THERE is an ancient Chinese proverb which says “when the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills”.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
It basically means when the situation or circumstances change some people adapt, yet others remain static or stubbornly resist new dynamics. This adage also encourages people to seize opportunities instead of fighting to remain ensconced in the old comfort zone or handcuffed to the past.
In other words, it crystalises Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ famous saying: “Change is the only constant in life.”
There is only one predictable element in nature, and in life, and that is change. Nothing stays the same, except this fact. In the physical universe, change is not only constant, it’s inevitable.
In fact, change in everything living or dead is inescapable. Whether it relates to our daily activities, age, relationships, careers, geography, economics, politics or life, change is the only thing that doesn’t change; it keeps happening.
This truism came to mind on Wednesday when I was listening to President Robert Mugabe’s rumbling and incoherent speech — which has now become his trademark even though he used to be articulate and stirring at the height of his power — in front of a captive gathering of bussed Zanu PF supporters and a small clique of genuine war veterans at the party’s headquarters in Harare.
It was a pathetic show. Just like the recent million-man march. Mugabe has now been reduced to a leader who rules and survives through public acclamations, not charisma and authority. His popularity has plunged and people always have to be bussed to shore up his dwindling approval ratings and diminishing political stock.
So much has been happening in Zimbabwean politics of late. The continuous shifts and changes in the political economy are sometimes dramatic, but how Mugabe has responded has been predictable and unconvincing. Instead of positively tackling internal and external problems, he has resorted to his tried and detested methods: threats, intimidation and repression. This shows he has learnt and forgotten nothing from the hurricane of his tragic misrule.
Because of the inexorable economic decline, the political and security situation in the country is increasingly deteriorating amid protests by civil society groups and opposition parties, creating an explosive environment.
Once among Sub-Saharan Africa’s most prosperous and promising states, Zimbabwe has been driven by disastrous mismanagement to social and economic ruin.
Its crisis and resultant waves of instability across the region make the situation deeply troubling for locals, neighbours, foreign governments and the international community. But there appears to be little or no prospect of a smooth transition.
Mugabe, now fighting on many fronts, has to tackle two fundamental conflicts. First, he now faces a threat from the restive masses — the problem of authoritarian control. That is why he is so angry at #ThisFlag social movement leader Pastor Evan Mawarire who has of late stirred the spirit of resistance and a potential uprising through civil disobedience. On Wednesday, Mugabe in his sabre-rattling moment, issued ominous threats against the clergyman, exposing his insecurity.
Second, Mugabe has a serious internal problem. He has to confront a challenge from Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is backed by war veterans and the military — the problem of succession and how to deal with it.
Crucially, whether and how he resolves these two problems will be determined by the volatile environment in which this crisis is playing out and his willingness to embrace change.
Since the centre can evidently no longer hold and things are falling apart, no one is strong enough to control the key actors and as a result violence will almost certainly become the ultimate arbiter of the conflict. That’s why civic leaders and war veterans are being arrested in a fierce crackdown under a dark cloud of a looming renewed reign of terror.
Mugabe is building walls, not windmills as the winds of change blow, yet he can’t arrest and prevent change.