Dariro versus the queue: Pungwe against chihwindi…scaring customers into scarcity-hysteria

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

IF The Patriot readers were to talk to people who lived through phases of the neo-liberal capitalist crisis and capitalist terror in Venezuela now, in Zambia and Mozambique in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and in Zimbabwe from about 2007 to 2009 – one common narrative would be that most urban people adopted the habit of looking for queues to join; and they would join any queue they found first and then ask those ahead of them what it was that people were queuing for.
Examining this habit further, it is not hard to conclude that the queuing behaviour automatically becomes self-perpetuating.
The desire to be in the front section of any queue means that such queues may develop even when and there is nothing of value to wait for.
It also means that hoarding too becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. A person with plenty of salt or sugar will no longer see these products as plentiful once he or she receives news that sugar and salt queues have formed in the next township.
In anticipation of unfair benefit and more queues, he or she will naturally start to hoard the sugar and salt he or she happens to hold in huge amounts.
According to The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism by David Korten:
“Although money-world institutions profit from the mass production and distribution of goods and services and are leading proponents of growth in production and consumption, scarcity (shortage) plays a central role in their global quest for profit – Any economist will happily tell you that scarcity (even when contrived) creates value.”
But what the economist means is that scarcity enables the one hoarding the goods to raise prices and generate profits.
Shortages do not produce value.
They are a means to raise and justify price hikes which generate super profits for the few.
They rely on scaring potential customers into a scarcity-hysteria.
Now, through media-orchestrated threats of a repeat of the economic and financial terror of 2008-2009, MaDzimbahwe are being forced to reduce and restrict their discussions of the economy and development to a pre-occupation and obsession with the interests and demands of finance capital.
This is the escape route being promoted, using the obvious deprivations and scarcities created through sanctions and through efforts to revive the 2007-2009 cash craze and hysteria.
The counterfeit escape route being offered is called ‘financialisation’ of the economy or simply ‘financialism’.
In all the media justifications of financialisation and financialism at the expense of the people’s economy, the events of 2008-2009 are blown out of size until they overshadow the entire history of free Zimbabwe from 1980 to date.
In her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein paraphrases Jean Baudrillard’s The Power Inferno in order to underline the purpose of terror: To induce escape, the acceptance of a counterfeit route as a way out.
The usual media jargon is roadmap.
Compulsive queuing is a counterfeit solution to the problem of scarcity because it creates its own scarcity.
It is a form of terror.
According to Klein: “Any strategy based on exploiting the window of opportunity opened by a traumatic shock relies heavily on the element of surprise. A state of shock by definition is a moment when there is a gap between fast-moving events and the information that exists to explain them. (This is often called excess reality) – Pure event, raw reality unprocessed by story, narrative or anything that could bridge the gap between reality and understanding. Without a story we are intensely vulnerable to those who are ready to take advantage of the chaos for their own ends.
As soon as we have a new narrative (our own story, our own explanation) that offers a perspective on the shocking (2007-2009) events, we become reoriented and the world (Zimbabwe) begins to make sense (our sense) once again.”
In situations of capitalist crisis and terror, the dariro is a structure for making possible an alternative narrative.
This is so because structures teach behaviour and attitudes. Africans invented the dariro and pungwe as deliberate structures to moderate or minimise destructive habits of always expecting and therefore creating scarcity; destructive habits associated with the attitude of ‘zvangu zvaita’ with no regard for what happens to relationships of cooperation, mutual respect and the common good.
Therefore, the most critical lesson of the dariro or pungwe is the fact that it always defines and leaves common space inside the circle which teaches, symbolises and demonstrates the living reality of those values which belong to all of us together but to no one alone.
The queue is totally incapable of defining such a common centre.
The second beauty of the dariro lies in what it forces the outsider to do, to be allowed to approach, or join the daririo and perhaps become entitled to share in the common values at the centre.
The usual protocol compelled by the dariro is expressed in the following way in Shona: “Vapano, vapano. Tisvikewo!”
The usual reply is: “Svikai!”
The approaching stranger asks: “Those who belong to this land, this space, this place, may I or may we approach!”
If the reply is ‘svikai’, then the outsider(s) can approach. Immediately the stranger is told the purpose and expectations of the pungwe or dariro.
The dariro in African life over many millennia exists at the family level, at the community level, at the education and entertainment levels and at the state level.
Depending on the degree of formality and authority accorded to it at the particular level, the dariro becomes the dare.
It has no beginning and no end as a structure.
It stands for the universe of human values, the institutional nature of relations and relationships which Africans experience only partially through the participation of those individuals who happen to be in the particular dariro at present; so that my mother may die, but umai (the value of mother) is not buried with her.
