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This article participates on the following special index pages:
ZCTU National Labour Protest - Sept 13, 2006 - Index of articles
Zimbabweans won't rebel: Part 2
September 27, 2006
Harare - In
1 of my contribution to the mystery of why Zimbabweans do not
rebel, I anchored my argument in the proposition that Zimbabweans
do not rebel largely (but not solely) because of a specific existential
reality: that the Zimbabwean masses are a risk-averse people ruled
by a risk-taking political elite.
I further advanced the
idea that unless the Zimbabwean demos are transformed, through an
arduous and sustained but long-yielding process of mobilisation,
from a risk-evading orientation to one of risk-taking (or at least
risk-neutrality), an organised mass action of the type envisaged
by the ZCTU, the NCA, ZINASU and other civic movements, will continue
to attract disappointing support.
In so arguing, I sought
neither to praise nor condemn but to describe the reality as I see
it. How this situation arose is the subject of this instalment.
Zimbabweans are not congenitally
risk-averse; they were made risk-averse through a process of conditioning
over time. The risk-averseness has made them politically passive
Since Ian Smith captured
power from the rather risk-averse Winston Field in 1964, Zimbabwe
has been ruled by a risk-taking elite. It was not until a critical
mass of a risk-taking Black Nationalist elite emerged to counter
the White risk-taking elite and to mobilise the masses that mass
action took place in the manner of the liberation struggle in its
The risk-evading masses
became either risk-takers or at the very least, risk-neutrals. It
is my contention though that the liberation struggle (specifically
its most active phase from 1972 to 1979) was not sufficiently long
to transform the orientations of the masses on a permanent basis.
The process of transforming
a risk-averse people into risk-takers was not completed. The 1979
Lancaster House process culminating in the Lancaster House Agreement
short-circuited the transformative process. Therefore, at the psycho-political
level, the liberation struggle was an incomplete revolution.
Those who most actively
and directly participated in the armed struggle are invariably and
understandably the most risk-taking segment of our society. These
are of course the war vets and the war collaborators who, unsurprisingly,
are the ruling party-s storm troopers.
But this is also a generation
that is on its way out, following the laws of nature. Once this
political generation is out of the equation, ZANU PF will never
be the same again, in character, composition and philosophical outlook.
Perhaps mindful of this
inevitability, the ZANU PF leadership agonised over the reproduction
of the risk-taking class of war vets, and, in my view, the controversial
youth training programme is an instrument to this end.
It is designed towards
After independence, Zimbabweans
suffered what the learned people (the lawyers) call recidivism.
Zimbabweans recoiled into their shells like tortoises and have by
and large remained in this situation since then, only occasionally
and hesitatingly popping out their heads in a typical risk-shy fashion.
In short, the risk-taking
behaviour displayed by Zimbabweans during the liberation war was
a transient phenomenon and this transitory character serves to prove
the fundamental and underlying political character of the average
Zimbabwean; his/her subject orientation to authority, any authority.
This is amply and daily
displayed in virtually every organisational or associational setting:
in churches, schools - including institutions of higher learning,
firms, homes, political parties, etc. In short, this authority-worshipping
tendency is manifest in all organisations, micro and macro.
Moreover, this attitude
is deeply embedded in the Zimbabwean psyche and it will take a painfully
long time to unwind. And it is a product of more than a century
of uninterrupted authoritarianism.
One does not have to
be a Marxist to agree with Karl Marx-s acute observation that
"the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare
on the brain of the living."
The most critical agents
in the transmission of this risk-evading behaviour among Zimbabweans
and over decades have been the churches, schools and, for adults,
The media has been particularly
effective to the point where one recent study explained the political
subjecthood among Zimbabweans in terms of the "power of propaganda."
And the power of propaganda
- in its various forms - has given birth to a peculiar mindset
that my former colleague Professor Jonathan Moyo creatively and
brilliantly referred to as "normalising the abnormal."
Briefly stated, the notion
of "normalising the abnormal" starts from the premise
that there are some things or situations that are manifestly abnormal.
