Violence: Tone matters

April 13, 2014 at 7:25 pm Leave a comment

Politics is more profitable in large groups, but political competition will be stiffer in such large groups.

ECHOES BY CONWAY TUTANI

So the infighting in the MDC-T cannot be described as varume vaviri vane mhanza (two bald-headed men) fighting for a comb. There is much at stake. There is much to lose — and violence to boot it all.

The fact that Zimbabwe remains polarised with not much of middle ground to occupy makes the so-called MDC-T rebels or leadership renewal team — depending on which side of the fence you sit — think twice about completely breaking away. Simba Makoni and Welshman Ncube have tried to occupy that space and failed as captured in the Mail & Guardian (March 14-March 20, 2014).

Maybe that is why MDC-T deputy treasurer-general Elton Mangoma has taken the legal route to contest his suspension rather than — so far — form his own party.

It could be with this newfound hindsight that several senior officials from the Ncube-led MDC have gone back to the MDC-T despite intense differences — among them violence — which made them ship out in the first place in 2005. Politics is indeed a numbers and power game.

Such realpolitik has been lacking in opposition politics and among some commentators in this country, with some misdirecting their anger on “the folly of mass opinion”. Realpolitik — or real politics — say that politics is amoral (it’s neither moral nor immoral) and that things should be looked at realistically, not idealistically.

You don’t have to be preachy; that is for the pulpit. If you do that, you are no different from, at the other end of the scale, Tafataona Mahoso, whose writings are replete with ideological notions, but hardly any practical considerations. Taken to the extreme, realpolitik involves cunning, conniving, “do whatever-you-have-do-to-get-the-job-done, even going to the extent of cheating and bribing or whatever method you use to get what you need”.

Remember President Robert Mugabe’s apologetic “love letter” to the head of the Sadc facilitation team Lindiwe Zulu, to whom he had directed anger and vitriol, soon after retaining power following last year’s elections which read: “I love you, Ms Lindiwe, I love you, I don’t hate you. It was a time when everyone was campaigning and one can do anything in order to win elections.” This makes the strait-laced directness found in the opposition look patently amateurish. There is more folly in their petty public spats than mass opinion.

Related to realpolitik is awareness of power dynamics, meaning that the notion of power is not simple, but is complex. This refers to the way power works in a given setting. Dynamics can be defined as the forces that stimulate development or change — or stop this — within a given system. Some people are better than others at intimidating and manipulating.

That is why revenue from diamonds went straight to the Salary Service Bureau to pay civil servants instead of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, totally bypassing then Finance minister Tendai Biti. That explains the inaccessibility of the voters’ roll to opposition parties before last year’s elections. That’s why the Electoral Amendment Bill is being rushed in Parliament without inclusion of the main opposition MDC-T’s proposals.

That power of vitality among opposition parties was no match to the State’s power of force. They did not understand and take into consideration the power dynamics. They underestimated and were overwhelmed by the brute strength of a dictatorship.

Which brings us to the issue of — or ambivalence about — violence. A blogger gives this spot-on definition of ambivalence: “Good? No, bad. No, good. Or maybe bad. Or maybe a bit of both. Or maybe neither.” Many people will vow that they won’t ever be violent, but the truth is, you never know until you are in such a situation that drives you mad.

When that happens, there is no telling what anyone would do, and the frightening truth is, anyone is capable of this, no matter how composed they are. It’s not just politics which makes people lose it. Ordinarily quiet and calm women can go berserk over unfaithfulness of their husband. Women can be more vicious when it comes to getting cheated on. Some years ago in the United States, a doctor’s wife spotted him with his girlfriend and ran over him with a car, killing him instantly. Police have also caused violence through heavy-handedness. You should not court violence by baiting people.

On May 18 2004, Mangoma’s ally in the MDC-T “leadership renewal team” Roy Bennett himself saw red in Parliament and floored Zanu PF’s Patrick Chinamasa and Didymus Mutasa, who had tried to come to Chinamasa’s aid. This was after Chinamasa had grossly provoked Bennett by telling the House that the government was not going to reverse its decision on taking over Bennett’s farm in Chimanimani because his forefathers were “thieves and murderers”.

Many observers were abhorred at Bennett’s conduct, but — according to a United States diplomatic cable released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks — an equal number were proud of him.

The obscene act of violence against Mangoma by some MDC-T yobos in February calls for some serious soul-searching — was is too far? Even though this took place in a climate of bitter and virulent recriminations, Tsvangirai should have carefully and forcefully taken stern action. On the other hand, Mangoma himself ought to have avoided overheated rhetoric; not do things that make violence an unavoidable reality. Know when your ego is getting the better of you. This is not to condone gratuitous violence.

Politicians of all stripes ought to know that tone of language matters, especially in present-day Zimbabwe, if violence is to be curbed. That is the ambivalence associated with violence. While violence is not acceptable, it is explainable — or vice versa?

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