He always puts me to shame each time he writes, this Ghanaian. I am talking about Baffour Ankomah. As always, his latest Beefs pass for a gem. Adorned with well-chosen quotes from our African icons, Baffour has this ability to make one guiltily accept his excoriating pen. He is penetrating.
Quoting Professor Erik S. Reinert, a Swede, he reminded us that back then, America simply ignored England’s advice against industrialising, swiftly moving to set up her own industries across the gamut.
Only then did America become free, independent and respected by England, her former master. Says the good professor: “Therefore the American maxim of the 1820s, ‘Don’t do as the English tell you to do, do as the English did’”
Fanon the ZIM football
I particularly liked a quote he borrowed from Frantz Fanon: “No one will treat his imitator like an equal.” Take note: imitator, not challenger!
Liked it particularly because Fanon has been turned into a football in Zimbabwe’s political discourse, one kicked by anyone, in any direction, to mindless self-serving cheers.
Just check yesterday’s press, and you will admit that this great revolutionary gets abused by Zimbabweans, many of whom have only heard about him, or have seen the cover of his great works, but without grasping a thing about his core message.
I am sure the gentle reader met one Dumisani Muleya smugly recalling how he recommended “The Wretched of the Earth” to President Mugabe this time last year!
Soon after that self-adulation, for this year he gloatingly recommends Mugabe to read “Why Nations Fail”, written by two scholars from MIT and Harvard, recommends “Why Nations Fail” without any sense of irony, any sense of repudiating what Fanon espoused and stands for.
Then you have another abuse of Fanon by Ibbo Mandaza, who enjoys talking about “the petit bourgeois leadership” in Zimbabwe, but without any sense of personal indictment or self-reproach.
Indeed he enjoys excoriating others as “mafikizolos” without getting restrained by the fact that 1979, the year he was invited to Mozambique by Zanu, was not the beginning of the armed liberation struggle, rather its dying moments.
I mean, how do you snipe at Mugabe from the vantage of Mavambo politics and still befriend Frantz Fanon?
Admiring Rhodesia settlers
Today is 18th April, yet another day for commemorating our Independence Anniversary. We have turned 35, and my beef is not with the time that has gone by since that glorious day in 1980.
My beef is with one question which keeps coming back, which keeps being asked by the same people thinking they are getting more and more profound in their line of questioning in the national debate.
The question is, has been, and predictably will always be: is independence worth it; is it worth celebrating? You find it raised in all manner and by all manner of people across the ideological and political divide.
Here are samples. Addressing a handful of his supporters in Gweru this week, Morgan Tsvangirai said: “When we were growing up during my time, Zimbabwe used to have at least 2 million people employed in the formal sector.
“Ziscosteel employed 10 000 people during that time, but now we have less than half a million people who are employed in this country . .
“We will have to reverse the policies of Zanu-PF which have been destroying the fabric of this country and driving our people into vending.
“Mugabe has turned this country’s commercial farming areas into communal lands which are not bankable and that cannot be allowed to continue”.
Appropriating liberation icons
His henchman, one Nelson Chamisa, put it differently: “While I look at Zimbabwe, I am left with more vexing questions than answers.
“I often wonder what would happen if Changamire Dombo, Sekuru Kaguvi, Herbert Chitepo, Josiah Magama Tongogara or Alfred Nikita Mangena were to resurrect and see where we are.”
Welshman Ncube took bitter umbrage at government punchline: “so far so good”, castigating as a cynical joke at a time of great suffering.
He stressed: “Thirty-five years ago, Zimbabwe’s economic, technological and social indicators pointed upwards.”
Not to be outdone, a man of the cloth, Bishop Sebastian Bakare wrote: “Tomorrow marks 35 years since we became independent from colonial bondage as a nation.
“Many of our gallant sons and daughters paid the ultimate price as they fought to unshackle us from the chains of a racist white minority that had enslaved us for nearly a century.
“Contrary to attempts by some in our midst to rewrite its history, the liberation struggle was a collective effort by those on the front-line and the masses who provided them both moral and material support.”
I shall not advert to a chorus of editorial comments by the private media, whose combined thrust is to question the value and validity of our independence, a good thirty-five years later.
Beneath the critical veil
Let us take candid look at this question that recurs in many guises, establishing what it suggests about “national consciousness” whose pitfalls Fanon so loudly warned against.
A closer look at Tsvangirai and Ncube’s posing of this national question clearly reveals an undisguised admiration of Rhodesian settlerism, a wish for colonial continuity and thus a repudiation of April 18, 1980.
We know when Tsvangirai grew up, what political milieu he adulates for creating 2 million jobs for natives.
Of course, when he berates Mugabe for destroying commercial farming, he is attacking Mugabe for repossessing our occupied heritage as native Zimbabweans.
His wish to reverse Zanu-PF policies is thus not a wish to take April 18, 1980 forward.
It is a wish for classical settler colonialism, something far more retrogressive than neo-colonialism.
Likewise, Welshman’s uxorious claims about an “upward pointing” Zimbabwe thirty-five years ago amount to plaudits for Rhodesia, which is what was there 35 years ago, and of course a repudiation of Zimbabwe which educated him to professorship, indeed which made him a government minister without the trouble of winning any election.
Chamisa’s approach is a little more disguised than that of his opposition-mates. It is founded on appropriating icons of resistance in order to legitimise his neo-liberal vision for Zimbabwe.
With their legs kicking, Chamisa bundles these icons into his MDC-T camp in order to pre-empt any counterpoints built around their narrative.
I said Chamisa is a little more subtle than his peers. Only if you are willing to suspend disbelief, and to tolerate his unthinking recklessness.
