The Herald (Harare)

5 July 2014

Zimbabwe: Politics - the Trouble With Zimbabwe

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The Other Side

David Livingstone comes to us in white history as a Scottish medical missionary of the London Missionary Society (LMS), a slave abolitionist and an explorer associated with the Royal Geographical Society. The same history tells us he died in May 1873 at Illala (in present day Zambia), a location described as "the centre of Africa". I am not so sure whether the upper reaches of Zambia give us the centre of Africa, or this is simply colonial cartography stretching matters for wanton, self-serving symbolism. His heart, we are further told, was removed from his body for burial under a mpundu (some say mvula) tree, again at the same place on the continent. That occurrence invests the matter with even greater symbolism, does it not?

Susi and Chuma

His two faithful servants, Susi and Chuma, are said to have embalmed the rest of his remains, wrapped them in sailcloth, carted them to the coast (Bagamoyo) and then sailed to London, arriving the following year. It is intriguing that by 1873, Africans well known for their mortal fear of, and respect for, the dead, had already mastered the art of embalming, only to forget or fear that bizarre art soon after, right up to this day.

We still bury our dead bodily, standing their ugly, cold grin for no longer while than lasts the body viewing ritual. Whatever strides science and scientific knowledge have made, as Africans, we remain very distant friends of cadavers! it makes the white narrative a bit atypical, out of character. But then, yes this was the white master. Perhaps all fears had to be overcome.

Into the master's grave

The great white history tells us Livingstone's body lay in repose at No. 1 Savile Road, London, then headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society. One A.P. Stanley, Dean of Westminster, is said to have written to the president of the Royal Geographic Society offering burial in Westminster Abbey. The funeral eventually took place on April 18 (Oh my word!), 1874 in Westminster Abbey, all to the hymn "O God of Bethel, by whose hand." I am not so sure who between Susi and Chuma, but one of Livingstone's servants had to be restrained by Henry Morton Stanley from throwing himself into his master's grave, presumably to catch up with the master's company, a good year into his journey to eternity.

And in further tribute to the native hand and heart, Livingstone's stone read: "Brought by Faithful Hands over Land and Sea Here Rests David Livingstone, Missionary, Traveller, Philanthropist, Born March 19, 1813 at Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Died May 1, 1873 at Chitambo Village, Ilala. For 30 Years his Life was Spent in an Unwearied Effort to Evangelise the Native Races, to Explore the Undiscovered Secrets, to Abolish the Desolating Slave Trade, of Central Africa, Where with his Last Words he Wrote, "ALL I CAN ADD IN MY SOLITUDE, IS, MAY HEAVEN'S RICH BLESSING COME DOWN ON EVERY ONE, AMERICAN, ENGLISH, OR TURK, WHO WILL HELP TO HEAL THIS OPEN SORE OF THE WORLD." It was a great mythologising epitaph, one that rubbed off David all other preoccupations of his pursuits on the continent, save for the abolition of slavery.

The Rhodes who came back

For us whose country is better known as the white man's cemetery, the Livingstone story resonates in a very special way. Besides, he stands nonchalantly before the steaming Victoria Falls, eternally joining us in our wet gaze of this wonder of the world. But a watcher who is also watched in great awe. So there is a way in which this death motif unites us with Zambia. And contrasts us too. Livingstone died in Zambia which still keeps his heart. But Zambia sent away the rest of his remains, sent these back to his homeland. Here, Cecil John Rhodes left us, bodily, to then die elsewhere to the south of us, specifically in South Africa whence he came.

That would have been a good eviction if only matters had ended there. They did not. The man still marched on us again, ghostly crawling back into our country for a second conquest. He walked, he walked, walked and walked until he reached the sacred Matopo Hills between whose ravines lay Mzilikazi, within whose belly resided Mlimo, the god who never failed this, our land. There, Rhodes stopped, to burp we all thought. We were wrong. To rest eternally, impregnably, atop our spiritual fontanelle.

