By Bishop Dave Chikosi
It was both sad and sadistic.
Sad if you can be human enough to spare a thought for the family and friends of Nathaniel Manheru (real name George Charamba, official spokesman for the President of Zimbabwe) who suffered collaterally because of a semi-religious political ritual that has now become all too familiar on Zimbabwe’s political landscape.
Sadistic because of the audience which seemingly derived quite a bit of (guilty) pleasure from watching a grown man get verbally lynched in public. The audience were like spectators in a Roman Colosseum, cheering on both wild beast and the gladiator.
What a spectacle we were all subjected to.
These public humiliation rituals seem to have now become a staple in our political diet as a nation. It just seems both the public and the press can’t wait to watch the next gory sacrifice at the next public lynching a.k.a. political rally.
Are We A Shame Society?
But how exactly did we get here? From whence cometh this feeding frenzy that gets hungrier for more with every public humiliation? What is it that makes members of the public revel at the shaming of another human being?
Maybe it is true, after all, that we Africans are primarily what cultural anthropologists call a “shame society.” Haven’t we always sought to modify negative human behavior by a “shame on you” or some variation thereof? Every parent is anxious that their kids do not bring shame to the family or clan.
And when Amai publicly excoriated Nathaniel he looked dumbfounded and discombobulated. Who can blame him? Every victim of humiliation responds the same way. They are usually stunned into speechlessness – stung to paralysis by such an unexpected yet brazen affront to their dignity and self-worth.
Are you kidding? The very word humiliation is itself derived from the Latin root “humilis” which literally means “to reduce to dirt.” To humiliate someone is to therefore not only soil whatever standing and status claim they have, but it is to also mercilessly throw both in the dirt.
It mattered not that Manheru is a highly educated senior civil servant. Or that he is a prolific writer and a Black belt karateka (or so I am told). When you are publicly shamed or humiliated like he was, all the pride and dignity that comes with who you are and what you have achieved rapidly evaporates, and you are left standing there all alone, under the fiendish gaze of a rancorous crowd, naked and ashamed.
It is an extremely harrowing experience that, in almost all cases, lives on with the victim long after all is said and done. And even if you wanted to quickly forget, the public won’t let you. It will always remember you, not by your positive contributions and/or accomplishments, but by that moment of your public humiliation.
Some will say that Nathaniel got what was coming to him. Buy hey, listen: no matter what side of the political (factional) divide you are on, just remember that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. They therefore deserves to be treated with the same dignity, respect and honor that the Creator bestowed upon them at the moment they were conceived in their mother’s womb.
There are better and more humane ways of modifying or eliminating bad behavior than publicly shaming an individual. Politically powerful people need to remember that what goes around comes around.
We reap what we sow. And generally the harvest is always greater in quantity than the seed sown. They say karma is a “female dog” that always comes to bite us in our “donkey.” This, ladies and gentlemen, is an inexorable law of the universe that those who currently wield political power do well to take heed.
I do worry about the resurgence of the use of shame as a tool in the hands of the powerful. It can and has been used to mentally coerce the weak to toe the group or party line. God help the member if they break with the group code. You will be dragged in front of a crowd baying for your political blood. And then you are ostracized to spend the rest of your social or political life in the dungeons of ignonimity.
Nobody wants that.
The African Fear of Disconnection
Africans generally have a mortal fear of disconnection. In fact shame has been defined as “the fear of disconnection.” And why are we afraid of disconnection? Precisely because our intricate network of relationships within the group constitute our social capital. No-one in their right mind wants to lose their precious social capital. Or any capital for that matter.
This is why we will put up with anything to stay connected with the group. Which may explain why Nathaniel did not throw that little cap in his hands into the collective face of his group and tell them to shove it. He could have walked away a superhero to many.
Instead he chose to stand there like a whimpering schoolboy before an angry headmaster, content to “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.”
Its never pretty to watch the powerful squelch and squash the weak. And yes, humiliation is a power thing. Most people who like to humiliate others have a pathological need to feel powerful. At primary school we called them bullies.
And when a bully comes across a victim who fails or refuses to fit into their jaundiced personal norm, the bully will use their superior power to incalculate a sense of shame in the victim. The end game is to either change the victim’s behavior or altogether remove the victim from membership of the group.
Make no bones about it: humiliation always involves an unequal power in a relationship. It’s always the superior diminishing or trying to effectively delete the inferior. Sometimes its personal tit-for-tat move meant as a repayment for past sins.
But more often than not public shaming is really intended as a message to potential rogue elements within the group to: “Behave yourself or else you’ll get some of this!”
The Roast of Justin Bieber
The public loves a good roast. Which explains the popularity of celebrity roast shows in America. When Comedy Central, for instance, advertised the “Roast of Justin Bieber” and promised that “the masses will get what they’ve long been waiting for: a public shaming of Justin Bieber” the public response was remarkable.
That show became the third most-watched ever for Comedy Central. It drew over 2 million viewers and generated over 3 million posts, comments, likes and shares on social media.
Experts say that watching someone else being humiliated gives lots of people a weird sense of personal power. They also say that somebody else’s troubles paraded in front of the whole world to see has the net psychological effect on us of pulling the focus away from our own messy little lives.
But somebody has to say “Stop it” to this charade. We have been entertained by this circus long enough. We respectfully ask that the Nathaniel Manheru episode be the last and closing act.