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Published On: Wed, Dec 3rd, 2014

On Being ‘Simplistic’ in Zimbabwean Politics.

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By Takura Zhangazha*

On the eve of his party’s 2014 Congress, President Mugabe described his deputy, Joice Mujuru as simplistic and lacking in ‘statecraft’ . The latter term can assumedly be deemed to be the opposite of the former.

Apart from the mirth that his statements induced in the new Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association executive members present at the meeting, there are other innuendos that come to the fore.

The first being that of the meaning of the term ‘simplistic’ in politics.  In universities across the world, students of political science grapple with this term especially where and when it relates to the necessary qualities of good political leaders.  For example, howeducated must one be to become a president? Or alternatively, how educated but ‘simple’ must one also be in order to meet the pre-requisites of being a leader of political processes? Or to even win elections.

In answers to these questions there are mixed responses but the final assessment is always that whoever leads a country/state, must generally have their mandate deriving from the democratic consent of the governed. With or without simplistic notions of leadership.

The second would relate to defining sophistry and leadership. What immediately comes to mind are the Sophists of ancient Greece who were the professors and teachers who used to pose as public intellectuals.  They are also to be found in Plato’s Socratic ‘Dialogues’  as being intellectual functionaries that seek more self aggrandizement than they do ‘truth and justice’ in the public arena.

The third consideration is that of the pressures of running government or ‘statecraft’.

In referring to it, President Mugabe is probably aware that it means the special ability tomanage the affairs of government extraordinarily well .  It would also include reference to statesmanship which refers to the ability of a leader to always appear above the somewhat petty political fray and taking responsibility in the most trying of circumstances in order to take the country to greater heights or at least emerge victorious in trying political times.

These terms are no doubt key to any assessment of past, present and future Zimbabwean politics.  They are however in need of specific contextual application.

In all of our country’s constitutional reform processes (by way of referendums , SADC mediation or just Parliamentary actions) queries on the qualifications of political leaders have been never ending.  Should the Presidnet have a degree, should a Member of Parliament have five Ordinary Levels, should a councillor have the same as an MP and so on.  Traditional leaders have however not been the subject of such debate since their leadership is deemed hereditary among other cultural considerations.

The assumptions of such questions have been based on a quest to have ‘sophisticated’ leaders who are not only educated but ‘world wise’.  In fact I would hazard to add that these leaders would hopefully be charismatic because of their ‘sophistry’.

The reality of the matter is that most of our past and contemporary political leaders did not always have such qualifications. Especially prior to being elected leaders.  Their primary qualifications were those of being willing to serve the people of Zimbabwe in varying capacities.  Some more than others, but all the same, it was initially ‘virtue’ (the pursuit of truth and justice)  as defined by Plato  that qualified them to lead.  That they acquired degrees in prison, government or elsewhere is not enough.

So the simplicity that President Mugabe talked about in defining his long time subordinate turned enemy is probably of limited consequence to the future of our politics.  It is the people that decide on what simplicity is or is not when electing their leaders, warts and all.

In most cases where leaders have sought to be sophisticated they have removed themselves from organic linkages with the people.  From the heady ideological post independence days of ‘scientific socialism’  through the neo-liberal years of structural adjustment our departure from ‘simplicity’ in politics is what has led to the inorganic hegemonic malaise we find ourselves in.

Our leaders must know how to lead, agreed.  But not on the basis of mere educationaltraining.  It must, in the final analysis be on the basis of democratic values and principles that are derived from the people democratically and organically.  Our leaders should, whatever party they belong to, be the sum total of the cultural intentions of the people that select them to lead them.  Sophistry helps, but it is not the sine qua non of leadership. It never has been.

So where one returns to the President’s reference to political ‘simplicity’ it may have been in the moment of expressing a personal opinion about his deputy and that is his right to do so. But in our collective polity and politics, simplicity based on democratic values, principles that are equally democratically and organically derived from the people  brings better leadership value.  And that would be true ‘statecraft.’

*Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

 

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