Tsvangirai and the Hecklers, on the Ticklish subject of Returning to Zimbabwe

While at face value events of the day may be considered possibly, as Mr Tsvangirai’s lack of a ‘before-hand-social-mapping strategy’, at least, to understand what people in the diaspora want, it may also be necessary to acknowledge the various political undercurrents that may have influenced such a reaction.

However, it goes without say, that his advisors and handlers did a shoddy kind of job. Let me delve to the issue at hand by saying; first, we may want to understand that the political situation faced by most people in diaspora is so nuanced by a lot of factors so much so that seeking to understand it at face value might lead one to make very dangerous conclusions and possibly lead us into a dead-end.

Painting the Scenarios:

a) Some people have been in disapora for a while, but still waiting for the determination of their applications for asylum to this day, following some appeals and other problems they have had to face while trying to deal with their temporary sojourn in in the UK and elsewhere. This means that by pronouncing those statements, Mr Tsvangirai immediately dented their chances of ever being granted asylum.

b) Most people (of course, not everyone) who are in London came claiming asylum as it was the selling card for most people, even though it is known that they are economic refugees. They also did not know that there is a life span to being an asylum seeker. Surely, normal people can not be asylum seekers for life. And so their greatest fear has been imagining how they will fit into a society they had long shunned and never even imagined going back, Zimbabwe. Thus implying that by pronouncing those statements, Mr Tsvangirai was making it dawn in their minds and stating a reality for many that someday they will have to return to Zimbabwe, a thing they will never wish to be reminded.

c) Some Zimbabweans have genuine cases of asylum and even plausible reasons to express fear given what they went through and the fact that those who terrorised them are still in power, or at least continue to control the levers of power. However, we surely can not even attempt to claim that everyone who is in diaspora is a genuine asylum case. Otherwise, we all know for a fact that most people who in all respects deserve asylum are still in Zimbabwe fighting for change, at least this is a painful fact. Or we may even add that if the people in diaspora want to claim that special role, then surely all Zimbabweans, certainly the people from regions like Matebeleland, have witnessed very horrible scenes that may warrant some kind of asylum. However, if we project it that way, it may put us in some kind of an oxymoron, as it is commonsensical that we can not have a whole nation of asylum seekers. Besides, even Mugabe himself deserves to be served from himself. He is more of a slave of his ideals some of which are so wobbly so much so that he can not even understand them. And so, there are more people in ZANU PF we may want to serve and give both social and political respite; as they have proved to be too dangerous to themselves, their future, hopes and aspirations of Zimbabweans by literally capturing the state.

Second, it may be necessary to seek to understand the political culture of Zimbabweans as a people. Most probably, to an outsider, the heckling incident may also help in projecting the nature of Zimbabweans, their mindsets and even projections into the future. Remember, most of those who heckled Mr Tsvangirai were young people, definitely not very old. And so one can clearly surmise, that it was the future of Zimbabwe, refusing to go home and face their reality and also claiming that Mr Tsvangirai must first remove Mugabe for them before they can even imagine going back home. Interesting, isn’t it?

These are the same people, for some of them, who in the not so distant past created an impression of a great leader out of Mugabe and even forgot that he had already exuded his behaviour as a tyrant, by hacking other people to death. At least, for them, this was not an issue then. In essence most Zimbabweans have a dangerous proclivity for easy going life and a dangerously selective memory, with no futuristic outlook whatsoever. When Mugabe turned evil, Mr Tsvangirai emerged, in the same fashion they had canonised Mugabe. In a way Mr Tsvangirai also contributed to the earlier process of canonisation, I would also add that, in way, it served him big time for political expediency in the late 90s and the turn of the millennium. However, Mr Tsvangirai forgot that he was riding on the shoulders of hired support; people who are so transient in every sense of the word and everything they do including their perspective of the future.

In that regard, given the selfishness and reduced outlook into the future, people booed Mr Tsvangirai because to them they felt he was going to disturb conditions they are living in; their temporary sojourn. You could clearly see, that these are people who can not even understand the temporality of their conditions in exile and that there is every reason to seek to build a future for Zimbabwe than to stay in exile. Is it not common knowledge that most people have been sneaking back into the country through various border posts, yet giving the impression to the Home Office in Britain that danger awaits them if they dare land in Zimbabwe? 

