By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
THE destabilising mis-education of two generations of ‘youths’ in Zimbabwe came to the fore during the 2018 harmonised elections.
This feature of Zimbabwean society was clear if one closely analysed the calibre of the young people who worshipped Mrs Grace Mugabe (during her bizarre attempts to seize power from 2014 to November 2017) in relation to the youths who, in similar fashion, surrounded and worshipped Nelson Chamisa from the time he seized elements of the MDC after Morgan Tsvangirai’s death to the end of his equally bizarre bid to become President of the Republic of Zimbabwe by any means.
The most enduring manifestation of this youth mis-education is the failure to understand the foundations of what the youths call ‘power’ and ‘empowerment’.
The phenomenon boils down to an illusion of power and empowerment outside society and history, which is an escapist view of ‘power’.
This mis-education about power is often shared by journalists and editors of the same generation.
There were thousands of distorted and even fake stories in the run up to, during and in the aftermath of the 2018 harmonised elections.
I will here quote from just one of the thousands of distorted or fake stories about ‘power’.
On July 27 2018, Madzimbahwe woke up to this loud bizarre NewsDay headline: ‘Power transfer deal sealed: Chamisa’. Part of the fake ‘story’ read as follows:
“(Nelson) Chamisa, through his legal advisor Thabani Mpofu, said a transitional framework for the transfer of power from President Emmerson Mnangagwa to him (Chamisa) was now in place. A transitional framework, one which cannot fail, has also been put in place. To that end, I wish to assure you on my name and honour, that I and our legal team are going to superintend over imminent smooth transfer of power to the incoming president (Nelson Chamisa),” Thabani Mpofu said.
This fake story tried to fly three lies on one wing.
The first was that the voting which was to take place in three days was now just an irrelevant formality, since everyone and all the institutions that mattered in Zimbabwe had already conceded ‘power’ and victory to Nelson Chamisa and the MDC Alliance.
The second lie was that key institutions in Zimbabwe had routinely violated the Constitution by refusing to recognise electoral outcomes; but in the special case of the imagined Chamisa landslide, the very same institutions had yielded to Chamisa ahead of time, ahead of the elections.
The third lie was the worst one, about the nature of ‘power’ as an object which could be transferred together with the visible, metaphoric and symbolic images or illusions of it.
The story conflated the concrete relations of ‘power’ with mere symbols, images and empty gestures.
My late mother used to sing a Ndau song which went as follows:
Chimbokwira, warembe kuterera;
Chimbokwira, warembe kuterera;
Chimbokwira, warembe kuterera…
She used the song to explain how society used to test the sanity of people suspected of serious mental illness.
Suspects would be given buckets and taken to the river where they would be told to use buckets to force the river, such as Save or Zambezi, to flow backwards and uphill to its source instead of always flowing to the sea.
Those who were clearly insane would jump into the river with buckets and try to scoop waves and waves of the mighty Save or Zambezi to cause the waters to flow upriver. The Ndau song can be translated to mean:
“For once, you must flow back upriver. You must be tired of always flowing downstream. Please flow backwards for a change!”
The sovereign power, which we call Zimbabwe, cannot be transferred.
Those who wish to serve its purposes have to obey its force and plunge into it before following its flow.
If they are not of the river, they may drown or be eaten by crocodiles.
Real change means young people learning to obey and navigate the mighty waters of Zimbabwe’s sovereign power.
Former President Robert Mugabe was invited to plunge into the river of Zimbabwe sovereignty and to serve its purposes at Mgagao in 1975.
‘Operation Restore Legacy’ was meant to clear that river of debris because Mugabe had moved out of the organic river and was engaged in trying to divert and transfer the powers of that river to serve his wife Grace Mugabe.
Likewise, the path of revolution, liberation and sovereignty, laid down by our ancestors, cannot be folded up and tucked into an individual briefcase.
Change can only mean widening and extending the horizons of that path. That is why, when Africans sit in the dariro, there is no direction which is not closely watched.
In the dariro, the person I am facing is looking in the direction I cannot see; while I am looking where he/she cannot see.
