By Pride Mkono
In recent writings, I have explored a number of themes surrounding opposition politics in Zimbabwe, the objective has been to trigger debate and also give humble submissions into this very topical issue. In this piece I want to take a look at the core mobilising message of the opposition, the MDC Alliance, which has been under attack from friends and foe.
The enemies are decimating through the courts and parliamentary recalls and the friends are questioning the strategy and ability of the opposition to act decisively and at the very least challenge Zanu PF hegemony or at best wrestle State power from them. At the centre of the debate has been the masses of Zimbabwe and how they are either immobilised or completely withdrawn from the ‘struggle for political change.’ To understand part of the challenge, it is important to closely unpack the opposition’s political messaging for change.
Most of you readers may be aware of Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari from either his writings or recently in a BSR by distinguished author Alex Magaisa in which he wrote about ‘discovering ignorance.’ It is from Harari that I borrow the concept of ‘fiction’ as an analytic lense to understand the mobilising message of the opposition. First let’s understand what this ‘fiction’ is.
Harari and other academics define ‘fiction’ or ‘social constructs’ or ‘imagined realities’ as incredibly complex network of stories which exist as if they were real and accumulate immense power in human societies. ‘Fictions’ are thus not real or tangible objects such as trees, stones or water; they exist on the social realm as imaginations of humans. It is important to note that ‘fictions’ are different from lies as long as society believe them to be real, they continue to exert reality on the world. An simple example will suffice.
A good friend of mine, Tinashe Lenin Chisaira, was recently named in the top 100 of young environmental conservationists in Africa. This was in recognition of his work with an environmental lobby group he founded and is Director of, Advocates4Earth, which uses the law to advocate for environmental protection. The vision of the organisation is basically to use the the fiction of law to protect Zimbabwe’s fauna and flora. A very noble undertaking, however in reality you will never see or touch anything called Advocates4Earth it is legal persona which exists through nicely crafted documents by lawyers lodged at the Deeds Office. If the Board of the organization fires my good friend, the organization will be there but if a Court finds some fault with the organisation it can order it dissolved and that will be the end.
As the above example can illustrate, Advocates4Earth is a legal ‘fiction’. It exists as far as paperwork is concerned but you will never meet a person of flesh and blood with such a name or even an animal; yet baby elephants were saved by the advocacy of this social construct. There is nothing wrong with ‘fiction’, Harari in fact poses that one fiction can replace another because it mobilises society and creates a level cooperation which is otherwise impossible in large group settings for example being Zimbabwean can make me interact and cooperate with another Zimbabwean in a foreign country even though we have no relayions at all. This is where we must return to Christianity as a ‘fiction’.
Christianity as fiction
The Christian religion is based on the doctrine salvation of men from sin through believing in Jesus Christ as saviour and Lord. Since its adoption as the official religion of the Roman Empire by Emperor August Ceaser, it has aggressively evangelized across the world. Today millions of people are adherents of the faith and in Zimbabwe it has even been recognised in the Preamble of the Constitution. This is how powerful the Christian fiction is in our society today.
God is in it!
It was perhaps against this background that the main opposition led by Nelson Chamisa, himself a pastor, had one of it’s key election message in the 2018 plebiscite as #GodIsInIt. A message which glorified the fiction of christianity as the highest expression of political change. There is nothing wrong with this, it is their choice. However it also raises a critical question: Can the fiction of christianity be a powerful mobilising force for political change? This is a key question because historically people have used politics as a fiction to redistribute resources and consume power in society. Therefore a fiction which fails to capture these basic aspirations is highly unlikely to mobilise for political change. It fails to capture the moment.
Let us create a new fiction
Humans are often moved to act by powerful fiction such as nationalism, democracy, freedom, equality and human rights. It is apparent that after decades of poverty, corruption, violence and economic rot; Zimbabweans are more focused on the economic questions than anything else. The economy needs to move to the centre of mobilisation and a new powerful fiction of economic freedom must be created. Remember it is fiction and legends it creates which can push for mass cooperation and in the world we now live in, such fictions are now more necessary than ever. They often determine between life and death. Now let us make our own fiction to mobilise masses for political change.
As an opposition we set a radical economic agenda (fiction) through which we seek to eradicate mass poverty and economically liberate our people. Our message is “Economy for the people” and this economy is premised on nationalisation and large scale state ownership of commanding heights of the economy like mining, commercial agriculture, primary manufacturing. We also recognize the right to livelihoods for millions of people in the informal economy. Instead of promising just new jobs we also pledge to recognize and support vendors, cross border traders, artisanal miners, small scale farmers and hundreds of thousands of small business owners currently reeling under unjust taxes and levies. Further, we guarantee diaspora vote for all citizens who are making economic contributions to the country through remittances. We also call on the diaspora and not International Financial Institutions to be the primary investors in our economy. Our fiction promises economic justice by going after all looters and their beneficiaries and reposes everything that was stolen and proceeds will be used to support social grants for the vulnerable. Education, health and sanitation services will be provided free of charge for all citizens regardless of their status. This is our fiction, maybe it can be more powerful in mobilising the poor and downtrodden to fight back and bring about political change.
In conclusion I argue that while the Christian fiction is tempting to deploy politically, there is a danger that it would not mobilise masses to push for political change. The opposition needs to rethink its alternative fiction and confront the ruling party social construct of nationalism and the liberation war legacy. Such powerful fictions can only be counter balanced by an equally powerful fiction of economic freedom and liberation from poverty!