 However, one would possibly surmise that by being booed, much as it was not very nice and was being untactful of the Zimbabweans in diaspora, Mr Tsvangirai came face to face with the rude awakening that Zimbabweans actually do not exist; they are not even there to accept their condition of crisis and even to accept the impetus it gives for change. And so, no one can claim ownership of solutions to the crisis; as was witnessed through the exuberance with which they kicked and screamed whenever he mentioned that an effort is being made to find a solution to the Zimbabwean crisis. People only expect the solution to come from those already in Zimbabwe, some are even imagining life as British citizens and even failing to realise that the British have their own issues.

Recently, we witnessed scenes of xenophobic attacks in Belfast that were targeted at Romanians. It is common knowledge that with the opening of borders to more people from other European countries, particularly East Europe, people from Africa will be targets of those xenophobic attacks in not so distant future. And so Zimbabweans can not even imagine what will happen to them in the event such a thing happens. To them, the future has a way of taking care of itself, for as long as they enjoy the present everything will be considered later. 

Further, it might be necessary for one to acknowledge that Mr Tsvangirai has suddenly come face to face with the reality of being a leader in a government, even if he really does not have that much of power. At least, the truth is he now understands the difference between making those mass rally conjured statements at Rufaro stadium and other places and having to be in government and making things work. This realisation unfortunately has not been properly communicated to his friends who are still in the civil society and are expecting him to continue with the civil society language. And so he is going to lose a lot of friends, most probably, it would further explain why he was jeered at by people in diaspora who understood his language from a different note.

Already, the diaspora community is quite angry with Mr Tsvangirai, considering that a lot of people were still waiting for the determination of their asylum cases. His call has immediately dented most people’s hopes, as Britain is likely to begin to consider what the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe said in public, and possibly continued to say in confidence to them at number 10 Downing Street. Unfortunately, his language now is seen as a form of capitulation when in fact, Mr Tsvangirai is now facing the reality of being in there and knowing that most of his able bodied supporters, or at least those he thought were his supporters are outside Zimbabwe. By being in government he now understands that Zimbabwe has been running with a skeletal human resource for a while and now requires help from the diaspora.
However, one thing clearly emerges here, that much as it might sound as if the role of those in diaspora is being overstated here, the call remains for people in diaspora to understand that no one will cause change for them unless they participate. Besides, the skewed emphasis being placed on how they have contributed through remittances, much as it holds, it may be wiser for its proponents to understand that the tide and the political currency have changed. Their leader is now in there, they sang and made promises in the not so distant past, at least for some of them, now is the time for them to prove that they meant it whenever they said they will be with him (Morgan Tsvangirai) through thick and thin, than to sit in coffee shops, internet cafes and bars pontificating the discourse of change which is rudimentary in so far as it remains within the recesses of their imaginations.  

Lastly, I have heard some voices calling on Mr Tsvangirai to first lead by example and also challenging that he must first bring his children back to Zimbabwe. That is a good example of an argument of the inept, besides we know for a fact that by the time Mr Tsvangirai decides to heed their call they would have created another excuse.

From the foregoing I wish to argue that, the views proffered by people in diaspora as reasons for their continued stay out there are very hollow. If people are genuine in seeking for a lasting solution to the cause of Zimbabwe, surely, they must not put any price tag or condition for returning to build a country that they claim to love so much.  We can now clearly see that Mr Tsvangirai much as he genuinely uttered those statements, he is beginning to lose a lot of friends who are feeling threatened by the fact that his statements have made the reality of their temporal sojourn obvious. Further, what is worse has been Mr Tsvangirai’s majestic entry back into the country, with bruises of being jeered at by people he so much believed they would even die for him and characterised by the emptiness of his pockets.

Brilliant Mhlanga is an academic and a human rights activist from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Zimbabwe, he is currently a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Westminster, London