Zimbabwe’s Factional Politics: Any room for neutrality?

President Mugabe is welcomed back home on his return from Mali by Vice Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko at Harare International Airport last night - Picture by Kudakwashe Hunda

By Rich Mugobo

I recently attended an electrifying and scintillating conference on the concept of citizen journalism and the new social media. One of the guest speakers was a young entrepreneur who happens to be the founder of a local social media platform. After giving a lively and informative presentation the guest speaker opened the floor for discussion. During the question and answer segment one of the delegates asked an interesting question which has inspired this piece.

‘Which side are you from’, he asked innocently. ‘Are you from Zanu Pf or the opposition’’ he added. After laughing off the political affiliation suggestion, the presenter tried in vain to explain that he was apolitical. Someone then asked whether there is something called neutrality in a politically charged environment such as ours. Can one afford to be indifferent to the unfolding politics of the day?

Such has become our society. A confused, factionalised political landscape built around cult-like political actors fighting for political power and heavily polarised to an extent that you have to pick sides or else people will pick sides for you. From churches to the political arena you have to pick sides. It’s either you are ‘WekwaMagaya’ or WekwaMakandiwa’.

This writer is a Catholic and in the local parish‘s C.Y.A there is a splinter group of youths that calls itself the Vatican, pitting itself against another group of youths with divergent ideas. You have to be Gamatox or Mazoe Crush, G40 or Lacoste. You have to be Renewal or Mdc-T, Pro-Mangoma or pro-Biti. You have to be ZANU Pf or Zimpf, pro Mujuru or pro Mutasa and cabal.

Binaries and differences in preferences on simple issues such as football clubs or zimdancehall artists are healthy but political factions by their nature poison the national psyche, are a threat to peace, democracy and development. In politics, simplifying factional identities into labels such as G40, Lacoste, Mazoe or Gamatox makes a multifarious phenomenon seem very simple, which is intellectually satisfying and emotionally comforting in a complicated political world.

The oddity of it all is that the binaries we create on almost everything do not cover individual preferences but act as a collective identity over something or someone, e.g. a prophet, prominent politician or even a zimdancehall artiste. Factional identities do not effectively capture the individual aspirations. It’s just a collective coalescence of ideas, beliefs, aspirations or preferences.

Factional politics have also encroached into the intellectual community. It is incomprehensible how the state’s tertiary institution have remained dead brained in the midst of our economic crisis and have all turned into political activists/commentators. At times their field of speciality would have nothing to do with politics.

Even those in politically distanced fields such as Crop Science, have occasionally offered commentary on political opinion. Academics have been ever ready to dish out political statements that seem to tow a preferred partisan or factional line rather than offering critical views that can feed into the emaciated national discourse and policy making system. Even nation’s history has become factionalised with many narratives to our past depending on which political divide the historian or academic sits on.

A noble policy such as the land reform programme has been politically factionalised depending on which side of the political fence you sit on.

The lack of critical commentary has permeated from the academic fraternity into the media circle which has also been unable to look beyond official justifications and has adopted a complete blindness to the devastating consequences of such one-side actions. We have a national university of science and technology which, since its inception has not has not brought out any notable invention.

The presence of dissenting voices in state and private media has been replaced by collusion and ideological filtering of news content. The end product of an embedded media which seeks a voice from an embedded academic fraternity to give credence to their stories is a disastrous concoction of ‘‘transparent propaganda.’’

Political institutionalisation of intellectuals in Zimbabwe has meant that academics now play a role of framing political rhetoric, naturalising it to the unsuspecting public as common sense. As the political crisis has degenerated, so has the relevance of the Zimbabwean intellectuals –what might be termed the closing of the Zimbabwean mind.

The close relationship between the academic and the tainted political environment has meant the intellectual mind has also been politically prostituted. In the words of a certain African proverb ‘the man who beats the drum for the madman is madder than the madman. Since politics is the madman in Zimbabwe, every academic who chooses to support a given faction loses intellectual sanity, pandering to the whims of his or her camp’s line of thought. Objectivity and politics are uneasy bedfellows.

Most of Zimbabwe’s intellectuals speak from the depth of political pockets. Political patronage has found space with radical thought being stifled because it is verbal diarrhoea, unpalatable in some political circles. Factional politics has hijacked free thought at a time when Zimbabwe dearly needs a free market of ideas. .

The intellectual society, for lack of a better phrase, cannot be one where the educated classes are so effectively indoctrinated and controlled by a subtle propaganda system. The intellectual community cannot and must not be a politicised system responsible for formulating politically correct opinion for public digestion on behalf of the politicians. Neither should it be a system of doctrines and beliefs which undermine independent thought and prevent a proper understanding and analysis of issues national or global.

The reality is that we have hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean citizens, at home and abroad, whose lives does not revolve around politics and the many factional identities it carries. They are apolitical by choice. They believe in business first. Like anyone else, their voices deserve to be heard. In them lies the renaissance of Zimbabwe.

  • Richard Mugobo is a political analyst and social commentator