African relational philosophy and the place of elections


By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

IN terms of Eurocentric language and Eurocentric linear thinking, an election can indeed establish the legitimacy of a leader or political party; or bestow the mantle of legitimacy upon such a leader or party.
According to African relational philosophy, an election serves only to confirm the legitimacy of a leader and his or her party in the eyes of outsiders and in the eyes of those in the African circle (insiders) who may doubt that legitimacy.
However, much of our press is not only Eurocentric and English but also openly urban-centric.
This bias creates a real contradiction in a national election since the bulk of the vote is outside the major towns and cities while the whole electoral process is framed by the press as if it were a Harare-centric exercise: linear, personalised and oblivious to the ethos of Chimurenga which gave birth to modern Zimbabwe.
Let us for example, look at just three recent headlines to explain the linear and urban bias of the press:
The first is a Daily News story titled ‘Is (Vice-President General Constantino Guveya) Chiwenga (Rtd) on a path to turn Zimbabwe into Sisi’s Egypt?’ (May 6 2018).
This story clearly ignores the stark contrasts between the military tradition of Zimbabwe and that of Egypt.
The Egyptian military does not have roots in a movement of the Chimurenga type and it is heavily embedded in the US military-industrial complex on which it has depended for finance, equipment and training. The Zimbabwe military is under US sanctions and its origins are in Chimurenga as was demonstrated through ‘Operation Restore Legacy’ in November 2017.
The second headline is actually two: ‘Mnangagwa swats Mutsvangwa’ on May 5 2018 and ‘ED rescues Mutsvangwa’ on May 7 2018 in NewsDay.
The problem here is not just that the second headline is the exact opposite of the first; the key problem is personalisation of national issues which is typical of Eurocentric, urban-centric linear thinking. Personalisation tends to replace the common national values at stake with dramas involving individual decision-making and conflict.
The third is from the same NewsDay for May 7 2018: ‘ZANU PF Manifesto populist, sham.’
The problem here is the linearist stock-bastardisation of ‘popular’ into ‘populist’, both to do with appeal to the people.
How then are we supposed to avoid popular themes in an election based on one-person-one-vote?
Does popular appeal automatically become ‘populist’ because one happens not to like it?
Individualist-personalist context of the press
The urban-centred press in a neo-colonial society is affected by the following factors which explain its inherent bias against balanced development and collective values of the whole nation and all the people.
The factors include:
– Trade unions trained to think in terms only of individual jobs and personal salaries when discussing the economy;
– The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) whose idea of the bread basket is also urban-biased and inadequately researched in terms of real livelihoods and the whole Zimbabwean economy and society;
– Journalists, editors and their media houses who are driven by the struggle for a shrinking urban-based advertising dollar and who tend to replace what they could experience in Muzarabani, Dotito, Chiredzi, Zaka, Chisumbanje and Gokwe with what they can ‘google’ and download or what is available within the limited radius of the city.
– Retail chains and their corporate suppliers who conspire to collude on pricing of goods and services in order to retain existing market share while excluding the bulk of the population.
– These retailers are the source of the urban-biased statistics used by ZIMSTATS, Parliament, the trade unions and the CCZ.
– Bankers and so-called economists who also do not know what to do with the majority of the people and the real daily economic realities out there.
– Lawyers in general and the Zimbabwe Law Society who continue to ignore the subject of African living law as a way of maintaining its colonial straight jacket under the pejorative cliché of Native Customary Law.
The individualistic dramas distorting national media stories are a mirror of the adversarialism which characterises the type of law which our lawyers are taught to practice: Roman–Dutch Law. The majority of cases populating the courts are framed in terms of individual-so-and-so against individual so-and-so.
And the media follow suit.
Enduring qualities of the dariro and the pungwe
Long before the invention of interactive digital technologies, Africans designed the dariro as the best structure to be used by those in search of mutual understanding, reconciliation and solidarity.
Dariro, is a moral, judicial and aesthetic structure of such great flexibility that it had to be repeated in almost all African architectural structures, including Great Zimbabwe.
Dariro, as an aesthetic structure puts the performer and the audience in one continuum.
The performer is part audience and part performer.
The link between the two lies in the so-called ‘call-and response’ mechanism – kuparura or kushaura nekutsinhira kana nekugadzirisa zvisingatsinhirike kuti zvizotsinhirika.
‘Operation Restore Legacy’ yakagadzirisa zvanga zvisingatsinhiriki kuti zvitsinhirwe neruzhinji.
Therefore, the dariro is a political, educational, moral and aesthetic structure embodying the relationship between those chosen by the same daririo/dare to lead (kuparura/kushaura), on one hand, and those who have chosen them and who confirm their leadership through response (kutsinhira or kugadzirisa).
“Kutsinhira kutaura mashoko anotsigira zvataurwa nemunhu atanga kutaura.”
Kutsinhira is to respond to a chosen lead speaker in order to affirm, modify or correct what he or she may have started.
And yet, kutsinhira (also) kubaya muforo wechipiri (kana wetatu) negejo,uchitevedza wambenge wabaiwa pakutanga.
In other words, kutsinhira is also used in ploughing.
The second, third and fourth furrows must follow harmoniously and consistently where the first (the lead furrow) broke ground.
Finally, both the canal and the furrow mean that there is an agreed farm, a field or garden (munda kana ndima yakatarwa kare) belonging to the whole people.
The Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) as the successor to the liberation movement is the defender of that space, that territory, that inheritance.
The dariro leaves a space in the centre which symbolises the people’s collective stake, Dzimbahwe.
