A tale of two psyches: ponderings on Zimbabwe’s political thought

As far as I can tell there are two dominant paradigms at work in Zimbabwe, particularly on the political front. One is hinged on the assumption that colonialism/ continuous subjugation is a bad thing and access to resources and empowerment of the indigenous [black] population is good. Furthermore this position sustains that true sovereignty requires it. The other position posits that alienation from those who were former colonialists is a bad thing and that any form of antagonism not only threatens our relationships with these nations but is inherently detrimental to the well being of the nation and our people. Therefore, the only way to return to true freedom and prosperity is to turn back to the tried and tested method of patronage. Both positions claim to have the best interests of people at heart.

It is quite interesting to look at the assumptions about the capacity of black people that underlie both positions. The first assumes that given the right opportunities and ownership of resources, black people have the ability to govern themselves into prosperity. The former position regards black people as having been continuously hindered in their pursuit of self-actualisation and attempts to place black people at the helm of their own futures. This is to be done partly through the mending of fractured identities, with the insertion of this one radical idea: We can do it. This position argues that things will get better once we manage to be in charge of our own affairs. Then we can interact with other countries from a stable position that implies equal relationships in contracting, be it bilateral trade agreements or deciding what inter-governmental bodies we’d like to form and with whom.

The other position also seems to say that we can do it, but there isn’t a full stop at the end of that sentence. We can do it, if…The idea seems to largely be that we can do it so long as we are not given positions of responsibility. We can do it, so long as we continue to defer and to listen to people who claim to be the holders of all knowledge. We can do it, if we don’t cause a stir and find a way to carry favour with the powers that be. We can do it so long as we don’t keep babbling about things like the need for sovereignty and self respect because who can eat that anyway? We can do it so long as we continuously toe the line and don’t attempt to assert our rights on the international plane in any meaningful way. We’ll be fine so long as we keep quiet, don’t make a fuss and wait our turn. This position fosters the idea that black people succeed only in so far as there is some sort of benefactor willing to overlook every aspect of development we agree to undertake. This is not put forward in terms of creating meaningful technical partnerships that allow for continued learning and co-operation, instead there is the presumed need to defer wholly.

There is apparently the need to let those out there do the thinking. Then said people need to send some people who can think over to deepest, darkest Africa. Then these vessels of knowledge need to somehow manage to lead us [Africans] not into the way of thinking but down the path of their thoughts into development. This vision of self-actualisation involves development, goodness and amenities happening to us whilst we hold our proverbial caps in hand and continuously express our gratitude. This leads to us being continuous excluded from our institutions, and our own needs being passed over as there is no consultation with the people over what their aspirations really are. Instead work is constantly done on what we are told we need. We change and evolve on someone else’s schedule. We are boxed into a situation where we are told we have agency, but we feel as though we have no control. We are disjointed and when we complain that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea we are mocked because the best minds crafted this full proof system just for us. What do we know about development? The true underlying message of this position is that we cannot. We cannot do anything. We cannot do anything right. Every time there is a setback we play those three lines back to ourselves, and the people peddling these lies have the opportunity to be self congratulatory. Celebrating every failure. We told you, we can do no right. What did you expect of black people?

When it all gets phrased in words of development, with ideas being presented as non partisan and entirely objective we are less likely to challenge conclusions reached. However this one size fits all approach denies the need to take context into account and ignores the differences in culture and outlook of different peoples. What is most alarming is that it is not the black African that is used as the yardstick when dealing with issues of our development. This is echoed in the attempts to deal with sexism, where the yardstick of womanhood tends to be a white conception. We get a racist vision of development without having the benefit of having it funded by the looting of oppressed native peoples

The terrifying thing about the power of neo-colonialism is its ability to not only affect our lives as we lead them, but that it has the power to continuously re-write history and create false memories. On the one hand it says that blacks are inferior and incapable and on the other hand it tells us to think of all the good things that colonialism did for us. It re-packages history and your lived experience, hands it back to you and if you aren’t careful you risk consuming it wholesale.

One of the most painful things that I have heard said is, “thank goodness Zimbabwe was colonised for so long, look at all the infrastructure we have compared to East Africa.” This is wrong for several reasons. Firstly, in Zimbabwe the bulk of the infrastructure we boast of in terms of high-rise buildings, decent living spaces in high density areas, schools in rural areas, a focus on the literacy rate of the black majority – happened after independence. They happened after we decided that we needed to begin to build ourselves an actual nation. Those were the actions of a government that was actually concerned with the people as opposed to some people. Secondly this makes it sound as though the colonialists were here to help. As though they were really just contractors who stayed a little longer and did all kinds of things for us due to the kindness of their hearts. White settlers were here to loot, rape and pillage. They were willing to do anything in order to sustain their looting. Anything at all. This involved systematic physical/psychological violence and sustained exclusion of black people from all power and positions of authority. Actual oppression. Which leads me to my third point – nothing, nothing at all – NOTHING, is worth the loss of freedom and dignity.

The second paradigm in conjunction with its dear friend neo-colonialism (in the forms of external governments and development agencies) would have you think that it is worth selling your birth right for a bowl of soup. Don’t get me wrong, there is the definite need to ensure that people do have enough to eat, and are able to sustain their lives, but it is misleading to make it seem like exchanging food for freedom is/ would be painless. Furthermore, working in conjunction with other peoples is greatly rewarding and would allow us to develop more than we could on our own. However, in order to do this we don’t need to first concede that it is because of our blackness that we cannot or have as yet been unable to. We need to actively heed the call of affirmation and Pan Africanism in the belief that a prosperous future for Africa involves our taking not only responsibility but an active role in our development. We need to think that we can do it rather than that we can do it, if…

Lately, a corruption scandal has broken in the world of Zimbabwean parastatals. What has been particularly telling is that even whilst we can all agree that embezzlement and mismanagement of finances is a terrible thing, we are reaching terribly different conclusions as to what made the corruption possible and what this means for us. On the one hand there are those that are seeing this as the work of greedy individuals, who selfishly converted resources meant for the people of Zimbabwe to their own personal use. These people are bad and should be punished. we are considering reforms in terms of auditing practice and measures to help whistle-blowers. In short some of us are trying to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore. On the other hands there are people who think that this serves to further prove that we can never be at the helm of important organisations because we aren’t to be trusted. These actions are being taken to reflect the innermost being of the Zimbabwean people, namely we are apparently rotten to the core. I heard someone remark that this is part of the reason why you can’t work for black people. I find this quite interesting because in the global financial scandal that involved numerous western corporations and banks, at no point was it argued that this was the result of the inherent greediness and incapacity of white people. No one said – what did we expect of white people anyway? So why are we so willing to internalise the failures of individuals and take them as being representative of us all.

Why are we so keen to continue internalising messages of inferiority? What is particularly alarming is that we accept the idea that we are inherently inadequate in so many aspects of our lives, sometimes without much reflection. This is part of the battle of blackness.

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