By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
Culturally speaking, Zimbabwe today is a paradox.
Its paradox can perhaps be pictured in two sets of developments:
The first set is made up of the pan-African choice of our country as the most suitable place to host the Museum of African Liberation which all patriots welcome and celebrate; and our own daring move to invite the monument of Mbuya Nehanda to descend from Heroes Acre to the intersection of what in Rhodesia used to be called Kingsway and Jameson Avenue but now renamed respectively Julius Nyerere Way and Samora Machel Avenue.
The invitation to Mbuya Nehanda to descend to what used to be the heart of Cecil Rhodes’ Salisbury especially suggests that we are perhaps ready to confront, through the culture of African liberation, the continuing march of colonial culture as ‘corporate cannibalism’.
Our proud acceptance of the privilege and challenge to host the Museum of African Liberation perhaps also means we understand and accept the enormous challenge to deepen and entrench knowledge of the African struggle for liberation, going back to Africa’s very first confrontation with capitalism in the form of chattel slavery and the mass capture and exportation of Africans to the Americas where they were used to produce the founding crops of capitalism — sugar, cotton and tobacco.
The other set of developments seem to cancel out the first set. They appear to suggest a rushed replacement of ‘Rambai makashinga’ with ‘Rambai makashama’: by mistaking corporate marketing for strategic communication.
This set of developments is perhaps represented by the bold call to introduce ‘community television’ stations in Zimbabwe as part of media reform and the opening up of the airwaves.
The most obvious questions of course concern the long-term feasibility of community television stations in Zimbabwe where people already find it hard to afford airtime and bundles for connectivity. Will the stations have to rely on sponsorship?
Whose sponsorship, for what purposes?
But questions of the long-term business feasibility of community television stations are not my major concern here.
I am concerned about even more fundamental questions that precede feasibility.
To worry about feasibility one has to assume we have agreed on strategic desirability and need: We need this project; let us find out if it is feasible. But have we established through ‘kuonesana’ that we need it?
We think we know the entire trajectory of African liberation and that it has been waged for the most part against various phases of capitalism whose first phase was chattel slavery and whose latest phase is a corporate cannibalism which treats community culture as the last frontier for total conquest.
It uses television as corporate culture with marketing as its dominant methodology.
But how can we know television without first adopting and universalising its reach as the North Americans have done?
In the current situation of a war-like neo-liberalism, what is television as an institution of communication?
Do we have a strategy to liberate television as technology from television as the latest institution of corporate colonisation?
These are large questions requiring several national institutions to dedicate time and resources to their study, the way UNESCO used to do before it succumbed to the same neo-liberal onslaught we face today.
The legacy and culture of African liberation should not be taken for granted in relation to how Africa communicates with its youths as well as with the rest of the world.
The NATO countries fighting Russia through Ukraine have used television, corporate branding and the Hollywood myth of free and open society to hide their aggression and brutality.
As a result, many African countries at the UN voted with NATO to condemn Russia over Ukraine and only later hesitated to do the same when it came to voting for more sanctions on Russia.
NATO has routinely used global television to demonise societies and countries it intends to attack: Yugoslavia (Serbia) in 1999; Afghanistan in 2001; Iraq in 2003; Libya in 2011; and Russia for a long time leading to the current war over Ukraine.
Because Africans, for the most part, fall within the Western hemisphere of influence in terms of the media aspects of these wars, they have tended to be either confused or to vote with the US and the West.
And just opening up the media with no clear communication strategy simply means surrendering future African generations to the same Western indoctrination.
As it happened, long before the current AU confusion over Ukraine, African leaders actually invited French President Nicholas Sarkozy to Addis Ababa to address them after he had just played an instrumental role in the NATO destruction of Libya in 2011 which opened the rest of Africa to a long, on-going era of terrorism and destabilisation.
The propaganda producing these results in perceptions and mindsets is played out on and through television.
So, do we just open up or we have some homework to do first?
Neo-liberalism biting the dust in Ukraine.
The first hint that something is wrong is that neo-liberalism is in an out-right war mode (and not a reform mode) against Russia in Ukraine.
Sanctions are not liberal reform.
They mean total economic war to the finish. And there are sanctions everywhere being imposed by the very same countries urging everyone to liberalise, open up, through reform.
The second hint is that the most televised societies, beginning with the US itself, are sick societies; and their best researchers name one key cause as television and the corporate grip on advertising using the screen to colonise popular culture globally.
One of those researchers is David Korten. In ‘The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism’ he cites Duane Elgin’s study called ‘Collective Consciousness and Cultural Healing’ which concludes that:
“By programming television for commercial success, we are programming the mindset of entire civilisations… for evolutionary stagnation and ecological failure. The use of television to produce exclusively materialistic values has become a massive mental health and public health problem for the United States and the world.”
And Korten himself also concludes:
“Global corporations are now reaching out to establish the hegemony of a culture of greed and excess in virtually every country in the world in their relentless search for more customers.”
The question therefore remains: Are we adopting television only as a technology for our purposes or are we inadvertently adopting television as an institution; the institution of corporate advertising and marketing, whose main content is the propaganda of commodities?
Museum of African Liberation/Nehanda connection
The knowledge challenge of hosting this museum has already been outlined by Professor Bernard Magubane in ‘Race and the Construction of the Dispensable Other’ which demonstrates that the African struggle for liberation must face the realities of the construction of the capitalist mindset at the beginning of chattel slavery when Western science, religion and business sacrificed the human relationship and the truth in pursuit of profit.
That mindset has gone global.
It is on TV and in digitised media now.
As for Mbuya Nehanda statue at the intersection of what used to be Kingsway and Jameson Avenue, some have suggested that we have failed to capture the story of the collective and revolutionary consciousness which made Nehanda a household name and voice of African redemption in the Second Chimurenga.
Instead we have reproduced a diminished and diminishing figure still in shackles and still dwarfed by her colonial surroundings and in danger of being swallowed up in the clatter of capital and commerce on First Street.
Instead of reducing Nehanda to the singular medium Charwe, we need a combo of Nehandas with Charwe only as one of her stations on the way to the euphoric celebrations of uhuru which erupted on the streets of Salisbury on March 3 1980, leading on to April 18 1980.
Because of its heavy reliance on corporate sponsorship and advertising, the current neo-colonial institution of television is shutter-blind to these nuances.
So, there is a need to examine, in depth, the presumed need for more television in the context of digitisation.