Handing down a sacred trust

Cleft between hard granite, sealed by the same, he remains implacably there, perched and hovering above this land bodily, spiritually. And here are the last words of his brother Frank to our forebears, all in front of Rhodes' grave in 1902: "And as proof that I know the white man and the Matabele will be brothers and friends for ever, I leave my brother's grave in your hands. I charge you to hand down this sacred trust to your sons that come after you and from generation to generation and I know if you do this my brother will be pleased." True to promise, our forebears handed down this "sacred trust" to us and Rhodes' grave remains in our hands, shall be in the hands of our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren ad infinitum! Let's see how this heritage plays out today to us, Rhodes' centurions.

The real Livingstone outside white history

Back to Livingstone, and I am getting closer to the bone. Among the favourite scholar he admired was one Professor Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge University. On February 6, 1858 he confidentially wrote to him, all to pour out his heart about the purpose of his itinerary on the African continent. He wrote: "That you may have a clear idea of my objectives I may state that they have something more than meets the eye.

They are not merely exploratory, for I go with the intention of benefiting both the African and my own countryman. I take a practical mining geologist from the School of Mines to tell us of the mineral resources of the country, then an economic botanist to give a full report on the vegetable productions - fibrous, gummy and medicinal substances together with the dye stuffs - everything which may be useful in commerce. An artist to give the scenery, a naval officer to tell of the capacity of the river communications and a moral agent to lay the foundation for knowing that aim fully.

All this machinery has for its ostensible object the development of African trade and the promotion of civilisation but what I tell to none but such as you in whom I have confidence is thus I hope it may result in an English colony in the healthy highlands of Central Africa . . ." He rounded up: "With this short statement you may perceive our ulterior objects."

Rhodes' first cousin

Interestingly until recently, this particular letter lay unread, unpublished, in the national museum of Zambia which is in Livingstone, the border town named after David. Or was it unread? I doubt. It is more accurate to say it lay deliberately unused so as to preserve the carefully cultivated, mythologised image of David Livingstone as an unalloyed evangelising and civilising missionary and explorer set to redeem a benighted people, bringing it to the notice of the civilised world.

Of course the above credo, all along so well guarded by European historiography, makes him a perfect partner -- body and soul -- of Cecil John Rhodes, the secular man. There was an economic master-plan to his travels on the continent, all of it summed up in four Cs : Christianity, civilisation commerce and colonisation. And he makes it clear he needs Christianity which is represented by "a moral agent" to lay the foundation for knowing and focusing singularly on the overarching aim of colonisation for greater commerce built around mining, agriculture and tourism, all of which are enabled by water-based communication networks. For him the Church was a facade to commerce, and he made no apologies.

Faith after the marketplace

I doubt very much if the world has changed much from the days of Livingstone. It does not matter which missionary you read, the one dominant thrust is one of missionaries as harbingers of colonisation for commerce. Worse so missionaries of the London Missionary Society who did more trade in gold dust and animal trophies than in souls for the great Christian kingdom to come. No wonder why there was just one convert -- a leper -- in the whole of Matabeleland from the 1830s when missionary activities began, until after the fall of the Ndebele Kingdom.

It does not matter which hunter you read, the dominant thrust was preparing for conquest pending commerce. From before Selous right up to the last hunter to venture before 1890, reminiscences relate to the economic value of Zimbabwe to the white man. You cannot help but admire this obsession with issues economic, this sense of national purpose, this awareness that matters of faith and belief do visit better humanity after the marketplace, by which the same is made.

The economy that went unnoticed

In the latter half of last month and the first week of this month of July, many developments have registered in our economy. The prolific Sabi Gold Mine closed, all to little or no public talk. A good many factories closed shop, again to little or no economic talk. Tremendous volumes of tobacco traded, as before to little or no economic talk. No doubt more diamonds were mined, again quietly. Victoria Falls Airport is undergoing massive expansion, all to no notice.

A thermal power project is sprouting in Gwaai, no one notices. Makomo has surpassed Hwange Colliery in extracting coal, a development still unknown and uninteresting to many. The roads are being worked out, to no headlines. Much more dramatically, farmers are scratching their heads over how to dispose of surplus harvests, and no one is interested. All these and more developments to do with the economy could not provide headline news. They went unnoticed, or on a good day, noticed cursorily.

