Don’t be left holding an empty bag

WHAT has emerged from the hearings into the events of August 1 has shown that the setting-up of the commmission of inquiry was the right step in the circumstances.

echoes: CONWAY TUTANI

The hearings have amply demonstrated that the truth often lies somewhere in the middle, as shown in the army’s highly improbable total denial for responsibility in the shooting to death of six people, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the MDC’s equally unbelievable claim it had totally nothing to do with the demonstrators.
Qualified denial in both cases would have made sense — not these obvious lies with both sides totally absolving themselves.

Well, we should tell both the State and the MDC that we were not born yesterday. It’s common cause that before former president Robert Mugabe’s removal in November 2017, Zanu PF was sickeningly and murderously violent — and for that it gained global notoriety. Zimbabwe acquired pariah status even regionally. The tag was more than well deserved as Zanu PF had sunk into depravity, with Mugabe boasting that he had “degrees in violence”. The 1980s Gukurahundi massacres come to mind.

On the other hand, current MDC co-deputy president Welshman Ncube had this to say in September 2012: “I keep underlining, it is on record that our colleagues in the MDC-T often practice violence . . . I can tell you the things on which we differ are fundamental. They go to the very heart of the struggle against Zanu-PF. I repeat: We don’t want to replace Zanu-PF in name and not also in terms of the things it does.”

Current MDC vice-chairperson Tendai Biti — who chronicled Zanu PF’s record of violence before the commission this week — said this in September 2015: “(MDC-T) is founded on violence. That is why we decided to part ways last year.”

In his book, titled The Struggle Continues: 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe, published in 2016, MDC official David Coltart wrote that a training camp for MDC operatives in South Africa was being conducted “by ex-South African policemen under the supervision of an ex-Rhodesian soldier. There was confusion as to whether the training was ‘offensive’ or ‘defensive’, but weapons were clearly involved. The South African National Defence Force had been bribed to allow these trained men back across the border”. Coltart said he had learnt about the development from two journalists who had filmed the training operation. This corroborates what activist Linda Masarira told the commission this week.

Thus, August 1 cannot be looked at in isolation. It was a culmination of events and trends reaching back, depending on your perspective, to February this year when MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai died, November 2017 when Mugabe was ousted, 2008 when the MDC-T was robbed of electoral victory, 2005 when the MDC split, 1965 when rebel Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence from Britain, even going back to when Shonas, Ndebeles and whites — in that order — descended on the territory that is now referred to as Zimbabwe and colonised it. Who can deny, in all academic honesty, that these three groups were all violent colonisers?

So, in that vein, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was correct in giving the commission broad terms of reference, not just confine it to the events of August 1. The United Kingdom government set up a commission of inquiry after British soldiers shot dead 13 demonstrators — some of them in the back — in Derry, Northern Ireland, on January 31, 1972, in what is now referred to as “Black Sunday”. The commission observed as follows: “We found it necessary not to confine our investigations only to what happened on the day. Without examining what led up to Bloody Sunday, it would be impossible to reach a properly informed view of what happened, let alone why it happened. An examination of what preceded Bloody Sunday was particularly important because there had been allegations that members of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland governments, as well as the security forces, had so conducted themselves in the period up to Bloody Sunday that they bore a heavy responsibility for what happened on that day.”

The oral evidence similarly presented before the Kgalema Motlanthe-led commission is also pointing to that every side of the political equation bears heavy responsibility for the August 1 tragic killings in that this was not a one-day event, as observed by the “Bloody Sunday” commission.

But soon after Mnangagwa set up the commission, British MP Kate Hoey fumed: “No need for an enquiry — the evidence was clearly caught on camera — soldiers shooting civilians in the back who were running away. Orders to shoot must have been given by Army Commander.”

In the same Hoey’s fatherland, known British troops under known commanders shot dead unarmed civilians over 46 years ago and absolutely none of them has been named or charged or convicted up to this day. So, we can do without her poisonous hypocrisy and focus on a long-term, sustainable homegrown solution.

That said, what happened on August 1 was largely avoidable. There is the personal dimension to it that some people are needlessly and, much more so, ignorantly negative, leading to mass hysteria, a condition affecting a group of persons, characterised by extreme excitement, irrational behaviour or beliefs. In sociology and psychology, mass hysteria (also known as collective obsessional behaviour) is a phenomenon that transmits collective illusions of threats, whether real or imaginary, through a population in society as a result of rumours and fear, which can be costly, and even lead to death and destruction we saw on August 1 — such as the totally unfounded, but strong rumour that the announcement of the presidential election result had been unconstitutionally delayed.

Nobody actively or strongly discouraged or dissuaded them from demonstrating on that day. That silence can be read as a sign of approval. There is a Latin maxim “Qui tacet consentit” (“Silence implies/means consent”); the maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent”. It can be expanded to “qui tacet consentire videtur”, meaning “he who is silent is taken to agree”. So, the MDC, top-heavy as it is with lawyers — having a disproportionately large number of legal minds in its leadership — know this operative rule, and, thus, had the moral obligation to educate the demonstrators who were chanting MDC slogans. That is the least they could have done. The MDC cannot distance itself from the demonstrators now when it could have done that on August 1.

“When the mind creates problems that do not exist and fails in its attempt to solve them, the result is depression. Abstract thinking — which is based on unreal, conjectural, speculative notions and wrong understanding of an issue through missing the nuances, subtleties and sub-plots at play — ruins happiness and leads to loss of life. Think wisely.” Well, some people did not think wisely, but were “stupid”, as MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said last week.

These people — egged on by politicians — created in their minds a problem that did not exist — the non-existent problem that the announcement of the presidential election result had been delayed. This led initially to depression, which depression was manipulated by politicians into anger, which then led to the violent demonstrations, which culminated in the loss of six lives.

People were left holding the bag — and the bag was empty, so to speak. Being left holding the bag means you are put in a situation where you are directly and visibly responsible for something, often in an unfair way, because other people fail or refuse to take responsibility for it. In other words, being made to look stupid. These demonstrators were left to take the blame and suffer the bad consequences on their own. They became collateral damage — or even human shields — in a fight that had largely nothing to do with them.

Don’t be left holding an empty bag.

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