Back to Index
war of empty slogans
January 04, 2013
Many years ago, I listened
with amazement to a Zanu-PF luminary embarking on his party's
eternal preoccupation: violent sloganeering. That was in the 1985
elections, in the Midlands capital, Gweru. The sloganeering was
made by none other than the late Benson Ndemera, whom I happened
to know as a homeboy, when he mistakenly used to call himself "the
agonising secretary of the Midlands United African National Council
party", led by Bishop Abel Tendekayi Muzorewa.
But by 1985, the music
and dance of politics had changed for him. For the sake of political
expedience, his notes had shifted to making slogans for President
Robert Mugabe's party. The Muzorewas of his previous political map
had ceased to exist. It was as if Ndemera's past had been erased
by the heavy herbal concoctions prepared by the masters of the art
of forgetfulness. Selective amnesia is a serious art of survival
in Zimbabwean politics.
Kana vakafa havaori. Kana vakaora havanhuwi" (Mr Mugabe does
not die. If he dies, he will not decay. If he decays, he will not
smell), the Ndemera slogan went, to frenzied cheers from the newly
formed dogs of war, the Green Bombers (Mugabe's youth militia).
It was not that Ndemera
had invented the sloganeering agenda for the ruling party. Liberation-war
guerrillas were masters of sloganeering. The so-called pungwes or
all-night political education meetings in the mountains were nothing
more than chains of slogans, extolling the unproven virtues of Zanu.
They were also used as
a prelude to the cold-blooded murders of those condemned by Zanu
kangaroo courts as witches, sellouts and political opponents, aptly
labelled "quislings" by Zanu's Radio Maputo, whose chief
sloganeer, former DJ Webster Shamu, is the current information
and publicity minister.
Come election time in
1980, and Zanu had not moved up a gear to develop the art of persuading
the voters to cast their ballot for the party. It was all slogans:
"Pamberi neZanu" (Forward with Zanu) and "Pasi nevatengesi"
(Down with sellouts). Although we are now in the 21st century, Mugabe's
party has not changed its approach one inch.
But then, are the new
parties any different? The Movement for Democratic Change formations
each have their own repertoire of slogans and party symbols, for
which they are prepared to die. They are clung to with the same
fervour as the Mugabe slogans, with Zanu-PF's added symbols: the
clenched fist and a cockerel.
Prime Minister Morgan
Tsvangirai's party symbol is the open palm, which symbolises openness
and transparency in public governance. The MDC slogan is "the
party of excellence". The break-up of the MDC into several
camps resulted in a furious war of words as each camp claimed to
own the party symbol.
When Zimbabwean parties
campaign, they usually produce a chain of newly invented, juicy
slogans and clever political sayings rather than persuading voters
with substantive issues, analysis of community and national problems
Anyone who dares to ask
Mugabe's politicians about real issues is deemed a traitor who should
be punished with torture, harassment and possibly death.
Zanu-PF has never bothered
to persuade anyone to vote for it. It is still the same old slogans:
"Forward with Zanu [PF]", "Down with sell-outs".
It is clear that the more politicians make empty slogans, the more
likely they are to believe them, even though they carry no weight
in the hearts of voters.
will be war
"Down with sellouts"
is simply the slogan of violence against political opponents that
Mugabe's party has been using for the past 32 years. Every election
is a rebirth of the old slogans and a re-entry into the same cycle
of violence that has made ordinary Zimbabweans detest the idea of
For Zimbabwean citizens,
elections are a time of extreme fear and possible death. During
all the elections, Zimbabwe's armed forces, secret police, prison
services and uniformed police have been put on full alert as if
a crime was about to be committed, the crime of possibly voting
for someone who is not the sitting president and his cronies.
don't vote for me, there will be war", Mugabe declared in the
elections. "The ballot cannot be more powerful than the
gun", the president publicly threatened voters.
rinobva mumuromo wepfuti" (The power to rule comes from the
barrel of the gun), the slogan of returned guerrillas went. And
when they were not allowed to carry real guns to election rallies,
they were imaginative enough to sculpt and carry wooden ones to
improve the effect of the performance. Violent slogans continued
and anyone who fell into the pit of "down with ..." faced
a bad death.
politicians in the new parties tend to follow the only political
tradition they have ever known: violence, threats and insults. And
can anyone blame them, when persuasive politics and peaceful campaigning
is considered weakness?
During the liberation
war of the 1970s, if you so much as fell on the "down with"
side of the slogans, you were surely dead. The manner of your death
was the only thing left to decipher. Some faced death by bayonet,
others by having their heads crushed to a pulp by villagers ordered
to take up huge logs with which to murder the sellout or witch.
There does not seem to
have been much movement along a positive tangent, especially in
Mugabe's party, whose other tool is to post party militias in all
villages to keep the possibility of death visible to innocent villagers
if they do not allow themselves to be pulled by the collar to Zanu-PF's
All the elections
in which Zanu-PF has participated since independence in 1980 relished
in the art of sloganeering. All the rallies Mugabe and his cronies
addressed were nothing more than sloganeering shows. Zanu-PF functionaries
competed to emit huge quantities of slogans, some of them frighteningly
serious and others bordering on the comical.
I remember a newly converted
Zapu man standing in front of a Zanu-PF rally and shouting "Pamberi
neZapu" (Forward with Zapu) several times before the stunned
Zanu-PF crowd reminded him he was now in Zanu-PF. With much laughter
from the audience, the man returned to the Mugabe slogans with the
same volume and enthusiasm. And my mind wondered whether in his
heart he really cared for Mugabe's politics and party. His heart
was elsewhere, but he had to change slogans like underclothes to
suit his bread and butter - and, of course, his life.
Zanu-PF rallies also
invented another spectacle: the parading of defectors from other
parties. They are usually brought in front of a loyal crowd and
forced to recite new slogans with their heads drooping like captured
prisoners of war.
derive much pleasure in seeing and parading such humiliated human
beings. When the captives perform their new repertoire of slogans,
it is clear to all that the defectors have been captured from somewhere
and made to perform as defectors. They do not even show any sign
of believing the slogans. But, all the same, Zanu-PF is satisfied
with the shallow sloganeering forced upon the poor men and women.
And, of course, the Zanu-PF crowd usually has a field day, laughing
and mocking the poor victims as though it was a ritual of reconversion
to the political mother church. The rally becomes a tragicomedy,
whose main theme is the capacity to humiliate those who dare to
differ in their political views.
New parties are not to
be outperformed in the art of parading "defectors". Whereas
Zanu-PF forcibly took the old party cards of the renegades and sometimes
burnt them in public, the new parties take the defectors, collect
their old party cards and take them away, probably in case someone
in the new party needs to defect to the old party. One never knows.
But what we do know is that clever Zimbabweans buy several political
party cards for production at convenient times to avoid unnecessary
suffering at the hands of violent youth and armed militias.
As the country faints
under heavy economic and political burdens, the politicians would
rather punch the air with empty slogans and worthless promises that
are so unrealistic that even illiterate villagers wonder how a politician
can be so dumb as to promise a bridge where there is not even a
"Punching the air
with clenched fists will make them more muscular than gymnasts"
one man was heard to say at a political rally. The joke cost him
untold suffering after it was overhead by a member of the secret
police disguised in the crowd. The Green Bombers captured the man,
took him prisoner for a night of torture and humiliation and released
him the following day with a face disfigured and swollen beyond
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.