Saturday, 28 July 2007

Zim: An elegy to the midnight generation that betrayed

Zim: An elegy to the midnight generation that betrayed

As Foreign Minister, Dr. Mudenge — now Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education – had a favourite phrase: nabobs of negativism. Judging by the times he served in that capacity, it is fair to say this was a phrase thrust upon him by contingencies of history which took him off his desk and country, to fulfil a hectic ambulatory career. Foreign ministers are any country’s roving salesmen, men (they usually are) always on the road, incurably mono-track where their country’s honour is thrown into doubt, let alone sullied.

They have to learn to simulate anger; to hector, to bully and if need be, hammer the conference desk with a spent shoe heel, all to press a point or position. Dr. Mudenge was no exception, his task made better and arguably easier by his stupendous built which ensured his words — always well chosen for greatest effect — were weightily leaned on, again to overwhelming effect. Quite often, and away from my pastime as a diligent excoriator, we would both meet to reminisce, mostly to raucous laughter, but also to convince ourselves we are still virile academics, not just in touch but leading the world of the literati, made all the poorer by our lamentable departure, severally. Nuggets of learning — always well couched — would be traded, suitably loud enough to drown the purr of a sweating Boeing, headed for the next Summit. Of course both of us had left the academia a long time ago, vividly evidenced by the cobwebbed quotes we were happy to spew, not without a headshake of contentment.

Without admitting it, all this amounted to a pedantic dirge of two intellectual once-weres, seeking to self-reassure. I am sure he will not mind just this one burst of candour — or kindly betrayal — however he chooses to call it, which today I use as a stepping stone to reading life’s larger lessons.

Nabobs in history

Many moons back, I had had a chance encounter with the word "nabob": some adjectival noun in an old Victorian English literary work whose title I cannot recall (again, enough proof of a dying intellect). Today I do not have the slightest doubt this word is yet another of mighty Britain’s countless lexical filches, one now perfectly festooned and well integrated into Britain’s ever expanding lexicon.

The word now seats snug and comfortable, thanks to repeated and sonorous usage by speakers of this restless language which shackles the thoughts of humanity’s greater half. In that usage and context, "nabob" came with a prefixial "British" to read "British nabob". It referred to Britain’s diasporic self-made gentry which always sprouted, grew and thrived in rich, un-policed soils of her colonies, in which the sun of ill-gotten opportunity never set. Invariably, these were merchants who thrived on the permissive mercantilist policies of their mother country, and sent rich cargoes back home.

I never knew the word beyond this colonial referent, and thus remain infinitely grateful to this burly historian-cum-foreign minister, for its vintage, collocational redeployment. Out of this effort came "nabobs of negativism", my good minister’s favourite phrase which aptly chastised as it overawed whoever was on the receiving end of it. Or am I grateful to whoever he read? I don’t know, and frankly quite don’t care.

Mudenge’s nabobs

He needed the phrase, or more accurately, Zimbabwe needed that phrase in its diplomatic self-narrative. Dr. Mudenge’s tenure as Foreign Minister coincided with that explosive phase during which we lost British affection, up to this date not quite retrieved. And happily so! You do not lose sleep over forfeiting the affection of a country that bashes you lame, and then compassionately donate to you a wheelchair. Britain wronged us — and continues to do so each day that passes. In that sense it is a hardened criminal, one simply amoral for the confessional. Like a busy fly, we should continue to buzz in its sleep, crying "Sleep no more Albion/Thou hast killed sleep"! Sorry to wonder off a bit. Few enlightened Zimbabweans beggar any opportunity to place a good boot in Albion’s naked hinds, certainly to I.

