Editor’s Memo

Two sides of a coin

Joram Nyathi

MY editor Vincent Kahiya is away attending a funeral. He lost his father on Monday.



ns-serif”>At first I thought I should write something light, about how Christmas has died and how people are so stressed out and broke it is hard to be happy.

Even about how I am unable to go to Mberengwa to see my mother this Christmas because of the biting fuel crisis. All that changed on Tuesday.


In his brilliant book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Brazilian psychologist Paulo Freire wrote to the effect that nothing so fascinates the oppressed person as much as to be like the oppressor. “To be is to be like the oppressor,” he noted.


This observation neatly dovetails with French philosopher Voltaire’s aphorism that nothing is easier for the slave to use than the methods of his master.


I have in the past thought of these writers in relation to Zanu PF’s alleged use of violence against opponents and its fascination with Ian Smith’s infamous Law and Order (Maintenance) Act (Loma) which it has further honed into the catch-all Public Order and Security Act (Posa). Better than Loma, Posa has put the country in a virtual permanent state of emergency in relation to gatherings, demonstrations and political activities.


The same writers came to the fore again as I was reading MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s briefing to the Harare diplomatic community on Tuesday. This is what he said of his “erstwhile colleagues” who participated in the senate election three weeks ago:


“We are fully briefed and painfully aware of the extent to which Zanu PF is the dynamic force behind the destabilisation of the MDC. Our erstwhile colleagues are not reading from an independent script. They are not free agents or autonomous operators. Instead, they are Zanu PF’s fifth column inside the MDC. We are aware of the level of logistical support and the quantities of material assistance that Zanu PF is providing to our erstwhile colleagues.”


This is the kind of language and reasoning that former Information minister Jonathan Moyo would have loved to hear. After all don’t they say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery? We all know what President Mugabe thinks and says about the MDC — its origins and its mission in Zimbabwe. Whenever he sees the letters MDC, he sees the shadow of British premier Tony Blair — hence the “anti-Blair election” in March. Whether he believes it or merely trots it out for propaganda purposes is neither here nor there. The point is that the contagion is taking a deadly effect in the minds of those who claim to be different and fighting for a better Zimbabwe.


The meaning of Tsvangirai’s words is simple and devastating in its implications. That which is overtly loathed in the oppressor is covertly admired. The soldier for democracy subconsciously envies the power and the tactics he is seeking to fight in the enemy.


Unfortunately it is not just Tsvangirai who is guilty of envying the oppressor. We all saw and heard how the warring factions in the MDC were only too happy to use the state media to attack each other. That includes footage of Tsvangirai’s supporters burning the T-shirts of MPs who have aligned themselves with the other faction.


There has been no pulling of punches in the trading of insults here. The Zanu PF slogan “Down with so-and-so” is being freely reproduced at public meetings. This is a question of scoring points and hoping that he who shouts the loudest will win the contest.


What is evident is that we are still far from a democratic people. Like Zanu PF, we all see our opponents as enemies to be destroyed by whatever means necessary. Somebody once said that we cannot change our current conditions so long as we continue to think and use the language of the present. I took this to mean that a dictator is defined by his methods and tactics, not the colour of his skin or the name of his political party. So long as we love to use the language and tactics of the oppressor, we haven’t moved an inch towards the goal of democracy and political tolerance.


This I have heard said by colleagues in the MDC before and after the March parliamentary election. They say if the MDC had won that election, they would have pleaded with their leader to allow them at least two weeks of havoc to deal with their “enemies” in Zanu PF. That way they would be mollified.


It reminds me of an ethical-cum-legal paradox eloquently expressed by political activist Barbel Bohley of Germany soon after the fall of the Berlin wall: “We wanted justice and they gave us the rule of law,” she cried in disgust. While she had spent years fighting injustice in East Germany, she was herself not averse to exacting revenge.


The truth is that we cannot practise democracy before we are democrats. That means we need to respect the dignity of the individual as a constituent member of the broader democratic society we aspire to establish in Zimbabwe. It is not enough to attack Zanu PF for one to qualify to be a democrat when we are secretly fascinated by its modus operandi. It is time to face the truth and think and behave differently if we wish to be different.

A new constitution on its own is not enough to restrain those with a penchant to breach the law. Let’s learn to be democrats at heart first. That starts with the leadership, from language to actions.


I don’t know which diplomats attended Tsvangirai’s briefing. If it was the usual lot that has in the past pronounced the elections free and fair even before voting took place, they must have loved what they heard. On the other hand, those from countries with a tradition of democracy must have been hugely embarrassed listening to Tsvangirai speaking — and acting — like Mugabe.