Editor’s Memo: Talks Offer Grand Opportunity For Peaceful Cohabitation

WHEN Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe shook hands on Monday (my birthday by the way) many bloodthirsty and retributive cadres should have felt disempowered and utterly defeated by this single act of “togetherness” which we oftentimes take for granted.

 

The historic meeting between the people that many always want to regard as eternal enemies should remind us of attributes that have over the years been eroded by extended periods of senseless retribution and hate: honour and dignity. Since the announcement of election results in March, the nation has been put on a retributive footing to erase shame from the faces of the vanquished. Those who perpetrated terror in the period in between the polls were guided by an evil need to restore self-worth which they felt had been peeled off through defeat at the polls. This profoundly affected their sense of value towards another’s worthiness to exist.

We live in a society where our leaders have taught us that failure, setbacks and defeats create shameful persona that can only be restored to dignity through ferocity and drastic measures. The demand for restoration rules out compromise, negotiation or trading. It requires extraordinary measures. It is above legal statutes. It is a matter of life and death. What is important is the need to regain one’s honour through retribution and retaliatory shaming of the opponent.

This spirit resonates in many aspects of our lives today. It guides the ways relatives relate to each other in families and communities. We are out to fix opponents, teach someone a lesson or embarrass those we consider to be arrogant. Our rulers use the threatening language of war, retribution, revenge and terror in announcing and enforcing policy. Ask any banker who the source of their terror is?

It is not surprising therefore after the first round of polling in March that our rulers put economic recovery, national healing and social progress on the back burner in pursuit of regaining honour which was under threat from Bush and Brown. Those that killed and maimed were being implored by their leaders to do it in the name of restoring honour.

An MDC supporter renouncing support for the opposition, was considered a measure of lost honour regained. The sight of bodies writhing in pain from torture and assaults derived the same satisfaction to some perverts. In one visit to a rural area, youths were being mobilised in readiness for war to defend the country against an opponent who did not exist. The terror was done in the name of honour.

In backward rural communities in Pakistan attacks, known as honour crimes –– especially on young women committed in response to a perceived slight on a family’s honour –– are common. When the perceived honour of our ruling elite was “slurred” by an electoral setback in March, the violence that ensued was all in the name of restoring honour. As a nation we have lost dignity and respect that comes with universally acceptable norms of behaviour.

We have developed a dark side which promotes the notion that we have irreconcilable differences hence our inability to settle conflicts in a constructive way. We are quick to look for those that might be guilty and those who are to blame.

We can look at the abrasive wars between business and government, between civic society and government, between workers and the government. Attempts to bridge the divide have been dominated by adversarial tendencies in which protagonists find it difficult to come out of entrenched positions. This is dishonourable behaviour. We have contributed immensely to our demise because we believe in winning –– even in wars fought for wrong causes. Our rulers have expended lots of energy on negativity because they believe this wins them honour. It is not surprising therefore that they have no clue on how to solve the problems of inflation, low capacity utilisation in industry and on the land, electricity and water shortages and human resource flight.

Resultantly, we have become a very poor country and with it our dignity has become threadbare. How many dishonourable things are we doing in order to get by? In fact dishonourable behaviour has become the mode of doing things in business, government and in families. A dishonest and crooked husband is most likely going to be a mendacious manager at the office! Can someone prove me wrong on this one?

The handshake between Tsvangirai and Mugabe on Monday should not just bring with it political settlement for the politicians but should usher a process for us to work towards regaining our fast-waning dignity which have seen us celebrating failure as success.

This country requires serious restoration of honour at all levels to move forward. We need that greater dignity to develop personal management so that we shine more light on the dark side of our lives. There are others who will always work to increase the darkness. I am not talking about Zesa here, but those who were angered by the handshake on Monday. But to me that’s what honourable men do. They shake hands for a cause.

 

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