In his “talkie” the Great Dictator in 1940 Chaplin –– who plays a double role as a Jewish barber and a Ptomaine dictator Adenoid Hykey –– makes a controversial speech whose sentimental value resonated with the raging dictatorship in Europe under Adolf Hitler at the time. It was a message of peace to the whole world from a man the whole world was likely to listen to.
This was 70 years ago but the speech is still sadly apt for the world today.
The satirical speech touched at the time on the raw nerve of demagoguery. The speech will still achieve the same result if delivered to many communities today, Zimbabwe being one of them.
Part of the famous speech reads: “Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world — to do away with national barriers –– to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason –– a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us unite!”
He continued: “Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes — men who despise you and enslave you — who regiment your lives — tell you what to do — what to think and what to feel! Who drill you — diet you — treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men –– machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate, only the unloved hate — the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!”
This observation by Chaplin is poignant to Zimbabweans where there is always a concerted project by our “liberators” to teach the language of hate.
For a long time, Zimbabweans have been taught to hate opponents. Like the soldiers Chaplin refers to in his speech, people’s lives have been regimented. Poor villagers are forcibly driven to rallies where they are fed a diet of hate.
They are drilled in the motions of hating and sometimes translating the hate into hurting rivals.
For a long time in our history that drill of hate has been propelled by the slogan: pamberi neZanu PF, pasi nemabhunu, pasi naNgomo, pasi neMDC (forward with Zanu PF, down with whites, Nkomo, the MDC) and so on.
Proponents of this slogan will argue that it is a mere political gimmick which has stood the test of time to rally supporters towards a cause.
But the slogan has also been used as a war cry to crush opponents; physically that is. We all recall the violence that was unleashed on mabhunu, “Ngomo” and the MDC.
The coming in of the inclusive government last year saw a lesser employment of the slogan but it’s coming back. We are beginning to hear of more and more instances when the slogan is being chanted to denounce the MDC-T.
This is being done by people who have committed themselves to a process of national healing. Press reports this week said VP Joice Mujuru and her team of senior Zanu PF officials in Masvingo province were booed to the rafters by a crowd that had come to witness the handover of tractors to farmers in Triangle.
The heckling –– it was reported by the Zimbabwetimes –– started when politburo members accompanying the VP took turns to chant the pasi neMDC-T slogan. The crowd was not impressed prompting chaotic scenes at Gibbo Stadium in the town.
This is not an isolated case. I have been told officials from political parties and civic groups currently on outreach programmes to explain and drum up support for their respective parties’ positions regarding the constitution-making process have been receiving the same treatment.
Simple villagers want to hear what the inclusive government has to offer and not which party can hurl the foulest abuse at opponents. This is the point that crocodilian politicians in Zanu PF cannot grasp. It is not business as usual anymore where cheap political gimmicks of hate-filled denunciation win political capital.
This was a good advert of the nature of politicians who still believe that their fortunes lie in making their supporters hate the other side and not what the leaders can offer to their constituencies. Effective and good politicians will always be judged by their abilities to deliver positive change in communities where they live. They are respected because they respect alternative views and they can present an argument without being abusive.
The elections in this country have been fought in a supercharged environment of hate and brutality. Zimbabweans yearn for change. Canvassing for votes should be about finding solutions to issues and not hate-slogans and divisions. Where is the organ on national healing in all this?
I turn to Charlie Chaplin again. “Then in the name of democracy…Let us fight for a new world –– a decent world that will give men (and women) a chance to work –– that will give youth a future and old age a security.”