A Factionalized Society: Thinking in Factions, Hiding behind Factions

The subject addressed in this article is the problem of a factionalised society, which has become more and more dominant in the Zimbabwean body politic.

Magaisa
Magaisa

This is not merely a reference to the growth of factions, which are a natural phenomenon in any group of people be it at national or family level. It is more about the pervasive character of factionalised thinking so that invariably we now view almost everything through the lens of political factions. Indeed, the predominant thought-process is to frame all phenomena in terms of contestation between political factions.

This arises largely from the fact that we have become a highly politicised society and so everything tends to be framed in political terms. The politicisation of everything has not only enslaved thought and crippled analysis but it has also granted refuge to the inept and the incompetent among our public officers, who in defence to every charge of failure or negligence, they raise the political factionalism card, claiming, as they often do, that they are merely being victimised politically. It cripples analysis and understanding of our politics because the many nuances are missed as the media largely fixes its eyes upon one or the other faction, trying to fit everything within those boxes.

It is perhaps a truism that politics is now pervasive in Zimbabwe. It is so omnipresent that nothing passes without being assigned a political label. We have come to a point where thinking or rationalisation of things is constructed predominantly in political terms. Politicisation is so widespread and deep-seated that in answer to that old riddle, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” a group of Zimbabweans might give responses ranging from a suggestion that the chicken was running from one faction to another to suggestions that it crossed because it was pushed by a more powerful faction.

Lost in all this might be the simple fact that the chicken crossed the road simply because that is what it wanted to do and that its crossing the road had nothing whatsoever to do with factions. But Zimbabweans would not be satisfied. They would have to find a political motive for the chicken’s act of crossing the road. We have been socialised into thinking that everything must have a political reason and that the chicken cannot just decide of its own accord, wisely or foolishly, to cross the road.

This is probably not a uniquely Zimbabwean phenomenon, but I focus on how it manifests in our environment and discuss its problems, and in doing so I use a very current example involving the utterances of the Prosecutor General and how this has since been repackaged and framed in political terms.

Political factions

In recent years, this has manifested in the narrative of political factions. The narrative of political factions is so dominant that anything and everything has to be viewed and explained by way of machinations and battles between political factions.

This is not entirely new. In previous years, rationalisation of things was constructed through the dichotomy between political parties, namely Zanu PF and the MDC. An individual, an idea or a view had to be placed into one political box or the other. Often, there was nothing in-between. If it didn’t fit, it had to be forced into one or the other box.

While this is still relevant today, in the last year or so, this seems to have been superseded by the dichotomy between factions within the ruling party, Zanu PF. This is probably more because after the seminal elections of 2013, the battles have been less between the political parties, but more prevalent within the political parties and in particular, in Zanu PF.

Thus in the MDC, it has been the dichotomy between the mainstream MDC-T led by Tsvangirai and the MDC Renewal Team, which broke away in 2014. In Zanu PF, it has been a dichotomy firstly between the Mnangagwa faction and the Mujuru faction and after the decimation of the latter, this has morphed into a new dichotomy between the Mnangagwa faction and a faction of the so-called “Young Turks” or “Generation 40”, which reportedly includes the likes of Prof Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere.

The result is that phenomena have to be rationalised in terms of this factional dichotomy. People and things have to fit in one of these political boxes. Things do not just happen independently of the politics, so goes the thinking. They are rationalised and presented as products of political engineering by one faction against the other, because these factions are engaged in constant combat. We have to find out why it is happening and how and often the answer is framed politically, by way of factions. It is either to support one faction’s cause or to derail another’s ends.

However, the implication of this process of rationalisation by factionalism means everything must fit into one of two political boxes – there is usually nothing in-between. As we have already seen, this is a parallel to the type of rationalisation within the context of the dichotomy between political parties, Zanu PF and the MDC. In this case, some must be engineered by the Mnangagwa faction or by the Mujuru faction or by the Mnangagwa faction or by the Generation 40 faction.

Case of the Prosecutor General: Uncertainty & Contradictions

While this might be true of a number of things, there is a serious risk that it can also lead to some absurdities and contradictions. A recent example can be drawn from events over the past week involving scandalous remarks made by the Prosecutor General Johannes Tomana in respect of child marriage and age of consent. The net effect of those reckless and thoughtless remarks was that child marriage could be condoned in the case of girls from poor backgrounds and that girls as young as 12 could make decisions concerning sex and marriage. He also defended light sentences of community service which placed paedophiles in close proximity with children.

These remarks were shocking, coming as they did from the country’s top prosecutor, who is otherwise expected to demonstrate a tough and no-nonsense approach towards paedophiles and sexual crimes against children. He was rightly pilloried by members of the public, who were outraged by his remarks.

