ZIMBABWE has finally arrived at its Idi Amin moment in history.This is a moment where the vulgar, obscene and grotesque performances of leaders get tragically normalised. It is a true “gods must be crazy” political moment where leaders outdo each other in saying and doing the unbelievable.
Our moment would very easily supply the sad world with comedy if the ridiculous performances of our leaders were not taking place in a country where people are drowning in poverty, being overtaken by disease and getting enveloped by death. Torture, that primitive colonial tool of political punishment, is now part of the government communication strategy.
Journalists and political activists are living in fear as their fellow travellers are abducted, detained and punished for their vocation of speaking truth to power and expressing much necessary dissent. The political and economic progress of countries, in the normal world, is fashioned in rigorous debate and dissensus not coerced consensus.
What Hannah Arendt called “dark times” is exactly that moment in the life of nations where leaders practice corruption and evil as if they were natural and just activities.
The normalisation of evil in Zimbabwe and anywhere under the sun switches off all hope and covers the land with dystopia. Suffering and misery have not only become a disturbing occurrence in Zimbabwe but a sad part of the identity of the country.
Chinua Achebe was not only talking of the Nigerians under military dictatorship but also Zimbabweans under the Emmerson Mnangagwa political establishment when he said citizens “are what they are only because their leaders are not what they should be”.
Zimbabweans have almost resigned themselves to misery and the bad political national habit of tolerating and accepting poor quality leadership. What is happening in Zimbabwe is not new in Africa, what is new is the spectacular heights of vulgarity and obscene depths of mediocrity that the leaders have gone to.
Observing the misery and suffering of Nigerians under successive military juntas, Achebe noted how leaders come to be a “cult of mediocrity” that relies on force to keep power while dispensing evil itself as an apology for leadership. This is where Zimbabwe is.
The sign of the times
It was an experience to witness the performance of Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa. She was angry. Frothing in the mouth, she intentionally misunderstood the Pastoral Letter of August 14 by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishop’s Conference.
Her intentional misunderstanding of the letter was itself a spectacle to behold. The Bishops Conference committed the crime of exercising the centuries old prophetic vocation of the Christian Church, beseeching leaders for social justice.
They bemoaned the poverty and sickness of the poor and condemned the corruption of leaders. In what was clear political mischief and hate, the minister isolated the leader of the Bishops’ Conference, Robert Ndlovu, for ethnic and personal abuse.
The Bishop was taken out of his position as a leading church minister and dragged to his membership of the Ndebele ethnic group and sjamboked as a genocidist and merchant of evil.
The Ndebele nationals of Zimbabwe were reduced to a “righteous minority” and satirised as bothersome malcontents. Full of invectives and profanities, Mutsvangwa’s statement sounded like a harangue written for her by an enemy that aimed to assassinate her character forever and also besmirch the name of the government and leadership she spoke for.
As angry, contemptuous and vulgar as the minister’s presentation was, it was truly representative of her political party and the present government of Zimbabwe.
Guilty of the Gukurahundi genocide, obscene corruption and incompetence the present government flees when no one pursues and sees enemies in humble priests and bishops.
It was a painful paradox to witness a Zanu PF minister working overtime to construct the leader of the Bishop’s Conference into a public enemy and a criminal against humanity. If so much imagination and creativity could be deployed in fashioning good leadership in Zimbabwe, we would be the envy of other nations and not the hell-hole that we have become.
The Bishops were correct in their observation that the leaders of Zimbabwe believe they have arrived when the people know that the march to liberation goes on.
In their imaginary paradise, the leaders see an enemy in anyone that seeks to alert them to their evils. It was with much unhygienic vitriol that minister Sibusiso Moyo responded to the African Union Commission chair that had diplomatically raised the matter of the crisis in Zimbabwe.
Acting Zanu PF spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa also undiplomatically reacted to the protestation by the secretary-general of the ANC, Ace Magashule, who rightly pointed out the concerning human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Insults and threats are deployed in response to anyone that differs with the ruling cabal in Zimbabwe.
What can only be clear is that Zimbabwe is now led by apostles of hate that find criminality in every truth and are blind to their own heinous crimes in the country.
The anger, hate and vulgarity that are found in the speeches of government ministers and party spokesperson are only the signs of the dark times through which Zimbabwe is going. With their words, politicians divide the country into tribes and races and turn the country into a skunk of the world as they antagonise even their own trusted allies in the African region.
Conspicuously, what the government ministers and party spokespersons will dare not respond to are questions about corruption concerning the President, his family, friends and some ministers.
