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Chinyoka on Tuesday: Those with real power don’t need to use it

By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

There is an interesting story about a powerful woman, who went around the village showing everyone that she was powerful and that there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

She organised meetings to show everyone she was powerful, she humiliated powerful men in public in order to show that she was more powerful. And then, she was no longer powerful. And she just became a housewife, waiting for God to take her husband and then her, forever fearful that those she had wronged might one day barge in the door and seek answers.

It is a sad tale. One of a person that really was not what she thought she was, but believed she was more because of her own thunder.

Power comes in different guises. It is not just the ability to command armies or to control the state’s legitimate use of force that makes one powerful.

In these days of shortages, the manager of a Baker’s Inn is powerful. As is the petrol attendant at a fuel queue, he that decides that there is only fuel left for those with cards or accounts. The security guard at a Western Union is very powerful, as he decides how far in the queue he will go before deciding who is the last one for the day.

The police officer commanding a district has power, to listen to petitions for demonstrations and decide whether to give the go ahead or withhold sanction. That is power. An appellate judge in a court of final appeal knows that his decision is final, and can do whatever they wish, knowing that one cannot go anywhere. That, is power.

Many people hunger for power, even when they never quite know what to do with it.

It is in the quest for power that Job Sikhala will say “Mnangagwa must be reported to the ICC”. Never mind that the ICC works on clear guidelines on which situations must be referred to it, or that the processes that might lead to such a referral have never obtained in Zimbabwe since November 2017, Job Sikhala is not talking to the ICC Prosecutor when he makes this claim.

Instead, he is speaking to the militant wing of the MDC, showing them that he is the radical they are looking for, and gathering fellow radicals behind his banner, for future use. In other words, he is gathering power.

Nelson Chamisa called a national fast the other week. Many people followed this call. Many intellectuals and other pseudo-analysts spent the week referencing “the fast”, showing a buy-in that went wider than the fanatical hordes of Chamisa Chete Chete elements who will attack you for even suggesting that the young man is not a messiah (he really isn’t, but that is a story for another time).

That, is power. He might have lost an election, but the young man has power. The power to call enough people to the streets to cause disruption and chaos to the economy. The power to inspire myriads of followers to ignore the national good and wait only on his word.

The power to make teachers of constitutional law and other erudite lawyers trample over their own constitution and acknowledge his coup as “rightful successful”, even as they call an impeachment interrupted by a resignation a coup.

That, is power.

The problem with that kind of power though, is that unless handled delicately, it consumes the energy out of the holder. It forces many to seek it for its own sake, and even when they have it, to keep seeking because they do not know what to do with it.

And yet some, when they have it, use it when they do not need to. That woman of lore, she had power, she really did. And, had she not gone around showing people that she had said power, could very well have died in power.

Unfortunately for her, and for many, power untempered by reflection is just brute force.  A policeman holding a baton stick near demonstrators has power, but once he uses the stick, he only wields an instrument of force. That power has the unfortunate effect of galvanising those subject to its effects into a resistance, and the more it is used, the more recruits it sends in the opposite direction, until their power exceeds its ability to withstand.

The power to call people into the streets means very little if, when you call them, others have ways to prevent them from doing anything. The judicious use of the threat to call people into the streets would be a more effective way to exercise that power.

The power to sanction or prohibit an assembly means very little when it is used to prevent even the most innocuous of events. It is the proverbial equivalent of using a bazooka to kill a chicken, when quite clearly a pocket knife would suffice.

It just builds so much ill-will that those affected might very well use it to expose you as unreasonable, or inspire imaginative court challenges which might set very dangerous precedents about your power to use the prohibition option in future.

A judicious examination of each notification and robust exploration of options with a convenor, with the prohibition option in reserve, might very well inspire very cooperative suggestions from convenors and allow for the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly.

More than anything, power should not be used in masimuka tiyenzane. Time and time again, you hear the refrain “tinozvidira jecha” or “Zanu-PF will not get a cent”. That is from people who have, and know that they have, the power to derail the country’s economic recovery. The use of that power however, affects more than just the targeted people.

There is a race to show each other that “I have power” but, in my view, very little reflection on the fact that the other side has power. Our opposition makes some foolhardy decisions, seemingly oblivious of the fact that the state has power to arrest them, to prosecute and to incarcerate.

There is a man called Japajapa who is currently a guest of the prison services, who was convicted of incitement or other public violence related matters. When he went about committing his crimes, he must have felt very powerful, but did not recognise the power in the opposite side.

Tragically, even supporters of the government use our proximity to power to do two things (a) shield the truth from the leader and (b) act as if the opposition has no power. We do not factor in “kudira jecha” in any of our planning matrices because we refuse to acknowledge the power of that policy. We pretend to ourselves that caricaturing Chamisa is effective policy because we refuse to acknowledge that even though he lost an election, he has power.

Someone once said; “recognizing power in another does not diminish your own.” Acknowledging that Chamisa has power does not diminish anyone else’s power. Rather, it allows for a proper engagement with him.

Acknowledging that an officer commanding a police district has power does not diminish a demonstration convenor’s power. Rather, it saves them the angst and financial prejudice of having a demonstration prohibited and legal fees trying to overturn such prohibition.

The ultimate show of power therefore is that, having the power, you choose not to use it, and allow the mere knowledge that you have the power do the talking. In the days when pupils used to be caned in school, the teachers we tended to respect were not the ones that actually used the cane.

No. It was the ones that made you know that the cane was an option, but one that they really, really did not wish to use. You found yourself doing everything possible to make sure that you never did find out how they were with the cane.

It was Margaret Thatcher who said “Being powerful is like being a lady: if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” The woman in our tale would have benefited from it; and many people would benefit from it now.

If only they could be made to listen.

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a Harare based lawyer