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Quest for African organic intellectual

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

IN the Chindau language in which I was first educated, the work of organic intellectuals was called ‘Zvironzo zvevanhu’ which could very roughly be translated as ‘Teachings of the people’, with the dariro, of course, taken for granted as the pedagogical structure and ground for such teachings.

That structure was always understood as a relational, and never a linear, construction. Its output was not a solo performance, as in the Eurocentric view of the intellectual expressed by Rene Descartes’ dictum: “I think, therefore I am.”

No African intellectual output was pictured as a joint/collective effort as in the performative structure of: ‘Kushaura nekutsinhira’ (call-and-response or lead-and-reply) construction.

One can use an image from cooking: The great recipe from the village kitchen is a collective output characterised by the cook’s plea: “Uya undivhenekerewo ndione kubika. (Please, come hold the light for me so that I see how to cook).

The practitioner (for example, filmmaker) is not isolated from the director or designer.

The light is fashioned, lit and held for a purpose.

And the one who shapes and holds the light is not superior to the one who cooks. After all, they have been taught to swap positions when necessary, according to aesthetics of the dariro.

The late Professor Claude Mararike was a great moderator of discourse panels (Vaishaura nokupinza nyaya mudare).

He led such TV and radio programmes, as ‘Living Traditions’, ‘Nhaka Yedu’,Chi Kristu neTsika’, and ‘National Agenda’, ‘National Ethos’, and (at the beginning of the programmes) ‘Zvavanhu’ and ‘African Pride’.

I joined the earlier discourse panels in the middle, starting with some episodes of ‘National Agenda’ and ‘National Ethos’.

By the end of the ‘National Ethos’ episodes, I had become heavily involved in evaluating their purpose and context in relation to local and global developments.

Based on my reading of Dariro philosophy, I persuaded my colleagues that we should shift emphasis away from African ideas as tradition and custom to African ideas as contemporary and revolutionary; especially in the context of imperialism and neo-colonialism.

The prevailing notions of African tradition, African custom and African customary law were settler-white adaptations of what white native commissioners and white missionaries found to be useful for their purpose of controlling and demonising African society.

Therefore, the native commissioner and the missionary could never recognise the contemporary and global nature of the dariro where, say, 20 persons of different mitupo (totems) gathered facing one another, each one seeing what was coming from behind his opposite’s back which the opposite could not see; each one covering a bearing and perspective not covered by any other: north, south, east, west, north-east, south-west, north-west; Mhofu, Soko, Humba, Shumba, Sibanda, Samaita, Sithole, Moyo, Dhube, Nyoni and so on, in a process and structure of kuonesana which was dynamic, fluid, endless and rich while remaining focused on the open ground in the centre representing what is, what remains and endures, as ours together!

We are here and now: contemporary, local, global and relational — not traditional as in the settlerist-modernist myth of the African.

Views of African tradition and African customary law (instead of living law) were further complicated by the fact that the Africans who survived to become assistants to the missionary and the native commissioner after the First Chimurenga did so as collaborators spared the gallows by the settler-system for their collaboration.

They were the least reliable sources from the African revolutionary perspective.

From liberated zones to liberated media platforms.

The realisation that the dariro (nzvimbo ye tariro nenzvimbo yokutara) was always local and global we linked to the fact that African liberation movements in the Second Chimurenga related to other liberation movements globally and also sought material and ideological support world-wide.

This global outlook was part of the pungwe conscientisation in the liberated zones in Zimbabwe. Local pungwe songs reverberated with poignant references to Britain, China, Chairman Mao, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and Agostinho Neto, among others.

Pungwe conscientisation and education was inclusive in the sense of kuonesana and in the sense of sharing responsibilities and preparing to govern the Zimbabwe of the future.

There was a nascent curriculum covering especially those subjects which were banned or omitted from the colonial State schools and missionary schools.

There was a nascent emergency service and primary health service.

There was a rough community security and intelligence service.

There were efforts at agriculture and construction within the security limitations imposed by the receding colonial State.

