Killer whales are known to kill the great white shark “without a fight” by turning the shark on its back. A shark on its back immediately goes into a deep sleep never to wake up even as the killer whale feast on it!
Turn the shark on its back, this unnatural posture, is thought to alter the animal’s sensi-motor interchange with the environment, causing a “limp” response. The animal displays relaxation in muscle tone and deep rhythmic respiration. Tonic immobility (TI) is an unlearned reflex, characterised by a state of immobility and torpor. This behaviour has been reported to occur in a variety of animals — including insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and of course fish.
To look at what has happened in Zimbabwe these last 35 years, one cannot help but wonder whether the whole nation is not suffering from some form of TI that has rendered the nation as helpless as a shark on its back!
The last 35 years should have been Zimbabwe’s golden age of freedom and prosperity. After the ouster of the white colonial regime of Ian Smith, all Zimbabweans should have enjoyed the freedom, human rights, justice, peace, etc, denied them by the whites, to release the bottled up creative energy to thrive and blossom. Zimbabwe has the natural resources and human capital to become the Switzerland of Africa.
Soon after Independence in 1980, President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF cronies systematically denied the people their freedoms, human rights and even the right to life to establish this de facto one-man dictatorship.
On the economic front, the three-and-half decades of mismanagement and corruption have completely destroyed the economy. Today unemployment has soared to over 90%. Millions live in abject poverty or have left the country to become economic and political refugees all over the world. Everything is in an advanced state of rot and decay; the country cannot provide even something as basic as clean running water in its big cities and towns.
The best chance the nation has had to end Mugabe’s dictatorship was by far during the Government of National Unity (GNU) when all the nation had to do was implement the raft of democratic reforms already agreed in the 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA).
However, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and other opposition parties, who were tasked with implementing the reforms, sold out and joined Mugabe’s gravy train. So after four or five years of the GNU, no meaningful reforms were implemented and hence Mugabe rigged the July 2013 elections with the greatest of easy.
The people of Zimbabwe failed to recognise the importance of the 2008 GPA reforms and so they did not pressure GNU leaders to implement the reforms. The people were generally unaware of what the GPA was about because they were in some kind of TI state. Indeed many are still on their back like sharks, even with the benefit of hindsight of the rigged July 2013 elections. Zimbabweans still do not have a clue what actually happened during the GNU.
To make it easier for them to accept the rigged elections and lessen the guilty for their part in failing to get any reforms implemented, Zimbabweans gullibly accepted Mugabe won the July 2013 elections. They have rubbed off reports of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s failure to timeously release the voters’ roll; Zanu PF increasing the number of polling stations from 2 000 to 9 000 two days before voting; Zanu PF youths bussed to polling stations; thousands being disenfranchised; and all the other evidence of rigging and intimidation.
Mugabe has always maintained an iron grip on his party by making sure it is his voice alone that is heard. In 2004, when current Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was poised to win the party members’ vote for the vacant position of vice-president (VP), Mugabe changed the party’s constitution adding a clause demanding that one of the two vice-presidents’ position in the party be reserved for a woman. Party members were stripped of their vote and say in who was to be VP and they accepted this without protest.
Joice Mujuru was nominated VP in 2004 on the basis of Mugabe’s blatant Machiavellian machinations denying everyone else a vote and granting himself a veto.
In 2014, Zanu PF faced yet again another elective congress in which this time Mujuru controlled eight out of 10 provinces. On face value, one would think Mugabe would have been happy with this situation as it was tantamount to endorsing his 2004 imposed VP candidate. But that is not what Mugabe was concerned about; what mattered to him was that he alone should have had meaningful say in the party affairs, including who held key party positions, to ensure the appointees are all beholden and accountable to him and no one else.
So to stop Zanu PF members from having a meaningful vote in 2014, Mugabe accused Mujuru of factionalism and a plot to oust him, among a slew of other charges. Of course, factionalism is a bogus charge because there is nothing wrong with a member canvasing the support of other members. Mnangagwa had done the same thing in 2004 when he was poised to win the vote and Mugabe never accused him of factionalism.
Nonetheless, there was nothing new in the factionalism charge. Mugabe had dealt with many other party members who dared challenge his authority by accusing them of being counter-revolutionary even when it was him who was the one disregarding the law and violating the revolutionary values and common sense. Still with these charges against Mujuru, party supporters accepted them without raising alarm; Mugabe had flipped them on their backs like sharks.
The ease with which Mugabe has been able to induce TI on Zimbabweans at a national and party level again and again over the last 35 years is worrying. It is fair to say Zimbabweans have gone through the last 35 years with their brains switched off.
In the long run, and 35 years is quite a long time, people get leaders they deserve. Zimbabweans deserve this corrupt and tyrannical dictatorship and the equally reckless and incompetent Tsvangirai. Instead of the nation responding to the threat posed by corrupt and tyrannical leaders by confronting them, we have responded by flipping ourselves on to our backs to induce the TI.
Instead of the last 35 years being the golden age in Zimbabwe’s history, Mugabe has turned the clock back to the Dark Ages, with our co-operation of course, or be it in torpor state or paralysis. Unless we make a conscientious effort and resist the reflex response of flipping ourselves into mental stupor and deal with the country’s mounting problem of bad governance and poverty, we will never ever get out of this mess.