The Sunday Mail
In one of his mature Odes, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known in the English-speaking world as Horace, coined the famous “delicta maiorum immeritus lues”.
Now sounding pedantic and obscure in a world where Latin is decidedly dead both as a spoken and written language, this line of timeless counsel and warning roughly translates to “you undeservingly pay for the failings of the ancestors”.
Horace wrote his Odes at a tumultuous time when feudal Rome bled from civil upheavals at home, and debilitating wars abroad.
Soon Julius Caesar would be dead, assassinated in 44BCE, forcing a whole generation of otherwise hopeful youngsters, Horace among them, to enlist in the military under the generalship of Caesar’s killer, Brutus, by then Rome’s new ruler.
Before long, Brutus would himself also fall to Rome’s violent, supplanting sword, to be replaced by Octavian, better known in history as Augustus Caesar.
Beyond these bloody internal conflicts, and ironically enough, Rome faced a period of unprecedented biological expansion, but one contradicted by a crippling pressure on scarce farming land thanks to a limiting geography and gross social inequities.
The poor continued to be displaced, the displaced continued to get poorer; in the end both groups desperately voting with their feet.
The net result was the swelling of Rome’s cities already overburdened by an ill-fed, restive, floating and jobless underclass.
And from this prolonged, distracting national and social crisis, Rome’s once famed and imposing edifices and temples were crumbling, spewing implacable sorrows that blighted its citizenry while foreclosing prospects for many generations to come.
For Horace, Rome was thus paying for neglect by its “gods”.
To escape this unhappy fate bearing down so heavily on it, Rome and her sapped and wizened children needed to roll up sleeves; needed to bend double to put everything right.
An unhappy and morose generation Rome thus raised and had, one born bitter, fated to survive behind its broken walls and its tumbling temples.
In the eyes of Horace’s censorious generation, everything pointed to failings of Rome’s ancestors, all of which now had to be repaid undeservingly by itself.
Traverse ancient times and the world of Rome, fast-forward to modern times into Zimbabwe under Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, with the Horatian aphorism in mental tow.
The temptation to draw an analogy is irresistible.
Unavoidably, you are hit by both incongruities and parallels.
Incongruities to the extent that ED – like most of us still in Government – parallels Horace’s “ancestors” whom the current generation is wont to blame for the unhappy state in which “Rome” finds itself. Seemingly blameworthy, that places ED outside the pronominal “you” covered and impliedly exonerated by Horace’s aphorism.
The “you” whose referent is the generation which unfairly pays and puts right failings of its ancestors.
Except to think so amounts to taking cheap, oppositional pot-shots at ED, something strongly tempting and hardly unexpected as we creep near and nearer the election season.
For with the election season come easy analyses, even easier verdicts.
But such lack of balance in analyses and evaluations is not for national platforms where thoughtful discourse must unfold and reign, always tempered by sense, scale and sound perspective.
Not so with the current debate on ED’s first 100 days in office, a debate which on balance, seems to suffer from, and to be blurred by easy ratings, hasty and pre-conceived condemnation of “Rome’s failing ancestors”.
There is more to further complicate balanced assessment: an inordinate build-up of oversized yet understandable crisis of expectation spawned by “Rome’s” prolonged social distress.
Both factors have made Zimbabweans to crave to find a scapegoat. Both factors have made Zimbabweans think and expect “Rome” to be re-built in a day!
Much worse, there is a serious conceptual handicap in the whole debate, one quite embarrassing given our vaunted level of literacy.
A simple management notion and tool – 100 days in this case – has been taken and understood literally, and has been turned into a measurement of a political tenure of a leader who is still new and has just begun finishing the tail-end of an about-exhausted term of his predecessor.
How a nation famed for lofty tertiary accomplishments mistakes notion of “100 days” which is culled from foreign history, and from the toolbox of an implementation management theory – Results Based Management or its variant called Rapid Results Initiative – for a socio-economic miracle, one just can’t fathom.
Reduced to absurdity, the notion of 100 days has been viewed as a calendar issue, a manual exercise where waiting citizens tick and count down days as these pass, tick and count from the comfort of their armchairs, while ED single-handedly slogs it out for them, pounding and forging goodness whose delivery on our hungry tables falls due on the 100th day pronto!
At the end of which solitary Presidential effort – lo and behold – up and out pops a “brave new world” where everything is in abundance; where everyone eats everlastingly to the fill of their bellies, thereby turning a once morose generation happy ever after!
Decidedly a delectable model for repairing and rebuilding Rome’s the crumbled temples, except only in the never-never land!
Again from the ensuing debate one also gets an apocryphal tale of epochal closure.
A neat age born on ED’s inauguration day, and then closed and securely fastened a lazy 100 days later.
