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Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye: The wages of provocation … When a poke begets a stab

By Luke Tamborinyoka

African languages, just like other languages elsewhere, are word hives, rich both in diction and witty polemics that often have deeper and more profound meanings than the denotations presumed by their literal interpretations.

Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye with Luke Batsirai Tamborinyoka
Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye with Luke Batsirai Tamborinyoka

The connotations ingrained in African idiomatic expressions are often deeper, richer and more fertile than their denotations. Expression is the bane of humanity and here on our beloved African continent, language will forever remain the true embodiment of the African experience.

Indeed, our wise elders were gifted wordsmiths who knew that when it comes to language, true meaning resides not in what the idiomatic expression denoted but in what the phrases connote, far beyond their literal remit. In our African communities, language has always been an esoteric dish of rich proverbs and idioms that aptly describe every moment, nay every circumstance and situation under the sun. The rich diction imbued in one of these rich statements taught us that every action breeds a consequence, whether intended or unintended. 

The Shona language, spoken in several communities in sub-Saharan Africa, is no exception to the timeless wisdom embedded in our indigenous languages. One such rich Shona idiom that points to what shall definitely turn out to be dire consequences for this illegitimate government’s incessant provocation of every sector in the country is the enduring wisdom laden in the expression: Tsvaru akazvara tivu , which literally means a poke begets a stab, that every taunt yields a consequence more grievous than the initial act that actuated it.

Put simply, this Shona phrase that is the gist of this instalment means that every action, however trite or innocuous it may appear to be, often begets a deeper, more robust reaction to the initial action that provoked it. We were taught that there is always a harvest, nay a wage for every human enterprise. There is always a reaction to every action hence poking someone may result in them stabbing you back in response.

While the poking ( tsvaru) is an ideophone that literally refers to an initial, seemingly harmless provocation that may originate from a finger, a hand or a stick, the stab as the response (tivu) denotes and presumes a far much deeper and more injurious response that may yield a wound, possibly from a sharp-edged instrument such as a knife, a bayonet or a spear.

While one may provoke with a finger, a hand or a simple rod, the victim’s response ( tivu) denotes a penchant by the one seeking revenge to inflict deeper, more enduring pain than the one inflicted during the initial provocation.

It is important to state from the outset that in our case, it is the provocation that has been so deep that the ultimate response can only be an avalanche. The government’s provocation of the citizens ( tsvaru) has unto itself been the stab (tivu), which means the response by the citizenry, whenever it shall come, will have to be more robust and more injurious to the provocateurs.

If the provocation (tsvaru) is so deep and harmful as to be almost like it is the response (tivu) then maybe the citizens’ response has to be gargantuan and momentous probably in a manner that may reset and redefine the remit and parameters of this rich Shona expression!

The cardinal lesson from the Shona idiom Tsvaru akazvara tivu is that every taunt begets a backlash; that there is a wage to be gotten from every provocation.

Since July 2018, this regime has been provoking the people of Zimbabwe and inciting them to violently revolt against it. While the response (tivu) to the series of provocations (tsvaru), is still uploading, rest assured that this callous lot will get their wage for the middle finger they continue to stick up to the people of Zimbabwe.

The silence of the people and their trusted political leadership in the MDC Alliance is neither a sign of stupidity nor lack of strategy. Sometimes a long, eerie silence by a repressed people may be indicative of the boisterous nature of the robust response being uploaded into the oven.

But first take a glimpse at the litany of the charges on the charge sheet; a summation of the regime’s provocative taunts (tsvaru) that will in the fullness of time ignite a befitting monumental backlash (tivu)

Pickpocketing the people’s will

The regime pilfered the people’s will in 2018. They are now hiding behind the pronouncement by the Constitutional Court in respect of which they are now falsely laying claim to legitimacy. Yet legality and legitimacy are not always mutually inclusive, just as the apartheid policy in South Africa was ardoned in legal apparel yet in reality it was ethically naked, illegitimate and morally reprehensible. We have not forgotten that Mnangagwa’s figure in the 2018 plebiscite was revised downwards a record three times, and this only after the MDC Alliance had petitioned the courts. Yet someone wants us to believe that such a poll in which the numbers are changed so many times was free , fair and credible!

Murder of innocent citizens

Another act of provocation (tsvaru) was the callous murder of six innocent Zimbabweans on 1 August 2018, after which a Commission of Inquiry that Emmerson Mnangagwa himself appointed found the police and the army to be liable for those brutal murders.

As if the murders were not provocative enough, the culprits are still to be prosecuted in line with the recommendations of Motlanthe Commission Report.

Added to this are the 19 people who were murdered at the hands of State security agents, at least according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. The fatalities will rise to stratospheric figures of we add the numbers from the slow genocide taking place in the country’s hospitals and infirmaries where medical staff have been on industrial action for over a year now.

Decimation of the legitimate opposition

The State has used its captured institutions to decimate the legitimate opposition and to prop up a pliable surrogate. They have robbed the people of their elected MPs and councillors and donated the seats to their surrogates. Where by-elections were supposed to be held to fill in the vacancies, the regime has used executive fiat to suspend democracy.