For instance, that it is abnormal to queue for food items as a result
of shortages of say, sugar, cooking oil, maize meal, bread or for
other commodities like fuel, water and for other services like health
And yet people have
over time been led to believe that it is in fact normal to queue
for such basic survival commodities and services. They even joke
and heartily laugh about it. This creates and inculcate fatalistic
or defeatist values in our society, presently and for future generations.
The agency for transmitting
such values is the public media, which, through its propaganda leads
otherwise rational people to begin to accept bad things or situations
as inherently good just because the government or the ruling party
The notion of "normalising
the abnormal" provides a paradigm for analysing our acceptance
of the dire conditions in which we find ourselves. It is a framework
not only for rationalising our situation, but also for immobilising
Before his foray into
the turbulent world of politics, Moyo had correctly argued that
ZANU PF was conditioning Zimbabweans to expect the abnormal as normal.
He had proceeded to warn us against the tendency of accepting this
aberration as normal, and that unless we resisted accepting the
abnormal as normal, the abnormal would become part of our culture.
In fact, the process
did not start with ZANU PF; ZANU PF simply perfected this stratagem.
And of course, Moyo later had the rare opportunity to test this
thesis in the world of practical politics.
Because we accept aberrations
as normal, we see no need to correct them because we may even see
them as intrinsically good. Moreover, when and where people accept
the abnormal as normal, they have developed creative coping mechanisms
rather than seeking to deal with the source of the abnormality.
lamentation in her "The
Anatomy of the Zimbabwean Problem" (see my last instalment)
is essentially another way of lamenting the normalisation of the
She asks: "Why
has there been no eruption in Zimbabwe?"
The simple answer is
that people what are supposed to erupt see no basis for such an
eruption because they have been so conditioned. Further, "normalising
the abnormal" reinforces the risk-averseness among Zimbabweans.
This combination is completely
fatal to any strategy of organised mass action for the simple reason
that action-oriented masses are not there. To 'mass act-
there must be the masses who are so inclined.
Another tendency, flowing
from both the risk-averseness of the masses and their tendency to
disengage from any confrontation with the state is the atomisation
of public reactions to grievances.
People react to a public
problem not by organising other citizens in a similar situation
to collectively protest an injustice or agitate for redress. Instead,
people would rather deal with the problem individually and as best
as they can and evading the source of the problem.
I will give live examples
we can all easily relate to. ZESA daily abuses us by "load
shedding" us causing all sorts of miseries to our lives but
what is our reaction? Nothing collective!
Those with the means
buy generators and quietly and individually deal with this nuisance.
The less endowed quietly and individually buy firewood for cooking
and candles for lighting.
The Harare City Council
and ZINWA collude to deny us our daily water and what do Harare
residents do? Those who are privileged sink boreholes and quietly
and individually deal with the problem. The povo go to fetch water
from unprotected wells and streams with all the attendant health
And those who can not
afford transport fare to work simply walk to work, even from Chitungwiza!
These actions are clearly abnormal but flow from the normalisation
of the abnormal.
And risk-averseness keeps
the aggrieved masses from questioning the perpetrators of these
injustices. We are witnessing the individualisation of action and
an aversion or at the very least, indifference to collective action.
Now, can one reasonably
expect Zimbabweans to rebel? I have my grave reservations.
My contention is that
rebelliousness to authority (any authority!) is not an integral
part of the political psyche of the Zimbabwean demos. This is despite
the Second Chimurenga. There is really no deep-seated tradition
of resistance to authority or speaking truth to power.
Our agents of socialisation
reinforce this. This is why Zimbabweans can tolerate abuse more
than any other people in southern Africa. Those who cannot tolerate
the abuse would rather take the exit option.
It is for this reason
that Zimbabweans are the people easiest to govern - in politics
and indeed in any other social arena - than any other group
of citizens in the region, and probably beyond.
In short, the road to
organised mass action is blocked because it has few takers.
is the Chairman of the Department of Political & Administrative
Studies at the University of Zimbabwe
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