The other day a little resident in my house who doesn’t pay rent asked me to keep quiet for a moment.
“Why?” I asked a bit baffled at his unexpected impudence (I don’t take kindly to rude kids).
“I am in the zone.” Aah. Now I understood. He had a key sports game that morning and he needed to psyche himself up.
Part of being in the zone, I was to understand, meant visualising the tackles and mapping a plan to win.
Well, it seems organised civil society in Zimbabwe needs some serious time out in the “zone”.
Whilst our eyes were focused on Mr Robert Mugabe and the Zanu PF merry gang, we have been less critical of ourselves.
The result is an unhappy state of affairs where as civil society we have begun to lose a common vision of how we should birth a democratic Zimbabwe.
Let me give an example. On one occasion this year I had the embarrassment of hearing an officer within an NGO state categorically:
“The GPA/GNU is our Moses. It is leading us out of Egypt to the land of Canaan.”
Now, as we all know, Zimbabweans are a polite lot and blasphemous statements are nothing new to us (anyone remember the bootlicker par excellence who compared President Mugabe to Jesus Christ?)
The civil society speaker was within his rights to assert his opinion.
What I questioned was his judgment and choice of words given that he represented a broad church of civil society organisations.
It seems to me that history is not a great teacher.
For three decades our rights as citizens have been chipped away because in 1980 we gave our dear leaders a blank cheque and told them they could withdraw whatever cash they wanted.
Well, they decided they wanted the whole bank instead and we let them.
This is very much like the story of the camel in the rain asking the man in the tent for a little bit of space to park its head.
The camel, of course, ends up taking the whole tent.
We have had to deal with a decade of the camel refusing to vacate the tent.
Civil society and academia seem to have begun to abdicate their leadership role.
Civil society is divided, fragmented and, most certainly, becoming rudderless. To compound that we have to deal with our respective egos, each the size of Rufaro Stadium.
The egos are based on both founder-leader mentality and competition for resources, and the usual Zimbabwean syndrome — PhD (pull him/her down).
It seems only the Big Brother contest can unite us.
In our public discourse, I intensely feel the absence the voice of the late Professor Masipula Sithole.
His wit and perspicacity could have helped many of us to understand our situation better.
And that is the problem. We do not have enough consistent and coherent public intellectuals who occupy our few independent spaces and rebut and de-bunk the rewritten narratives of this nation.
It is not that articulate intellectuals do not exist. It is just that many have retreated from the public sphere and yet remain vocal and opinionated in private conversations.
Strangely, some of the intellectuals, politicians and civil society activists stand in awe of those who deny them their fundamental freedoms.
Is this a Fanonian case of admiring the coloniser because you hope one day to occupy the same seat as your oppressor?
Is it any wonder that we are beginning to see the replication of the same values in the non-governmental organisations, the autocratic founder-director, the underpaid and demoralised staff and, yep, the lies and more lies?
Civil society should understand that for the majority of our people their deepest fear is going back to 2008.
For them 2008 was the Year of the Locust, gore rendongwe. The year of hyperinflation, food shortage, violence and political chicanery.
So when people express their fears on a fresh election in 2011, the real fear is about going back to anarchy.
At the same time the people recognise that the current situation is untenable. So they ask themselves: “Given precedent, how can they hope that the next election will be free, fair and credible and that a government of the people by the people for the people shall be sworn in?”
To give people an answer, civil society needs to create “critical distance” from the political players and funders and reassert intellectual leadership on Project Zimbabwe.
Civil society and intellectuals should recognise that, in spite of our heterogeneity, there are some demands we cannot compromise on in any new dispensation and those non-negotiable items should not fall off the table.
The experiences of the constitutional process are a testament to how dangerous it is to fashion a position according to alliances and resources.
We should rather put vision first and then talk about resources and partnerships after.
We should form alliances around common issues but support for any common cause with political formations and other groups should be conditional, it should not be taken as a given.
I hope then that like the little boy before his major game, we can also step into the “zone” and reflect deeply on what ails our efforts for a transformed society.
But I forget that vision and integrity have taken an extended leave in the teapot-shaped country. . .
Chris Kabwato is publisher of ziminpictures.com