Politics and identity

President Mugabe

President Mugabe

Reason Wafawarova on Thursday
IN Zimbabwe there are singular political identities that could be good for the benefit of politicians, but they are detrimental to people’s freedom and to the general development of the country.

The more identities people assume in life the freer their mind, and the narrower the definition of identity the less free people are. This is just a general trend, not only in politics, but also in relation to other group identities.

We have a huge problem with the ISIS menace in the Middle East at the moment, and a similar problem affects Libya, Egypt, Nigeria and Somalia in Africa. This is the problem of religious identity, and it is apparent that the more people identify with religion, and submit themselves to a certain way of moral and social values, the less tolerant they are. The religion does not have to be Islam, it could be any religion, even Christianity. History does have numerous examples of killings that were carried out in the name of Christianity.

The more people subscribe to certain relationships and routines, the less individual they become, the less free they are, and the more narrow-minded they become. They become slaves of the overbearing beliefs shaping their faith.

As indicated already, it does not matter which religion it is, the effect is usually the same. It could be a pastor, a priest, a nun, a monk, or a sheik, the trend is often that such a person tends to present an overriding singular identity to the world, and quite commonly, the person almost demands to be treated by all others chiefly in terms of the title or identity they carry.

Political identity in Africa has the same effect, and this is the major cause of political violence, as well as the polarity that has become synonymous with our politics.

We have so much intolerance within our politics, and mainly this is a result of fixation with dogmatic political brands that are narrowly defined by singular group identities.

In Zimbabwe there are people who are MDC or Zanu-PF by definition, and these are not necessarily the people in the party structures, or even aspirants.

These are ordinary citizens that deliberately choose a permanent identity with a given political organisation, and principally they believe that only their political identity matters, and the fanaticism is not based on any rationality.

We can forget that such people are trying to dictate to all others how they should treat them, because there is a more worrying aspect of their behaviour: they expect other people to accord them a certain value, failure of which they are ready to bludgeon their way.

We have drawn these political boundaries where those in Zanu-PF lay claim to the value of patriotism, while those in the MDC formations lay claim to the value of democracy, and even some in our media freely describes the MDC as the “democratic movement,” and Zanu-PF as the “revolutionary party.”

When an ideology enslaves someone into narrow-mindedness it is serving the wrong purpose. An ideology must be a fountain from which freedom and sound policies for the betterment and development of people come, not some dogmatic political identity causing civil conflict and strife among the people.

Our treatment of each other as citizens of Zimbabwe does well to start on a basis of mutual respect, as must be invited by our common nationality, and above all by the supreme concept of humanity. It is this mutual respect that will enable us to relate to each other as worthy human beings. But do we not see this meaningless politicking where nothing good can ever come from the other side?

Our politicians safeguard more the political identities of the people who support their parties more than they care about the welfare of the same people, or even the greater good of the country. Of course it is the blind loyalty that gives them the votes, and they would rather protect than discourage it. This is precisely why we have a dearth of policy in our political affairs, with people debating personalities ahead of issues, and trivialities making headlines in our media.

One cannot reduce themselves to a mere political animal and suddenly forget that they are a father, a brother, a professional, someone’s friend, a church member, a student and so on and so forth, all rolled into one.

Our interests, our insights and our experience must make us valuable to the rest of the people. They must not drive others into fear, hate, intolerance or revulsion.

The more we move away from dogmatic political identities the more potential we create for ourselves, and the better chance we have for a freer and happier society. The imprisonment of a single overriding identity will limit our human potential, and it does not matter that the identity was chosen or imposed.

We have heard of the vilification and even persecution of foreigners in South Africa, and it is quite sad that the term “foreigner” in that country is now almost used exclusively to refer to black immigrants. When tribal identity blinds people into xenophobic intolerance all that can be achieved is retrogression, and such intolerance is a sad indictment to the nobility of humanity, let alone African brotherhood.

We cannot build our countries when we are divided among ourselves, whether by chosen differences of ideology, by religion, political affiliation, or economic self-interests.

Race and ethnicity are not matters of choice, and it is simply primitive to imagine that someone can change the way they were born, or that they can do something to get rid of who they are.

Often politics will play on ethnic and racial differences, and the situation sometimes deteriorates into genocides or similar atrocities. Slavery, colonialism, and imperialism had their origins in race politics, and humanity has in history exhibited monstrous tendencies based on the race identity.

This essay is not an attack on the ideologies of political parties, and it is neither an attack on any singular identity that may be enjoyed by members of any organisation, political party, race, religion or ethnic group.

Rather, it is an encouragement to tolerant co-existence. We are in a political era where natural misfortunes like illness or death are celebrated simply on the basis that they have befallen someone belonging to a different political identity. We cannot assassinate humanity on the altar of political expediency. We must be humans before we assume any other identity.

Humanity is about passion, mutual respect, solidarity and kindness.

When a singular political identity becomes so overbearing that it disregards humanity itself then the person carrying that identity has become enslaved, imprisoned and is in dreadful captivity.

That person is not only a danger to himself and to others, but also a mark of tragedy on humanity itself.

We cannot ignore the fact that identity politics have risen because of lack of social justice, and this lack is what has created the “them” and “us” philosophy. We hear Zimbabwe is divided between “Zanoids” and “Machinja,” or between “Comrades” and “Sellouts.” We must be united as voters for the betterment of our country, only separated by our diverse opinions and preferences, nothing less and nothing more.

Those supporting the ruling party believe “they” are stalling revolutionary progress, and by “they,” of course the meaning is those in the opposition. Those in the opposition believe whoever supports the ruling party is standing in the way of democracy, and some even dare say in the way of a “new Zimbabwe.”

So, we have people who think in terms of “they” are depriving “us” of something we need, desire or deserve; oppressing “us” with impunity, and by “they” they principally bunch everyone perceived to be sympathetic to the other side. So you come to Australia like this writer and you are roundly condemned as a “murderer” just because someone’s perception is that your political inclination could be different from theirs.

Then we have people who think “they are disrespecting what “we” value most, especially “our” liberation war legacy, or “our” patriotic values. So they declare that anything outside the scope of the liberation part of our history has any political meaning, and will never have.

We know from a practical point of view that there is no such thing as equality in terms of things like income, or strict distributive equality where we all own the same goods and materials. Even political equality does not exist in a democracy, and that is why there are winners and losers.

One can even argue that we are not equal before the law because we have to pay heftily for justice, and the majority of us cannot afford it. In this regard it is even harder to talk about equality of rights.

When we open up our minds and avoid a singular identity we will begin to understand that sameness is not equality, and that equity is what we really want.

Our political choices must revolve around the opportunities that surround us, the pathways we develop for ourselves towards attaining sustainable lives.

Now we hear the President is calling for remittances from the Diaspora community, and this would be a very familiar call for any African country with a significantly huge diaspora community.

However, the recent call from President Mugabe elicited some very negative coverage from some quarters of the media. When people are defined by singular political identity there is no such thing as nobility, they just see evil in anything done from the other side.

One would expect the media to lead the way in the policy side of the issue of financial remittances from the Diaspora, and how best it can be of use to the country. But we have a lot better things to read in newspapers than developmental policies, things like who slept with who, who has gone broke among our politicians, and so on and so forth.

Our politicians must be stopped from benefiting from marketing the brand of their political parties as a way of securing the vote. Our votes must only reward politicians on the basis of policy articulation.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

  • Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in Sydney, Australia.