I mean, how does a literate disputant invoke the name of Herbert Chitepo in an argument whose drift is to repudiate the land, independence and the struggle?
Or Tongogara, Mangena!
The line of historical personages, interestingly including Kaguvi while excluding Nehanda implies a shameless detachment to the struggle narrative, indeed an unsophisticated attempt at pilfering heroes that rebuke one’s current role in politics.
Rendering the struggle anonymous
Bishop Bakare joins Chamisa in attempted grand pilferage of the struggle narrative. His point of contestation relates to agency: yes there was a liberation struggle but it was a collective effort by “those on the frontline and the masses”.
And he sternly warns against those who seek to rewrite this history. Now, here is the mischief by the gentleman of the cloth whose denomination stood prominently by the settler regime.
You simply replace identifiable players of the struggle by an inchoate magnitude called “those on the front-line” and “the masses”.
You, in other words, depersonalize the struggle, turning it into an occurrence whose agency is profoundly anonymous.
And because “all” is anything, anyone and therefore no one, nothing, it means the occurrence itself becomes appropria-ble, becomes claimable by anyone, including people like him who were so far away from the frontline or the masses, people who only appeared on the scene in the early 1980s, volubly claiming to have fought the white man right in his own citadel!
The strategy is to depersonalize, to deligitimise, both as a prelude to misappropriating and rewriting history. To me this is more sinister.
Neither with the fighters nor with the masses, this crop of “been-tos” are so adept at taxing independence for their own personal benefit, advancement and fulfillment than all those who took in fire.
The only heroes they are keen to acknowledge are the dead ones who no longer contests their vast, unmitigated claim in the safety of an independence which emerged from a machine!
That way, they slough off any sense of guilt or even betrayal of the very masses and front-liners.
And because Independence has not living heroes, has no big names behind it, the reigning epoch is a tabula rasa awaiting to the written on by those full of initiative and good intentions.
They don’t hesitate to spring up “new” initiatives like the so-called National Convergence Platform whose import and financiers would make the architects of our independence cringe.
Could this be new forms of pitfalls which Fanon referred to?
Beyond the facade to growth
A fashionable thesis is to repudiate independence by reeling out dismal statistics on the economy, especially industrial closures and consequent job losses.
It is the time when this same thesis is reiterated which make the whole line of questioning quite stupid, to say the least.
As I write, two occurrences have hit headlines: afrophobic attacks in South Africa and the rescue of distraught Africans off Italy’s coast.
South Africa’s growth figures, while below its wish, are certainly impressive, indeed an easy-to-make foil for Zimbabwe.
Yet the question that begs is why there is turbulence in Eden.
The Africans who have been trying to smuggle themselves into Europe are coming from shibboleth of democracy as defined to us since the 1989 World Bank report. Again we pose the same question: why trouble in Eden?
These two case studies, I believe, are key to understanding April 18 for us, indeed to grasping the Fanonian question to do with pitfalls of national consciousness.
What is it that makes an impoverished South African think his equally impoverished African neighbour as the key enemy and source of his misery?
Put differently, what is it that makes him think Sanlam, Old Mutual and JSE more hospitable, less threatening to his social condition than a small tuckshop run by a Somali refugee or an Ethiopian in Durban?
How do you reconcile the vast breath of consciousness of a people who attack the symbolism of a northward-gazing Rhodes and the raging narrowness of consciousness underlining afrophobic attacks?
A combined Zuma/Mugabe message to blacks to unite and wrestle the means of production from whites in both South Africa and Zimbabwe still marked a week of perfect peace for white businesses, a week of bloody horizontal assaults pitting black against black, in place of pan-African solidarity?
Key questions that beg
Why are Africans to the north of us still unable to own the means of production? Why are they still ignorant?
Why are their salaries still coming from France? Why are their foreign reserves all kept in France, which gives them a phony collective dummy currency called CFA?
Why are there no industries, well over half a century into independence?
Or to ask antithetically, why is troubled Zimbabwe a more stable, a more peaceful, a more literate society than all of the above cases?
Why has it been able to claim a key asset? Why has it been able to ask or raise key questions which have proved such a taboo, so deadly, since Kwame?
Why has Zimbabwe been able to challenge western hegemony without imperilling her Independence the way Libya or Cote d’Ivoire have?
How has she been able to secure her Independence against all odds, including internal treachery by those who now claim our real heroes?
It is when you get that deep, when you ask such foundational questions that you begin to tackle the meaning of April 18, beyond the facile postulates such as we have heard.
And if you are genuinely Fanonian, you should easily understand that keeping a white settler economy going can’t be a good measure of the validity of your independence. Or keeping 2 million blacks in jobbed servitude.
Or when this or that turncoat gets evicted from a liberation movement in a moment of self-cleansing and self-renewal. Or rallying around platforms that imperialism creates for our little bishops to ensnare us all. The welfare index for national liberation is deeper, wider than transient difficulties and setbacks.
Indeed such difficulties and setbacks constitute the test to both national liberation and national consciousness. The agenda for Zimbabwe’s independence revolves around founding a national economy predicated on an empowered, economically active national. Anyone who agitates for this eventuality, not white industries, not white jobs, not white democracy, not imitative bishoprics, wins me, engages me.
It is a Zimbabwe that does not do as the English, the Americans, tell us to do, but which does as the British and then the defiant Americans did, namely to industrialise, that becomes truly, genuinely independent. Thank you Baffour for that timely reminder.
The turncoats so eloquently equipped with doom messages need not detract us. Or tactical issues of currency. We must focus beyond, refocus strategically. I am so happy Zimbabwe is beginning to go past dreams of saviours, is beginning to flex her own little muscle for own redemption. That is it, 18th April.