Tag: Morgan Tsvangirai

Who can speak for the African experience?

(Pic: Flickr / Brendan Biele)
(Pic: Flickr / Brendan Biele)

Last week, I read with interest an article by Simon Allison of the Johannesburg-based Daily Maverick, wherein he gave reasons why Zimbabwe’s long-time opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, should vacate office and make way for alternatives.

While I agreed with many of his points, it was his deconstruction of Tsvangirai’s character, which formed the main thesis of his analysis, that I found jarring.

“There was a time, not too long ago, when Morgan Tsvangirai personified everything that was good about Zimbabwe,” wrote Allison, adding descriptions of the leader as having once been incorruptible, tenacious, fearless; selfless in his pursuit of democracy for Zimbabwe’s people.

In reading this analysis, I felt – as I often do when I read content about Zimbabwe produced externally – dissonance with the narrative being presented to me.

Zimbabweans, I generally believe, have been cognisant of Tsvangirai’s political and personal shortcomings for a very long time, only ignoring them for the desperate want of political change. Therefore, to paint Tsvangirai as having once-upon-a-time cast stars in the eyes of Zimbabweans is inaccurate, at least to me.

But Allison’s is not the first case of inconsistency between high-level commentary and what ‘voices on the ground’ might articulate. And neither is it the last, as the trend favouring non-experiential knowledge, and theory, over the lived realities of those being spoken of continues to grow.

Recently, a heated exchange broke out online between two American social commentators on hip hop and rap, namely Elite Daily’s Doran Miller-Rosenberg and Rap Rehab’s Sebastien Elkouby. The former offered a sarcastic rebuttal of an Elkouby article in which he offered controversial ways to stop children being brainwashed by mainstream rap; Number 2 was to “Talk trash about every wack rapper you see or hear.”

Elkouby’s response to Miller-Rosenberg, a white American who has reported rap and various popular culture genres, was emotively charged to say the least.

“For many of us, hip hop culture saved our lives, or at the very least, gave it a purpose… Most of you are hip hop culture vultures on a safari of appropriation and exploitation. You take and give nothing back,” stated Elkouby, invalidating Miller-Rosenburg’s authority to speak on behalf of the culture by virtue of what Elkouby depicted as Miller-Rosenburg’s voyeuristic navigation of the genre.

The message clearly conveyed was that as a white man, Miller-Rosenburg had no authority to navigate the discussion given that hip hop and rap were birthed – and continue to grow – from the lived experience of blackness in a still racially oppressive America; an experience which, as Elkouby constructed it, was one Miller-Rosenburg would always be external to.

Telling the African story
In a TEDx talk last year, the late BBC newscaster Komla Dumor talked through the construction of authoritative knowledge – with his example focused on Africa – stating that while the idea of a haggis expert based at the University of Makerere might be laughable, the same is never true of an expert on Africa based in Washington, London or any space ‘other’ to Africa.

The appropriation of narratives is perhaps most often associated with race and historical privilege, but even the Afropolitanism movement has recently come in for criticism – by Africans – for  its perceived role in facilitating the appropriation and commercialisation of the continent’s narratives and artefacts through the hyphenation of ‘all things African’ with a touch of western  nuance.

While the Afropolitan might be a common sight in many parts of Europe and America, this ‘new African’ is not so often seen on the continent. So that the narratives of the African who does breakfast in Lagos, dinner in Paris, or who sips on fair trade coffee from Kenya while going through the complete works of Frantz Fanon at the airport departure lounge hardly resonate with the majority of Africans in Africa and abroad. Ironically, what is constructed as the alternative narrative to the dominant and macabre depictions of Africa becomes its own hegemonic and highly exclusionary representation of what a resurgent Africa – an Africa ‘on the rise’ – should look like.

Last year, Voices of Africa featured a piece in which Stephanie Kimou lamented her inability to find good African men upon recent return to the continent, having lived and studied in the US.

The combination of Kimou’s western historical context and sweeping generalisations about African men (“First, every African man wants a cook, like his mama”) led to debates – at least those that I was privy to – being less about the potential veracity of her views, and more about what authority she had to paint the continent’s men with one brushstroke as a recent returnee.

