Candid Comment with Joram Nyathi

It’s an insult — and intellectually dishonest

THIS is what Nathaniel Manheru said in the Herald recently in defence of dictatorships and summation of the African psyche: “Going by what is happening in Ethiopia and Kenya,” he wrote, “i

t is clear Africans forgive their tormentors, sooner rather than later, forgive and even yearn for the return of the deposed strongman, than imagining or inventing totally new ones, unrelated to excesses that have endured before. Africa seems incapable of imagining futures outside of what it has endured.”

That was his angry reaction to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s decision to accede to the request by newly-elected Liberian leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to hand over former strongman Charles Taylor to answer charges of “crimes against humanity”. He said Obasanjo should have followed Zimbabwe’s example on Mengistu Haile Mariam or Saudi Arabia’s hosting of what should rank as the scum of the African conscience, Idi Amin.

I wasn’t sure whether he was angry on behalf of the humanity in Liberia and Sierra Leone who had their limbs amputated as part of Taylor’s regional campaign of terror, the humanity in Uganda who were disembowelled by Amin and had their bodies fed to crocodiles or on behalf of the dictators themselves that he claims their victims “yearn” for their return.

It was convenient to leave this a moot point because Ethiopians, Liberians and Ugandans wanted these dangerous recidivists tried and punished for their crimes. Zimbabwe has refused to surrender the butcher of Addis Ababa to the Ethiopian authorities. Whatever the reasons for this posture, they have contributed to the way we are perceived by the rest of the world — an outpost of tyranny.

On Manheru’s claim that Africans love their “tormentors” and are “incapable of imagining futures” outside of what they have “endured”, one question should suffice if he can answer it: what motivated nearly 50 000 Zimbabwean men and women to sacrifice their lives for Zimbabwe if not that they were “imagining” a future as a free and independent people? Can anything be more patronising and insulting of one’s own race?

This week he outdid himself. He was angry on behalf of unnamed patriots over a cartoon done by Tony Namate for the Zimbabwe Independent, captioned “26 years of bird flu”. Namate’s name, he opined, “is used to indigenise what at the core is a Rhodesian thought and view of African independence. I know and can recognise self-deprecation when it’s presented. We do not have it in this case.”

An African mind is evidently incapable of such abstract thought, I assume. It must be the Rhodesians. Africans are incapable of imagining a better future beyond a construct given them by their oppressor. That illogical logic then takes us back to a yearning for Ian Smith’s return to sustain Manheru’s thesis!

He gave the cartoon an outlandish interpretation, claiming Namate’s depiction of the cockerel questioned the “fact of Independence, not the credentials of those managing it”. It is like blaming food shortages not on incompetent farmers but on agriculture as a science. Even as a metaphor, how can one possibly criticise “government” outside those who frame its policies and the agencies that should implement them?

Manheru’s deceit is further exposed when it is noted that the cockerel is not a national symbol but a party one.

Our Independence came with “Zimbabwe” in 1980 and the symbolic expression of that sovereignty is our national flag. Why then the attempt by Manheru to excite and incite hatred against the Independent by conjuring up false national symbols? Do Herald readers come that cheap? Why does he interpret our current problems as a given and not the result of conscious political and economic decisions that went wrong?

The answer is to be found in his strange logic: Africans are perpetual victims of a vile colonial past and should not accept the consequences of their actions. It is a denial syndrome typically suffered by state ideologues.

I was also alarmed by Manheru’s attempt to assume the moral high ground about who can comment on who should be a national hero. That is one subject I believe everybody should be free to debate without Manheru setting arbitrary parameters. We should all be equally free to criticise the decisions of those who, because of their seminal role in the liberation war, think they are infallible.

Who is Manheru to pronounce the hero’s curse over the bodies of James Chikerema and Ndabaningi Sithole about their war credentials when the rest of us are not allowed to comment? And isn’t Morgan Tsvangirai speaking to the future that Manheru claims we can’t even imagine?

The 1970s liberation struggle and the current fight for democracy amply demonstrate that Africans can in fact imagine a future better than the past and the present. And Manheru should know that giving sanctuary to former dictators cannot be counted among the virtues of pan-Africanism.

However, there is another view of Manheru’s assertion which yields a brilliant shaft of light that could illuminate the arcane gloaming of our political institution. His claim that attacking government

amounts to a desecration of the “fact of Independence” beyond criticism of those who have mismanaged it makes a hostage of those in power. It is not their incompetence nor their stars that are at fault.

The problem is providential. It is the piece of land between the Zambezi and the Limpopo that is not amenable to proper governance. That should explain why nobody can fire anyone in government. Similarly, nobody has a conscience to resign for bungling. It is all a matter of predestination.

It is very convenient and makes perfect sense!