A particular comrade or friend may fail or betray me but he or she alone cannot destroy the value or institution or capacity of comradeship and friendship.
We mourn, we are saddened by the occasional or incidental betrayal or departure of this one friend who leaves the circle, but we do not despair because of the enduring dariro, with no starting point and no dead-end, which represents our idea, our vision, of the best of human endeavour, the best human values.
When the settler state was being constructed in Rhodesia and being deployed to dismantle the ubiquitous African dariro, Michael Gelfand did research at St Ignatius College, Chishawasha Catholic Mission, focusing on the importance of performed arts and games learned in the dariro, including songs and singing.
The value of the dariro could be demonstrated by asking African boys and girls who it was who taught them songs and singing: Out of 36 boys between 13 and 14 years old, 15 credited their sisters; 13 credited their brothers; seven credited their fathers and five credited their grandfathers.
Out of 24 girls between 15 and 17 years old, 12 credited their grandmothers; seven credited their mothers; four credited their grandfathers; three credited their fathers; four credited their older sisters; two credited their older brothers and 16 credited other relatives in the family and community.
These statistics tally with experience from other areas of Zimbabwe and demonstrate the central role of dariro and how it naturally merges with dare.
Dariro is associated with play, entertainment and informal family communication and instruction.
Dare is the dariro elevated to an arena of authority either as educational authority or as adjudicating or law-giving authority.
For all these siblings, mentors, elders and neighbours to be available to teach the youngsters who ended up at St Ignatius, they had to have been regular participants in the circles (madariro) where the children were taught.
No singular gender, no single age group and no single person monopolised the teaching and upbringing of the children.
That universal spread of instruction is the essence of dariro.
This is why the dariro is so elastic.
When there are more participants, it is widened; when there are fewer, the dariro is reduced and ranks are closed.
Each friend, relative, neighbour or sibling is only a bearer of certain unique features of the universal value of friendship, kinship, neighbourliness and comradeship.
When one kinsman or kinswoman dies or leaves, the circle representing ukama (kinship) remains and continues to nurture the continuing and continuous values of kinship, even reproducing new relations and relatives.
In this sense, love is always far bigger than a two-some.
It cannot be contained in a two-some.
It will not be destroyed by a failed two-some.
We are only partakers of the on-going value, the on-going institution of love.
It contains us in its elastic nature and manner like the dariro which always allows individual partakers to come or to go without exhausting its value.
At the denotative level, dariro means the place or the group arrangement in which people choose to sit facing one another and being able to see one another, everybody.
It also means the physical space defined as a centre by the sitting persons.
But at connotative level, the meaning of dariro becomes densely rich.
It is hope organised; the place of considering one another and one another’s contributions, ideas, needs, aspirations and concerns; the place of looking forward together; the place of collective morale, mutual confidence building, faith and optimism built on consensus, trust and reconciliation of otherwise, initially, diverse views moulded into one position through the process of kushaura and kutsinhira (call and response).
One of the Shona proverbs expressing this all-round optimism and faith in the dariro says: “Iri mudare iri murwaenga; ichaibva.” This means any issue, any matter, which has properly been brought to the collective dare is like hard pop-corn or peanuts put in a roasting pan.
It will be resolved and the dare and community will live to value, to enjoy the result.
The process of turning the pop-corn or peanuts over and over in the roasting pan is a metaphor for consensus seeking through the dare or dariro.
The dariro distinguishes the value of a relationship from the person(s) who happen to be in that relationship at present.
Mai does not die with umai; shamwari does not die with the value of ushamwari.
Hama (kinsman) does not die with the value we call ukama (kinship).
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.
When there are more people, the circle is widened, but it remains a circle.
If one or two or more people drop dead or are killed, the circle closes ranks or brings in more people.
For African children, the circle meant that there were always several mothers, several fathers per child in the circle.
If my mother died, she was instantly replaced by her sisters, cousins, even brothers who became my mothers.
Therefore umai, ubaba, ukama or usahwira as relationships were larger than the individual mai or hama.
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 common sense and practice.
The dariro meant all generations sitting in the same circle. This meant continuity of heritage.
It also meant 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, co-ordination, the aspiration for convergence and harmonisation.
In the daririo no one says: “I arrived before you; I am number one.” But in the queue, people fight over numbers and accuse late-comers of ‘kupfekera muqueue’.
The queue therefore promotes the attitudes of ‘zvangu zvaita, hameno zvenyu vamwe’ or ‘chauya chauya, chero zvangu zvaita’.
These linear, selfish and narcissistic attitudes now dominate life in Harare and other towns as ‘chihwindi’.
They fuel conflict, disintegration and greed.
Above all, they foster the attitude that everything is in short supply; that there will always be shortages, thereby discouraging people from thinking in terms of common interests.
This problem lies at the heart of Harare’s crisis as a city and as the capital of Zimbabwe.

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