Not quite the same as ticking away calendar time and watching the heavenly sun peep up, grow older, and then glowingly die.
But something deeper – epochal – to suggest fundamental social changes wrought by, and in, those hundred epochal days! And because there is closure attached to it, those 100 days then define a political career, define and encompass ED’s term.
Depending on resultant verdict – and by whom – ED either strolls to a renewed mandate, belauded; or gets dismissed and discarded, tearfully.
So, it’s not strange that both verdicts and fates do fly about nowadays, of course largely depending on the beholder.
There is yet a third dimension which one gets from the whole debate.
The 100 days must and should correct problems, sorry all “failings”, by “Rome’s ancestors”, failings spanning over nearly 38 years that have elapsed from Zimbabwe’s creation day.
Short of this, then it means same head only dressed with a different haircut!
This argument is given legitimacy by an accompanying sub-plot which says that ED, after all, served as a minister for the larger part of that period! And who would deny that?
But that fact of history is then summoned to persecute him, to make him blameworthy as a failing ancestor.
It is this reasoning which gives birth to what I call ED’s “Horatian burden”.
But this so-called “deserved burden” needs to be examined, interrogated, so we determine its legitimacy, its utility therefore, in the current argument and situation.
My submission is straightforward: it does not take much to show how mistaken, empty and fallacious this whole argument is.
I will just raise a few commonsensical counts that fault and even ridicule it.
First, it is not unanimously given that Rome’s ancestors, of which ED was a part, failed. Commonsensical – how does a generation that founded a nation fail?
Can a non-existent Rome have ancestors in the first place, fail in the second place, when both require and imply Rome’s prior existence?
Which is to say – and I say it boldly – Rome’s founding ancestry is its own raison d’etre!
Whatever it’s failings, however blameworthy, it can never be repudiated by children of Home, sorry, Rome.
Simply, it carries to the grave and beyond privileges of founders of any nation.
You might not find this pleasing but it is a fact. That accords ED’s generation a certain pre-existent and imperishable validity, indeed puts ED and his generation of freedom fighter beyond the debate of national culpability.
If you want to nail this privileged generation, look for other sins! But be sure these are sins before creation.
Rome has to become, has to come into being, has to be founded before it has its walls and temples which then fall and crumble, indeed which then must be re-built by whomsoever, whenever in Rome’s infinite life.
What is more, Rome has to remain in being for it to have “failing ancestors” who neglect its temples.
This is how the primacy of Independence and continued sovereignty comes in, pre-dating and preceding the advent of a blaming, self-righteous generation.
It is that simple, logical.
I may sound flimsy and rationalising. Except I am making an argument founded in history and with universal validity, even though Zimbabwe might tragically choose to be lost to it.
The Americans revere George Washington not because he was sinless. Or that he founded and ran an administratively clean, ever-achieving, faultless government. Or that under him no American walls and temples cracked and tumbled.
As a matter of historical fact they did; they still do.
But America and its history panegyrizes him for giving them a nation, for giving them their Rome!
All else stood tolerated by his contemporary citizens; stands tolerated and forgiven by successor generations of America ad infinitum.
A key ingredient to forging a sense of nationality is myth-making around a nation’s founding ancestry, which however failing, stands excused and endlessly polished for all time refulgence.
A founding generation can never exceed the threshold of collective national tolerance, whether by time, or by changing national exigencies!
In any case, ED’s generation cannot be visibly eligible for blame over the 37 years of failings while being invisible and un-praiseworthy for the pre-1980 struggles which created the very Zimbabwe they stand blamed for ruining.
And to make this point and the preceding one is not to seek to place this founding generation beyond scrutiny. Or even to imply or suggest that they have an everlasting mandate to govern or mis-govern.
It is simply to insist on sense, scale and perspective on the verdict we pass on it, in relation to supervening processes of post-coloniality. Critically, it helps us situate developments of the past more than 37 years.
We cannot choose but accept a broad evolutionary perspective by means of which we escape the pitfall evident elsewhere in our region and beyond where post-liberation politics – whether oppositional or governing – become anti-liberation politics that repudiate a people’s founding processes, a people’s founding heroes and, thereby repudiates a Nation.
This takes me to the second fallacy.
It does not make sense for anyone to make ED the fall guy for problems of an era for which he was not the Patriarch.
One cannot describe him as a minister for those 37 odd years without entering an argument in his mitigation, if not defence.
Until November last year when ED became President, this country had a President and a leader. A patriarch occupying the highest pedestal in the pantheon of Rome’s ancestors!
And he lives, even though now out of office.
Does it really make sense to load ED’s first 100 days with the cure, or expectations of it, for alleged failings of a dispensation in which he was a ministerial minion?
Does the notion of delegated authority mean anything to this whole debate? Does the notion of responsibility mean anything at all in this whole debate?