The huge crowds who mobilised across the country on November 18 2017 recognised that shared space inside the dariro of Dzimbahwe which former President Robert Mugabe had abandoned by that time.
In other words, in the African circle or dare, those who lead have been chosen to lead.
When they lead the song, the dance, the path or the court case, they must also wait for the response (kutsinhira or kugadzirisa).
They may be told by the rest of the circle to stop or they may be told to correct their lead tone, their movement, voice or words, if it is not possible for the rest of the dariro or dare to affirm what they will have sung or said or done in lead.
The farm or garden where the furrow or water canal is to be started (kuparurwa) must belong to the people and be known.
The problem with linear thinking is that it reverses the relational arrangement by demoting those who choose the lead singer, by demoting those who affirm the leadership of the selected leader, thereby allowing the lead singer to run away from the dariro and to pretend to be a solo performer or self-created gamba, or self-made celebrity!
The danger which such a run-away faces is called kupaumba, which is the opposite of kushaura.
Anoramba achipaumba haatsinhirike.
Anonzi chirega kushaura.
Joining the dariro is already a silent expression of willingness to sing or dance along; or willingness to learn to sing and dance along; or willingness to speak the language spoken in the dariro; or willingness to learn and understand that language; and willingness to abide by the consensus which may emerge from the process of the dariro.
– At the level of the community or neighbourhood, the circle teaches that the harm inflicted on your neighbour’s child in that dariro is quite capable of being inflicted on your own child sitting in that same circle; the harm inflicted on your neighbour’s mother sitting in that dariro of mothers will sooner than later hit your mother, aunt, or sister occupying the same space in that circle.
– The circle therefore taught solidarity as daily commonsense and practice.
– The dariro meant all generations sitting in the same circle. This meant continuity of heritage. It also meant that there were no sunset laws which declared that a grievance would expire after 25-50 years or even 500 years. A collective grievance of the family or community could only end by resolution, settlement and reconciliation.
– Above all, the dariro represented synthesis, coordination, the aspiration for convergence and harmonisation.
Some classical African proverbs demonstrate this struggle for integrated relational thinking:
– “One does not go about begging for precious palm oil with a gourd without an opening.”
The opening represents ability to listen to the voices of those who reply (kutsinhira) the asking.
– “There are no crossroads in the ear.”
A healthy ear hears all the sounds and voices before synthesising them into one meaning in its context.
– “The head has two ears but it never hears in twos.”
– “The stick of fresh sugarcane is sweet and delicious, but it is never stored in the granary.”
It follows then that African relational philosophy constitutes the progressive revolutionary as one who intervenes as the nurturer of life through the building and enlargement of relationships using a communication process of kushaura nokutsinhira, which is to say hunhu defines revolutionary participation in history as the deliberate building of optimal and optimising relationships.
Munhu/umuntu as historical agent is a builder or restorer of relationships.
Even power is defined in terms of relationships, so that gender or being male or female, being a youth or an elder, cannot in itself define an absolute and constant level of power.
This relational approach is well put in Shona as follows:
– “Mwana waMambo muranda kumwe.”
– “Ambuya vapano muroora wekumwewo.”
– “Sekuru vepano muzukuru wevamwewo.”
– “Mbuya vekoko muzukuru wekuno.”
One cannot rule everyone, absolutely, everywhere, all the time.
But this philosophy is more critical when applied to neo-liberal linear assumptions that one who is young in age represents youths; or that a woman necessarily represents women; or that if that person is a man, he represents men and only men.
All this is wrong in terms of African relational philosophy.
One cannot represent anybody or any group unless one has engaged them in the deliberate building and maintenance of real organic relationships of representation.
Using this African relational theory or philosophy, there are perhaps two players in the 2018 elections who need explanation.
The first is former President Mugabe whose behaviour and place in history have become a puzzle for many.
Some have explained them as consequences of aging; some have explained them in terms of individual psychology and psychoanalysis, that he has just gone mad; others have explained Mugabe’s behaviour and place in history in terms of intervention and interference by his second wife Grace Mugabe.
But in terms of African relational philosophy, former President Mugabe can be explained as:
– Having stopped caring about kutsinhirwa and therefore having began kumbaumba without much listening to the circle of Chimurenga relationships which created his leadership position at Mgagao in 1975.
– Having dismantled the relationships from the liberation struggle with which and through which he came home in 1980, these relationships were shredded gradually with each arbitrary expulsion of a former colleague over the years, until the former President was surrounded by persons who had nothing or little to do with the organic Chimurenga circle which had incorporated and contained Mugabe at the beginning.
– Having come to assume that he, as Mugabe, was the relationship and that he contained the circle instead of the circle containing him.
The other player is Nelson Chamisa.
In terms of the African relational theory or philosophy, Chamisa has not yet left the oppositional legacy of stay-aways and sanctions in order to join the Chimurenga circle.
In language, in culture, in terms of common Chimurenga values and even in terms of the real daily economy of the majority, Chamisa currently evokes a powerful rhetoric without resonant organic content.
Chamisa’s emphasis on age merely reflects lack of solid content which has emerged through Chimurenga’s pungwe’s, the product of a national process of kushaura nekutsinhira.
Chamisa appears to believe that all he needs to do is kushaura without paying much attention to kutsinhirwa in return.
So while former President Mugabe has worked himself out of the dariro, Chamisa has still to find his way into it.


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