If you are not with us . . .

An election poster that appeared on a couple of big billboards in Harare at election time last year sums up a lot of what is wrong with our politics. By now the infection has spread far beyond what most people would call “politics”.


It showed Morgan Tsvangirai and two of his lieutenants reading the ZANU (PF) manifesto and the caption said something like: “See! They agree with us!”

Our society is so divided that reading a flyer issued by a political party is taken to mean allegiance to that party. I am old-fashioned enough to believe that I can’t say whether I agree or disagree with anyone until I have heard or read what they have to say for themselves.

Reading a newspaper that supports Party A or attacks Party B does not make me a supporter of Party A; I might want to learn what they say so as to decide whether or not to support them. I might simply think that newspaper is the best available. For example, I prefer The Zimbabwean to The Herald as a newspaper, but I base my choice on journalistic standards, not on party allegiance. Others may have other reasons for their choice.

Unfortunately, a culture has grown up in this country of defining yourself by who or what you exclude. All too often we hear: “You were given land by our party and then voted for someone else. You don’t deserve that land, and we are going to destroy your house to prove our point.” or “You didn’t vote for our party, so you can’t share government famine relief food.” Among other consequences of that attitude is that journalistic standards are subordinated to party loyalty. Everything is subordinated to party loyalty.

We can probably blame the settlers for this. Everything was subordinated to keeping whites in power and keeping them richer than most people even in the countries they came from. Smith’s RF party were more exclusive than those who went before them.

For example, they deported more white people who deviated from their idea of white tribal values and interests. Their motto was “If you’re not 100% for us, you’re against us” and as time went on, their definition, and subsequent definitions, of who we mean by “us” have grown narrower.

For its first 15 years or so ZANU could not accept that any white person could join their party; they were not “us”. ZAPU were, of course, never “us”. Most ZAPU supporters were Ndebele so the Ndebele were not “us” and that led to Gukurahundi.

Later, we have seen farm labourers, and therefore anyone of Malawian descent, being rejected as not “one of us”; remember over a million of them lost their citizenship after the 2000 land grab.

Then the urban poor, who hadn’t voted in sufficient numbers for ZANU (PF) were no longer “one of us” and we saw Murambavanhu. If you were not “us” you were chaff to be blown away in 1983; you had become “dirt” in 2005.

That category of who we call “us” keeps narrowing. Soon after independence, a ZANU (PF) minister told me “We always knew Kempton Makamure wasn’t one of us” – meaning, as far as I could tell, not a fat cat.

Now we face the prospect of another split in ZANU (PF) (remember when Ndabaningi Sithole stopped being “one of us”?) as rivals jostle for position to decide who will take power after their present leader’s demise.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back to remembering that “all of us” are human?

Why can’t we say “Anyone who is not against us is for us”?

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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