When the dariro (circle) is complete, all horizons have been covered, North, South, East and West.
The dariro teaches no one can see everything at once.
Recently, former MDC advisor Eddie Cross hit the nail on the head when he said the MDC Alliance, in the 2018 elections, was no longer about MDC but about Nelson Chamisa alone.
The general mis-education of large numbers of our youth makes them fail to see through the bizarre and narcissistic antics of a Chamisa or a Grace Mugabe.
Cultural imperialism is real.
But our youths mostly can’t understand it because they are full of it.
This explains the almost total intoxication with the so-called social media to the exclusion of commonsense and other means of communication.
In fact, most of the processes called communication do not communicate. They transfer dots of light called data.
Chamisa’s team became so steeped in data transfers that they came to believe Zimbabwe’s sovereign power could also be ‘transferred’ like a twitter or facebook ‘message’.
Only the most unstable things are so easily transferred. Real values are steady, stable.
On the surface, therefore, three contemporary practices demonstrate the mis-education of two generations of young people in Zimbabwe about power and empowerment.
The first practice is post-modernism, which we cannot fully explain for lack of space but which, for the purpose of this instalment, should be defined as a belief, theory and practice which discourages analysis, limits explanation and ignores the need for coherence in the telling of our own story — choosing instead to emphasise dazzle, appearance, impression and spectacle in pursuit of instant impact.
The second related practice is tabloidisation, which is a media practice and tendency to limit speech to sound bites and blips and to cut all stories to no more than a paragraph or two while focusing on loud colours, images and pictures, based on the assumption that no one has the attention span or capacity to wait for or sit through serious explanations or analyses of events. Power is no longer harnessed with patience and humility; it must be transferred now.
We have seen the tendency of television to bombard audiences with so-called entertainment and advertisements at the expense of current affairs and documentaries.
Radio shows have now been reduced to young people talking gossip to themselves and women who spend hours just giggling at the microphone. We have seen the cover page of The Chronicle resembling that of H-Metro.
The third related practice and condition is narcissism which may even lead to solipsism.
Narcissism can be defined as excessive pre-occupation with oneself and lack of interest in listening to others or understanding others. Eddie Cross recently saw this tendency in Nelson Chamisa.
All these practices result not only in the narrowing of texts to tit-bits and spectacles but also in the shrinkage of one’s worldview to only those things that matter to myself, my family, my ethnic group or just my generation.
The blind turn to prophets who must see only what I want is part of the same fixation.
The combined effects of these practices include the following:
– Politically, the unity of all citizens, the centre ground in the dariro, is abandoned unless these are citizens willing to unite around just myself and my small group.
– Balanced development of the entire economy to benefit and unite all the people is also seen as impossible and unnecessary because the narcissist has no concept, feeling or experience of the larger nation, unless that nation agrees to exist solely for facilitating the self-enrichment of the individual and his/her group. The economy is therefore narrowed to Harare, Bulawayo or just the banks or my sector and my businesses.
– History has to be condemned or dismissed as ‘water under the bridge’ because it reminds us too much about struggle and bad times and it prevents us from trampling on sacred values, sacred places and revered heroes. To the narcissist and solipsist, history is not just boring, it is burdensome.
– Heroes are acceptable as long as they serve as decorations for my current achievements or ambitions. They cannot be foregrounded as torch-bearers of an on-going revolution or common river which requires even me to change my ways or to see a common future with all Zimbabweans. Therefore war-veterans become either a threat or a burden to be discarded.
The emotional and spiritual predisposition which makes the population extremely prone to conflict in a neo-colonial situation such as that of Rwanda or Zimbabwe is narcissism which, in terms of the need for knowledge, produces solipsism rather than the conscientisation built up in the pungwe of the liberation years.
The Western imperialist communications strategy which maximises the exploitation of narcissism and solipsism is postmodernism.
In The Fall of Public Man: On the Social Psychology of Capitalism, Richard Sennet defines narcissism as the collapse of the public sphere — that space for the peaceful conduct of citizen relations — because of its overloading with private sphere concerns or personal concerns.
At worst, narcissism may result in national events and national platforms being abused for personal aggrandisement of individuals at the expense of the nation and national vision.
