow parameters of acceptable conduct. As long as things seem alright and we are not particularly inclined to push the limits of those parameters of what is considered acceptable behaviour, we are left alone and lull ourselves into thinking we are the citizens of a free society.

We consider the violence that was employed to bring Ian Smith to the negotiating table as an honourable aberration in our peacefulness, one forced on us by the conditions of the time.

But in the process of this sort of clever justification of it we also lost sight of the negative ways entrenching the idea of violence as the ultimate solution to problems has affected us in the post-independence era. We so focus on the atrocities of Smith’s government and our response to them that we downplay the licence to violence amongst ourselves that was spawned.

For instance, the rapes and beatings that have become an instrument of control today were common in the liberation struggle as a form of internal control, although it has always been considered blasphemous to discuss them. For the rulers of today who instigated and took part in them in the process of asserting dominance over their rivals, they are a quite legitimate form of political campaign. They are genuinely puzzled when the methods we allowed them to practise during the struggle under the guise of fighting Smith are today called “human rights abuses”.

Before, they could be broadly justified as part of the “collateral damage” of the struggle. Today the rapes and other abuses committed by the Green Bombers and other regime-aligned militia as forms of control can also be justified by the need to use unorthodox means to fight off the imperialist barbarians at the gate! The fact that we hurt ourselves more than the purported enemy in the methods we use to fight that claimed foe is neither here nor there. Those are pie in the sky philosophical luxuries we cannot indulge in at this critical phase of the anti-imperialist struggle!

So whether one looks at the methods of physical, legal, propaganda or other abuses of sections of the Zimbabwean public that are taking place today, they are not new methods for the ruling regime at all. When the threat to it has been minimal, it could afford to give an appearance of being an expansive, democratic government. When feeling threatened, it has had no hesitation to use “any means necessary”, fair or foul, to ward off that threat.

This has affected the society in ways far deeper and more significant than the political. Is the on-the-job soldier, policeman or ruling party warlord who is given tacit or active licence to rape, beat or kill people as part of the ruling regime’s tactics of control going to go home and be a normal husband and father off-the-job? Is his on-the-job “political” behaviour not going to be reflected in his off-the-job “personal” behaviour? Is this not part of why we have such an epidemic of domestic violence, rape and other forms of dysfunctionality in this “peaceful” society?

Are the many manifestations of depravity in the home, church, at work and elsewhere not connected in many ways to the brutalisation we have become accustomed to from our leaders? Are we not naive to divorce the political brutalisation we experience from President Mugabe’s regime to the rage, helplessness, unhappiness and guilt that finds expression in violence at all levels, greed and corruption and so many other social maladies of today’s ailing Zimbabwe?

Before Independence the methods of control by those in power today included the aforementioned rapes and beatings, high profile assassinations and so forth. The fascism we are witnessing in Zimbabwe today goes a long way back if you really think about it. Today it has been bolstered by having control over the instruments of propaganda, economic and military resources and so forth. This is why genuine change will require more than just the replacement of Mugabe and his government. It will require the interrogation and overhaul of the whole set-up of our society. Economic renewal can only be a result of this more fundamental kind of renewal, it cannot produce it.

In war-time propaganda, including outright falsehoods, is considered a part of defeating one’s enemy. It was employed by both sides during the liberation struggle. The liberation movement had no trouble winning the propaganda effort because most people the world over saw its aims as just and supported it. Today the same people who successfully led the propaganda effort then cannot seem to see that the current one is failing because they have lost the overwhelming support they once enjoyed. To much of the populace they control and the world beyond, they now look no different from the oppressors they once fought and defeated.

Just as the Rhodesians’ own propaganda to themselves helped to shield them from the power of the foe they were fighting in a futile way, today’s propagandists undermine themselves by their lies more than they convince anybody!

Part of the disastrous results are that we lie to ourselves about the possibility of “bumper harvests” when we have over several years very carefully ensured that they cannot possibly happen any time soon, quite apart from the latest drought we are in at the moment. Year after year, as we become poorer, hungrier, weaker and more dependent, we delude ourselves with all sorts of magic wand economic initiatives, trying to escape the harsh reality that there can be no economic renewal without a political and ethical renewal that is simply inconceivable as long as the very principal authors of our multi-faceted degeneration as a society are still in control.

The most tragic way we cheat ourselves as a society in crisis and decline is by pretending that there can be any appreciable way to arrest and reverse our fall as long as Mugabe, his regime and all the negative values that they represent rule Zimbabwe. There can be no regeneration of a genuinely free, peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe until not just the head of the system, but the system itself is overhauled. None of the desperately hopeful stop gaps such as the latest clever budget by Herbert Murerwa, catchy new land jingle by Jonathan Moyo, fancy new monetary statement by the latest claimed national messiah Gideon Gono, the tossing of a few crumbs by the Chinese government or any other friend of the month: not one of them will make any of the required difference to restore a ruined Zimbabwe until we stop being in denial about the fundamental nature of our problem.

We have been extremely reluctant to do so because it would require us to personally and collectively make decisions which we are currently too cowardly and irresponsible to do. We will continue to plunge rapidly until we cease being a society in denial on so many fronts.

* Chido Makunike is a regular contributor based in Harare.

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