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Tendai Biti vs Nathaniel Manheru: Part II

Messianic complex, bane of Zanu-PF

By Tendai Biti

It was always going to be a risk, the quest to engage in an honest and intellectual debate with Nathaniel Manheru.

My article published in The Herald of September 18 headed “It’s all about the Zanu-PF DNA” was an attempt to rebuff the venal contentions and unauthentic positions advanced by Nathaniel Manheru in his article published in The Herald of Saturday September 4 headed “Privileged proletarians: when the beautiful ones are not yet enough”.

Tendai Biti

In my article under discussion, I advanced the fundamental points that; first, nationalism had failed post-independent Africa and that as a matter of principle nationalism was never going to be a suitable instrument for the challenges of post-independent nation building.

Second, power and the power retention agenda had cost post-independent Africa. Thirdly, that the post-independent African state was primarily anti-capital and more importantly was viciously and brutally against the emergence of a nascent black bourgeoisie.

I further advanced the argument that it was important for Africa to construct a National Democratic State in the Leninist sense as a way of unleashing the true potential of the African State.

In simple terms, Africa needed a National Democratic Revolution. One in which democratic space was created, capital was allowed to grow to facilitate the growth of a powerful independent working class that not only would control the process and the product of its labour but so too the process of the evolution of the State.

A decent response to the above contentions would therefore have called for an analysis of the commissions and omissions of the post-independent Africa State.

Any defence would have made the strong point that the institutional structure of the post-independent state would not have produced any outcome other than that presented in the present balance sheet. Any defence would in fact have pointed out that despite the gloom, certain achievements were made.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the massive expansion in health and education made in the 1980s would have been a strong mitigating factor. Indeed the answer I expected would also have pointed out to the execution of the land reform programme as genuine attempt to altering the post colonial state.

Instead, what I got was a gigantic spew of vitriol of self-serving sophism marinated in shameless personal attack. Put in simple terms, where I expected mature and hallowed intellectual debate, I was met with verbosity and an overdose of intolerant diatribe. Where I expected an abstemious and sedate response I got missiles thrown at me, pure undiluted violence.

In my book, violence is used by those that cannot meet the force of argument put against them and those that have no moral, spiritual or intellectual persuasion.

In short, violence is an admission of failure and an acknowledgement of lack of alternatives. Perhaps what is most unacceptable is that someone hiding under the protection of a pseudo-name then descends into personal attacks, which he himself is shielded from by the virtue of the nom de plume.

One cannot have his cake and eat it. An uncultured political commissar cannot masquerade as a political analyst, let alone a civil servant.

It is one’s constitutional right to be a Vuvuzela and apologist of one’s political master but it is a fundamental breach of other people’s rights the academic crimes of ahistoricalness, amnesia and arrogance. Indeed it is being selective, one’s failure to appreciate the inadequacies of the post-independent state for whatever reason.

Recently, I was part of an audience who listened to the former president of Ghana the Right Honourable John Agyekum Kufour speaking at an African Capacity Building Foundation conference. He narrated how at post-independence the Ghana government, in which at the age of 30 he served as a deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, had reserves of 400 million pounds (the equivalence of two billion United State dollars) yet five years later had no reserves at all.

The economy had become a basket case and citizens of Accra erupted into jubilation as a coup was executed against the great Kwame Nkrumah. He made the point that “the transition to post-colonial rule from the 1960s was largely a freedom fighting leadership which whatever achievements were made did not completely translate into the anticipated socio-economic development that swept on the continent.”

This is an incontestable fact, which has been a boom industry among African scholars. The post-African State has been dissected by so many luminaries with the same conclusion.

These include scholars such as Professors Ali Mazrui, George Ayittey, Wole Soyinka, Claude Ake, Dan Wadada Nabudere, Shardreck Gutto to name a few. The conclusion made by Prof Ayittey is thus “the basic cause of Africa’s economic atrophy has more to do with bad leadership and defective institutions established by African leaders after independence”.

Dele Oluwu posits an even clearer analysis of the challenges of the post-independent African state arguing that “what has further worsened matters is the attitude of the immediate post-independence African leaders.

Claiming that they fought or led the struggle for independence, they appropriated the state as their personal property. The fundamental division expected between public and private realms of governance were dispensed with.

Hence many African heads of state either declared themselves “Presidents for life”, legislated other political parties out of existence and proscribed or circumscribed other institutions of dissent of social criticism such as the media, legislatures or even interested groups. Whether they came to power through the ballot or the bullet made little difference. They regarded their interest and their fortunes as synonymous with state interest”.

The case of Zimbabwe is clear as a pike staff. By 2008, a complete meltdown of the country had been achieved, and all kinds of unsavoury records had been broken. Unemployment, inflation, growth rates, saving stock and poverty levels were not quantifiable.

This is as at the end of 2008 but long before this and long before the land reform programme; the wheels had already started coming off. By 1988, Zimbabwe had less than three months import cover, unemployment was over 30 percent and industrial capacity was not more than 50 percent hence the inevitable and unwise Economic Structural Adjustment Programme.

