By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
Popular culture has instances where it gives insightful life lessons, which sadly get missed because, well, we access pop culture for entertainment and not lessons, don’t we?
Many have missed the lessons on family and friendship embodied in such offerings as Zootopia and Up or, even more unfortunately, vaTrump for one would really have benefited from the narratives on race relations and immigration law enforcement in the epic that is District 9.
However, today I am thinking of a more obscure offering, a short monologue by Paul Hogan in a movie about paintings from Eastern Europe, when he talks about an event that vexed officers at a border crossing. You see, at this border crossing, every day, a man pushed a wheelbarrow full of manure from his country to the other country.
The border guards were convinced that he was smuggling something. They just could not figure out what it was. Each day, border guards searched the manure, tested the manure, and found nothing in the manure. Many years later, after he retired, one of the guards asked him “we never did catch you, but I am sure you were smuggling something, what was it?” “Wheelbarrows”, he replied. It really was that simple.
Sometimes, we search for answers to what has happened, when the answer is in our faces and needs no searching. This is especially so when the issue that is vexing us is a problem: we think that the answers cannot be obvious because otherwise we would know them.
So we complicate issues, and search for answers like they were hidden mysteries to be solved. “As plain as the nose on your face” is a line from The Wizard of Oz, the 1930s classic starring Dorothy Garland, and a movie that epitomises how it is possible to go on a quest for something that you already have.
This lesson would be a good one for certain politicians to learn.
We have just had a by-election in Lupane. The MDC lost to ZanuPF, in a place where demographically, it would have been expected that they would win. Why did they lose? There has been no shortage of excuses and explanations from the MDC, none going to the obvious.
Instead, the tired but trusted excuses have been trotted out. “ZanuPF headmen forced people to vote for ZanuPF.” “Mthuli refused to release ZWL$3,6 million to fund the MDC, thus making it hard for us to campaign”, despite the fact that they consider Mthuli to be an illegitimate minister and do not recognise President Mnangagwa’s government.
And, of course, bizarrely but predictably, it was also claimed that there were other election irregularities, hence the usual “ZEC rigged the elections”. “We were not allowed to campaign.” Or, there was that letter from some Minister saying that clinics would be stocked for the period, suggesting that the entire population of Lupane got sick and got to sample these clinics and therefore voted with their medication slips.
In other words, everything and anything but the obvious: the MDC had no message for Lupane.
They organised a rally where they talked about load shedding, how electricity only comes between 10pm and 4am and how that means you cannot use your microwaves in the day and how ice cream left in freezers melts during the day, in a place where there is an electricity connection at only 7 of the more than 14 business centres in the constituency, and virtually none in the more than 9 744 households. I doubt that any homes in Lupane have microwave ovens, but I could be wrong.
They talked about the people’s inability to withdraw cash from the bank, in a constituency with zero banking facilities.
Their candidate criticised the wisdom of offering maBelarus at 50c a trip, and the rising fuel prices, in a place where there are no local ZUPCO bus services. The candidate and his team talked about how salaries were now all going to filling one’s fuel tank, and the fact that the fuel keeps going up, despite there being no significant formal employment and very few car owners and even less formal fuel stations.
They talked about workers being unable to feed their families, because their salaries were now meaningless, in an area where the population grows their own food and eats what they hunt. I doubt that the ZCTU has offices in Lupane but, I could be wrong. So, which workers were they talking about/to?
The national MDC team had a rally in Lupane, one. In fact, they decided to hold one in Masvingo, after losing in Bikita, and prior to the election in Lupane, because the people of Lupane probably simply did not deserve two rallies. They were never prevented from having more, they simply believed one was enough for Lupane.
At this one rally they talked about the stolen election in 2018 and Chamisa even offered President Mnangagwa whiskey and women if he would just resign and retire. He also talked about how he is learning Ndebele kuti agone kunyenga vasikana vechiNdevere vaakanzwa naWelshman kati vakanaka, in an area where the population still has to address issues about how they are perceived by Shona people and in a region where the stereotype about Ndebele girls waiting to be plucked from their youths by Shona men annoys most people something awful. People laughed at this, at the rally, but I don’t know how many votes it attracted.
Lupane is rural, and is situated in an area whose likely main source of revenue is hunting activities by tourists. Potentially, there are also unexplored gas and timber resources. There were no clever RELOADed ideas about how these might be harnessed to help the people of Lupane, just empty platitudes about being “the change that delivers, Mr Mnangagwa is the change that doesn’t deliver, in fact Mr Mnangagwa represents change without the change; he represents the face of the old,” hence the offer for him to retire on a package of “Ndebele girls and whiskey” one supposes. Plus a farm, of course. One must never forget the farm. That too was offered, to a man who is arguably the best farmer in the Midlands province.
About 63-79% of the population of Lupane is listed as living in poverty. Females outnumber men by 4%, and average numbers per households are 5 people, with many single women and child headed households in that number. Despite these numbers, school enrolment is 3% in favour of boys in primary school and yet that dramatically shifts to 10% in favour of girls in secondary school. There were no clever ideas about why this is so or how it will be tackled by the change that delivers.
About half of the constituency’s approximately 113 boreholes are not working, in a district that has 10% of the entire Matabeleland herd. It costs very little to rehabilitate boreholes, even that Go-Fund-Me money about fake legal costs that were never paid would have been too much for this task. It was not done. It was not proposed.
So, the party that calls itself a party of excellence ran for election in one of the poorest rural areas of the country and brought with it a message of whiskey, girls, electricity and fuel costs. They did not talk about the high rate of boys dropping out of school after primary school.
They did not talk about the distances between ECD centres, or the fact that you can count in one hand the number of creches in the entire constituency. They did not talk about rehabilitating boreholes, or extracting value from tourism for the local population. They did not talk about the need to recruit more teachers in secondary schools where in some cases teachers must deliver lessons to more than 100 pupils in one sitting.
Instead, they talked about the price of fuel to people with no cars, about melting ice cream to people that likely never have seen this thing, and about whiskey and girls for retirees to people that may well think “whiskey” is the name of a dog or a donkey and that offering girls you do not “own” in marriage is the very thing that the few NGOs operating in their area have been telling them is no longer allowed, besides it being an insulting stereotype that really ought to stop. Girls, even Ndebele girls, have agency.
They arrived in their 4×4 vehicles, with their PA systems and tents, and chairs brought from Bulawayo because heaven forbid they should travel to Lupane like the rest of the people and sit on the ground. They spoke about “fiscal management” and a “crisis of legitimacy” and did not even offer a single person a t-shirt, despite knowing that for most people, that t-shirt is likely the only “new” piece of clothing they are likely to have this year. They did not forget to offer pictures of a “sea of red” attending the rally on social media of course: the rented crowds that follow Nelson Chamisa to every rally, complete with sycophants ready to claim that “if he dies, bury me instead”.
They did not talk about dips and the perennial threat of foot-and-mouth, or how to control the death of chickens and cattle from diseases that the people know cannot possibly be blamed on the “illegitimate President”. They did not give options about how they would go about creating community projects to build more creches so that children start school at 4/5, choosing instead to talk about the NSSA forensic audit report.
Why did the MDC lose in Lupane? It is not rocket science. It does not require finger pointing. It does not require phantom headmen forcing people to vote for Zanu PF.
The reason is obvious: the MDC had no message for the people of Lupane, so the people of Lupane voted for someone that did.
It really is that simple.
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a Harare based lawyer and member of the ruling Zanu PF party