We argue as if the above notions don’t apply to Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans.
We scapegoat wantonly as if we have not seen the inside of a management school. Just check how the whole debate on disturbances that rocked our country soon after Independence has unfolded.
You would think this country had no leader, no executive Prime Minister, no Commander-in-Chief for the duration of those disturbances.
And if minors can become majors for our convenience, then why talk about usurpation of power this last November when in fact your arguments impliedly make ED the Principal right from Zimbabwe’s creation day?
Please Zimbabweans, let’s make up our minds!
You can’t have an argument where you crowd national goodness with so many fathers, while orphaning national failings in the same breadth.
And if minions can shoulder blame for failings of the past 37 years, why doesn’t the same logic excuse ED for the 100 days posited as failing days?
To me the whole argument is both illogical and insincere.
Beyond this insincerity, who does not know that at the heart of what commentators have glibly termed succession battles which raged in the ruling party before this new era, was a clash of contending visions on post-Land Reform Zimbabwe?
That pitted against a greedy and ambitious cabal was a group of veteran-cadres, both inside and outside Government, who saw beyond the worn and staid rhetoric of old nationalism and Cold-War type of anti-Western politics which though central to the liberation struggle and the recovery of Land, had become a needless cost after 2015?
Or that this firebrand rhetoric had become a smokescreen for primitive accumulation by a few, while duping the youths through empty promises of indigenisation and empowerment for which there is absolutely nothing to show on the ground as I write?
Except of course a badly depressed economy, an isolated country and high incidences of corruption?
And to point out these excesses is not to undermine my founding premise, namely that founding ancestors broadly deserve to enjoy a pre-existent culpability benefit in the national estimate.
That premise simply says whatever mistakes of commission and/or omission which this generation makes, these can never be a basis for repudiating or de-legitimising it given its founding role in the national process.
And where the founding generation shows a capacity to overtake and transform itself through vigorous self-criticism, genuine self-correction and bold self-renewal, but without jeopardising national peace, national stability and national cohesion, then it makes itself even less culpable, in fact untouchable, in the national estimate.
Zanu-PF showed this capacity last November, which is how it was able to mobilise and create a broad front for its own, and for national transformation, all to give us the new order whose management hallmark is the much misunderstood 100-day accountability cycle.
It simply does not make sense to tether and judge ED by the more than 37 years which have gone by while acknowledging the two-week November 2017 revolution which made him eligible for the 100-day assessment.
For implied by the whole countdown is an acceptance that a rupture took place following those two weeks, one that abstracted ED from a past he shared but did not direct, and placed him in a new era for which he now stands fully accountable.
The 100 days that have gone by are neither a term nor a delivery schedule for an instant panacea to challenges that have built over more than three decades of our Independence.
Those legacy challenges can be explained by certain hard choices the founding generation had to make when it found itself in the governing saddle.
There was a whole baneful legacy of near-century colonialism which had to be reversed. Spectacularly, the founding generation reversed a century’s ills in just about 37 years.
It did more.
It created a foundation for future growth: by way of securing Independence, national peace and cohesion; by way of creating an educated nation; by way of restoring land rights; and by way of laying infrastructure for expanded social services.
A key principle in economics is that any choice you make levies a cost by way of foregone alternatives.
Economists have a term for it: opportunity cost.
One would have to be naive to think that all of the above gains of the past 37 years would be got and enjoyed without levying opportunity costs. Or that except for its failing ancestors, Zimbabwe could have discovered another path of development which would have been cost-free to the current generation.
Until another life on another planet under other laws is found, for as long as the scarcity factor exists, any choice a generation makes creates costs for those to come.
Which means every generation pays a cost arising from choices made by its predecessors.
The only issue is size of the cost. But a cost there will always be.
Horace can be forgiven for thinking before the advent and development of a “dismal science” we call economics.
But with the hindsight of this science, Horace’s aphorism reads like some stupidity only cleverly put.
ED should invent or deserve his own burdens. Not Horace’s.
There is no 100 days to count, stop and condemn. There is only a performance and execution continuum, only partitioned into small, executable, manageable, incremental acts between which are 100-day cycles for tracking, monitoring, evaluation and, if need be, adjustments. The first act or task wrapped by the first 100 days was for ED to set goals, show direction and define strategies towards those goals.
Above all, it was about breaking a ponderous inertia which had set in, stymying all initiatives. Getting the country to work again, and in honesty, within a permissive and supportive environment both nationally and globally. If the 100 days gone by did not deliver all these, by all means crucify him. But not for failing to rebuild Rome in a day.
Kwete! Bodo! Hwava!
Mr George Charamba is the Secretary for Information, Media and Broadcasting Services and Presidential Press Secretary. He wrote this article for The Sunday Mail