Reading the national mind

What got noticed? Here is a sample of Financial Gazette this last Thursday. Front page: "Whistle-blower fund abused"; "Govt owes MDC-T US$5m". Zimbabwe Independent yesterday. Front page: "ZEC under probe for fraud, abuse"; "Chairship fight sucks in Mugabe". Southern Eye yesterday. Front page: "Prof Moyo Defiant". News Day yesterday: "Baba Jukwa granted bail"; "Stranded MPs expected today". Daily News yesterday. Front page: "Baba Jukwa freed on bail"; "Zim debt balloons".

Zimbabwe Mail yesterday. Front page: "Chombo threatens Murambatsvina". Weekend Post yesterday. Front page: "Mermaids snatch student". The Herald yesterday. Front page: "Sakupwanya national hero"; "Minister defends Kudzayi appointment". Of course for H-Metro, the Zimbabwe reality on Friday was about a boy who vomited bearer's cheques!

When we did not want politics

What do all these front page stories tell us about the national mind and what preoccupies it? That Baba Jukwa, succession in Zanu-PF and MDC-T fragmentation are the top issues facing this Nation? That we are a politically preoccupied people, oblivious to any other issues of life which must all be banished unless politicised to make news? That is my beef. Before Independence, the template was that the African must be nothing more or less than a labourer, and we belonged to that category devotedly.

Even politics of liberation struggled to wean us from the shop floor, which is why the liberation project had to migrate to the countryside for greater progress. The dominant Rhodesian myth was to project us as happy Africans who shun politics forcibly thrust on them by communists troublemakers, who worried about getting employment from the white man. Yet then, the national question was indeed political. We dodged it by becoming mute black workers for eating white chiefs, Livingstone's children. When the times were political, we hated politics.

Lasting sorcery

After Independence, the template changed and all politics became ours once again. We had conquered politically. We had to fill the political deck, leaving the white man running and enjoying fruits of the economy. That is what obtained largely, at one point forcing the late Vice President Nkomo to excoriate us for burning precious time in nightclubs, while white boys spent time active on economic projects in Kariba and elsewhere.

The temporary popularity of MDC at the start of economic politics around land, underlined this black aversion for an economic agenda. We were happy to die for a vote, democracy, rule of law and transparency, never for our land! Today politics of succession and fascination with Baba Jukwa usurp focus on indigenisation and ways to grow this economy. That is us, "the faithful hand" that loyally bears the weight of a dead white master. That is us, receivers of "sacred trust" by way of Rhodes' grave. We always seem a people so inverse to the requirements of the times we inhabit. It is incorrigible sorcery, if you ask me.

Wants versus needs

Thursday saw Jonathan Moyo appearing before a parliamentary committee on information and communication, principally to throw light on digitalisation. Now, digitalisation is set to trigger a massive services sector which will transform the information industry.

I have seen a copy of his presentation, and it beats me how in terms of media coverage such a far-flung presentation dwindled to a side issue that came from an errant question, that to do with the appointment of an editor of some paper. Are we preset for politics, unset for economic issues? Is this a problem of journalism, or a problem of reader expectations that stricture journalism? Are we capable of thinking, talking, writing business? Do we know what news we want, what news we need in these times?

The story of Singapore

I have been to Singapore on a number of occasions and you are struck by how a surfeit of economic and financial news simply makes their press turgidly relevant. Their press and screen speak of a people who have put their mouths before their political passions. There papers are made and unmade in the market, on business news. Get here and you actually get forgiven for thinking we eat, drink and smoke politics from Sunday to Sunday.

Who benefits from this great political distraction which allows trolleys and trolleys of platinum ore to be wheeled across our borders uncounted by owners busily in bicker? Who is whipping these distracting passions, this political red herring? Why are we not interested in the economics of our lives, while whipping ourselves into a divisive political frenzy? Or is this a way of dodging irrelevance? If there is ever a time I end up believing in social Darwinism, it is on this one matter.

We have proved economically very underdeveloped, politically seemingly overdeveloped. Seemingly because real politicians know politics are about the means of life, about economics in other words. Livingstone, the great missionary knew this even before colonisation. We Zimbabweans don't know this, even after Independence. Much worse even after the great economic struggle by way of the land reform. What is wrong with us? Icho!

nathaniel.manheru@zimpapers.co.zw

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