That Mudenge phase was characterised by a media-led British savaging of Zimbabwe for all sins known to, and to be invented by, mankind. Naturally, much of his squaring with the British was via that country’s hydra-headed media complex spanning the globe, generating such irritating anti-Zimbabwe echoes. It still does, and I am sure the good Doc, remains just as exercised, just as irritated, the way his successor — Dr Mumbengegwi — I am sure is. Part of that cacophonous echo took the form of the now defunct Daily News, and the rented Zimbabwe Independent and Standard, both thought to belong to a "Zimbabwean". He did not like the echo, and deployed this most expressive phrase to sting them a bit! And when he spat out the phrase, you were left in no doubt as to the depth of contempt, or the complete unfitness for purgatory those scalded by it were.

Reading Joram Nyathi

Yesterday I read: "There is a lot of negativism everywhere about anything initiated by government because we lack a national vision. Political rivals are the first to tell us why a policy will fail, but never about how the nation could be better served.

"They gloat over every misfortune that befalls a Zanu (PF) intitiative, from the ill-planned land reform to Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono’s missed inflation targets. Everything Zimbabwean is derided for who initiates it, not for what it can do for national well-being.

"Politics has become the most fertile ground to sow seeds of hatred across social strata. Daily we are forced to behave as if there is no meeting point between MDC and Zanu (PF) supporters and must accentuate the dichotomy.

"This negative disposition has affected companies creating ambivalence about where they stand. Anyone who contribute to nation-building invites rebuke as a collaborator. Instead of business doing business, it is engaged in politics…. There is something to be learnt from the British and American opposition when it comes to the national interest and national vision. The duty to serve and save Zimbabwe is everyone’s burden. This can only be evident to all when we have a national vision informed by humane Christian values".

Honey from a fly

You guess wrong. I was not reading a piece from Dr. Shamuyarira, Zanu (PF)’s Secretary for Information, published by the Herald. I was reading an opinion piece done by Joram Nyathi — that boy from Mberengwa — in the Independent. I do not know what meaning Dr Mudenge places on this thoughtful extract from this lay preacher’s pulpit. I am sure he shall say some day, not without a sense of self-satisfaction that the anger he spat may have carrier with it a bit of helpful instruction.

Certainly this passage is quite atypical of the editorial tradition of the Independent, more so now when its proprietor feels so British South African.

The average reader would say this is honey from a fly: correct words dripping from septic lips, priceless words floating above a grimy green in a Blair T…. It is also quite tempting to abuse Joram — and he is quite vulnerable — and read a resounding figure on the propaganda scorecard. I will not.

Equally, it is very easy to identify and gloatingly dwell on Joram’s clearly politically defined audience, vengefully urging them to hear, hear!

After all a blow that falls on the belly of an enemy, never mind from where, is always most welcome. I know as well as you do who is in opposition, and how ironic it is that they have not learnt "something" from "the British and American opposition when it comes to the national interest and national vision", when in fact they are so close to them, and even live in their good graces. Again, I will not.

We all know the political milieu that inspires and guides Gono, which means knowing which politics are vindicated by Joram’s denouncing of the other. Put differently, to easy judgments, Joram is the proverbial fat blackberry that falls right into a hungry collector’s straw basket. He need not pick it. But that again is to miss the point.

Three cheer from yodelling enemies

Since 1997 — or just before — when the great quarrel with British TB started, we have come quite a long way. We have said many things, and as comes clearly through from the afore-quoted piece, learnt many things too. Embattled and sardine-packed into opposing, antagonistic sides, we have not had the courage to admit to truths that appear to subvert the given boundaries of this Manichean world seemingly made out of polar opposites.

Over these years, our commonality as Zimbabweans has been trampled threadbare, often to awards and rewards — including monetary ones — from our yodelling enemies, who include the British, Americans and some Europeans. Far from viewing ourselves as a solid nation deservedly inhabiting this only country, we have trashed ourselves into a victim country that must be rescued, defended and saved from its Nation and nationals. We are a people to be pitied a people at whom racist condescension is liberally thrown.

Listen to what one British MP said of us just under two weeks ago, on July 19: "I have visited Zimbabwe many times. They are a lovely and wonderful people, be they Mashona or Matabele. I believe that they deserve better from the civilised world than they are getting". We give a grin of gratitude, happy that our "plight" has got the notice of a white and a Briton.

