Candid Comment

The language of violence

By Joram Nyathi

“AT the extreme end we met with fierce resistance, brickbats, name-calling and came face to face with naked personal hatred, smear campaigns through the rumour mill and physical h

arm as well as death threats directed at the person of your governor and his team from a number of unusual quarters some of which should know and do better.”


This was Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s summation of his experiences in the three weeks since the launch of Project Sunrise on July 31.


At the other extreme there were people and institutions that were more than supportive of Gono’s effort to meet his tight deadline for the change-over from the old bearer cheques to the new ones. There is no doubt that those throwing brickbats constituted an ignoble minority given the inconvenience that we were all enduring in trying to carry out simple transactions.


Having said that, I must point out that as a nation we seem to be nurturing a bad culture. The personal hatred and the brickbats Gono refers to may stem from policies that are executed with an air of vindictiveness that is incompatible with his pious appeal to a righteous God on our side. We are instilling in the nation negative attitudes that people need to be intimidated, harassed and tormented before one can get the required results.


I have already commented on the suddenness of Project Sunrise, launched as if the target were some foreign troops plotting mischief in the country that needed to be ambushed.


What is worrying most is the obvious pattern of human rights violations, abuse and dictatorial impunity that go with the execution of such “shock-and-awe” operations in what should be ordinary national programmes.


There is nothing to suggest that Zimbabweans are any different from other human species who understand only the language of violence and military-style operations. The pattern started with the attacks on the banking and financial services sector in 2004. The trauma of that experience was not restricted to the promoters of banks but also affected customers and depositors.


Most of the depositors who lost their funds due to that RBZ blitz now have a very negative perception of all indigenous undertakings which they, wrongly or rightly, view with suspicion. Is indigenous entrepreneurship worth supporting or are they all given to sharp practices and cutting corners at the expense of their customers?


Operation Murambatsvina, though not directly linked to the Reserve Bank, came with the same brutal force as Gono’s Project Sunrise and government’s ruinous land reform programme. The only difference is that the land reform programme had no one in charge. It was a free-for-all exercise with nobody monitoring the process or willing to take responsibility for what was happening on the ground.


From the start of that programme when President Mugabe declared that he wanted to strike fear in the heart of the white man, Zimbabweans, regardless of their colour, have never known peace.


As poverty has deepened, so have Zimbabweans been forced into unconventional means of coping with their situation. Most of these coping mechanisms have been negative, but not everyone is engaged in madhiri. But their experience at the hands of the authorities has not been different, mainly because of this unnatural penchant to coerce in a retributive manner.


Our approach to national policy execution is very wrong and very bad. Nobody wakes up tomorrow to voluntarily declare that they don’t want to be patriotic, they don’t love Zimbabwe any more or that they want government policies to fail.


It is the way bad policies are imposed on people that has the effect of creating enemies and the so-called detractors that are lurking in every innocent citizen. Policy implementation appears to create more enemies than there actually are on the ground.


I doubt if Gono would point to the 3 000 odd people arrested during Project Sunrise as the real enemies of the state who have derailed all efforts at economic recovery. Considering their namelessness, it would be strange if they wield such an overwhelming influence over the fate of the nation. Government is forcing people to lose faith in its ability to get things right and better their lives.


In his review statement to stakeholders quoted above, Gono did acknowledge that there were “rough edges” to his “policy strategy”. But this is no consolation for the poor villager who lost his life’s savings in an operation that is unlikely to dramatically improve his life.


That trauma cannot be assuaged by the RBZ’s admission that its mammoth operation recovered only $1,4 trillion while leaving a whopping $10 trillion “trapped into the wilderness of underground markets”. That reads like failure to me.


Gono was nevertheless relentless in his pursuit of detractors engaged in money-laundering activities, telling the nation they would “face the full wrath of the law”. This is another of those typically Zimbabwean traits where the law is always full of wrath. In civilised nations the law is supposed to be fair, impartial and commensurate with the offence.


A policy that has a buy-in from the public and is clearly enunciated doesn’t need the threat of violence posed by the army, youth militia, armed policemen and other security agents to enforce it. We need to rediscover ourselves and return to basics.


The language of violence in public discourse is not doing our children any good. And we haven’t achieved anything as a nation for all the bile that our leaders have been spewing over the years. All it has done is create a class of phoney “patriots” waging a jihad against a whole nation of “detractors”.