The Harare march to nowhere
Posted by CM on December 7, 2007
Harare’s “million man march” has come and gone. It was touted as a resounding popular endorsement of Mugabe a week ahead of his controversial attendance of the Africa-EU summit in Portugal.
We will probably never know how many people took part in the march and how many did so voluntarily. But whatever the case, even if one looks at it at face value, as thousands of Zimbabweans coming out to support their leader of their own accord, it is sad how little that leader had to offer.
“Today is the day of understanding each other. Zimbabwe will never be a colony again. If you fail to get sugar for a day, you blame it on Mugabe’s government. How much sugar have I given you all these years?
“Should we therefore run away, forsake and abandon our country? We must fight, fight and defeat the common enemy. We should not forsake our revolutionary values.”
This was the gist of Mugabe’s message to the crowd: continue to patiently endure your crumbling livelihoods under my tutelage because we are fighting a big, bad wolf. This blanket escapism from all responsibility for the shameful state of the country is, astonishingly, the main basis on which he appeals for support.
Even for those who may be genuine Mugabe supporters, and those who really believe that all the country’s problems are because of an elaborate anti-Mugabe Western conspiracy, is this enough to go on? Surely such a negative appeal can only go so far?
Are “revolutionary values” not based on an assumption of improving the common good? For someone who has bought Mugabe’s “we are besieged by enemies line” over the many years of decline, what benefits are there to look forward to from those values, assuming one believes Mugabe himself can pass the test of having stayed true to them? During these years of the latest “revolution” Mugabe and his close cronies have done rather well for themselves as most of the rest of the country has become impoverished. It is not difficult to see how they can justify staying their present course.
But what is in store for the ordinary men and women who are said to have come out in their thousands out of sheer affection for Mugabe? Not a word about an inflation rate of many thousand percent. Nothing about the shortage of everyday goods. Nothing about ever longer electricity blackouts. The leader really had nothing at all to offer the multitudes who are said to have come to shower him with support.
The big land revolution he says made him a lot of Western enemies has not improved the lot of the ordinary person. It has instead made it much worse. What is the next big thing the faithful should look forward to as a reward for their support?
To those who grumble about shortages, Mugabe offers no hard-headed practical plan of action. They are expected to endure years more of indefinite hardship on the basis of the memories of the good times of many years ago!
I find it telling that in his sugar example, Mugabe effectively apportions to himself personally the power to dispense economic benefits. “Sugar” is used as a metaphor for economic goods in general and if they were in abundance once, it was because of the personal largesse of HIS EXCELLENCY, rather than just the expected results of a functional economy. Furthermore, he implies, don’t complain of lack today because I gave you abundance yesterday!
But if we follow this ego-maniacal line of reasoning, if we are to be “grateful” to Mugabe for what he “gave” us yesterday, how is it inconsistent of us to then blame him for what he is “denying” us today?
The point is that “sugar” is available in an economy not as a special favour of the supreme ruler, but as a result of prudent overall political and economic management. “Sugar” is unavailable when that condition is absent. If we are to be particularly thankful to the ruling elite for simply doing their job of ensuring that conditions are in place for that sugar to be available, we have every right to blame them when they fail to keep those conditions in place. You cannot expect to take all the credit for normality but insist on accepting none of the blame for abnormality.
More significantly, with Mugabe’s “How much sugar have I given you all these years?” he reveals his attitude to the country as his personal fiefdom. He considers himself the dispenser of favours for which the citizens should be grateful, and it is he to be the arbiter of when people have a right to complain about hardship or not! Does this sound like a man who would quietly accept defeat in an election?
Getting back to my original point, any genuine Mugabe supporters among the marching crowd were given very little to give them any sense of hope about the near future.