Enter the betraying generation

And those leaving for, or living in the diaspora have even added to this self-immolating bucketfuls of overflowing righteousness: they are the saner, the better, lucky ones who have escaped into "the compassionate civilised world"! Escaping from themselves, what with the self-denying, self-deprecating yarns they reel before a British immigration officer to win "asylum".

We got ourselves to those despicable depths where we so effortlessly denigrate ourselves — savage our own humanity, tear it threadbare, to smithereens — in order to buy refugee status in lands that do not like us a bit, that cannot suffer our black humanity, indeed lands that have held us in slavery and captivity for two thousand years.

Lands, therefore, which owe us our humanity. We carry indelible marks from the thongs of harshness that marked our encounter with them in history, a very recent history at that.

I know that history; Joram knows it, both he and I being midnight or eve children born in settler colonial Rhodesia, luckily growing and blossoming in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Trevor Ncube knows it, again both he and I sharing the same times, same pains, same opportunities we now do quite well to ignore. Or traduce. So does Welshman Ncube — a year or so my elder at college — and many others in opposition and the ruling party, too many to mention.

More guilty than Independence’s tots

I cannot refer to the likes of Biti and Sikhala — little boys who came much, much later, but who share with us the overbearing guilt of thankless beneficiaries from a generation that sacrificed. A generation today pilloried. A generation we seek to quarter (that horrid form of colonial justice reserved for "rebels" like Chiwashira) to pieces, atop white horses, driven and pulling in different directions, to the orders of a white master.

It is our generation, and that soon after us who are Iscariots of that generation of Zimbabwe’s liberation. We are educated; skilled even, thanks to those who lost their lives, or surrendered prospects to the struggle for Independence.

The good English (not always serving good thought) we deploy to curse Mugabe and his generation of fighters for our freedom, came from his far-sighted policies, indeed from peasants and workers who had just emerged from a brutal war of liberation, but were ready to spare from their precious little, so we could enter that ivory tower called UZ, eat bellyful, sleep in its patrician halls of residence.

Our generation had it nice, very nice, whether in Manfred, Carr Saunters, Med. Res. or the magnetic Swinton. The same peasant, the same worker whose begriming poverty we are happy to peer at through a keyhole from newfound magnificence — often ill-got, often a generous reward for studious stewardship of the assets of that same peasant’s oppressor: the white man.

Mistresses, concubines of a white class

We are the generation managing enterprises of those forces playing with prices at their whim, like a Great Cruel Deity, destroying livelihoods of our very lowly benefactors, all in the name of "sound pricing policies".

We have become the wiseacres of Rhodesian settler capitalism, ready even to go to prison, to defend that dying capitalism’s right to flay our people in the oligopoly market it created, which we perpetuate. No peasant frequents the black market, none understands its rules.

Yet all are trapped by its negative externalities, externalities of a greedy underclass class. We profitably dive into the arcane world of money changers; the innocent peasant gets dredged by the market whose cruel laws and forces we unleash on them, apparently as a reprisal for their innocence. What is worse, the profits accumulated from these mad overpricing, leaves the country as a cost a.k.a dividend, much to the happy surprise of investors overseas, over-rivers (Pick&Pay). We wring our people dry and bony for a happy white man overseas, who cannot hold his surprise at the incredible margins we make for him, we make, therefore, against our people. We, capitalism’s hopeless pimps!

Crucify him, crucify him!

No, Mugabe’s call for fair prices is hoary and mad, his push for indigenisation and empowerment – our empowerment – suicidal! His policies have turned metallurgists into overseas trash carters, as Chamber of Mines president, one Mrehwa, is happy to tell the white press. We rehearse white arguments as if we are genuine stakeholders in his world: Mugabe’s views on the economy are septic, Dell, IMF, World Bank’s, aseptic, curative! So we carp, veins straining, to the consummate pleasure of white lords. Helpfully, we add: "Mugabe must go", joining British lords and parliamentarians. Again helpfully, we add, "Let him be couped", agreeing with M16. For saying you must own your land, own your economy, buy at a fair price? No, Barabbas must be freed! It beats me.

