Zim is not short of progressive intellectuals

I INTRODUCED my last opinion piece by stating that there should be careful management of expectations; and we ought to be empirical — not prejudge — when we dissect issues.

Conway Tutani

With eight or so months to go before the general elections, it’s only natural that Zanu PF and the opposition, primarily the MDC-T, are looking over the shoulder to see if the other side is catching up and what they are up to.

The honeymoon following former President Robert Mugabe’s dramatic fall is well and truly over, and the gloves are well and truly off. Those familiar with this saying by 19th century British statesman Lord Palmerston that “nations (or, in this context, political parties) have no permanent friends or allies; they only have permanent interests” are not exactly surprised as things are going exactly according to that script.

This is especially so after some big issues were taken out of the political equation by the unfactored-in resignation of Mugabe on November 21, 2017, narrowing the political gulf as Zanu PF moved from the lunatic fringe under Mugabe to centrist politics pronounced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, crowding out the MDC-T. Now the MDC-T has to quickly decide whether to move to the right of centre — like the Democratic Alliance in South Africa; or to the left of centre — like the Economic Freedom Fighters, also of South Africa. Time is not on their side as they search for a new political identity and sellable political message.

Maybe the opposition could have, in no small measure, over-relied on “expert” opinion. In an article titled Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is teaching the military a hard lesson that a half-coup will not achieve full results, or the intended results for that matter, South African academic Ralph Mathekga opined definitively: “Since the dramatic takeover by the military in Zimbabwe, it has become clear that a bloodless coup d’etat will not remove him (Mugabe) from power.”
Well, the complete opposite happened. So much for expert opinion.

Before that, our own home-bred Alex Magaisa had opined after the dismissal of Mnangagwa by Mugabe: “The problem is that for too long, Mnangagwa and his allies seemed to be either in denial or completely deluded. They simply refused to see that it was Mugabe who was against him. Somehow, Mnangagwa’s supporters believed there was a secret grand plan somewhere that would save him. Mnangagwa’s silence in the face of abuse was interpreted as a sign of shrewdness. They did not accept that there was probably no plan at all. And, as events have shown, there was no plan at all.”

Well, as events proved, Magaisa was totally lost. American philosopher, diplomat and educator Nicholas Murray Butler (1862-1947) said: “An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.” Butler must have had the ilk of Mathekga and Magaisa in mind when he made that perspicacious observation.

And some of the language we are hearing attacking Mnangagwa’s Cabinet choices is not that of the opposition that is supposed to be the government-in-waiting. If Mnangagwa has blundered, a normal opposition, like a government-in-waiting, would take delight in that with elections only months away. But the reactions have been, at the least, puzzling, and, at the most, ignorant, and some of that from supposed experts.

However, open-minded experts have also turned up, showing insighfulness, astuteness and maturity in digesting what has happened. Observed John Makamure: “Have been following social media comments about the new Cabinet and concluded that there is frighteningly poor understanding of what politics is all about. Take it easy, Zimbabweans — Cabinet appointments is a political balancing game. It’s not about who is the best technocrat out there. Rather expend your energies encouraging people to register to vote. Whoever has been appointed minister will implement decisions of the master.”

Indeed, Mnangagwa should be kept on his toes. He should make good on government’s pledge earlier this year to double statutory National Social Security Authority pensions. And, as Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission chairperson Elasto Mugwadi, also a man of books, said this week ahead of International Human Rights Day commemorations today, Mnangagwa’s administration should address the unresolved Gukurahundi massacres and allow the nation to progress on a path of reconciliation and forgiveness. Said Mugwadi: “This is the occasion we would want issues involving Gukurahundi to be spoken about openly and we want people to know about what went wrong, forgive and forget. That is the essence of digging the past and making sure that once it’s buried, it’s buried for good.” Hear, hear!

In the same way that Zimbabwe should not be a stratocracy — a government headed by military chiefs — it is not a technocracy — a government led by an elite of technical experts. Why? Because Zimbabwe is, constitutionally, a democracy — a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a State, typically through elected representatives. So it should not be lost on those calling on the Zimbabwean military to leave politics and be replaced by technocrats that they are skating on thin constitutional ice. Both stratocracy and technocracy work against democracy. In fact, over history, the failure of the war against poverty has been blamed on discredited technocracy.

Furthermore, technocracy can produce the same result as stratocracy. They might seem different, but in reality are closely related. They have many common properties, making them two sides of the same coin. In an article titled More money, less freedom: South-East Asia’s future looks prosperous but illiberal, The Economist (July 2017) wrote: “Singapore remains an illiberal, but effective, technocracy.” So, as one can see, liberal democracy needs to be defended from the extremes of both leftist and rightist tendencies.

Indeed, if we are to move forward, we have to face the unadulterated truth, the truth that is not tinged with political bias. Wrote fellow Zimbabwean columnist Learnmore Zuze, in an opinion piece titled Mnangagwa caught between the law and the people following the attacks on Mnangagwa’s Cabinet choices: “Mnangagwa . . . could not have strayed to suit the dictates of the people. He had to comply with the law, hence, the recycling of ‘old, tired ministers’. Again, the question will be asked: Couldn’t he have formed a national unity government? This option was ideal, but surely a complicated one in view of the elections due in about eight months’ time.”

Without using the exact words, Zuze, polite and astute as he is, has basically said we should not make fools of ourselves by making such ignorant criticism. Zuze, despite being or in spite of being pro-opposition, as his writings clearly show, has remained open-minded, to his immense credit. Give me Zuze and Makamure any time! They give intellectual pursuits a good name.

They are the best foot forward for academia — the scientific and cultural community engaged in continuous study and research at higher institutions; unlike academic careerists, who, as Professor Peter Levine expertly put it, are primarily interested in who holds each theory, not whether it is right; are most impressed by scholarly work that requires particularly difficult techniques; and don’t think taxpayers and other laypeople have any right to judge their work.

Thank God that Zimbabwe is not short of progressive intellectuals.

lConway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: nkumbuzo@gmail.com

Zim is not short of progressive intellectuals : NewsDay Zimbabwe.