Additionally, the indictment of African men left many African women feeling judged for choosing to love them.

Pushback was, therefore, not necessarily founded upon disagreement with Kimou’s opinion; but largely upon doubts about her authority to speak as an ‘authentic’ African voice.

It may seem easy to dismiss the discourse of authenticity on the grounds of the internationalised lives most of us lead. Regardless of where we are, we eat, watch, listen to and wear imported products. But the fact remains that speaking on behalf of, especially where there is geographical, cultural or experiential removal, promotes feelings of emasculation in the person(s) being spoken of; especially where nuances about their experiences are omitted, and inconsistencies observed. And quite often, the response to such representations is defensive retaliation, even where this may be irrational.

Deconstructing privilege
The solution to these quandaries seems easy; that those spoken of should “begin to tell their own stories in their own ways”. But given that accepted opinion leaders often speak from powerful platforms and places with wide reach and validation, it remains difficult for alternative views – especially when expressed in spaces of low prominence – to gain traction.

Moreover, speaking against popular and dominant narratives often relegates the speaker to the margins where they are constructed as either being antagonistic for antagonism’s sake, or expressing counterproductive sentiments.  It therefore remains quite easy for the well-developed media machinery to silence – by omission – dissenting opinions and voices, or the alternative voices that it does not want to hear.

The answers to addressing this situation are complex and don’t lie in disengaging from inaccurate representations. Neither do they lie in engaging in angry undirected pushback. That is after all, the easiest way to invalidate an opinion.

In acknowledging and deconstructing privilege – who gets to speak, on behalf of who and why – we have to be realistic in our understanding of how hierarchies develop, gain credence and perpetuate.

With social media now facilitating conversations with institutions that might previously have seemed impenetrable, this at least provides some channels through which to register one’s opinion.  But of course, substantive change entails much more; the sharing of influential space and a greater willingness to welcome, and listen to, multiple alternatives and realities.

The question is: Is the world ready for this?

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

Of penises, politics and Pentecostalism in Zimbabwe

We are just past the first weekend of 2014 and here in Zimbabwe, newspaper stands are already brimming with tabloid-style headlines of scandalous news – of the penile sort – to do with former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and miracle-working Pentecostal prophet, Emmanuel Makandiwa.

Yesterday, Zimbabwe’s news media revealed that Makandiwa, founder of the increasingly popular United Family International Church (UFIC), had performed a penis-enhancing miracle on a man from Namibia at a New Year’s Day service in Harare. The man is reported to have travelled to Zimbabwe in search of help for his penis which he is quoted as saying was the size of a two-year-old’s. He added that the problem was affecting his love life, and therefore his prospects of finding a wife.

“First month grow, second month grow, third month grow, fourth month grow, fifth month ummm stop,” Makandiwa is said to have commanded the man’s infantile penis which, I must assume, is still expanding exponentially as you read this.

On Saturday, the day before this revelation, the press was again teeming with phallic-related news; in this instance, an exposé of trouble in the un-paradise that is Tsvangirai’s love life. Apparently he and his current wife, Elizabeth Macheka, are living separately due to a range of unresolved issues, including those of the “sensitive personal” variety. The public jury is out and judgments ranging from erectile dysfunctional disorder to hexes over the former PM’s “male member” are moving around freely. Tsvangirai has, however, refuted any such claims, stating that he is fit on all counts.

Former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his wife Elizabeth Macheka (Pic: AFP)
Former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his wife Elizabeth Macheka (Pic: AFP)

Ironically, reports suggest Macheka packed up and left the marriage home during a visit Tsvangirai made to seek the counsel of Nigerian megastar prophet TB Joshua, who in 2012 gained cred for his prediction of the death of Malawian leader Bingu wa Mutharika. Well, let’s say he predicted the death of an African leader who was old and unwell, to the silent hopes of many.

And so we, the general Zimbabwean populace, find ourselves having spirited Twitter, Facebook and offline debates, enthralled by speculation about two men’s penises. Actually, make that three men as people are now also seemingly curious about how endowed Makandiwa must be if he can work such miracles on others.

