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Contest for Mugabe’s attention

By Chido Makunike

IN recent years we have become accustomed to the amazing belligerence expressed in the statements of public officials in Zimbabwe.

tica, sans-serif”>In most normal societies, politicians go out of their way to at least give the appearance of being persuasive, concerned about, and heeding concerns of the public.

In Zimbabwe however, it seems that politicians and public officials compete for attention on the basis of how they can defy public sentiment and get away with it.

For instance, to appear “tough” in an old-fashioned, bullying way seems more important than to come up with a well-thought-out position on any issue of public interest and then selling and defending it to the voters on its merits.

The “toughness” that has become an overriding concern to project, even at the expense of problem-solving, permeates from the very top of the ruling structure to the bottom.

Many people have spoken out on how the police not only carried out President Robert Mugabe’s universally-condemned Operation Murambatsvina campaign of official terrorism with speed and efficiency that is unusual for them, but with great enthusiasm.

At the bottom we had the police doing the actual destruction and beatings with a puzzling sadism, yet they were socially and economically in the same boat as their victims.

At the top we had violent, abusive public pronouncements from top police officials in addition to those from ministers, city council officials and so forth.

There was no logic at all that what they said and how they acted reflected any sense that they thought of themselves as officials whose primary responsibility was to the public. Instead, one got the feeling that they were all competing for the attention of President Mugabe, whose propensity for violence is well-documented.

They were more concerned about how shrilly they showed their allegiance to, and support for him by how much they issued negative, corrosive statements that were abusive and contemptuous of the public, just like President Mugabe himself often does.

So this negative has become a way of competing for attention from a ruler his officials know respects the language and the physical expression of belligerence and violence.

In the media one listens to, or reads the words of Mugabe propagandists like George Charamba, Tafataona Mahoso and others and marvels at the level of venom and anger in them, over and above robustly expressed opinions.

If these men are so sure and convinced that their side is right and supported by the majority, why do they sound so angry and defensive all the time?

Why do they not seem more calm, secure and confident in their posturing?

Even if President Mugabe’s propensity for the abusive language and violence he is now widely associated with is not new, it has become much worse in recent years. Part of this is his enraged response to becoming more helpless to stop or reverse the unravelling of all the things that made Zimbabwe such a highly-functional country.

When things seemed to be working, and before the majority of Zimbabweans had turned against him, he could afford to project a facade of a calm and secure statesman at peace with himself.

But even back then, we would get glimpses of the real person beneath the facade in his outbursts of violent, destructive rage when he felt humiliated or threatened by a strong challenge of one kind or another.

Then he would give orders to his goons to unleash their own frustrations, jealousies and resentments by going out and having a good time beating up and imprisoning one group or another of citizens.

When he really felt the “disobedience” against him was more egregious than could be dealt with by such relatively mild means, we had a lot of people dying, houses destroyed and people’s lives turned upside down.

Many people have pondered why a person who on the surface seems reasonably intelligent, would engage in such behaviour that would attract negative reactions and inevitably earn condemnation.

Perhaps he can no longer help himself. The seeds of violence and notoriety may have simply grown too big and addictive to overcome despite whatever remnants of his rational mind tells him in calmer, more rational moments.

But then one could ask how many rational moments there can be after looking around at the havoc and destruction he has wrought, the withdrawal of the respect and sense of importance he craves?

Perhaps raw, negative emotion then becomes the main drivers of one’s words and actions.

Naturally, after every such episode there would be howls of local and international outrage. But it was almost like the compulsion to exorcise this deep well of rage and destructiveness could not be resisted.

It was as if the resultant misery and pitiful pleas for relief from beatings, destruction and killing campaigns acted like a catharsis, a way to temporarily relieve a deep, sick and destructive itch.

The protests against these periodic outbursts of rage that have seen so many perish and suffer at the hands of President Mugabe and his whole apparatus of power, only seemed to feed the compulsion for importance, notice and attention.

Rather than act as a brake on more excesses, condemnation and international revulsion seem to only feed the megalomania and recklessness.

It is interesting to reflect on how personal pathologies cannot only consume and destroy the essence of the person they afflict, but destroy nations as well.

* Chido Makunike is a Zimbabwean who writes from cyberspace.

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