However, the PG was unhappy with the media coverage of his remarks. He felt that the publication by the state media was motivated by a political agenda. In his view, the state media, which usually protects government and its senior officers, should have protected him. He is used to this kind of protection.

Unsurprisingly, this line of reasoning has been bought by some people, including some in the media. The reasoning is that the publication of the PG’s scandalous remarks was part of a political operation instigated by a political faction that wants to get rid of the PG. But as if to demonstrate the problem with this reasoning two daily newspapers, Newsday and The Daily News had diametrically opposed narratives on the same matter, although both used the same narrative of factional politics to try to explain what was happening to the PG.

One paper reasoned that the PG was being attacked by a faction aligned to Mnangagwa because he was perceived to be sympathetic to the Mujuru faction, which has since been expelled from government and the party. Yet, on the same day the other paper reasoned that the PG was being attacked because he was perceived to be sympathetic to the Mnangagwa faction which is battling with the Generation 40 faction!

So here, were have one individual, the PG, being located in two different and opposed factions, over the same story. The PG is seen by one paper to be an ally of the Mnangagwa faction but by the other paper as a target of the Mnangagwa faction. One paper sees the PG as a Mujuru person, and yet another paper sees him as a Mnangagwa person. These are two diametrically opposed factions and the contradictory narratives by the two papers do not only fail to make sense but they demonstrate the problem of constructing thought through the lens of politics without due regard to facts. No firm evidence is given as to why he is a Mujuru or a Mnangagwa person.

A reader who reads both papers is left confused and unsure as to what exactly is the truth. There is no reconciliation here except that for each paper, their story has to be framed on the basis of the dichotomy between two factions. For each paper, the explanation for the story has to be political. It can’t be that the state media has picked a matter of social interest where a senior public official has happened to make scandalous remarks, which must be published in the public interest. The narrative has to be political and not only that but it has to be the narrative of political factions.

This is probably not surprising because it is uncharacteristic of the state media to criticise senior public officials. Oft-times, they are shielded and protected from scrutiny. Therefore, when one is attacked by the state media, suspicions are raised and people begin to think that there is a political motive for the story. So one understands the political rationalisation and places some responsibility upon the state media for their inconsistency. They should, for example, have been equally outraged in the past when Tomana, as AG made scandalous remarks about his political allegiance when he ought to remain apolitical and neutral. But on that occasion, they defended Tomana. So the search for a political motive on the state media’s treatment of Tomana is in part understandable but it should not be a justification for the politicisation of thought.

Losing Focus on the Problem

The problem in this particular case is that lost in all this is the real substance of the story, which is the scandalous and reckless remarks of the PG. This is not just a problem of the papers, no. These views represented in the papers are also held by a significant number of people, who see the PG’s problems as essentially political. Suddenly, the issue is no longer about young girls as victims of sexual offences and child marriage. It is, rather, about Tomana, the PG as the victim of political infighting within Zanu PF. This is the regrettable effect of the politicisation of thought.

In this way, the very important subject of child marriage and age of consent is relegated to the margins and the political narrative takes precedence. The papers and members of the public are no longer interested in the subject of girls and their plight and the PG’s unguarded remarks, but about the politics around his position.

Suddenly, a group of activists that have been demonstrating against the PG, calling for an apology and his resignation has become confused. They are told that you are being used by those who want to get rid of Tomana from the PG’s office. They begin to doubt themselves and their campaign. It is easy to get them doubting because they too are part of this community that has been socialised to look at things via the lens of factional dichotomies. Therefore, when the suggestion is dropped that this may be a factional war in which they are being used, they suddenly begin to question themselves. Because, of course this makes sense, doesn’t it?

Except that this may not be the case after all. Except that the construction of the problem around factions has become a convenient cover for the PG. It helps divert attention from his scandalous and reckless remarks and casts him as the victim, not the source of the problem in the scenario. This repackaging is easy because society is now so used to viewing things through the lens of that political dichotomy of factions.

Personally, I find it incredible that the story over age of consent and child marriage has been repackaged to make it look like a sting operation by Jonathan Moyo against the Tomana. Being aware of the genesis of this story, it is odd that it has been repackaged in this manner. I’m compelled to explain the broader context of this story in the public interest.

Genesis of the story

Some two weeks ago, a small group of people started a discussion on Twitter, the social forum. The discussion on age of consent was prompted by a report in The Chronicle over a ridiculously low sentence which was passed by a court of law. It resulted in an animated discussion which concluded that the laws were inadequate and that the attitude of the law enforcement authorities was also retrogressive. There was need to change the law and to transform the attitude of law enforcement authorities.