Brecht’s worker looks at Zimbabwe’s history

When I hear that the business "leadership" (ironically and deceptively all-black in an economy which is virtually all-white), have gone to see the President, Financial Gazette in happy cheer, I ask: if Mugabe had instructed JOC to enforce a wage-freeze blitz, as did Pinochet in Chile of the mid-1970s, would these minders of white interests have demanded audience with the President? Or if Mugabe had ordered "Operation Dzoserai Minda Kuvarungu"? What is the class position of Jokonya and his colleagues in the so-called business leadership? What colour were the ideas they shared with President Mugabe on that day? Very uncomfortable questions to raise. Even more difficult ones to answer. But pertinent questions you and I have to address, if we are to build what Joram calls a national vision. I know these "business leaders", some of them in quite personal terms. I have lots of affection for them – some of them at least. But I loathe a false friendship that pre-empts pertinent questions that could help Zimbabwe take a different course in history. Much depends on how we define the problem, and who we designate as the solution. Roles we play in the current racial settler economy, makes many of us blatant swindles, human red herrings at critical junctures in the life of our nation.

From where, To where, for whom?

I go back to Joram. Certainly any vision which aspires to guide a nation has to address the question of agency: who begets it; pushes it; to where, for whom? And surely Joram must know there are so many visions flying about us. Many, many visions. The latest one, freshly minted, comes from Adam Smith International, dated 20 July, 2007, titled "100 Days: An agenda for Government and Donors in a New Zimbabwe". That same day, the business sector "leaders" here, penned another, titled "The Quest for Zimbabwe Economic Stabilisation and Recovery". Yet another came copiously from both Houses of the British establishment, as they debated Zimbabwe like it was a small disaster in some part of Middle England. You have the Common Rand Area/Zone vision, again coined by the British establishment, flaunted at the South Africans. The IMF has its own vision, whose starting point is a swift consignment of Gono and his quasi-fiscal philosophy to the cemetery, where silence reigns, where no-one comes back, at least in known human form! The World Bank, ooh! The Fishmongers! I could go on and on, the basic point being that Zimbabwe has had many visions thrust upon here, all of them sweet-to-sour baits. Far less than the vision, Zimbabwe faces an elementary question of owning and employing its own wisdom, using it to arrive at a vision, in order to make a destiny, its own destiny. That can’t come from a generation that craves to be regaled by Britain, dying to be received and wanted by the potentates of Europe and America. Or caressed by Europe’s nabobs, to reintroduce Stan. Certainly that vision will not come from peeing on the fontanel of the history we have made from so much blood; it will not come by contemptuously wishing that our freedom fighters – now in the army – play centurions to British and American interests, as speculates Jonathan Moyo who appears to be living through a moment of unrelieved idiotic and fatal recklessness. It will not come by disparaging and haunting out the heroes of our history, even equating them with the loss of our welfare which we imagine will be loaned to us by the British. Or through the so-called mass actions called by interests that are clearly against the masses.

Pus of a malignant tumor

It comes from us: you and me as genuine Zimbabweans, un-prodded by interests inimical to our people. And the history we have lived has taught us what those interests are, and who personifies them. That history has also taught us to be wary of politics of the hostile other, enacted through our own brethren. Today MDC is the pus pointing to a malignant tumor Britain has again introduced into our body-politic. They last did it in 1978-79, and the two debates in the British houses clearly show political Britain acutely longs for that very short halcyon neo-colonial era. I witnessed it, lived through it. So did the sample I gave or cited above. Presently, we are a generation beating different paths, but all defined by where we stand in relation the great national question of the day. We know what Rhodesia was – how it meant to be alive and African. We know Zimbabwe – equally what it took to bring it about, what it needs to keep it free and sovereign. Indeed, to keep it a country that serves its Nation, its People so disadvantaged and expropriated by a history. As midnight children - the eve generation - we have a comparative perspective, and thus can educate those yet unborn or just born, as we crossed over; can warn those old enough to remember and know, but weak enough or too tired to keep to the cause. We have not done so yet. Instead we have joined the beating of a shallow drum, another’s drum, as if we do not recognise its dreadful sound. Joram appears to have now realised it, or to have played this dreadful drum to coyness. He does not want its beat anymore, which is why his piece is so important as a marker of incipient reawakening of a derelict generation, my generation. We could be creeping out of the woods.

