When the circus comes to town
ACCORDING to my online not-so-trusty-but-convenient friend called Wikipedia, Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun), is a Canadian entertainment company, self-described as a "dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment." It was founded in 1984 by two former street performers, Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier.
Just last month Cirque du Soleil was performing in South Africa. I did not need to go and watch because there was a better performance elsewhere called Cirque du Harare which involved a dramatic election for speaker of parliament, arbitrary arrests of "enemies of the state", a government minister appearing in court with leg irons and one Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma giving the leader of a sovereign state the middle finger and in the process making some partisan civil servants and party apparatchiks go mad. When did you last see such venom occupying acres of print? Do we need to distribute blood pressure tablets?
But it wasn’t the only circus on the continent. Far far way in a country ruled by a lunatic called Brother G there was some see-saw of a war that someone appropriately described as "playing the accordion." Maybe he should have said ping-pong. One thing I know, though, is that the people that are trying to shoot their way into Tripoli should act in a sequel to the 1970’s movie, The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight but this time they must turn it into a Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone western spaghetti.
It seems there are limits to enthusiasm as a substitute for organised struggle. The normally sane The Guardian of the United Kingdom had begun to call the Libyan rebels "revolutionaries" and another paper went even further and said they were "freedom fighters". But I am not convinced there is a clear plan beyond cooking Brother G’s bacon. What is clear is that they are a rather chaotic bunch – you have to laugh whenever you see footage of the young men and women (yes, women with veils and all) holding their guns and shooting everywhere and anywhere.
It reminds me of when we went on the "historic" 1989 student anti-corruption demonstration in Harare and my lecturer Tawana Kupe, warned, "You don’t go on the streets without a blue-print in your pocket." But hey, we were young and naïve. Who knew some of us would be in power occupying the position of Deputy Prime Minister and refusing to relinquish the trappings ala Laurent Gbagbo. And this being the same Arthur "AGO" Mutambara who would sign off a Student Representative Council communiqué with flourish:
History is on our side.
No retreat. No Surrender.
Defeat is not on the agenda.
Eish, why are we so blest?
But somewhere buried in the papers was another comic moment. The irrelevant former Minister of Home Affairs, Enos Nkala, was fuming that Robert Mugabe had disappointed him. He reiterated that Mugabe had not wanted to assume the leadership of ZANU in 1974 but he, Nkala and others, had persuaded him. So if you take Nkala’s version you would see some parallels with one of my favourite stories in the Big Book about a dude called Moses and his brother, Aaron.
In the book, Bra Moses keeps manufacturing excuses on why he should not be chosen to lead his gang out of Egypt (this was before Hosni Mubarak, by the way). Despite showing Moses how he could turn his knobkerrie into a snake the guy still has the cheek to ask, "What if they don’t believe me?" He continues, "But I stammer, Lord". But the Supreme One retorts, "Your brother Aaron can speak for you." You see Moses had not yet watched Colin Firth in The King’s Speech and gotten tips on how to minimise his stutter.
Finally, he agrees to take up the position of leader of the Revolutionary Council Against Pharaoh. Can you imagine any politician being offered a position without the trauma of an election and a re-run but still being reluctant to take it up? Ivorian strongman Laurent Gbagbo, and some people we know, would have jumped at this. But Frank Muvuti argues that El Commandante Moses was not stubborn but was rather keen on "participatory leadership".
I suppose that means shared leadership and that is not necessarily the same as a Government of National Unity.
In 1980 in the Republic of Kalakuta (a land far away and not outside our borders) we gave someone powers to do as he liked. He ended up thinking very much like PW Botha as described by Thomas Mapfumo in one song: "he speaks like he created a person". It’s more dramatic and nuanced in Shona: "anotaura se akasika munhu." The result of the hubris of the Emperor of Kalakuta means that his country became what it is: an international joke ranked 169 out of 169 on the UN Human Development Index.
But madness needs hangers-on who pretend all is well and we saw that in parliament last week. A friend, Claske Dijkema, reminded me that when the Emperor is naked only the child, in innocence, can say he is naked. So picture the scene: as the Dear Leader steps out of his Rolls Royce, all of us are called to admire the fine Savile Row suit they say he bought in Beijing and not Mayfair Street though we can’t see anything other than his – well, never mind.
Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder (23 AD – 79 AD) may have been wrong when he stated "From Africa, always something new." No, Comrade Pliny. We have seen the circus of tyranny too many times. It is no longer half as funny as Cirque du Soleil.
A clean break with clownish leadership would be most kenge.
Publisher: Chris Kabwato (email@example.com)
Editor: Levi Kabwato (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Newsroom: email@example.com, +27-73-212 0629