After Plan (D)emonstration, what could Plan (E)vent be?

By: 
Welshman Ncube

GROWING up in Rhodesia as a rural boy in a largely farming community, the sight of someone then commonly referred to as a ‘demonstrator’ – colloquially termed ‘umDomeni’ by villagers was a regular occurrence in my village. The abaDomeni tended to be lovable, kind men whom everyone loved talking to, always neat, courteous and riding either a bicycle or motorcycle.

AbaDomeni were state employees residing in nicely painted government houses surrounded with lush green fields. They lived what they demonstrated – exquisite farming skills backed by an overtly keen sense of conservation. I should know better as I encountered this on a daily basis.

My former school, Makhulambila Primary School is some 5 kilometres from my homestead and every school day, 5 days a week for 7-years, I would run the 5 kilometres to school, in summer through some 3 kilometres of lush maize fields belonging to villagers in Maboleni and Makhulambila villages at the end of which lay a compound with some 10 or so bricks under tile houses where the abaDomeni lived and once one ran past their compound neatly surrounded by their demonstration plots with maize, guavas and mangoes, one went straight into a forest of mainly mopani trees for the last 2 kilometres to school.

Ironically today if you run up and down the same dust roads and pathways I ran through between 1968 and 1974 the first thing that will strike you is that the place is totally unrecognisable. Gone are the maize fields replaced by a sprinkling of unstructured and unplanned homesteads with no symmetry of any kind with the owners having come from elsewhere and bought “amakandiwa” one by one from this and that villager. The “amakandiwa” now stand out in sorry states of neglect and disuse.

The Mopani forest is long gone, replaced by gullies, evidence of acute soil erosion. The “abaDomeni” compound lies abandoned in a pathetic state of disrepair and neglect still carrying the lilac green paint now peeling off, last applied in Rhodesia. It symbolises just how we have fallen as a nation which has given rise to the array of current citizens actions against the Zanu PF government which has brought us to this sorry state.

I have started this week’s piece around the concept and notion of how abaDomeni so successfully “demonstrated” and imparted agricultural knowledge and skills in Rhodesia so as to make the point that when you demonstrate something, you impart a skill to a second or third party who should use it for specific outcomes.

Of late, Zimbabweans have shown a keen sense of demonstrating – either collectively or singularly – more often than not to make a social or political point. Most successful revolutions began with some sort of protest – “an expression of bearing witness on behalf of an express cause by words or actions with regard to particular events, policies or situations”. History is replete with these; some peaceful, others violent. We know that Karl Marx’s revolutionary world outlook which spoke approvingly of revolutionary violence sits at odds with the teachings and actions of both Mahatma Gandi and Martin Luther King JR.

As an opposition political leader, I rub my hands with glee at the prospect of citizens showing their displeasure of a system which has oppressed, impoverished and pauperised them for thirty-six years. Yet in the melee of my exuberance lies a sense of foreboding that we may not, after all, enjoy a (Mohamed) Bouazizian happy ending simply because of ignorance on how to manage success. It is the opposition parties Achilles heel – the inability to claim victory. We are like an Olympian race winner who ‘bolts’ past the medal podium, straight out of the arena into the desert, leaving losers to take the accolades. We lack the finishing power, that ultimate knockout punch.

Funny enough history has so much we can borrow from – not just Mahatma Gandhi, but also Martin Luther King, the Soweto Uprising and of late the ‘Arab Springs’. One of the cruel lessons of the “Arab Springs”, whether internally driven to the end or “hijacked” by external powers in places such as Egypt and Libya, is that successful “uprisings” against dictators don’t necessarily lead to democracy and the greater good. In other words, the “default” condition of mankind is not “liberty, freedom and happiness”.

As Robert Greene notes, power rarely ever passes to those who start revolutions but to those who bring them to an end. Often these are not democrats but men and women wielding the institutionalised violence of State organs who often claim the right to intervene supposedly on the side of the people in the name of law and order but in reality to nip in the bud not just the revolutionary spirit but its very purpose. It is for this reason that we must always tread carefully with sufficient thought and planning. Think of Syria; think of Egypt.

Think of Libya. And think again so as to plan and prepare properly to avoid the harsh laws of unintended consequences. In the same vein, caution must not be allowed to lead us into chameleonic caution or the paralysis of inaction. In this regard we can no longer be like the Tibetans who have self-immolated in the last five years in protest of but still remain under Chinese rule. We do not want to reach a stage of emotional explosion when we, as Stephen Hicks says of Karl Marx, claim that “there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror”.

No, like Mahatma Gandhi and his Salt March on March 12, 1930, we have come too far to fail. “India didn’t see freedom until 1947, but the salt satyagraha (his brand of civil disobedience) established Gandhi as a force to be reckoned with and set a powerful precedent for future nonviolent protestors...”.

How then do I see Plan D penning out into Plan E? The revolutions in Libya, Egypt and Syria stumbled because there were no solid institutions of democracy. I will not deceive myself that tribal rivalries between Shiite and Sunni Muslims are mainly to blame, but our local opposition parties have in place the relevant structures to harness and transform Plan D momentum into Plan E - experience.

Of course, we cannot expect President Mugabe to say, like a responsible father “I have heard your pleas, I therefore do the honourable thing and abdicate”. In the bruising, blood-letting, confrontationally adversarial arena of African politics, such happy endings are far in between. Actually, like the schoolboy bully, we expect him and his government to dig in, lash out and “see and hear no evil”.

For us, now is reality check time. Let us exorcise the Walter Mitty in us and take the bull by the horns, because merely fantasising about the post-2018 era will not deliver us from current tribulations. I have always said we political leaders now have to combine our thought processes and rely on each other’s counsel as a collective unit. The non-political actors have made the right noises and taken the strategic actions and inactions. Thus we should complete the process and deliver the meal on the table.

We cannot continue ‘demonstrating’ ad infinitum. There comes a time when things have to come to an end in order for a new dispensation to be born. We are at the Ninety-Five Theses stage of no return, when we have to draw the line. It will be such a pity if this present generation; the post year-2000 crop of politicians faded into history as a bunch of those that failed to deliver anything.

Plan D is a process while Plan E is an event that must come with a conclusive end. In my scheme of things, if it is easier said than done, then it must be easier done than said. The fear of retribution is our greatest enemy, for no man can test the sweetness of honey if he resents the sting of the bee.

We cannot continue to be the laughing stock of the African village, the ‘so near yet so fars’ of the political world. Like Roman gladiators, we are now in the Colosseum and Emperor Vespasian has locked the gates behind us. It is now or never, up to us to take on the dragon or simply die well.

The collective will of the people must be harnessed to bring about democratic change so that the next elections whenever held will mark the triumphant return of the power of the people to freely choose their leaders.

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