A few days after this discussion, the editor of The Chronicle called me and asked for a legal opinion on the age of consent. I do not normally write for the state media. In fact, I am often a victim of attacks in the state media. But I thought it was a matter of public interest and I wrote a short opinion, which got unprecedented front page coverage in The Chronicle. The story and opinion was also published by The Herald. These articles prompted intense public debate, which is what we had hoped. At that time, there was no mention of the PG or his opinion. It was not even an issue. The issue was purely about age of consent.

A week later, PG Tomana was interviewed by The Chronicle on the subject. It was this interview that was published by The Chronicle and later The Herald. There was also an audio recording to back-up the authenticity of the interview which was uploaded after the PG’s attempt to deny the remarks that had been published. There is no basis for denying that what was published is what was said by the PG. The remarks, as we have already said, were casual, reckless and irresponsible. The nation expressed its outrage.

Yet soon after, this whole thing was reconstructed to suggest that it was nothing but a political operation by the Generation 40 faction against the PG who is seen as belonging to the Mnangagwa faction. As we have seen, to show the confusion in these narratives, one narrative says Tomana is being targeted for his alleged allegiance to the Mujuru faction. The weighty subject under consideration – that of the inadequacy of laws on age of consent and child marriage and the scandalous comments of the PG – has been pushed to the periphery. This is the regrettable consequence of the process of rationalisation through factional politics.

The same political narrative is now saying that the challenges that Prof Moyo is facing in his political life are a direct result of his so-called machinations against Tomana, which have now boomeranged. They are constructed as a political fight-back by Tomana and his so-called backers. This theory is based on the view that as PG, Tomana would have been the one that gave legal advice to Government resulting in Moyo having to leave his post on a legal technicality. Yet lost in all this is the fact that Tomana as PG has no role in providing legal advice to Government. That job is performed by the Attorney General, who is Advocate Prince Machaya. There is no reason to suppose that Tomana has a role in Moyo’s legal problems. Yet these facts about the roles of PG and AG get in the way of imaginary political theories that seek to explain everything by way of political factions.

Apart from the contractions which we have seen in the representation of the issue by the two private daily papers, the second problem, as we also seen, is that the critical issues that need attention are relegated to the margins. In this case age of consent and child marriage, important issues in their own right, have been relegated in favour of the political narrative that places Tomana as a victim of political machinations.

A shield for mediocrity?

Another problem arising from all this is that viewing everything through lens of politics and factions becomes a cover for incompetence and mediocrity. Any public official who is incompetent or does scandalous things, will easily find cover under the label of factional politics. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, they simply say that they are victims of political factionalism. Take Zifa as an example – the football authority which has demonstrated gross failure and neglect of duty. Efforts to reform that institution by removing the failed leadership are easily derailed by framing the issue politically in terms of factions. They can easily argue that they are being victimised along political lines.

Another example is the corruption in parastatals last year, where senior figures at PSMAS and ZBC were implicated. Former Vice President Joice Mujuru infamously used the political argument to explain away the corruption investigations. It may have been the case that she felt her political friends were being targeted but equally what would be the point of raising the political argument in a manner that appears to cover for corruption?

In this case, the PG will probably be successful in finding cover as a victim of political machinations in the context of factionalism. He will worm his way out of the hole that he dug for himself by arguing that he is being targeted for political reasons. The fact that he made reckless and thoughtless remarks about vulnerable children will be overlooked. The fact that he has demonstrated an unhealthy attitude towards young children that he is supposed to protect and paedophiles that he is supposed to prosecute is forgotten.

The problem at hand is not only ignored, as we have already seen, but the public official who should atone for his conduct is also shielded from taking any responsibility. But this is the culture that prevalent in Zimbabwe – public official rarely accept responsibility for their own failures. When Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede failed to produce the electronic voters’ roll before the election in 2013, he blamed his computer. Now, PG Tomana makes some outrageous comments that are not in keeping with his office and he blames the state media for not protecting him enough.

This, unfortunately, is the tragedy of an environment in which almost everything is seen and explained through the lens of politics and factions – in which thought is factionalised. Yes, there is a lot of politics in our country and a lot of things have been politicised. But we must be careful not to politicise everything. The narrative of factionalism can easily become a safe haven for scoundrels and an excuse for mediocrity and incompetence. We must be careful not to buy the all too common argument peddled by those who fail in their duty but find comfort in the claim that they are victims of political factionalism.

The media must find and report on the nuances in our politics and avoid the simplistic approach of trying to fit everything into factional categories. There is more that goes on outside the factions. Politics is indeed far more complex than the way it has been presented in recent years.

WaMagaisa

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