Future historians, when most of the facts are in, will be able to write more satisfying explanations and interpretations of the momentous events which happened in Zimbabwe in November 2017 and to assess the lasting impact of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces’ peaceful intervention code-named “Operation Restore Legacy”.
Dr Tafataona Mahoso
What a contemporary writer can hope to do for now is to provide a first draft which historians who lived through the 1974 US scandal called “Watergate” described as writing hot history.
The first contemporary lesson from the events here is that history is neither tradition nor nostalgia as some in the G40 formation tended to think.
History is the philosophical and practical grounding which empowers succeeding generations to frame and shape their future realistically.
When we want an accurate diagnosis leading to a prescription from our doctor, we bring to him or her our previous medical records, X-rays and past prescriptions of medicines taken.
The diagnosis, based on a combined reading of present symptoms and past medical history, enables the doctor to estimate a prognosis, which is about the future.
If there are no past records to present, then a wise patient has to narrate the history of his or her health, thereby enabling the medical practitioner to construct or reconstruct a history.
History is unavoidable.
The second contemporary lesson I picked up from the morning after Operation Restore Legacy came from the content of songs which re-occupied the media space which up to then had been flooded with Zim Dancehall music and with G40 hate speech and lies.
The historical songs now brought in were from the 1970s but not about the 1970s.
They were about the common aspirations of the generations of Murenga, Madzimbahwe, looking way into the future and confirming the principle that history is about the future, confirming the African proverb that Uyo anotungamira haatizi negwara (nenzira): The pioneer of a path does not disappear with it.
The path remains long after the pioneers are gone and it can be maintained, extended, widened and paved to include expanding generations.
The third lesson remains tentative yet crucial.
The rush to label “factions” every time there is disagreement among Africans is a long established enemy tactic based on linear perspective. It serves to create and establish the idea that everyone now belongs to one faction or the other.
In Europe and the US, they use more nuanced language about the left, the right, the centre, centre-left, centre-right, and so on, of the same party because they want to foreground national unity and to allow each tendency to be heard and understood, whether in the Democratic Party, in the Republican Party, in the Conservative Party, in the Labour Party, in the Christian Democrats or Social Democrats.
In the case of Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF “factions”, the opposite approach was promoted: The National Political Commissar foreclosed any such nuances by declaring that he was “the biggest thug in Zanu-PF”; so he was going to teach nothing and he would not strive for mutual understanding, let alone unity.
This was followed by an orgy of expulsions from the party of those people labelled as belonging to alleged factions, not tendencies.
The tendencies were quickly given nasty names in the Press to make them look as alien as possible.
Madzimbahwe were told about “Gamatox” and “Lacoste”.
There were desperate efforts even to the extent of labelling some provinces as mere hotbeds of factionalism and to put words into the mouths of our departed liberation war heroes condemning current living leaders.
Madzimbahwe, however, quickly realised that the “either/or” approach to political tendencies was meant to ensure a three-stage fall into mayhem.
The first step is the belief that everyone belongs to a faction. The second step is that my faction is holy while the other is evil. The third step is to engage in endless and unprocedural expulsions of all suspects and turn them into the key result area for the Commissariat.
The strategy here is that if the faction the enemy wants to promote and install fails to achieve its objective, plan B becomes a situation where the population sinks into despair and apathy, believing that it has no real choices; believing that it is merely caught in between or among warring factions who are equally bad and equally at fault.
Here, the enemy would have succeeded in reducing to a faction even those leaders who truly stand for a national vision and national unity.
Everyone is then perceived as merely chasing after positions.
Once that happened, the national and Pan-African values, and the history at stake became unclear.
Once we understand the perception which the enemy promoted and sought to make permanent, it becomes easy to understand the strategic value of Operation Restore Legacy.
That intervention raises the crucial question in the minds of the people: If it is true that we had simply been reduced to helpless pawns in a factional game; if the supposed factions were equally bad; how and why did the ZDF state clearly that Operation Restore Legacy was meant to remove G40 “criminals around the President”?
That intervention and its stated purpose showed that the people were not helplessly caught between two factions which were identical and equally to blame for factionalism.
The resonance of the ZDF’s declaration of Chimurenga ethos and legacy to be the value system guiding its intervention and future programmes lifted the struggle far above and beyond factionalism, thereby making it obvious to all that what was at stake were not factions.
The intended perception that we were caught between two factions was overcome for two main reasons: G40’s attacks on history and on war veterans, and the decision by the ZDF to intervene using Chimurenga (liberation history and legacy) as a rallying point.
That ZDF intervention did not only resonate with the values and aspirations of the people but also distinguished war veterans, the ZDF and the people who came out in full force on November 13, 2017 from the Political Commissar’s G40 boast of “I’m the biggest thing in Zanu-PF”.
Thuggery tramples vision and values.
It follows from all this that the fourth lesson from Operation Restore Legacy is the realisation that the same forces claiming that history is a redundant and useless subject have also persistently and consistently sought to denigrate and demonise liberation war veterans, many of whom still serve in the ZDF.
In my October 13, 2017 instalment in the Patriot newspaper, I cited a Sunday News story on Deputy Minister Godfrey Gandawa’s views about history and other humanities subjects.
The story is worth citing again: “(Twelve) varsity degrees to be redundant… It has emerged that at least 12 degree programmes offered by the country’s universities might be redundant in Zimbabwe by 2040 due to technology disruption.
“Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Deputy Minister Dr Godfrey Gandawa said the degree programmes that risk going under include Media and Society Studies, Political Science, Paralegal (Studies), Tourism and Hospitality Management, Psychology, Accounting, Business Administration, Marketing, Economic History, Heritage (Studies), Pharmacy and History.”
Deputy Minister Gandawa’s assumptions echoed Henry Ford’s idea that: “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a thinker’s damn is the history we make today.”
Ford’s view was published on May 25, 1916.
Although detractors of history as practice and discipline latched on to Ford’s confused declaration, it was clear from the start that Ford did not define or understand the subject.
He expressed a personal reaction to a faulty method of teaching history as “tradition”.
He mistakenly thought history excluded contemporary life and contemporary affairs precisely because he had been made to believe that history meant tradition and the mindless memorisation of past events and dates.
Like structural adjustment programmes, the devaluation of history as a discipline and the denigration of the knowledge of history were exported to the South.
In Zimbabwe, promoters of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme also became enemies of history and the role of nationalist intellectuals in economic debates.
Their hostility was expressed as a general attack on the humanities as a whole.
ZTV and The Herald, for instance, reported in late November 1998 that late local businessman Eric Bloch and other “experts” used a British Council-sponsored workshop to demand an end to social science and humanities teaching at Zimbabwean universities.
Instead, Bloch said, universities should concentrate on technical and practical training to produce entrepreneurs.
The Herald paraphrased Mr Bloch, as saying: “We don’t need several hundred political scientists, socio-economists, linguists, holders of general degrees in the arts and the like.” – Sunday Mail