IT’S quite pleasing to note that whenever the situation requires that Zimbabweans should speak their minds, most of the time they never fail to rise to the occasion.
Politics has a tendency to be binary and people like controversy and drama. But there has to be a way of working out these problems, and sensible minds are needed on both sides to accommodate each other.
By CONWAY TUTANI
In that vein, people ought to slow down. They need not be like a footballer who is too fast to the extent of leaving the ball behind him that when he reaches the goal, he has nothing to shoot into the open goal, like he was dribbling thin air all along.
That said, one big positive about Zimbabweans is that they are not only open-minded, but also clear-minded. They are mostly open and clear about issues. Like this nugget from Monica Zodwa Cheru on Facebook last week: “I apologise in advance for saying this so early in the morning. I was at Mbare Musika and I must say that the road works going on are a relief. After years of patching and ignoring potholes, it is great to see some real road work going on. I just hope that whoever wins the election will ensure that by next year this time, this will not be notable in any way, that it will be news to chance on a ruined road in the city. Once again I apologise for daring to infer that the ED administration might perhaps be doing something right.” (ED is the acronym of President Emmerson Mnangangwa.) There is amazing intelligence out there among Zimbabweans to tap into. I liked the way Cheru used the literary device of dry humour — humour that is oblique, subtle and that is not all around that individual will immediately catch on to — to drive her point home.
Which good work is being appreciated by Peter Rosenfels, a resident of Harare (an opposition stronghold), who posted this accolade to much-maligned mayor Ben Manyenyeni on Facebook: “I need to eat a little humble pie! The new section of Wallis Road completed last week is beautiful! Same quality as Drew Road. Did they maybe give it to a new contractor? Seems Beeston Ave being done this week. Hope it’s just as good!” Manyenyeni appreciatively responded: “Accolades are rare at our station of duty!”
When someone questioned about who was behind this, Manyenyeni, despite being from the opposition camp, resisted the urge to make cheap political capital out of it by claiming all the credit, replying: “It’s a mix — council and Zinara (Zimbabwe National Roads Administration, a government agency).
“Sometimes joint arrangements in actual project or in planning/financing. Certainly too opaque for stakeholders, I agree!”
Indeed, politics is undeniably at work here, but not only that, not to the exclusion of everything else. Obviously ED is using incumbency advantage and there is nothing wrong with that. Incumbent governments all over the world do that. The incumbent government often has easier access to government resources that can be indirectly used to boost a campaign. This is exactly what the ED administration is doing and it’s not the first and last government in the world to do so. In general, incumbents have structural advantages over challengers during elections. Whatever the timing, good work has been done and is being done on the roads.
On his part, Manyenyeni avoided demagougery and exaggeration. The border between bold rhetoric and populist rhetoric can be hard to define for the common person. That is why it is referred to as red meat rhetoric — like you are throwing red meat to a bunch of ravenous lions — you are feeding the crowd, getting them riled up, arousing angry feelings that may escalate from mere impatience to rage and violence. So, as responsible politicians, we should not pander to the crowd.
And there is a vast difference between opposition and oppositionalism. Some elements are not functioning politicians, but mere oppositionists. The problem with being only and solely satisfied with an oppositional strategy is that it makes it extremely, if not impossibly, hard to be for something. Such people are always in “pre-opposition” mode even before they hear what their opponents have to say. People should not pander to oppositionalism.
But Zimbabweans have largely opted to remain independent in their thinking despite the fact that politics tends to be binary particularly with elections looming. They are refusing to be part of the chorus of 100% negativity from some quarters. They are refusing to dance to the tune of politicians who overhype, who are making exaggerated claims about themselves and their own “innovative” projects and solutions.
Overhype is a real danger especially if fed into highly impressionable and ignorant people, especially youths — of which there are many. Such people do not have any sense of conceptual coherence, they cannot discern whether things being said are connected or not. Their background knowledge or lack thereof makes them swallow any naive theories about the world. You cannot treat voters as a bunch of news feeds, but some politicians are doing exactly that dishing out lies and exaggerations at every turn.
On the one hand, the ruling Zanu PF party is in no hurry to exaggerate after getting its fingers severely burnt over its failure to deliver over 2 million jobs in a mere five years made during the party’s 2013 election campaign.
But, on the other hand, it seems MDC-T-cum-MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa (also known as Wamba Diawamba) cannot resist the urge to exaggerate. In extending birthday wishes to Chamisa on February 2 this year, political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya, an opposite sympathiser himself, wrote on Facebook: “As you turn 40 today and continue on your public political life, you must be strong and liberal to accept criticism where it is due in order to mature, this includes accepting censure from people like me when you make unhelpful statements such as getting US$15 billion from Donald Trump . . . When we make public your individual failings, we do so based on proven and uncontestable facts available.”
But it seems this advice fell on stony ground as Chamisa has gone on to make more fantastical promises, the latest of which is about building a world-class airport in rural Murewa, which drew this deserved sarcastic, disbelieving response from Hopewell Chino’no, one of Zimbabwe’s best and brightest minds: “Wambology of the Week: Flight UM263 from Nyamapanda to Harare with a 30-minute stopover in Murewa. Bhora haimhariba (It won’t land at Bhora). Business class ticket special.”
Stop it, Chamisa!
lConway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org