A weekend victory for phallicism, I say. And, I fear, a portent of what is to come in 2014 for Zimbabwe.

As prospects for political change continue to decline, it is the rise of Pentecostalism and tales of the supernatural that seem to have filled the void in the collective imagination of most Zimbabweans. In fact, the myriad problems ordinary Zimbabweans face – such as crippling poverty and lack of access to social amenities – seem to correlate with the growth and popularity of charismatic Christian churches offering instant relief from anything from bankruptcy and HIV to unhealthy addictions… if you only just believe.

Early last year former Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono convened a press conference with Makandiwa and his fellow popular prophet, Uebert Angel, to publicly announce that the two men had not flouted any financial regulations by delivering ‘miracle money’ said to have inexplicably appeared in congregants’ personal bank accounts. And with that controversial move, the already blurred line between the church and the state in Zimbabwe grew murkier.

While a penis-enlarging miracle might seem like child’s play (that pun was really not intended!) for a man of such influence, a man who has even promised to perform the Christ-like feat of walking on water, it does epitomise the vulnerability of so many Zimbabweans who remain desperate for a change in their personal fortunes.  Desperate for hope; for at least one pleasure, one relief.

And the commonality of the desperation is compounded by Tsvangirai’s pursuit of the same from TB Joshua.

Just think about Tsvangirai’s case a bit more deeply, if you will. Here is a man, aged 61, married as many times as he has lost in his bid to become Zimbabwe’s elected president (three), who makes a trek to a death-predicting spiritual leader in pursuit of answers and solutions to the problems beleaguering his personal and political aspirations. In a continuation of the comedy of errors that is his love life, he returns home to find his wife gone and, a few weeks later, speculations about his impotence all over the media.

What hope should the ordinary Zimbabwean hold onto, therefore?

Tsvangirai’s manhood may have come under literal scrutiny this weekend, but the truth is that it has been inspected – in a figurative sense – since July’s presidential election and his tepid response to a resounding loss, albeit a loss that seems to have been compounded by many factors out of his control.  More and more, Zimbabweans are beginning to feel that he is not the man to deliver them to the ‘promised land’, and that he himself needs to start chanting his MDC-T party’s slogan of chinja maitiro (change your ways) and step away from its leadership.

I will end my analysis with a final irony. It is quite interesting to me that even though much of Zimbabwe’s mainstream press is alight with all these stories about phalluses, few – if any – can bring themselves from the comfort of their euphemisms to actually call the “male member” what it is. A penis.

And this is a perfect metaphor of the times. A fascination with the scandalous and supernatural and yet an inability, a systematised reserve or fear, of calling things as they are. A diversion of the “male member” at the expense of critical, constructive and progressive debate about the male members of society who still very much control the structures that govern our daily lives from the radical prophets to the un-radical politicians.

It should strike us all as unusual that a phallocentric culture cannot bring itself to name the symbols upon which its power is premised.

Indeed, this is the present tragedy of Zimbabwe.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for women, Her Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

Zimbabwe elections 101

Zimbabwe is holding general elections today, which brings to an end the power-sharing government between President Robert Mugabe and his long-time rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Robert Mugabe (L) and Morgan Tsvangirai. (Pic: AFP)
Robert Mugabe (L) and Morgan Tsvangirai. (Pic: AFP)

Here are some key facts about the vote:

  • Some 6.4-million Zimbabweans, out of a population of 12.9-million, are eligible to vote at 9 670 polling stations across the country.
  • Voting centres will be open from 7am to 7pm.
  • Most voters will vote for presidential and parliamentary candidates.
  • There are five presidential candidates: President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Dumiso Dabengwa, Welshman Ncube and Kinisoti Mukwazhe.
  • There are 210 parliamentary constituencies.
  • 60 seats are reserved for women.
  • 37 108 police officers and military personnel have already voted.
  • Voters will need to be 18 years and above to vote and will have to present a national identity card or a valid Zimbabwean passport.
  • The results are expected within five days.
  • If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held, likely in September.

View the Mail & Guardian’s special report on the Zimbabwe elections here.