Avarice and corruption

The regime has engaged in unbridled acts of corruption. Covidgate, the Command Agriculture programme and the looting of the Farm Mechanisation programme have all exposed Zanu PF’s unquenchable voracious appetite for public funds. The catch-and-release principle has been conveniently adopted to ensure the well-heeled and politically connected elite do not see the inside walls of prison while members of the First Family such as Collins Mnangagwa have not appeared even before a fake judge despite being fingered in Covidgate!

Violation of human rights

The regime has engaged in a systematic onslaught on human rights defenders. Lawyers, journalists, student leaders, political and civic activists, including elected MPs, have been abducted, arrested, tortured and even sexually violated for no crime except standing on the side of the people. #Zimbabwesnlivesmattter has trended as the deteriorating human rights situation in the country pricked the conscience of the world.

Tearing asunder the people’s Constitution

The regime has flagrantly torn asunder the country’s Constitution. Human rights are being trampled upon, the principle of devolution has not been implemented while the State continues to poke its long nose into matters that should ordinarily be under the purview of independent Commissions. Moreover, the regime appears keen to amend the Constitution rather implementing it or aligning all laws to it. The national chorus is for implementation and alignment and not amendment of the Constitution.

Peanuts for civil servants

The other taunt (tsvaru) is the regime’s neglect and ill-treatment of the civil service by refusing to give government employees a living wage. Civil servants are the software of the government machinery and they deserve their dignity. Currently, and for very legitimate reasons, the teachers, nurses and doctors are on strike, plunging the entire social services sector into turmoil.

Zimbabwe certainly can’t be open for business when it is closed for basic services such as health and education. To address this festering social services crisis, government has promised to give every dead civil servant the equivalent of US$500.

The message from our creatively inept government is that civil servants will now be smiling all the way to their graves. As Squealer would have put it in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: The only good civil servant is a dead one. And in a crude act of blasphemy, the regime is attempting to play God, promising despondent civil servants the master’s full blessings will only be enjoyed in the afterlife!

Conclusion

The wisdom encapsulated in the Shona idiom Tsvaru akazvara tivu is a warning to those with a penchant to needlessly taunt and provoke, as this regime is doing to the people of Zimbabwe. Implied in the timeless wisdom embedded therein is the cardinal truth that every wave has a sweeping backlash and that every poke begets a stab.

The backlash might not be immediate but every provocative act has a price, just as to every thesis there is an antithesis. The embarrassing national narrative of murder, repression and trampling of citizens’ rights has become a cacophonous monotone to the extent that something’s gotta give.

Perhaps more important in the wisdom ingrained in this Shona idiom is that the backlash carries more force and pain than the initial act that triggered it. If the initial provocative sound were to be a tenor, then the avenging audio would have to be a deep baritone.

The regime must be put on adequate notice that a people-driven avalanche never seen before is uploading, thanks to its numerous acts of provocation to the people. The teachers’ strike is just but the commencement of a huge storm, nay a cyclone.

Human patience may be elastic but there is a limit to that elasticity. As we stand on the cusp of the historic month of November, a month in which an entrenched dictator was spirited out by an odd mixture of military force and the benign traction of people power, the regime must be on high alert. Indeed, the scarfed despot must surely take need of the tell-tale signs from the teachers’ strike. The teachers’ action is ominous that the writing is on the wall.

This regime has tried hard to lure the people out into the pasture of lawlessness but the people shall continue to hold firm to their sacred values of peace and non-violence. The crocodile may invite us to the muddy waters, with the certain knowledge that muddied waters are its element but the people shall refuse to be smoked out of their natural habitat of peace, democracy and non-violence. We the people are refusing to be lured along the path of violence because we will be knocked out on account of lack of experience in that bloodied terrain. .

For some of us, politics will forever remain a soft power vocation, an enterprise for charm not harm, for persuasion not coercion, for the word and not the sword. An environment of violence and anarchy will give home advantage to this regime by dint of their blood-soaked legacy and their attained degrees in violence. We will not transact our politics in their preferred stadium of Armageddon. But the nation shall certainly overwhelm and overrun this decrepit regime with streetified people power, which is their Constitutional right.

The people will use their soft power to redefine and redraw their tenuous lived circumstances. The temptation to give dates and time frames as to when this will happen is huge but all we can say for now is that no one knows the day or the hour!

Stand still, Zimbabwe, and hear the birth pangs of this your society that is now heavily pregnant with a new one.

Soon and very soon.

Luke Tamborinyoka is the Deputy Secretary for Presidential Affairs in the MDC Alliance led by Advocate Nelson Chamisa . He is a multiple award-winning journalist who was once elected and served as the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists .

Tamborinyoka also served as spokesperson for almost 10 years to the country’s democracy icon , Morgan Tsvangirai , until the latter’s death in 2018 . He is an ardent political scientist who won the Book Prize for Best Student when he graduated with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe .

You can interact with him on Facebook or on the twitter handle @ luke_tambo .

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