Transcending the polemic, punitive misreading of conflict
“We are a divided nation” so goes the colloquial post-2018 urbanite electorate adage. Apparently, this is one of the most deemed intelligent observation from our social-media political-theorists.
However, an effortless rational attempt to unpack the meaning of this perspective brings to the fore the reality of a less reasoned characterisation of political climates. Basic logic would tell you that a nation cannot be conclusively described as divided because there is a group of individuals who assume that they are a majority and yet the traditional election outcomes have contested their imagined reality of being a majority. Put more bluntly this could be read as denial psychosis and much of it is found in social-media political debates whose grounding is largely emotive. It’s even disappointing that those who we expect to be rational in reading the times are entrapped in fanatic anti-establishment rhetoric which adds no value to the shifting power dynamics which the opposition and its proxies refuse to acknowledge. This is why Zanu-PF will always be on top of the situation while the opposition remains confined to its predispositions of romantic populism which is far detached from the reform recourses being successfully effected and only shot down by social media denialism. Clearly, our political thought is densely emotionally charged than it is defined on pragmatism and logic.
Going by the tenets of uneven electoral outcomes, one wonders where in the world a united nation can be found because elections produce winners and losers and thus a chasm. Nations are divided on natural dissenting views of their polity. The popularisation of our so-called “division” feeds into a narrative which assumes that national cohesion will be achieved if the losers dethrone Zanu-PF and in their view, only then will we become a nation.
Therefore, is the notion of a divided nation real or it is a construction of sectorial limitations to imagining what a nation is or what it should be? Here we are, stuck on what ought to be as expected by losing denialists.
In all this, it is clear that political discourses are a construction of the dialectic contestations of power. In such contestations there are clear winners and losers, but surprisingly the losers’ clamour is what metropolitans regard as wisdom. The images we create out of our political processes offer clear-cut terms for either cohesion or turmoil, in response to this reality one has to be able to discern populism from realism. Most of us have failed in that regard, we have stuck to some much epistemic anger and we have gladly and permanently chose to reside in the combative epistemic mode. To be more precise, that is the kind of mentality can also be easily located in the myopia of tribalism that has been long disguised as scholarship.
However, it is then refreshing to read a book written by a Ndebele intellectual deconstructing the hate that has been nurtured through neocolonial research grants and education funding programmes. I deliberately refer to Nyathi as a Ndebele intellectual because the tag of ethnicity has been made fashionable in our academia to a point of having an intellectual genius being zoned to toxic ethnicism by individuals who think that looting accolades outside Zimbabwe makes them key points of reference on the subject of nationbuilding — and they will go to lengths to justify their tribal mediocrity which has no space in the prevailing terms of unity by arguing that geographic proximity does not entail epistemic proximity and one wonders what that means especially if coming from individuals who masquerade as authorities of Zimbabwe’s so-called “Northern-Problem” (Dinizulu Mbiko Macaphulana!). Many others like my aforementioned compatriot only diagnose Shona tribal hegemony to the Zimbabwean national question. Such esteemed colleagues deliberately ignore the role of white capital in advancing the “ticklish northern-problem” and how it has preserved the “divide and rule” ideology. Unlike these giant self-acclaimed world scale tribalist scholars, Nyathi (2018:30) offers a refreshing definition to tracing real source of the “ticklish northern problem”
At the same time, a critical and objective analysis and interpretation of the post-independence events is not possible without taking into account the Cold-War in which the Communist/Warsaw Pact was pitted against Western powers who included both the United States of America (USA), the leader of the allies and Britain the coloniser. The two liberation movements were armed by China and the Soviet Union and its allies. The stage was set for a stiff competition for the control of resources in Southern-Africa. Intelligence services of the allied nations were at work in covert operations.
Further to that Nyathi (2018:30), Nyathi locates the source of the 1982 disturbances to how the liberation movement had been long infiltrated to service an inevitable post-independence tension which manifested in the form of Gukurahundi. Therefore, the fundamental input of Nyathi’s submission is that our sources of tension goes beyond the vicinities of tribal feuds as mainstreamed by most of our Southern academic luminaries. Nyathi locates the crisis of the initial division of our nation along ethnic terms to the embryonic construction of Africans’ self-hate. The success of this project of self-hate has sustained white hegemony and looting.
