Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Mutambara dons the emperor’s new clothes

Reading Arthur Mutambara’s Heroes Day article left me quite disillusioned. I struggled to see the point of the whole thing right up until I got to the section where he addresses Zimbabwe’s international relations. The key point that he communicates by way of this article is that he has capitulated and found accommodation in some significant respect with Robert Mugabe.

The article has Mugabe’s demagogic ring to it. By regurgitating Mugabe’s political rhetoric and flawed anti-imperialism in this article Mutambara is merely confirming to us that he has endorsed Mugabe's ideological position and relieved pressure on the old dictator by taking up the mantle of anti-imperialist spokesman on Mugabe's behalf. He has in the process created the perception or semblance of national or cross-party ideological coalescence around Mugabe's ideas and vision.

The theme on western intervention is reflective of Mugabe's regime survival strategy. Mugabe’s Third Chimurenga discourse deploys the outside-looking-in approach, by which local political contradictions are explained through the prism of international relations. That way, everything that is wrong within is the result of exogenous factors. The use and abuse of history that is central to the Third Chimurenga discourse - what Terence Ranger called Patriotic History - arises as the necessary result of this attempt to marry the international to the local in a cause-and-effect relationship.

Propaganda becomes the cement with which these linkages are maintained. Propaganda also becomes the shield with which external accusations of illiberal practices on the part of the regime are parried. The easiest and commonly employed strategy is to point to the west's own moral inconsistencies to pre-empt the criticism. Mutambara's piece endorses this approach unashamedly.

What this thinking means, essentially, is that we will countenance no criticism of the state of our democracy for as long as we can find evidence of worse realities subsisting elsewhere, or of western double standards and hypocrisy. This deliberate subterfuge is meant to distract from engaging with the substantive, egregious reality of violence and abuse on the ground. But it is incomprehensible and shocking when these bouts of defensiveness seize the leader of a democratic opposition whose activists are actually the victims of such brutality!

As a leader of a pro-democracy party, Mutambara's chief problem should be with Zanu PF authoritarian nationalism, which has also been the key contradiction in Zimbabwe’s post-independence history. This same authoritarian nationalism has retained the violence of the liberation war era at its core; it has retained the democratic centralism of the liberation-movement-turned-monolithic-ruling-party. This resulted in stifled internal liberation and a crisis of democratic expectations on account of Zanu PF's incapacity to respond to democratic impulses and reform accordingly (one of the central pillars in Zimbabwe’s crisis today remains Zanu PF’s own internal succession crisis). This same authoritarian nationalism has in the course of our young history deliberately attempted to jettison democratic politics by actively lobbying for and mobilising towards a legislated one-party state, all the while dispensing harsh and violent treatment towards the erstwhile opposition then - Zapu, itself a legitimate nationalist movement - by use of the old colonialist's arsenal of repressive laws and emergency powers. It is this context that ushered in Mutambara's political consciousness and gave birth to his activism.

Therefore, how can the leader of a party contending with such historical authoritarianism not address the question of our violently stifled search as a nation for viable, democratic post-nationalist politics? Why does he not speak of the second phase in our struggle - which is to put democracy back into national liberation? On the day we commemorate the heroes of yesterday's war, how can he afford not to speak to the reality of our incomplete internal liberation and the need, therefore, for new heroes to keep the democratic torch blazing until Zimbabwe is truly free?

Given that he speaks as the blood of hundreds of our brave compatriots flows fresh into the soil of our motherland, why does he not speak to the tragedy of oppression and violence that still stalks our land? Instead, he chooses to share the podium with the author of our oppression to fart into the whirlwind about western hypocrisy, when the widows of my uncle Dickson Sibamba, Tonderai Ndira, Joshua Bakacheza and countless other brave souls – all murdered by Zanu PF militia – still don mournful sackcloth and cry out for justice!

The paradigm of repressive nationalism that gave Mutambara political consciousness is right now at its zenith, with the so-called liberator having come out clearly and unashamedly to declare to the entire nation that it stands imprisoned to the gun that ended white rule; that the ballot - a mere pen and paper affair - will not compromise the will of the bullet. It is worse now than when, as a student leader, Mutambara clambered down the walls of his University of Zimbabwe (UZ) residence on the historic morning of October 4 1990, to escape Mugabe’s murderous assassins, following attempts to commemorate the 1989 anti-corruption demonstration.

It was even worse when, during Learnmore Jongwe’s student leadership, riot police opened fire for the first time on campus and shot Morememories Chawira in the neck during a demo; and it deteriorated even further for Dewa Mavhinga's student administration when riot police went a murderous step further and bludgeoned poor Batanai Hadzizi to death, giving the UZ its first student funeral from police brutality on campus. If Mutambara’s political genesis arises from his confrontation with Mugabe's repressive state as a student leader, his successors faced even worse, as I've just tried to show. The entire nation has experienced violence and death and hunger and disease at the hands of Robert Mugabe.

If Mutambara cannot see the glaring tragicomedy of his own antithetical behaviour by sidling up to the author of Zimbabwe's misery and wearing his rhetorical garb to make political headway for himself, then he's an utterly, irredeemably lost cause. For good measure, he chooses to berate the west and not even once mention Mugabe's friends in the east who have continued to pour in weapons and lend diplomatic succour to a regime that is guilty of brutalising its own people.

Not once does he mention China's insidious role not only in Zimbabwe but across the continent, including that hell on earth that is Darfur. He does not question Mugabe’s mortgaging of the country’s natural resources to China for the survival of the Zanu PF regime. Mutambara's moral compass only registers western hypocrisy but easily glides over Chinese and Russian contributions both to Zimbabwean and global illiberalism. Do China and Russia present a model of involvement in international affairs that is benign and positive? Is that what we should expect from a Mutambara foreign policy?
Mutambara's fulminations reflect little by way of critical thought and political judgment. One gets the sense of someone in a hurry to bolt in before the back door is bolted. This is opportunism of the worst kind. But why the hurry, Arthur? As you helpfully revealed to Geoff Nyarota a few months ago, your American Greencard is valid till 2017 – you could always fall back on that, couldn’t you?