We should reclaim patriotism from the politically unhinged lunatics who seem to think that the hallmark of patriotism is sloganeering and bootlicking. Herein lies what in my opinion is wrong with the political discourse in Zimbabwe.
Abraham Seda,PhD candidate
The level of political mudslinging that characterises the political landscape in Zimbabwe at present has run amok such that everyone seems to have forgotten that we are Zimbabweans first and foremost. I will draw on several examples from recent memory to demonstrate the fact that the word and concept we refer to as patriotism has been so bastardised such that anyone who does not support Zanu PF is a sellout; everyone who is aligned to any opposition party is either Western-funded or an enemy. Let me take this opportunity to dismiss all of these positions not only as unhelpful and unfounded, but ridiculous.
It is my strong belief that all Zimbabweans — young and old — respect and cherish the freedom that citizens of all races now enjoy as a result of the liberation struggle. In that same vein, I also think that all Zimbabweans respect all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to liberate the land that is Zimbabwe.
Personally, I think the problem starts when having gone to the war becomes the basis upon which land is distributed, where it is almost impossible to get housing stand if you are not a Zanu PF member. Under normal circumstances, all Zimbabweans should have access to all these things regardless of political affiliation. If going to war was indeed a selfless act, as we are often told, no one should be stripping us of our constitutionally-granted rights just because they went to war. Did these guys not wage this war to safeguard freedom of speech and expression for all?
Zanu PF should not be allowed to claim a monopoly on patriotism, it is not their preserve and never was. More recently, regardless of her flaws as a human being or politician, former vice-president and now leader of Zimbabwe People First party, Joice Mujuru, has been vilified and attacked. Some of the attacks can only border on sexism and bigotry of titanic proportions. Her unquestionable heroism in the liberation struggle is being belittled.
No one in Zanu PF has a monopoly on who gets to be a hero. If anything, the real heroes are the peasants whose lives were changed forever by the war experience; it’s the current protesters who are standing for a better Zimbabwe; it’s the father and mother putting food on the table despite not being employed for the better part of their lives; it’s the graduate selling tomatoes on the street; it’s the many Zimbabweans toiling in far off lands to send money back home; it’s the courageous crossing the Limpopo without any documentation in search for a better tomorrow and not all these charlatans masquerading as leaders, policy-makers and patriots.
To think that a citizen like #ThisFlag campaign founder Evan Mawarire can be harassed, arrested under seemingly dubious charges and eventually flee for his life just because it has become an article of faith in Zanu PF and like-minded organisations that men of the cloth should be apolitical, boggles the mind. From the Holy Bible itself, prophetic voices such as Amos, Elijah or Moses were not apolitical. They were anti-establishment, they stood for issues of social justice and were the people’s voice when the political elite tampered with the justice system or victimised the vulnerable members of society. Why then do we insist on this madness that Mawarire or any other cleric should not be political just because they are men of the cloth.
If there is any Zimbabwean who is funding this government through taxes or other channels, let it be known that you have a political role to play regardless of your race, ethnicity, skin colour or religious station. The fact that there are voices among us, regardless how shallow, that think certain individuals should not be political because they stand in front of a pulpit every Saturday or Sunday is precisely why we need to redefine and reclaim patriotism from a few misguided elements who have made it their job to decide who gets to voice their concerns or not.
The Zimbabwe Historical Association held its second annual conference last week where the University of Zimbabwe’s vice-chancellor Levi Nyagura was quoted as having said that historians should not meddle in politics and should leave politics to politicians. This fiction that somehow people who are not career politicians should not claim a political voice has to be remedied before it normalises the abnormal. For the record, this flawed reasoning has a historical precedent. At one point when MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai was at the helm of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, he called for nationwide protests that shook the government. One of the most pronounced reactions was that if Tsvangirai was bold enough he should form his own political party and challenge Zanu PF head-on. Fast forward to 2016, with almost a striking resemblance, Mawarire started a citizens’ movement, better known as #ThisFlag, and, again, it was declared that he should not hide behind religion, but form his own political party.
At the heart of these statements is a fundamental intolerance to dissenting voices which has shaped the political landscape in Zimbabwe for a long time. This intolerance was responsible for the near-assassination of former vice-president Joshua Nkomo, the treason charges against Tsvangirai, the demonisation and beating of political opponents.
The persecution of real or perceived political opponents, harassment of citizens that have divergent political views, sloganeering, bootlicking, terrorising citizens raising legitimate concerns are now the new “patriotism”.
These are part of the many reasons why we need to reclaim patriotism from Zanu PF, exactly in the same manner we have reclaimed the national flag among other national symbols.
It is not their monopoly and they should never again be allowed any political space that’s unchallenged or uncontested. Their skewed conception of patriotism is why seemingly reasonable people like Higher Education minister and Zanu PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo and Zanu PF MP Psychology Maziwisa are prepared to feign insanity, demonise and ridicule their fellow citizens for saying more or less the very same things they used to say and even published at different moments in their political lives. It is also the very reason why people like former youth leaders Godfrey Tsenengamu and Godwin Gomwe rose in Zanu PF ranks, it was not because of their ideas, but because of their blind “patriotism” that sees criticism as treason, calls for accountability as disrespect and political difference as grounds for hatred.
Every Zimbabwean has a political role to play, that right has to be protected from small-minded politicians who think they were “ordained” to rule over us, but what do I know, after all I am just a born free.
Seda is a Zimbabwean PhD History candidate at the University of Minnesota in the United States.