Tuesday, 29 July 2014

On 'doing God' in Zimbabwean politics

On the matter of how political community must be organised and run, I believe in a secular rational-legal order. I do not want to live in a theocracy such as we have in some Muslim countries where religion is the organising factor of society and subsumes all life, with religious edicts and commandments forming the basis of law.

In many such countries we see clashes between fundamentalists and moderates over the interpretation of religious dogma, with claims and counter-claims of each group being closer to the mind of God than the other, and a massive denial of freedom to certain groups, such as women, on the basis of scriptural interpretation.
First Lady Mrs Grace Mugabe flanked by ZANU-PF women's league secretary Oppah Muchinguri (left)

I want to live in a liberal democratic order where civil rights must be allowed that, among other things, enable members to pursue their religious freedoms. I want politics to be a rational exercise where decisions and choices are based on reason and policy making responds to the rule of cause and effect.

That is why I am very uncomfortable - even fearful - when politicians and public figures glibly invoke the name of God in the political process. For that reason, I called out my good friend Nelson Chamisa when he famously declared in the context of the current MDC power struggles that Morgan Tsvangirai was ordained by God to rule. (Interestingly, a paper reviewing the MDC-T's 2013 election campaign by Dr Phillan Zamchiya observes the prevalence of the view within the party that it had divine ordination to rule and so would win the election, a view that conditioned party strategy and calculation).

And now we have First Lady Grace Mugabe entering the political fray name-dropping God in her perspective of party politics in Zimbabwe today. The absurdity of it all is complete when on the one hand, in explaining the state of the MDC post-election, Grace Mugabe claims Morgan Tsvangirai and his party have been ditched by God and put into their rightful place, while on the other, Chamisa extols the leadership of Tsvangirai as Zimbabwe's "Moses" and declares divine ordination for him to rule Zimbabwe. These are rather innocuous appropriations of God for political service by politicians of course, but history shows how frighteningly dangerous it can get.

More debilitatingly, it stifles thought and kills national discourse, which process must legitimately yield solutions to national questions and provide us with policy. When politicians retreat into the religious and "do God", they subvert rationality and democratic discourse, which is a retrogressive and illiberal thing to do, leading to a poverty of ideas, and therefore, of everything else.