In Nyathi’s view, any objective analysis on Gukurahundi must not be solely premised on the Black on Black theory of self-hate and let alone, the collapse of national consciousness. In fact, the Black on Black polemics are underpinned on Africa’s experience with colonialism. Initially, the nationhood we assumed was problematic as it embodied aspirations of state-craft born out of imposed reconciliation processes with a biased propensity on White capital interests. As a result, the idea of reintegration did more to sustain imperial posterity. The fissures of the nationalist movement were not repaired to safeguard a peaceful handover takeover and consolidation of nationalist fronts’ comforts. Thereafter, the state transitional processes were left in the hands of a remnant colonial class perceived as liberal and progress. Seeing this early capture, revolutionaries became divided with others refusing to be integrated into national uniformed tasks and being supervised by erstwhile colonial securocrats. From there, rebellious movements emerged across postindependence Africa.
In our circumstantial exceptions, these were the “dissidents”. In an attempt to unpack the concept of dissidence, Nyathi (2018:25) defines this crop of military men as “non-conformists” or “rebels” whose point of dissent emanated from resisting integration into a system they found predominantly colonial and betraying the values of the liberation legacy especially with regards to the post-independence security reforms. Contrary to the largely tribal focused point of dissidence to the early Zimbabwe National Army integration (ZNA), Nyathi (2018) situates the crisis in radical anti-colonial construction of the security system. In Nyathi’s view the call for integration was perceived as mischievously colonial hence the ‘dissident’ resistance it received. Some Zapu cadres regarded the call for integration as a subtle preservation of white monopoly to state security. As a result, this point of dissent had to be crushed as its major proposition was largely Zapu. The remnants of Rhodesian intelligence were successful in constructing images of hate and division which were later amplified to expressions of ethnic particularism and hence the umbrella purging of the Ndebele as “dissidents”. Further to that Nyathi draws back the reader to the Zapu split which gave birth to Zanu in 1963. Nyathi (2018: 26) gives an elaborate description of how those who quit Zapu were labelled “dissidents” and how others who crossed over from Zanu back to Zapu were also defined as dissidents. In the same manner those who left Zapu in 1971 following the birth of the Froliz were also criminalised as dissidents. Nyathi’s meticulous trace of the genesis of the dissident construction helps one to go beyond the ethnicisation of the Gukurahundi tensions. This is because ethnicity has been predominantly manipulated to perpetuate the colonially instigated ‘divide and rule’ strategy. Consequently, the punitive thrust to the Gukurahundi crisis has used ethnicity as an enabling pedestal for secessionist politics.
As a result, the narrative of secession has since been raised as an essential facet of confronting what others perceived as Zimbabwe’s failed national project. However, Nyathi brings in an important alternative perspective to this debate as his book solicits a unifying point to nationbuilding. Unlike many celebrated thinkers from the Southern-Region, Nyathi’s book defies the circumvent polemic and punitive logic clumsily peddled to frustrate the long aspired values of Black on Black peace and reconciliation terms. If we managed to dispense with the White on Black peace and reconciliation issues why are we stuck in the impasse of feuds with a meagre atrocious input to the capital dismemberment of Africa by colonialists? Because they fund us to fight our Governments at the behest of our false projections of prospects to political reform?
Our problem is regionalised lengths of thinking and Nyathi’s latest offering foregoes the narrow polemic and punitive scopes of reading into the past. This problem of regional intellectualism is sustained by tribal godfathers entitlement politics — our doyens of CSOs and Mthwakazi Republicanism. After the CSO funding crunch and their failed regional political projects some evolved to being foreign education funded fundis. Sadly, with most of them having realised the significance of having tertiary education accolades to their names in their mid-life, they now think they will come back home to terraces of their erstwhile prominence as prolific anti-establishment figures. Times have changed, Zimbabwe is fast healing towards peace and re-engagement.
Moreover, they have been replaced by new faces to the anti-establishment civic society game. On that front right on the ground one finds new game changers like Thando Gwinji, Busi Bhebhe, Butholezwe Nyathi, Thabo Dube, Gift Ostallos Siziba, Njabulo Moyo the Pfunye boys. Therefore, it’s a pity that some characters think that ethnic essentialism will continue to mirror our politics. Comrades should wake up and notice that the times have changed. Until next week, let’s keep reading the times with rationale and precision. Pamberi neZimbabwe.