To Kill An African Dream

Dreams do not die in an instant, once they start to fade they linger for a time as the dreamer struggles to keep them alive, denying the inevitable. When they do die it is not with the intensity of the death of a thousand suns but the flickering of a candle wick drowning in what once gave it life, it’s own wax.

Recently I was reminded of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s ascendancy to the Chairperson of the African Union when she garnered more votes than Gabon’s Jean Ping after a very tough voting process in 2012. Most in South Africa’s delegation celebrated this as a victory with dancing and singing once the final vote was in to the dismay of other delegates who thought this behaviour bordered on hubris. Maite Nkoane-Mashabane, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations, was at pains to explain that this is how things are done back home and this was not meant to be disrespectful of the outgoing Mr. Ping or other delegates, unfortunately the damage had already been done. Rumblings about South African arrogance and unsportsmanlike conduct in the AU Chairperson electoral process were rife and even today these sentiments have never quite abated.

On Sunday South Africa’s ruling African National Congress held their final rally before Wednesday 07 May’s general election. It was billed as a victory rally, oddly enough, for an election yet to happen. I come from a school of thought that dictates, no matter how sure a sure thing is, you don’t pop the champagne till the deed is done, it appears the ANC of today does not subscribe to this. Whilst it is plausible to argue that an ANC majority in the general election is a foregone conclusion, should it be seen as a win & if the result is in their favour, should this be celebrated as a victory? If indeed it is a victory then it stands to reason that there is at least one loser and if so who is or are the losers & what have they lost? I will return to this later.

In 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison an entire continent breathed a sigh of relief. I was in high school in Zimbabwe and 11 February was declared a public holiday in honour of the momentous occasion. As I grew up and started to better understand the political legacy of my country and the continent, I began to grasp the enormity of the expectation placed upon the world’s newest democracy at the time. In Mandela was a chance for a nation to change the African stereotypes of institutionalised corruption, intransigent leadership, human rights abuses and selective application of democratic principles. As everyone knows this was for the most part South Africa under Mandela and that after him the rainbow started to tarnish ever so slightly.

As somewhat of an outsider on the inside, as I spend a lot of my time here, I agree with the view that in the years following Mandela’s retirement in 1999 fractures began to appear in the South African rainbow. Some Afro-pessimists said South Africa would quickly go the way of all other African countries because there was really nothing special about the transition to democracy, that once Mandela died the country would burn. Whilst nothing as extreme as that has happened since Mandela passed on in December, events of at least the last five years have brought to the fore the fact that South Africa has significant governance shortcomings and it’s ruling party have adopted some of the unsavoury traits of stereotypical African leadership.

In the run-up to tomorrow’s elections allegations of the conflation of party and state by the African National Congress have become increasingly concerning with state resources allegedly used by the party in its campaigns culminating in a story this morning of an ANC election agent being found with ballot papers in his home, allegedly for safekeeping. All this whilst the Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Pansy Tlakula has been embroiled in allegations of impropriety which simply won’t go away.

All this has contributed to tarnishing the dream that was South Africa for the rest of the continent. Whilst there is some truth to the claim that Africans in general aspire to South Africa’s level of economic sophistication it is also true that many Africans aspired to the dream of 1994 of an exemplary nation that made respect of the rule of law and protection of all who live in it paramount. This  is where South Africa has failed Africa, killing the dream of hundreds of millions leaving us to grapple with the disbelief that if the dream is no more, what hope is there for the rest of us? If South Africa with all its resources, global goodwill and the best constitution in the world can get so caught up in “African problems” what hope do the rest of us have with our leaders’ lack of appreciation for democratic principles?

This brings me back to the ANC’s “victory” rally on Sunday. Whilst elections are about raising emotions as politicians look to keep their jobs, ruling parties are often prone to developing a sense of entitlement treating elections as a slight distraction from business as usual. I for one hoped this fate would not befall South Africa but it has. For a party to declare the result a foregone conclusion so blatantly reminds me of ZANU Pf’s star rally in Zimbabwe’s 2013 general elections on the last Sunday of campaigning at a packed National Sports Stadium in Harare. This was not my dream for South Africa.

An election is a chance for the people to make their voices heard by voting into office those who can best represent their interests. An election is a chance for elected officials to account to the people for what they have done with their mandate. This is no longer the case instead you have career politicians who put themselves and their needs ahead of the nation and allegiance to a President above all else. This presents the danger that those who did not vote for the ruling party and do not adopt its views run the risk of being marginalised from state resources, already such claims have been widespread at local government level in municipalities not governed by the ANC or where communities have expressed displeasure with the party. When a political party has a victory celebration before a single vote is cast in the country what message does this send to the citizenry?