Courting America’s dictators

Some day – and one prays that day never comes – when this nation, on the cajoling advice of an outsider, buys itself a dictator, or accepts one, my generation is wise enough to know that such a political persona will never be a self-taught one, but one bred abroad, in circumstances where as a people, we will have refused to take, define and defend our own destiny, preferring an easy one loaned from London and Washington. I go back to Chile under Salvador Allende. The years are 1970/71/72/73. Faced with the first leftist party and president the first to make it to power via a clean ballot; faced with an effete conservative machinery and leadership that could not stop that great political abomination from happening, America went, first into lamentation, and later into conclusive conspiracy. Both impulses were instructive, still are to this day and generation. From America’s point of view, the bane of Chile on the eve of this great political abomination was that it was served by an army which "was constitutionally minded", and thus disinclined to prevent the rise of Allende’s leftist government through a coup. So reported its CIA station manager for that country. "Progress" would only be achieved when the military had been made to graduate from this debilitating psychosis of constitutionalism, he recommended. The incumbent President then, Frei – conservative, pro-American but timid – remarked ahead of Allende’s inauguration set for the same year of 1970, in October: "Chile faces a very short future. After October (Allende’s inauguration month), Chile will only have a past". Such a remark gave the conspiring Americans greater impetus to conspire, even a sense of messianic mission.

The day Chile lost a future, only held onto a past

The second stage opened with the murder of the general who commanded the armed forces, and thus was guilty of generating such inertia. General Schneider was disposed of, cruelly by hired assassins. Then the CIA turned to the military, worked on it. And on retired generals too, whom it hoped would command serving members, worked on both until the mindset changed, with the Chilean military taking on an outlook quite irreverent to the constitution, to lawful authority, to the President. General Pinochet walked in, smashed Chile’s palace and its reform-minded President, sat in. That year alone, won Chile US$290 million from temporarily grateful America, much of still being paid back to this day by generations that followed that dark epoch. Chile paid more. It lost a revolution, lost a president. Above all, it lost a country, which USA gained.

New leaders who think, do things like us

From that day, indeed Chile only had a past, its future being American. A very good gain that changed the face of Latin America, granting that subcontinent an historical setback out of which it is just creeping, a good four decades after. Robert McNamara, then victorious America’s defense secretary, could afford to brag about a new generation of leaders in Latin America (sounds familiar?), all of them nightly tutored by America through the military and subsequently sired by a series of coups: "They are the new leaders. I don’t need to expatiate on the value of having in leadership positions men who have previously become closely acquainted with how we Americans think and do things. Making friends with those men is beyond price". Amazingly candid tongue, predictably loosened by a sense of impunity exclusively enjoyed by minions of a superpower.

A shot as we part.

Mine has been a long peroration, one often diving into moments of history to find illustrations, hopefully to make those moments living pieces that help shape our present, and hopefully our future as well, as proud Zimbabweans. I do not believe in history as a mummified story of dead men and rarely, dead women doing good things. Like Eduardo Galeano – that great Latino revolutionary – I believe history to be "a live memory of our day", a key to understanding the present and the future, indeed that zone of active life we go to "for the sounds and footprints of the multitudes who traced the paths we walk today". Well read, history need not continue to be the cruel mistress it has been for us, all along. Especially for my culpable generation. Icho!

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