BEING an ordinary person seeking, for now, an ordinary lifestyle where two slices of bread, an egg and cup of tea is what I need for my heavy breakfast, I feel the word “politics” has become too complicated for my intellect and am left confused. My naivety is paying a hefty price to the people I have given so much allegiance to —— the politicians.
I grew up in my rural district of Mberengwa in the Midlands province. A province rich in natural resources and yet so underdeveloped. I distanced myself from politics when I was in my teens rightfully so, to avoid confrontations with my elders.
Politics was a sensitive subject which by that time could only be discussed by our fathers. I only had “real” encounters with politics when politicians visited our school or called for rallies we would be forced to attend by our headmaster. Like it or not, politicians were gods by then.
As preparations for an upcoming rally that draws popular politicians we would be asked by our headmaster to prepare some dramas, compose music and poems praised the politicians by name. Presentations were made in such a way that the politicians would conclude that they were the air that we breathed.
We usually praised them for having brought “non-existent” development to our community. Sadly, we would wait for the whole day in the midst of the scotching sun for the politicians to arrive, without eating, only clad in dead animal skins and dance till the heavens broke down upon their arrival. It was an insult to tell your teacher in charge that you were starving and needed a slice of bread from your lunch box.
Â Moreover the exhaustion and hunger would have been exacerbated by the previous day’s work where we would have created flower beds and paved new roads for the politician’s arrival.
In the midst of such body crippling dance routines, the master of ceremony would take the microphone to insult us further by saying “chimirai, chimirai…tisingapedzeri vakuruvedu nguva garai henyu pasi” (stop, stop… we do not want to waste anymore of our distinguished guests’ time sit down). We would be instantly stopped by our teachers in the middle of the drama as if we had committed some crime.
Our teachers would then pass accolades especially to those whose dance routines did manage to compromise heavily with their God given bone arrangement.I wondered if their children and those in the cities did this to politicians. I used to be told by my cousin when I visited the city for holidays that they had no time to do such “strange things”.
He wouldd rather spend his time playing cricket, rugby or go to a movie. Although I thought usage of the word “strange” was rather an abomination to our culture, I now understand what it means to do such practices to politicians who have brought development in your community in the form of a heap of cheap rhetoric.
Some of the statements we often heard being uttered at rallies were “vana vechidiki ndimi vatungamiriri vamangwana” (children are the leaders of tomorrow).
There isn’t anything wrong in uttering this statement. But if it’s said over and over again by the same person who seems to have done nothing for the development of your community, it becomes cheap and insulting.
I can still remember vividly when the whole school was called one late afternoon for an assembly by the school headmaster to be told Robert Mugabe was coming to open our newly built secondary school Mbuyanehanda – so we were asked to wash our dirty uniforms and iron them to meet him.
Whatever commands as long as it was said to prepare for the visit by our political figures, we would follow without hesitation. Politicians to us were like the Roman army. Even members of parliament wielded so much power and could draw a large crowd to a rally. It is the speeches they gave that still affect me up to this day.
We were so vulnerable because the language of politics was only for the preserved few – our fathers and politicians. Since we did not have access to radio and televisions they are the ones who would tell us about politics, economics and the world outside our borders. I remember asking one old man what the highlights of the MP’s speech was, at a rally he had attended. He told me “…hanzi ndinokumhorosai navaMugabe” (Mugabe said I greet you all).
To us that was big news that our MP could wine and dine with Mugabe although it eventually surfaced that it was pure rhetoric. To many of us, our level of development was defined by the fact that our brothers where working in Harare and could be able to send our parents soap, cooking oil and school fees.
Â Now that all that relationship has simply vanished because of the hyperinflation it has exposed the other side of politics that we did not know.
There is a certain phrase that has fast become a clichÃ© used by our politicians when they visit our rural communities; “income generating projects”. Politicians are made to believe that once they utter this statement even if it is not backed by evidence on the ground, they quickly win the crowd.
This even applies to giving an unemployed graduate with a master’s degree in engineering some footballs to start his own national team or some second hand clothes.
Whilst my upbringing could be common to so many people, it brings to the fore how politicians sometimes take advantage of our cultural beliefs and backgrounds to hoodwink us into believing their rhetoric. Does being an African mean there is a certain level of vulnerability that the so called politicians notice, that we the common people don’t see? It looks like the more one cherishes his culture; the more he can be seen as an easy recruit by politicians.
Through culture, we were taught to have a high respect for our leaders and chiefs and we believe once a command comes from their high office it has to be followed without scrutiny. This brings me to a question that still hangs in my mind. How do our African traditional religions influence the shaping of the political discourse? Many politicians choose to override rationality and hoodwink the public using leaflets from the religion?
An important point that politicians should understand is that being an ordinary African with little to average education and being unemployed does not mean one is naÃ¯ve and stupid. This explains why some politicians believe buying the youths and our fathers beer and drawing them into cheap insulting rhetoric will make them fall prey to their political gimmicks.
Some legislators are known to appear in their constituency during elections time with far-fetched promises. Many have been serving in that position for many years without tangible development they have done for their communities. The big question is how do they manage to win elections when a large number of the electorate seems to support a different political establishment?
That’s why it’s so difficult for so many people to believe, let alone watch the news that is coming out of the ZBC. It takes a very close allegiance to lies to believe some of the clips that come out during the news bulletin. One then asks the question, what is the news’s intended target? The educated lot who are able to differentiate between black and white or the naÃ¯ve?
I will never forget a Zanu PF politician I heard during a news bulletin saying “VaMugabe vakaita sababa vemusha. Ndiani angabvisa baba vemusha or angaramba baba vake?”Â Â (Mugabe is like a father of the house.
Who can remove or reject his father?) Using references to such basic African traditional practices to suit a political agenda is insulting. It seems many politicians have found references to our cultural beliefs an easy way to cleanse themselves from their shortcomings. Who does not know that being in government is a public office?
Many proponents of Pan-Africanism and Ubuntu are our dear politicians who have managed so well to hoodwink the public into believing their rhetoric. If one strongly disagrees with their views that’s not being African. This explains why our so-called political commentators utilise the humanist philosophies – because they know the public are so vulnerable. Such levels of desperation is not only shocking but lamentable.
The bitter exchange between Morgan Tsvangirai and Thabo Mbeki concerning Tsvangirai’s denunciation of Sadc leaders is one such example. Mbeki said, in reply to Tsvangirai “All of us will find it strange and insulting that because we do not agree with you……you chose to describe us in a manner most offensive in terms of Africa culture and therefore our sense of dignity as Africans….”
Who defines who is an African and who is not, because amongst us (Africans) no one seems to have the mandate or manual for such a claim to hold water? The complexity of human behaviour should always make it necessary for people to limit certain arguments and speeches to reason and substance. What is it being African in politics if it’s not trying to take advantage of the vulnerable and poor?
Boldwill Hungwe is a Zimbabwe Independent Publishers photographer.