If there is one single most tragic characteristic of Zimbabwean or African politics that has played a leading role in the festering of dictatorships and corruption, it has been the pre-medieval practice of “cult politics” and
By Tendai Mbofana
Although, much to the pride of African dignity, there have been a few bright examples of what leadership and governance is all about, such as in Botswana and Namibia, the vast majority of states have been nothing, but an embarrassment to politics on the continent.
In fact, this may possibly be a typically African people’s flaw, as it transcends the political field, into such areas as religion, as witnessed by the manner in which, predominantly, African Christians are more prone to worship their pastors and other so-called “men and women of God” — a trend very rare in other parts of the world.
Unfortunately, in Zimbabwean partisan politics, this psychopathic trait is not confined to Zanu PF alone, but is rife in all the major parties.
That is why I always tell those around me that the main reason for my lack of enthusiasm in joining any political party is that I can never demean myself to hero-worshipping or praise-sing any human being.
Without delving much into the origins of such a hero-worshipping culture within the African context, I would cautiously assume that this unfortunate stain on our characteristics originated from our unreasonable fear of our elders — which was usually immersed in dubious ancestral worship overtones.
Therefore, our culture was mostly based on fear, and not respect, for our elders and those in authority, as we superstitiously believed that they possessed some supernatural anointing — as a result, any failure to exhibit veneration would result in some misfortune, or even death.
This, clearly, is why even today, we still find the ruling Zanu PF party’s sycophants battling over each other to portray President Robert Mugabe as some sort of mystically anointed super-individual who should be revered, feared and deified —or else grave danger would befall any “dissenters”.
Which is one reason, I believe, Zanu PF hooligans are always more than ready and prepared to kill for their leader, as I am more than convinced that — just as Takfiri Muslim terrorists — they are showing reverence to their “god” by annihilating any suspected “heathens”.
Such is the danger and tragedy of this warped reasoning, that countries like Zimbabwe have had to endure nearly four decades of a brutal dictatorship, whereby Mugabe has been regarded as infallible, and unchallengeable — even within his own party.
Anything he decrees is regarded as law, without question — and anyone who dares challenge him is immediately dealt with.
The vicious infighting within Zanu PF is nonetheless, poised to radically change all that. Soon after independence, the only viable opposition to Mugabe’s rule was the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo’s PF Zapu, which had over the course of the liberation struggle been wrongly portrayed as a Ndebele tribal party — in spite of its leader being Kalanga — by the divisive, tribalist and racist Zanu PF.
As such, not only the party, but all Ndebeles were swiftly shown what it meant to oppose Zimbabwe’s self-imposed “deity” through a ruthless genocide (1983-1987), which resulted in the massacre of over 20 000 innocent men, women, and children in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces. This did not end there, as hundreds of other opposition party supporters were murdered after the 1999 formation of the Movement of Democratic Change (MDC).
This does not include other acts of atrocities committed against smaller opposition parties before 1999, and in recent years. This cult politics of hero-worshipping has also entered the very corridors of the ruling Zanu PF, as witnessed by the vicious infighting — if taken at face value — that has rocked the party over the past few years.
Several top members, including its Vice-President Joice Mujuru, have been sacked from Zanu PF for no other serious crime, but to challenge Mugabe’s hold on power.
Today, the infighting is at its zenith, with the two main factions outdoing each other in portraying the other as being disloyal — or even downright rebellious — against Mugabe, in the hope that that would result in their rivals’ sacking.
Only in Zimbabwe is challenging a sitting President a crime — even worthy of imprisonment, dismissal from the party, or death by party fanatics!
This cult politics and hero-worshipping has not only resulted in a President that is not accountable and answerable to the people, who supposedly elected him into office — as is expected in any functioning democracy — but has also resulted in a tyrannical regime that rides roughshod over everyone — as no one can question the President.
The nation has run dry, as the President can dip into the national purse without being answerable to anyone — as he is deemed entitled to anything he so desires.
Even though some within his own party can clearly see that their leader’s policies have destroyed a once vibrant country, they dare not say anything, as they fear the worst — only to be bold enough when they have been kicked out of office and the party.
Such fear — even among the President’s lieutenants, whom we believe should be close enough to rebuke him — is the main cause of the economic, social and political meltdown in Zimbabwe.
The only surest way for a country to prosper is when there are above board checks and balances, whereby everyone — including the President — is held to account for their every action and decision.
That concept is, however, unheard of in Zimbabwe — thus, the chaos. It is ironical that this system of cultism — which led to the government’s failure — is the same that ensures that there is no change in rulership, hence perpetuating the people’s suffering.
The only end result — though unenviable — is for the oppressed people to revolt, as happened in countries such as Togo — where the publics had had enough and loudly started clamouring for the removal of the ruling dynasty.
Such scenes of violence —mainly instigated by State apparatuses — are a very unsettling portrayal of Africa’s cult politics and hero-worshipping, as the oppressed people finally reach breaking point and try all means possible to break free from their bondage.
If only there was genuine democracy in Africa, then such desperate scenes would not be witnessed, as people would merely speak through the ballot box.
Nevertheless, even elections in such a tyrannical environment are nothing, but a sham, as the government will ensure that every step of the election process is steeped in favour of the “deity”.
That is why, in Zimbabwe, there are endless calls for genuine – not half-hearted — electoral reforms to ensure free and fair elections, so as to avoid the Kenyan scenario — where the recent elections where declared void by that country’s supreme court.
However, there seems to be some glimmer of hope, as recent activities in Zanu PF’s infighting are showing. Relatively junior party members are now openly challenging their seniors.
Although, this is far from a genuine paradigm shift in the party’s cult politics, as Mugabe is still very much their “deity”, it is, nonetheless, encouraging and refreshing.
We have seen how Zanu PF junior members have been so critical of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, without the slightest fear — although, this sudden “boldness” may be founded on the fact that Mugabe’s wife First Lady Grace is supporting them.
That being said, I still believe that an unquenchable fire has been lit in Zanu PF that will forever drastically change the way leaders are viewed. This has triggered an unstoppable tsunami of change, as sooner rather than later, even the party president — no matter who that will be — will no longer be regarded as a “god”, and will be freely and openly scrutinised and questioned — a core trait of any democracy.
This will also inevitably lead to checks and balances, resulting in the creation of a fertile environment for the country’s development and prosperity. A country whose centre of power is only one individual is clearly doomed — and Zimbabwe is no exception, as is already happening.
The infighting in Zanu PF is another unenviable example of the folly of one centre of power, as there will be no clear succession policies.
Power belongs to the people, and that is where it should be returned.
Let the seeds that have been planted by the infighting in Zanu PF demystifying party leadership, spread across all other political parties, where clearly, the same problem exists — and only then can Zimbabwe have a hope of true democracy.
l Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.