Re-imagining the workplace: An open letter to Mnangagwa about recreational imperialism

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

I would like to start by telling you that I used to hate you. So, here is the interesting part about this whole hatred thing.

I am a behavioural change practitioner and I have done this kind of work with South African youth, transitioning them from school, and tertiary education to the workplace.

I had a friend called Lee-Ann Shepherd who was a buddy in our own change and transformation process, and we would give each other feedback regarding our own blind spots so that we could transform, and that way be able to share with the young people we coached, something real and personal. We used to call it, ‘eating our own dog food…’

Lee-Ann said to me one day that whatever we resented in others was about us. We resented it because it mirrored what we were. I just could not agree with that Mr President and the first person who came to my mind was you. I just could not imagine that certain things I hated about you were also about me.

She asked me to think of someone and point at a specific thing I did not like about that person. As I have already mentioned, the first name that came to my mind was yours Mr President.

I told her that I hated your sense of humour. That you would joke and want to laugh and make your crowds laugh even when there was trouble and people needed to be serious.

Lee-Ann laughed out loud and said ‘Come on Bheks, that is exactly what you do, that’s you man…’ I was shocked.

She went on to say that when we had management meetings at this company we used to work for in South Africa, I would crack jokes when people were at each other’s throats.

I was quiet for a while and of course disappointed that I was like you. It was at that point that my attitude towards you changed and even my political and citizenry method. I started taking interest in your public speeches.

I even watched this video where you claimed that you were as soft as wool. Ha ha ha Mr President what was that? So, when I watched you, I now did so with the humility that I was watching myself cracking jokes, all because of my dear friend, Lee-Ann.

 This learning and realisation Mr President changed my attitude towards you and everyone else around me and made me more open to them, willing to listen even to the ones I strongly disagree with. As of you, the level of acceptance and tolerance shot up because you represent our collective identity.

The adage that the culture of an entity reflects the character of its leader holds true to our situation.

It is against that background that I pen you this short missive, to reason with you around the issue of our culture, collective being and place in the world.

I believe that the small and big identities we belong to as human beings are not by chance but a deliberate arrangement by the universe for our making.

We are being transformed into better beings through the challenges we face and the interactions we get involved with in our different places.

This means that every generation should put a brick to the building of its collective identity and consciousness.

I can tell you Mr President that I still get disappointed with some of your jokes the way I get disappointed with my own and one joke that recently disappointed me from you was your referring to two English soccer giants, Chelsea and Arsenal in your speech.

I have often wondered why everyone in Africa seems not to see that there is a new form of exploitation that I call recreational imperialism.

What cuts deeper about this neo-colonialism is the fact that it is voluntary and seems to be growing like a veld fire. Why should a people celebrate another identity’s sport more than their own?

Mr President, when we mourn about the exodus of our people to other countries, we do not realise that we promote it.

There is a deep and disappointing level of disenfranchisement that I see in us, you included Mr President.

When you make jokes about these English teams, you are participating in their own monetization of their cultural activities.

Their names grow and so do their pockets. Our children, in the next generations will only know about what we used to be because there will be no football in Zimbabwe or any other country in Africa.

We have Highlanders, Chicken Inn, Dynamos and CAPS United in Zimbabwe and they need coverage in your jokes repertoire Mr President. They will become known in the country and beyond and this will add to their bankability to be covered when they play by serious television stations.

These stations are interested in numbers and when a team comes with big numbers in viewership they will be covered because advertisers will come in to sell.

As president of Zimbabwe, you have a big name because of your office and if you mention my name in your speech, I am bound to get calls from many people saying wow, the president mentioned your name.

It won’t matter whether you were joking or being serious but just by mentioning my name Mr President I could get a new girlfriend.

Now imagine the value that comes from you joking about our teams, our own musicians, and other cultural players in the country. It’s serious value Mr President.

Professor Madhuku gained a lot from the late president Robert Mugabe’s joke around what he called his money-making tricks. Look now he was even hired by Uebert Angel to do his press conference.

This means you add value just by saying someone’s name. Even in his grave, Mugabe left an inheritance for Madhuku.

We have a lot of work to do Mr President to channel ourselves towards some seriousness in doing things that create our culture.

At some point, your government went 100% local content and pushed that down our throats. I know that force is not palatable but that is an example of this recreational imperialism I would like us to take seriously and nip in the bud.

Musicians such as Decibel, Sandra, Winky D and later Jah Prayzah are all products of that drive.

We sang their songs and even your own party jingles while taking showers even if we did not quite like them.

Mr President I fully understand that the energy around European soccer is huge and drowning and I have seen seriously educated people drowning in this craze, meaning that you are not the only one.

So, I do not blame you, but I am challenging your government, and your technocrats in particular to rescue us from the scourge.

Thank you for announcing the 23rd of August as our harmonised elections day and good luck.

If you lose Mr President, I will continue with this conversation with the new president. I wish you well. 

  • Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a Zimbabwean company as human capital executive, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for several blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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