Echoes: CONWAY TUTANI
THE MDC Alliance’s initial reaction to their defeat in the ward by-election held in Cowdray Park, Bulawayo, last week was a classic or textbook example of denialism — the human tendency to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth.
Tweeted MDC leader Nelson Chamisa’s spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda in all seriousness — yes, in all seriousness — after the MDC lost the by-election: “Look, we blinked and the rigging machine took advantage. This is primarily because president Chamisa focused on the cyclone and humanitarian situation. Be rest assured president Chamisa will look into this.”
This was total denial, with Sibanda completely rejecting the loss, solely blaming it on rigging, but without proferring any evidence of such whatsoever. Of course, this is not surprising because Sibanda is known for getting ahead of himself, but that makes it no less than denialism writ large. I am sure we have all come across unbearable people who can’t handle the truth and live their life by believing lies and convincing themselves of things that nobody believes, but them.
Even that spinner of yarns, fabulist, fibster and falsifier, Jonathan Moyo, suffered a lapse of his pathological lying to tell the honest and brutal truth, saying: “It means the MDC Alliance has disconnected with Bulawayo voters. Time was when for every three registered voters in Bulawayo, two were MDC. The writing is on the wall: If the MDC Alliance leadership does not introspect on this and reconnect with Bulawayo voters, trouble lies ahead!”
Because of this denialism, some people are still entrapped in the election mode nine months after the polls were held. Denialism has been described as psychological shadow of dishonesty; it is the willing exchange of the truth — election defeat — for a lie — rigging — because the lie is more digestible or palatable — like a person drinking a cheap beer but pretending it is an expensive wine. Those in denial can concoct even the strangest of fictions — like the science fiction that was being spread before the 2018 general election that ink on the ballot paper could move from the name of one candidate to another.
Denial may be understood as an attempt to reject unacceptable feelings, or even a painful external reality that alters our perception of ourselves. This psychological defence mechanism protects us — but only temporarily — from knowledge about things we don’t want to know and insight or awareness that threatens our self-esteem. That is why we still found lawyers rejecting the well-reasoned Constitutional Court ruling because it had hurt their pride even though they did not produce strong evidence for the court to decide otherwise.
Sadly, this denialism has also permeated the private media. Readers, if you think I am exaggerating, here is the data: One journalist (name withheld, but who signs himself off as #Loyal to the game) posted this on Facebook last week following the death of musician Tedious Matsito: “I believe the government killed Tedious Matsitso. His condition required regular physiotherapy, but the prohibitive cost of such services made Matsito give up . . .”
I responded: “Are you saying that patients don’t die in hospitals in the West, that people in the West don’t have terminal illnesses or what? As a journalist, you are expected to do better than that.” He replied: “No, Matsito’s wife is on record saying that they couldn’t afford to take him to St Giles.”
I responded: “Let’s be realistic and knowledgeable. Matsito suffered multiple strokes over the years and St Giles only does rehabilitation, not healing or curing as such.
Oliver Mtukudzi (may his soul rest in peace), with all his money, died of diabetes, a chronic and non-communicable disease. Need I mention that stroke is such a chronic and non-communicable condition? So can anyone, in all seriousness, say the government killed Mtukudzi? For your information, according to Wikipedia, ‘chronic diseases — such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and arthritis — are the leading causes of disability and death in New York State and throughout the United States’.”
My point is that the lie that the Cowdray Park by-election was rigged is no different from and no less poisonous than the lie that the government killed Matsito. That’s why fellow journalist Lloyd Gumbo, seeing it was getting out of hand, had this to say: “Media colleagues, the fact that MDC Alliance fielded two candidates in the Cowdray Park by-election is immaterial because their combined votes are
1 450 against the winning Zanu PF candidate, who scored 1 899. Meanwhile, a Zanu PF candidate lost by a mere 66 votes in a Chitungwiza by-election last month.” These omissions do not reflect well on the private media.
As one can see, for some journalists, reporting critically on the MDC has proved difficult because of the incestuous relationship between some sections of the private media, the MDC and civil society organisations, resulting in a de facto tripartite alliance.
“The real test of good journalism is its ability to grapple with sensitive issues while cutting through political correctness to reveal the truth of what is really happening,” observes Australian Bill Nicol, an independent international journalist. “This is never easy, just essential . . . The hardest people journalists can probe or scrutinise are those they support or agree with. But probe and scrutinise they must. That’s their job.”
Indeed, the honeymoon after Chamisa’s rise is long over. With success comes a new set of problems — and that’s exactly what’s happening with Chamisa. After successfully grabbing power in the MDC, he has been failing to rein in his fanatical supporters, among them Zengeza East MP Goodrich Chimbaira, who is currently facing public violence charges, which could be altered to attempted murder, after allegedly trying to run over with his vehicle a senior party member, Jabulani Mtunzi, who belongs to a different faction of the MDC.
Further observed the astute Gumbo, who does not hold a brief for or against the MDC, but is driven by analysis based on professional journalism to improve the political culture in Zimbabwe: “MDC shouldn’t be centralised on the leader, if it is to do well.”
Continues Nicol: “In their reporting, journalists will need to distinguish between the nobility of the cause from that of the person. The two are easily confused.” Indeed, the two can be easily confused especially where the leader is overhyped to the extent that his persona takes over the organisation where some people now see Chamisa as one and the same with the MDC.
Concluded Nicol: “A noble cause, however, does not necessarily beget noble players.”
Indeed, the violence currently raging in the MDC provides ample evidence that a supposedly noble cause can beget savages.
Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org