The Freedom Charter, one of the founding documents of the country drawn up by leading minds of the fight for democratic rule in June 1955 under the umbrella movement the Congress Of the People, proclaims “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”. One wonders just how this will be possible in the current political climate, how will the interests of those who do not support the ruling party be protected? It is one thing to have the best constitution ever written but it is quite another to live by it every single day. If they can disenfranchise their own citizens how will this government protect the interests of migrants who can’t vote but have made a life in this country? The selective application of tenets of this supreme law is what has left many an African nation broken. This has seen Botswana rise as a moral beacon replacing South Africa, in my view a much more significant setback than being ranked the second biggest African economy after Nigeria. Inappropriate comments about other African countries by the President and ministers in his cabinet do not inspire confidence.

The greatest achievement of apartheid was to separate the South African mentally from Africa by creating a fear of black Africa which is pervasive across all races to this day. This fear has become even more entrenched since 1994 and is unfortunately not taken seriously by any political party. It is this fear, not arrogance, that causes South Africans to project themselves the way they do across the continent and it continues to entrench a horrible apartheid legacy. As South Africa goes to the polls tomorrow I wonder how many citizens realise just how important this vote is to Africa and the immense consequences their actions will have throughout the continent. I honestly hope I am wrong and the dream is not dead, that South Africa will find its moral compass and restore its position as a true African success story, dragging all of us into the light that is unfettered democracy and real economic freedom.

 

An inconvenient Prayer

It is generally agreed that Zimbabwe is a deeply Christian country although I’ve never been convinced of the veracity of this. These days the lines between Christianity and traditional beliefs have become increasingly blurred, just go to a Catholic mass if you don’t believe me. My wife who grew up going to churches that adhere to strict Catholic doctrine was surprised at the unfamiliar songs language and drums at last Easter Sunday mass at Christ The King in Bulawayo.

As the political and economic troubles of the country have continued two places have seen a dramatic rise in patrons, churches and drinking places, though serving diametrically opposed communities both attempt to offer their patrons a chance to forget their problems and a moment of solace. I will not debate who does a better job of it but am reminded of a certain communist and his views on the masses and their opiates of choice.

In recent times I have come to question the religious fervour that has swept up so many Zimbabweans regardless of where they are in the world. This is evident on social networks which allow a window into how we relate as Zimbabweans across the globe, I doubt you can go through five “Twimbo” profiles without seeing some religious reference. An often heard and read refrain when people discuss issues Zimbabwean is “Mwari pindirai”, meaning “God intercede”. When your team loses a game you see it. When a politician says or does what politicians say or do, you hear it. When a taxi/combi driver does what taxi/combi drivers do, you hear it. A banker, lawyer, butcher or priest steals from ordinary people, you hear it. A major corruption ring is exposed, you hear it.

You hear it in just about every situation, sometimes sincerely, sometimes comically. It is the equivalent of “I give up” and I have come to believe that’s exactly how people mean it, especially when it comes to our seemingly never-ending crises. The recent exposés about ridiculous executive pay at parastatals and urban councils has seen “Mwari pindirai” take on even greater prominence in everyday language, both spoken and written. I’ve even read it in reference to the new white pressure group Zimbabweans Against Sanctions who have been met with much suspicion online.

I am tired of hearing this refrain because it is a symptomatic of a new culture of giving up, it is a copout. People abdicate their responsibilities with a well-timed but inconvenient prayer and will insist that “now it is in God’s hands there is nothing else that we can do”. It is symptomatic of a people who increasingly convince themselves that there is nothing they as individuals can do to change their lot. It is tempting to forgive Zimbabweans for being this way after so many years of all kinds of crises, or plagues if you prefer, but I am not about to do that. People continue to utter “Mwari pindirayi” as they go about their daily lives as if waiting for someone from somewhere to come and solve all their ills. This expectation of an unknown saviour has opened a space that has been quickly occupied by charismatic pastors promising any miracle you can think of, as long as you believe, and tithe of course.

A people who defined themselves by their work ethic and go anywhere attitude are now at the heart of Southern Africa’s pastorprenuer culture. Is this really what we want to be about? Are we so intent on ignoring our problems that we will take any way out that presents itself? One day we will wake up from this collective stupor and realising just how much we have given up will collectively call out “Mwari pindirai” only for a voice to answer back “but what did you do for yourself?”.

It is My Right To Be Mad About The Zimbabwean Elections

Anyone who says those complaining about the elections must just get over it & put Zimbabwe first are hypocritical opportunists of the first order and should stop poisoning political discourse with their ill-founded ideas.
Know that questioning the electoral process is the right thing for all Zimbabweans to do regardless of party affiliation. The constitution is for all of us & any politician who disregards it is not worth my vote nor yours.

The right to a free, fair & procedural election is simply not yours to give away at the altar of political expediency. It is our collective right as Zimbabweans and the politicians owe it to us to respect that and make good on the laws they have broken in their mad rush to the ballot box.

Those who say the majority have spoken and I should sit down are equally misinformed and should take the time to understand what it is about this process that I and others find so wrong with it. This also applies to the rabid “Friends of Mugabe/Zanu PF” in the diaspora who seem to be on a social networking mission to share their new found love for their leader and party. I highly doubt citizens of other countries who are saying the same would accept it if their politicians conspired to ignore their constitution so they could secure their political futures in an irregular election far from free and fair.
As at today, whether your candidate won or lost, you are the loser because the winning candidate has no respect for the Constitution so can hardly be expected to respect the electorate’s wishes.