In the Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, Christopher Lasch agrees with Sennet that narcissism on a social scale causes the breakdown of the public sphere as the space for the peaceful conduct of citizen relations.
But he does not agree that the cause is the overburdening of public life with private matters.
The breakdown is therefore in both the private sphere (the space of love, friendship, intimacy) and the public sphere (the space of citizen relations).
The cause for both breakdowns is the collapse of moral fibre and memory, the destruction of unhu and history under post-modern capitalism.
What causes this breakdown is “…the incorporation of grandiose object images as a defence against anxiety and guilt…” or a “…psychic formation in which love rejected turns back to the self as hatred.”
The narcissistic generation is deeply motivated by self-hatred which, in Zimbabwe, is hatred of the African identity and heritage.
In simple language, postmodern capitalism has created an alienated middleclass whose children (the equivalent of our lost generation) feel unloved and abandoned by their ‘parents’ and therefore hate them.
In addition to hating their parents intensely, these children also feel extremely insecure and guilty.
They feel insecure because they have no confidence in relating to others and to the world with competence; and they turn their hatred of their unresponsive parents against themselves and against the world in general. War veterans in Zimbabwe are the iconic ‘parents’ who gave birth to the nation through independence as well as sired and raised the current generation of youths.
But all these feelings of self-hatred cannot be expressed directly, either because society and the work place do not allow direct expressions of such negative feelings or, even if they do so allow, the consequences of openly expressing hate and rage are catastrophic for the individual.
So feelings about past experiences and past relations have to be deflected and disguised to avoid pain and open conflict.
This is where media come in.
Hatred of oneself as well as one’s own parents and grandparents at home is therefore given free rein via the media!
This is where the postmodern strategy of communicating and the narcissistic character and way of relating come together.
The most important common feature between the two is fantasy.
The narcissistic character fails to separate ‘images of self’ from ‘objects’ and persons outside the self.
‘These images fuse to form a defence’ against bad memories and bad experiences of the past.
From two opposite ends of the world, two types of narcissists find each other.
The neo-colonial narcissist copes with self-hatred, insecurity, anger and anxiety by adopting an attitude of ‘blind optimism’ about the generosity of the Western imperialist and his agents, the NGOs.
The neo-colonial narcissist has little capacity for sublimation (or creative originality and autonomy). He or she yearns for sponsorship and rescue by the donor or any patron fantasised as super-parent. He therefore depends on others (foreign sponsors and patrons) for constant infusions of approval and admiration. He must attach (himself) to someone, living an almost parasitic existence. At the same time, his fear of emotional dependence, together with his manipulative, exploitive approach to relations, makes these relations bland, superficial and deeply unsatisfying.
He or she cannot maintain deep, organic relationships which require loyalty and commitment. This leads to rampant corruption of the youths.
The imperialist mass media and cultural projects (designed for the South only) help to sustain the dependence of the neo-colonial narcissist.
In other words, the narcissist in Europe and North America needs the neo-colonial middleclass narcissist in the South. According to British writer Mick Hume: “… the crisis that has brought all this (grand posturing) about is not in Africa, but in Britain. There is a crisis of authority afflicting the political class, and a crisis of common values in our society.”
This means the elites in imperialist society, just like the elites in Zimbabwe, have raised a generation of narcissists afflicted by feelings of emptiness, purposelessness, self-doubt, self-hatred and moral bankruptcy which require massaging through postmodern fantasies and spectacles of invincibility against elders especially.
“There is a poverty of leadership (among the new generation) at every level, and a dearth of any sense of purpose that is bigger than oneself. Against this background in British life, Africa has become an all purpose (postmodernist) stage on which everybody from a pop star (such as Madonna or Geldorf) to a politician (such as Tony Blair) can try to show off their moral worth and sincerity. Everybody is keen to emphasise that the primary purpose of this summer’s events (in 2005) is to raise, not cash but ‘awareness’ – in particular, a self-awareness that we are on the side of angles in Africa,” says Hume.
Dr Tafataona Mahoso writes in his personal capacity as a media academic.