“UNTIL philosophers (intellectuals) bear rule, states and individuals will have no rest from evil,” the Greek philosopher Plato once opined.
Plato believed that only the intellectually gifted – what he called “philosopher-kings” or intellectual-politicians – were sufficiently rational to run governments and that they were most aware of “the good”.
Plato’s conviction in fusing politics with intellect has been shared by some in Zimbabwe over the years.
It was in 2000 that Professor Jonathan Moyo declared: “The distinction between an intellectual and a politician is an unintelligent one. Intellectuals and politicians go together because politics that is not driven by intellectuals is not powerful.”
In 2005, President Robert Mugabe mocked Morgan Tsvangirai for not being an intellectual-politician, noting that “although he has ambition, it is hollow ambition which is not clothed in any greater understanding and intellectual appreciation”.
There is a sense among some of Zimbabwe’s intellectual-politicians that they are better suited to conducting national politics. Indeed, since 1980, some of the key turning points in Zimbabwean politics have been dominated by the involvement of the so-called intellectual-politicians.
Remember the late Dr Bernard Chidzero’s championing of the Esap agenda in the late 1980s and early 1990s?
Recall Dr Edison Zvobgo’s role, as Zanu PF’s legal chief, in drafting many of the amendments to the Lancaster House constitution which are decried as undemocratic today?
Recall again Zvobgo’s efforts in reforming Zanu PF and the state through the Constitutional Commission’s draft constitution that was rejected in the 2000 referendum?
Remember Dr Chenjerai “Hitler” Hunzvi, the war veterans’ leader during the farm seizures and later a member of parliament for the Chikomba constituency?
Recall Professor Jonathan Moyo as a combative and creative Information
minister responsible for the powerful propaganda blitz that legitimised the Third Chimurenga?
In the words of Dr Nathan Shamuyarira, another intellectual-politician, Moyo was “a very sharp, very bright intellectual good at rebutting the arguments of the opposition and at articulating the party’s policies”.
Remember Dr Joseph Made and Patrick Chinamasa as the relevant ministers in charge of the decimation and corruption of Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector and justice system respectively?
Dr Ignatius Chombo, Dr Stanislaus Mudenge, Dr Samuel Mumbengegwi and Dr Sydney Sekeramayi were or are hardly exemplary ministers in their respective ministries either.
And of course, we cannot forget Mugabe, the most eminent intellectual-politician of all, with several university degrees and overlordship of the most catastrophic economic decline in recent memory.
In 2008, lo and behold, in the midst of widely felt disillusionment and disgruntlement with the intellectual-politician Mugabe, up comes yet another intellectual-politician, Dr Simba Makoni, with a grand ambition to “facilitate” Zimbabwe’s turnaround by helping Zimbabweans to help themselves.
And who has been the most prominent figure, in public at least, thus far in Makoni’s campaign? Yes, you guessed it – another would-be intellectual-politician, Dr Ibbo Mandaza.
The record of intellectual-politicians in Zimbabwe is far from admirable. Little surprise that the Tsvangirai MDC’s treasurer, Roy Bennett, on February 22 in a SW Radio Africa broadcast commented: “You know there is something about these people with degrees. They come in from the top and think that they can thrust leadership down to the grassroots because they have got a degree. Let me tell you something . . . Morgan Tsvangirai (and) myself . . . we might not have degrees but we have got degrees in people . . . we stand for the people.”
I do not endorse Bennett’s comments entirely because Tsvangirai’s record as a democrat who respects party constitutions is hotly contested by members of the Arthur Mutambara MDC, which broke away from the Tsvangirai MDC in 2005. Tsvangirai’s handling of the Lucia Matibenga affair in 2007 also raised serious questions about his leadership style.
What I do endorse is Bennett’s scepticism of the intellectual-politician class.
Makoni has attempted to cast himself as a former voice of reason and conscience in Zanu PF, who eventually decided to run for the presidency outside of Zanu PF. Makoni wants to “return power to you, the people” and “reclaim our country which is being destroyed by a minority”, as he claimed when campaigning on February 28. Despite Makoni’s passionate appeals to the people, many – and rightly so – remain sceptical of him.
During the Third Chimurenga, while he was still the editor-in-chief of the now defunct Mirror Newspapers Group and writing under the pen name “The Scrutator”, Mandaza argued that white farmers were not the “victims of Mugabe’s mad land reform” but that the real “mad land reform” had occurred during the colonial period when whites seized most of the productive land from blacks without compensation and confined blacks to overcrowded and barren land.
Mandaza also contended that “those familiar with the Zimbabwean situation, and indeed with the history of revolutions and transitions, know confidently well that there could have been no resolution of the land question – and the colonial question in general – without the kind of war and turmoil that has accompanied the process so far”.
Would-be intellectual-politicians such as Mandaza would now have us believe that they are committed reform-minded rational actors when not long ago they used strategies of deflection to protect the land seizures from the label “mad land reform” and attempted to justify the violence, destruction and deaths accompanying the fast-track land reform as a fait accompli.
Plato’s old faith in intellectual-politicians is dubious because one of the most disconcerting aspects of Zimbabwe’s recent political history is that highly educated individuals have presided over the country’s decline. They have also legitimised state violence, persecution and a calculated assault on our human rights.
In 2008, should we entrust our hopes for an authentically better Zimbabwe with intellectual-politicians? Do they have “degrees in people”?
*Â Blessing-Miles Tendi is a Zimbabwean researcher at Oxford University.