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Below is a link to a page detailing the constitutional violations leading up to the Zimbabwe elections of July 31 2013 and beyond.

https://www.facebook.com/david.coltart/posts/10151603092262613

Don’t Call Me Mfana!

At 37 years of age I am still confused by the need older people seem to have to refer to me as mukomana or mfana, both meaning boy. Do they think it’s a term of endearment or do they feel some subliminal obligation to put me in my place, that being below them in the patriarchal hierarchy that is, for lack of a better term, African society. This happens in just about every kind of interaction imaginable and I can’t think of any situation where such a reference would be anything but derogatory.

I consciously don’t do it to men younger than I am because I know how much it pisses them off too. Where it is most irritating is when it happens in professional situations, there you are trying to get through a meeting, taking or giving instruction and it gets thrown in like some random slap in the face to wake you up from any illusion that you were being taken seriously. At what age does one graduate from being called mfana, does it ever happen? I grudgingly take it from my father and older relatives but beyond this family circle should I have to  tolerate it?

Time for real change

President Mugabe is on record referring to his cabinet and party executive as boys girls numerous times in both Shona and English. There are many stories of these same men and women literally grovelling at his feet, one minister has proudly acknowledged going as far as to sign his letters to the President, “Your ever obedient son Obert Mpofu”. Good for him if that works for him but is this really what or who we are? Recently Prime Minister Tsvangirai publicly castigated the MDC T youth leader Solomon Madzore for allegedly inciting violence, in warning him and the youth league, the PM said ” manje vapfana vangu . . ” (now my boys . . ). Now besides the fact that Madzore, in my opinion did no such thing, where does the man who claims to represent change get off referring to a senior party member as a boy, at a rally no less? Madzore has been in and out of jail for his party numerous times in the last two years and still has cases pending linked to party activities and this is the man you name and rebuke in public whilst calling him “mfana”?

With this kind of prevailing attitude from our political leaders its then no surprise that they may have limited appeal for many between the ages of 18 and 40. On January 28 this year Minister of Youth Development, Indiginisation and Empowerment Saviour Kasukuwere was in Bulawayo to meet the youth and talk to them about government initiatives to empower them. He did not have an easy time of it as they expressed their displeasure at government intransigence on these same initiatives very clearly. Is this lack of commitment to the youth symptomatic of the practices I alluded to earlier? I believe it is and with these practices so entrenched in our society what hope really is there for true youth development in Zimbabwe? Are the over 60s who run this country willing to change their ways or genuinely hand over power to a more vibrant  and attuned generation?

How to treat the youth (vote) right

Now I know this is an oft trotted out comparison but I believe it is incredibly relevant to this discussion. Barrack Obama’s 2008 presidential run is often cited as having changed the way political campaigns are done around the world. Countless analysts have identified the community organisation strategy as the secret weapon that won him the election. His campaign team composed of the greatest number of such youth volunteers ever assembled and they delivered. Recently whilst in South Africa President Obama held a town hall meeting at Johannesburg University’s Soweto  campus with youth from South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, at no time during that meeting did I hear him refer to them as anything but young men and women or ladies and gentlemen. I am a keen Obama watcher and at no time since 2007 when he announced his bid for his party’s nomination have I ever heard him refer to his campaign team as boys and girls.

The mutual respect evident in that first campaign saw the youth volunteers come out swinging for President Obama the second time around ensuring a comfortable win and second term in office. This is non-existent in Zimbabwean politics and society at large, the youth are simply expected to do their duty. They are not seen by the politicians as a voting block who must be wooed despite making up the majority of the population.

Beware the ghosts of March

Whilst I don’t have the statistics, I would wager that those under 40 make up the bulk of Zimbabwe’s voters yet the messages coming out of the campaigns do not seem to be particularly relevant to them. For how long can politicians expect to continue with the same strategies every election and keep a dynamic electorate interested? During the Constitutional Referendum in March this year much was made about the poor voter turnout and many asked if Zimbabweans had not become disinterested in politics. I have not seen these questions being asked now that the elections are here despite the chaos of the voter registration exercise and the disastrous special voting for civil servant earlier this week. At the time of the referendum there was talk that the youth had not come out in their numbers and this voter apathy was a worry for the coming elections. Jump to two weeks before harmonised elections and what has been done to bring the youth to the ballot box? Very little from what I can see. Instead we have candidates continuing to treat them as their children and in some cases, private militia, moving through areas coercing people to attend rallies or to keep other politicians out of “their leaders'” constituency or ward. Youth voter apathy has not been properly dealt with and politicians might be in for a rude surprise come July 31, then again, I could be wrong.

In my ideal Zimbabwe no-one will manipulate the youth or anyone else for that matter in this way and mutual respect will reign supreme in all our dealings with each other. So Mr, Ms or Mrs Candidate, if you want my vote, don’t call me mfana!