Cult of mediocrity
It is a particularly vulgar cult of mediocrity that has achieved a many-handed grip of the octopus on the Zimbabwean economy and polity. Achebe tells us how the cultic leaders build a false image of themselves and the country. When Mnangagwa, his ministers and party spokespersons speak against other countries, for instance, one might think they are powerful officials of a super-power.
With reckless abandon they rubbish countries and governments from whom they desperately need pity and help in a country they have reduced to a hell-hole under their tinpot despotism.
Tribalism, a primitive ideology of division and hate is elevated into an instrument of political reason and rule. Colonialism and the sins of the colonial regime, in our case the sanctions also, are a ready alibi to be used to justify the failure of governance.
The corruption of the leaders smells to the high heaven as the majority of the people in the country are reduced to second-hand people that wear second-hand clothes from other countries.
When the cult is in charge and its corruption is in full throttle Achebe says: “Look at our collapsing public utilities, our inefficient and wasteful parastatals and state-owned companies . . . If you want electricity, you buy your own generator; if you want water, you sink your own bore-hole; if you want to travel, you set up your own airline. One day soon, said a friend of mine, you will have to build your own post office to send your letters!”
Zimbabwe is sitting right there and the Bishops correctly observe how leaders seek bribes; do not listen to the people and have mistaken their own interests for those of the nation; they get rich and eat on behalf of the whole country.
Dilapidated schools and hospitals, impoverished teachers and medical practitioners do not worry the leaders that arrogantly gobble down the little that is left of national coffers.
The number of infants and adults that die of treatable diseases in hospitals that now run without supplies is taken as the course of nature by the arrogant masters that are actually ignorant of the going truths in the real world.
Members of the governing cult become too rich of ill-gotten spoils and are cushioned from the miserable reality of the masses in the country. Their material wealth gets accompanied by an alarming poverty of thought and ideas.
What they lack in knowledge and ideas they cover up with sterile slogans, anger, hate and foul manners that have seen Zimbabwean ministers and spokespersons of the ruling party donating quotable quotes on how not to do political communication and diplomacy in the modern world.
While the late former president Robert Mugabe truly reduced Zimbabwe to a skunk of the world he was too intelligent to antagonise the African region that he kept enchanted with elevated Pan-Africanist rhetoric and nationalist ideology, even if it was empty.
Mnangagwa and his cult are reducing Zimbabwe to a skunk of Africa with their vulgar human rights abuses and primitive political communication, unhygienic diplomacy and messy political manners.
They make United States President Donald Trump sound spot on when he says Africa countries are shit-holes. What the cult has for spokespersons and spin-doctors are sophists whose definition of excellent communication is found in the embarrassing statement that Mutsvangwa was made to read to the world on prime-time television, a taxi-rank rant that was presented by a government official whose name is now a metaphor of mediocrity.
To Mutsvangwa, someone is now exactly that, to deliver a primitive rant at them. When a whole party director of publicity such as one Tafadzwa Mugwadi drops the profanity of an f-word on international television after the Secretary for publicity, Chinamasa, called the ambassador of another country a “thug” it must be understood that the party bag of ideas is empty. What is left of the party is a cult of mediocrity that has no more reputation or dignity to protect but profanity itself to display.
Reality of native colonialism
Under the present cult of mediocrity for a government, Zimbabwe is caught up in an elongated Gramscian interregnum. The old colonial modes of rule are dying too slowly while new democratic rule is not getting born, and in that gap, strange symptoms appear.
Our black leaders have lazily become the new colonialists that use coercion and primitive violence to hold onto power. The national coffers, much the same way as the settlers’ colonialists did, are reserved for an elite minority of members of the cult, their families and friends. Like the settler colonialists the cultists have no investment in nation building or national unity but thrive or fanning racial and tribal divisions.
Their entitlement to power in the country is founded on claimed liberation war credentials when the sour truth is that they fought for liberation with the right hand and with the left they have instituted a virulent native colonialism that has alienated the majority of Zimbabweans.
Lacking strong answers for the strong questions that the people are asking, as the Bishops have done, the leaders of the cult respond with vitriol and venom. But the world is not fooled. The call that Zimbabwean Lives Matter is now a global call and our leaders will be reminded of this call in many ways until the country is exorcised of the cult of death.
Macaphulana is Zimbabwean political scientist and semiotician, he writes from Marabastad in Pretoria, South Africa: firstname.lastname@example.org.