At this stage the concentration was on one thing and one thing alone, the construction of a one-party state and nothing else. Even as way back then, scholars such as Ibbo Mandaza, Geoffrey Herbst, Patrick Bond, Brian Raftopolous and Gary Mukandawire knew that “the revolution had lost its way”.

Patrimonialism, clientelism, cronyism and rent-seeking behaviour had become the basic architecture of this totally privatised and totally militarised altered state. Under this circumstance of gross failure, the reorganisation of the people of Zimbabwe through a vehicle created to stop the collapse and the abuse was inevitable.

The MDC was a natural progeny of the failed post-independent dream of democracy, justice, freedom and prosperity in line with the real ideals of the liberation struggle. Put in simple terms, the working people of Zimbabwe came together to form this movement as a direct result of the failure of the post-colonial state to deliver Real Change.

In that regard, the MDC is a mere extension of the national liberation struggle. It is thus mendacious and patronising for Nathaniel Manheru to write as follows: ‘‘founded by the British through the Westminster Foundation, the MDC of which Biti is Secretary General is essentially about recapturing state power from aggressive nationalists to restore ease to wistful colonial derived white capitalism. MDC was and remains a project in founding a neo-colony, not a post-colony, as Biti pretends. And the affinity of the black managerial class to those managing the political expression of that attempt, is both natural and inevitable”.

The above statement is patronising and deprecating. It is reminiscent of the old white colonial attitudes against the black nationalists, black people and black Zimbabweans cannot think of themselves, the British have to do it for them.

Black people are happy with the status quo save from the influence of the Chinese and Russian communists, argued Ian Smith. Thus the millions of workers that formed, voted, have died and are still dying for the MDC are irrational attitudes of the British regime change and agenda.

This is downright egorical; self-serving patronage ironically being authored by a self proclaimed high priest of nationalism. What Nathaniel Manheru dismally fails to comprehend is that the post-colonial state of Zimbabwe has morphed into the attributes of a colonial state rather than a pre-colonial state.

The inevitable leap from nationalist to post-nationalist parties on the African continent is one whose foundation is not clearly understood. Former President Kufuor in the address I mentioned above spoke of the emergence of “transformational leaders” to take over from the herd boys (head boys) of exhausted nationalism.

Transformational leadership is not defined in terms of age or other spaces. It is simply a product of values and peoples trainings. The transformational leader is the cheetah defined by George Ayittey, a generation of leaders that have gone through management leadership, transparency among other things. A generation defined by the superior ground norm of nation building as opposed to power and power alone.

This generation includes the likes of former president Honourable John Kufuor (despite his age), President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal (despite his age), the late president of Zambia Honourable Levi Mwanawasa, President Rupiah Banda (despite his age), Honourable Benjamin Mkapa, President Jakaya Kikwete, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, former president of Botswana Honourable Festus Mogae, President Ian Seretse Khama, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, President Bingu wa Mutharika, former president Honourable Bakili Muluzi and Honourable Joachim Chissano and our own Dr Morgan Richard Tsvangirai.

Instead the post-independent state of Zimbabwe is ruled by hippos that are lazy slow and ornery. The suggestion that the call for generational transition in Zimbabwe is in fact an MDC succession issue is both banal and comical madness. Morgan Tsvangirai is the undisputed and unquestionable leader of the MDC and the face of the democratic struggle in Zimbabwe.

However, if indeed there is anyone that needs open dialogue and discourse on succession, it is our friends in Zanu-PF. The succession issue in Zanu-PF is a ticking time bomb that has suffocated the potential of growth and regeneration in the same.

More than 12 persons are all vying to the throne, a direct product of entrenched mediocrity. When standards have been lowered and mediocrity has become a religion, there is no room for self-introspection; everyone feels he can own the crown.

What is even more deplorable is that we indeed have a succession battle when one would have thought that the same was resolved in the 2004 congress that elected Madam Joice Mujuru as Vice President.

Even those whose mental faculties believe that diesel can ooze out from a mere rock in Chinhoyi are also vying for the throne. Please! The fact that this corrosive battle is raging is not only a reflection of a culture of mediocrity but also the absence of a mindset bound by rules and traditions.

In the same unfortunate breath, I am accused of having a “messianic complex”. Understand this to mean that I am obsessed with a self-serving and self-righteous complex of liberation. No Comrade Nathaniel, no. Look ye the splinter in your master’s eyes.

It is they who have felt and behaved like messiahs as a result of leading and executing the liberation struggle. It is they who swim in the vast oceans of the doctrine of entitlement and impunity.

Indeed if the truth be told it is entitlement, culture, ideology and the doctrine of entitlement that has killed this country, we died for this country so we are entitled to it, we cannot step down because it is our entitlement and in any event we are the messiahs.

Surely, these are territories that our good friends Nathaniel Manheru will never trade in. Those who hired the plane that ferried the alleged Dinyane plotters are obviously deeply enmeshed in the succession plot and they would rather imagine this debate is taking place elsewhere. I rest my case.


Tendai Biti is secretary general of MDC-T and Finance Minister in the inclusive Government.