Crisis of leadership – We must learn from history

We talk about mismanaged land reform, impact of sanctions, interference of the military in politics, impunity and violence, poor governance, antipathy towards democracy, disdain for human rights, kleptocracy, patrimonialism, and corruption, weaknesses of SADC/Jacob Zuma mediation and so on.

These are all symptoms of a crisis of leadership. This crisis is traceable to the 1960s. It is rooted in the crisis of Zimbabwean nationalism. It failed before Zimbabwe was born in 1980. Since 1963, no credible leader emerged with the capacity to unite different ethnic and racial groups. Joshua Nkomo tried and failed. What became celebrated as nationalism was in reality disguised tribalism.

The term nationalist was appropriated by regionalists and tribalists. What we nurtured and developed throughout the time of the liberation struggle were lip-service nationalists who take on a national character when there is a crowd before them.

Under the leadership of such people, it was not even clear who the future national citizens were to be besides vague and crude use of such empty signifiers as abantwana behlabathi/bana vevhu/children of the soil. Worse still, the fake nationalists, who parroted the slogan of children of the soil in public forums, were actively flouting the same ideals in private. What became celebrated as the nationalism struggle became reduced to a bizarre terrain of tribalism, racism and dirty power struggles.

It was this reality that forced Professor Masipula Sithole to write about struggles-within-the-struggle and a revolution that ate its own children. At the centre of all this was liquidations and counter-liquidations cloaked as revolutionary justice. Herbert Chitepo, Nikita Mangena, Josiah Magama Tongogara, Thomas Nhari, numerous cadres of ZIPA and many others fell victim to this fake nationalism that covered dirty tribalism and regionalism.

Having said this, cant we re-evaluate some events and reach the truth? How true is it that the split within ZAPU in 1963 was not motivated by tribalism? Was Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole not a victim of tribalism? Did he not suffer the same fate as Nkomothe sin of being Ndebele and Shangani respectively? As for Herbert Chitepo, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Edgar Tekere, was their sins not linked to their hailing from the East? Was Reverend Sithole not correct to say: if the death of Herbert Chitepo is to be associated with any ism, it cannot be colonialism or capitalism but tribalism? Did Reverend Sithole not write about ZANU having metamorphosed into ZARU (Zimbabwe African Regional Union) and ZATU (Zimbabwe African Tribal Union)? Can we disagree with him in the light of the current factionalism?

The real crisis is that the struggle to build a Zimbabwe nation was not led by nationalists but tribalists who disguised their tribal intentions as national interests. Is the present bickering within the Inclusive Government not reflecting lack of concern about national interests? Partisan interests are sometimes disguised as tribal interests. Was the Gukurahundi crisis not evidence of a country led by tribally motivated leaders? When ZANU-PF assumed power of the state, some of its leaders who were now expected to behave like national leaders failed to do so and plunged the country into a dirty and unnecessary tribal war that cost the lives of innocent citizens. Some of those leaders are still in government and their tribal utterances are there. How can we expect such a calibre of leadership to lead a modern but diverse nation?

The slow death of a mediocre leadership is a huge cost on the nation and the economy. Another clear case of leadership failure is lack of clear rules of succession. A feeble leadership lives in perpetual fear of the people and because of that its very predatory and dangerous to human life.

Zimbabweans currently find themselves between a rock and a very hard place. A feeble leadership has denied them the power to choose any other leadership. I hope this crisis will be a good lesson for the people too. Because feeble leadership reflects feebleness of the society it emerges from. Dancing and singing for a feeble leadership is a form of national suicide. Succumbing to the divisive ploys of a directionless leadership portends disaster for the nation.

A good leadership must understand the complexities of history. It must be able to know the complexion of its citizens in terms of ethnic, racial, gender, generation and religious make-up. It must work towards synthesis of these identities rather than towards elimination of some people. It must use history to unite citizens rather than to divide people. National symbols, heroes and monuments must be carefully selected to reflect the complexities of the nation and its history. One who feels driven or failure to transcend regionalism, tribalism and racism is not fit for public office. Modern societies have no spaces for such species. The reality in multicultural, multiracial and multiethnic societies like Zimbabwe is that we need not necessarily look the same, speak similar languages, come from one region and worship similar gods/God in order to form one nation and coexist peacefully.

I blame the leadership that assumed power in 1980 for failure to build a nation. I blame them for abusing our rich history for short-term regime security. I blame them for lacking national vision. They might have had a partisan and tribal vision, but failed dismally to build a nation. – Dr Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni is Concerned African Scholar writing from Johannesburg: [email protected]

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