Commas in the sentence of history

It was Harold Wilson, as British Prime Minister, who said a week is a long time in politics.

This is a statement used in reference to the rapidly shifting sands on political landscapes across the world.

It is a statement many think points to how sudden, isolated events can change the course of societies and histories when people least expect them to.

But nothing happens in isolation.

There really are no sudden events, bar disasters like earthquakes or tornadoes, freaks of nature that we neither have control over nor fully understand as yet.

In politics, everything is but a comma in a long, drawn sentence whose full stop even oracles cannot see. Much happened last week; momentous events that may look like bolts from the blue but are actually natural outcomes of historical processes that have been unfolding under our noses while increasingly commercialised political news cycles race to drag human reasoning to the bottom of the pit.

It is that race to the nadir of reason that saw some local media companies misleading the world for close to four years that progressive sections of our society would sit back and allow G40 to drag Zimbabwe back to the Stone Age.

November 2017 was a natural comma in a historical process. It was not an end in itself but rather a means to an end that remains a work in progress: to wit, to steer Zimbabwe onto the path of development. That our society grapples to grasp this is a manifestation of the race to the graveyard of reason.

Last week, across the Limpopo, Cde Jacob Zuma resigned as President of South Africa and he was replaced by Cde Cyril Ramaphosa. Cde Zuma’s departure and President Ramaphosa’s ascendancy are but commas in a sentence whose full stop, like ours, none of us will see. All we can do is hope that South Africa, like Zimbabwe, learns to read its history and circumstances correctly.

Again last week, opposition leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai breathed his last and a faction of the party he once led immediately declared Mr Nelson Chamisa the “interim” leader. The latter was no sudden event. It is something that Mr Chamisa and his supporters have been working towards for a very long time.

How that factional mess is resolved is something the opposition must deal with on its own. That it is playing out in such spectacular fashion is a comma in an unfortunate sentence about opposition politics in Zimbabwe.

How is it that a whole party — with parliamentary seats and at one point a part of the executive — continues to be suffixed with an individual’s name, that is MDC-Tsvangirai? What does that say about the genesis of this opposition party? What does this say about the direction in which it is headed?

Zanu-PF appeared headed down a similarly slippery and treacherous slope up until the comma of November 2017.

Are personalised politics and self-serving strategies the kind of oppositional discourse that Zimbabwe needs at this stage of its nation building agenda?

What kind of comma will refocus the opposition’s sentence so that it enunciates a national vision? Again last week, Zanu-PF’s National Political Commissar, Cde Englebert Rugeje made a huge statement, one that was drowned in the race to irrationality.

He raised an issue we have raised here before, albeit differently but certainly within the same spirit of national development. Cde Rugeje, as quoted by one media house, said: “We have cried for a long time asking why people from Masvingo are not given ministerial posts. We should know that being a minister is not a walk in the park and it is different from sharing opaque beer. It is a task that requires mental capabilities and strong academic backgrounds.”

The headlong rush to the death of logic construed this as some sort of tribal posturing. But what Cde Rugeje was saying was that the nature of our executive structure, as constitutionally enshrined, means that the President of the Republic largely has to choose his ministers from whatever crop of MPs is elected into office.

The President has very little latitude to really appoint the most capable Zimbabweans to head portfolios in which they can make a difference. Cde Rugeje was essentially telling people to vote for the kind of MPs that would make the kind of ministers that our country needs.

With the little leeway our President has, he has already shown what kind of work can be done by serious, experienced technocrats like Minister Winston Chitando and Professor Amon Murwira — who by the way left cushy jobs to serve their nation. Of course, the other way of dealing with this problem, should society decide to continue on its downward spiral to irrationality, is to simply amend the Constitution so that the President can truly shape a Cabinet in his own image.

That happening before the 2018 elections is a big ask of the MPs who themselves stand to lose out on plum Cabinet appointments.

But anything is possible. After all, a week is a long time in politics.

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