And there was a nascent media and communications system made up of banned publications, forbidden radio channels, word of mouth linkages and, of course, makwaya and maKisimusi (a system of choirs and musicians who put current affairs and news into songs).

After formal independence and statehood were achieved, imperialist-sponsored NGOs and neo-colonial agents came to the forefront with demobilisation projects and programmes exhibiting a whole range of cunning and subtle wizardry.

There was a serious disconnection between the public affairs education prototype developed in the liberated zones and the current affairs education which emerged in the supposedly liberated media outlets and platforms of newly independent Zimbabwe. 

It was not just the location (dislocation) which had shifted from rural to urban.

The urban and neo-colonial remnants of Rhodesia re-asserted their claims to teach and civilise their liberation fighters seen as just emerging from 15 years of bush war.

And, for a long time after independence, we had no main Shona or Ndebele news bulletings on television.

Just as the British-imposed Lancaster House Constitution was coming to an end in 1990, the IMF-imposed Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) took over the role of indirect intellectual, as a communication and cultural straight-jacket employing a plethora of sponsored projects and programmes.

The challenge to our grouping was clear: For instance, there were more imperialist and racist media channels, platforms and publications set up to demonise and destroy liberated Zimbabwe between 1997 and 2007 than there ever were at the peak of the Second Chimurenga between 1969 and 1979.

The main reason for this onslaught was the Third Chimurenga, the African land reclamation movement and subsequent land revolution in Zimbabwe, as well as Zimbabwe’s daring move to lead SADC defence forces to the rescue of Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1998.

Most shocking was the fast internationalisation of the media onslaught on Zimbabwe through foreign-sponsored projects, including even national university departments.

Organic intellectuals

Our volunteer work through the media was often compromised by ambitious politicians seeking similar media exposure to advance their political careers.

They wanted the same media space.

To them, developing the content was no big deal.

To us, content was critical.

We replied that we were researchers sharing with the public some of what we were learning from our research.

We would welcome those who were doing similar work but we were not using the ‘National Ethos’, ‘Zvavanhu’ or ‘African Pride’ exposure as means to some other end such as wanting to become councillors, governors or Ministers.

The late Dr Chivaura would ask the ambitious politician: If we suddenly used our media exposure in order to run for full time political office, who would do our work of sharing our research with the people?

The late Dr Vimbai Gukwe Chivaura.

In these retorts, Chivaura was speaking for the group.

Our aim was to research and develop ideas which enjoyed resonance among the generality of the people and our journey was a homecoming journey rather than one of escape.

And we had opportunity to gauge the impact of our programmes.

One opportunity was during the 2009 to 2013 Constitution making process.

Dr Chivaura, Professor Mararike and I were in different thematic subcommittees of COPAC, the Parliamentary Constitution Select Committee.

There we found that most of the politicians from all the three parties in COPAC were following our programmes, especially ‘Zvavanhu’ very closely.

Another opportunity to gauge the impact of our work was in 2014, when Dr Chivaura and I visited Mutare, Masvingo, Zvishavane, Gweru, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and other centres as members of the board of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe.

The purpose of the tour was to assess applications for commercial radio station licences.

But on the way and in hotels where we stayed, we met people of all ages, all classes and occupations who were following our programmes very closely and eager to engage us on their relevance to the nation’s heritage and destiny as they understood them.

A much earlier opportunity to gauge the impact of our media work was during the outreach for the Media Ethics Committee in 2001-2002 which took us to all the provinces, all the cities and many towns of Zimbabwe.

I chaired the inquiry and Dr Chivaura was a member of the panel of six.

Both in the groups who came to our meetings and in the hotels where we stayed, people readily talked to us about our media work, including articles and columns.

This was long before Oxord University and Blessing Miles Tendi also took an interest from the British point of view which resulted in the 2010 book by Miles Tendi titled ‘Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: Politics, Intellectuals and the Media’.

The book can be read as a begrudging and somewhat distorted tribute to our work in the African dariro for continuing the Teachings of the people: ‘Zvironzo zvevanhu’.


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