The Sunday News
Tedious Teddy Ncube
WITHOUT a doubt, Dr Obert Mpofu’s autobiography ignites a new debate in Zimbabwe’s body politic.
It outlines the seemingly insurmountable challenges in Zimbabwe which call for philosophical and ideological re-examining.
The autobiography generally responds to three strategic questions which are also definitive of this article: Is Zimbabwe correctly positioned ideologically? 2. Whose spectacles are being used to view Zimbabwe’s past, present and future? 3. Are Zimbabweans using the correct lens for “seeing” or they are using borrowed eyes and minds to view their existence?
Before we proceed to respond to these questions, it is important that I justify the legitimacy of using Dr Mpofu’s autobiography to navigate through Zimbabwe’s politics.
Firstly, Dr Mpofu’s autobiography comes at a time when there are manufactured concerns about the future of nationalism, it comes at a time when Zimbabwe’s realities and challenges are being deliberately conflated by pseudo human rights champions who hide behind the humanitarian cloth to further neo-liberal interests. Beyond the neo-liberal bruise on the future of nationalism, Dr Mpofu’s autobiography confronts the colossal problem of an absent nationalist theorist. I argue that despite the vast literature on nationalism, it remains unclear on who wrote it and why they did so.
The nationalists that have written something, have done so outside their nationalist garb subsequently compromising their nationalist credence. The enormous literature by many nationalist scholars has mainly focused on the contradictions between nationalism and the colonial order and have in the process left out internal contradictions within and between the nationalist movements. Dr Mpofu argues that contradictions between nationalism and other political ideologies do not define the nationalist and neither do they define nationalism. However, internal contradictions within the nationalist movement are the best unit of analysis which can be exploited to profile both the nationalist and nationalism.
Who, after all, are the great nationalist theorists of today? Many people theorise about nationalism but few are nationalist theorists in the manner of liberal, Marxist, conservative or feminist theorists. Even recent defences of liberal or civic nationalism have been by liberals or social democrats trying to come to terms with the nationalist phenomenon. “Multicultural” theorists also afford some theoretical recognition to nationalist sentiment, but these too are liberals seeking to extend the principle of tolerance to “sub-nationalities” within state borders.
Indeed all varieties of theorists that is Marxists, democrats, conservatives, and feminists have had to confront the nationalist phenomenon in their own way, but full-throttled defenders of normative nationalism are very rare. It is against this background that Dr Mpofu’s autobiography should not only be viewed as a book publication but should also be viewed as the rebirth of erudite nationalist scholarship. As well, it should also be understood as an ideological turning point for Zimbabwe where scholarship will again be refrained by parameters of the nationalist project particularly in attempting to respond to the national question(s).
The autobiography reflects the “nationalist”.
Political autobiographies are a window to a previous world of political practice. From this window, we see politics through the eyes and experiences of an individual subject. We follow their actions and inactions, see their behaviour and experience their world from afar. Often we are treated to “insider” stories, their observations, reflections, understandings, and motivations. We read events from their vantage point or interpretations.
Autobiographies generally provide an alternative point of analysis to the workings of social groups, situations and events, which is the normal frame of reference for scientific research. As such, it broadens rather than reduce the scope of who got “what, when and how”. Unlike many other nationalist autobiographies which have a deliberate focus on how colonialism reconstructed the margins of the nationalist journey, Dr Mpofu’s autobiography goes further to illustrate how contradictions in liberation movements could have shaped the nationalist trajectory. He offers a unique way of writing which exhausts all the units of analysis namely class, ethnicity, regional identity, sex, race and even some ideological pluralities within the nationalist discourse.
Dr Mpofu’s autobiography fills that literature vacuum which is an outcome of the absent nationalist in the articulation of nationalism. He speaks for that proletariat of the liberation struggle who has been a victim of neo-liberal speculations. That nationalist war veteran who has been labelled a violent land invader and a figment of the trumped up political violence charges against nationalist movements. In his autobiography, Dr Mpofu also nurses those bruises that have been induced by neo-liberal scholars who have bastardised nationalist characters to legitimise the view that Zimbabwe has a leadership crisis.
The intelligence in Dr Mpofu’s autobiography is that it does not deny that in Zimbabwe there are some leadership contradictions, what Dr Mpofu refuses is the sinister motive which suggests that any acceptance that Zimbabwe like other societies has leadership contradictions; should be accompanied by a narrow acceptance that the alleged leadership challenges are definitive of nationalist politics.
Dr Mpofu quizzes the reader on why he/she should forget how the liberation struggle was waged as a direct response to the reckless colonial leadership. He further posits that it is dangerous for the Zimbabwean reader to forget how the liberation struggle was imbued in discipline and the zeal for a just society manned by a responsible leadership. In essence, the autobiography exposes the logic of being a nationalist.
Dr Mpofu concludes by suggesting that it is malicious for anyone particularly the neo-liberal, to exploit nationalist contradictions as a resource to legitimise and ground the liberal ideology as a universal and trans-historical alternative for framing modern political thought. Dr Mpofu’s autobiography rather reiterates that nationalists like other people in the world are diverse people. They are not intellectually or conceptually homogeneous simply by virtue of being nationalist. Like other ideological groupings nationalists are products of history and society and are also victims of history and society. Contradictions between and within liberation movements are therefore a blessing, not a curse.
Tedious Teddy Ncube is a Political Scientist and Public Policy Analyst.