The Sunday News
When I hear the word “sellout” I think of the infamous Morrison Nyathi, a former liberation war fighter who became an informant of the Rhodesian Army and led them, deep into Mozambique to slaughter thousands of civilian refugees and liberation fighters.- That is a sellout!
April 3 saw the expulsion of Linda Masarira the spokesperson for the MDC-T. She, too like many before her and yet to come, her premature disgrace is at the perception of the MDC-T’s Standing Committee’s as a sellout, a conclusion drawn from a pictorial analysis, open to multiple interpretations.
Her “selling out” is drawn from wearing a piece of fabric commonly worn by supporters of Zanu-PF and in some instances in the rural areas, worn by apolitical grannies who find so much value in waist textiles, famously known as ‘intsaro yeZanu’. Political communication experts and analysts weighed in with how ignorant Linda is to the role of images and how central they are to providing meaning, meaning susceptible to numerous political interpretation, interpretation adequate to conjure political immolation. Again, in political communication, commemorative textiles are central in politics, as such, their role in defining politics of belonging and being cannot be underestimated, however, one should tread more carefully when adjudicating them.
Masarira made exactly those two mistakes, she underestimated her being in contrast to belonging; meaning, she wore the Zanu-PF regalia in her “personal” capacity forgetting that she belongs to a congress that perceives what’s printed on the regalia as an adversary.
Attributable, her actions might have been honest or otherwise, but an entire spokesperson of an MDC-T should know what commemorative textiles mean in her party- Nevertheless, her case has nothing to do with the accusation placed by the Standing Committee to be true, but a punishment for tolerating Zanu-PF, to the extent of sharing an image on social media. It leaves one wondering if political tolerance that stretches to embracing commemorative textiles is wrong?
I invite to the discussion an academic of note, Ivan Marowa, who in 2009 wrote an insightful paper titled “Construction of the “sellout” identity during Zimbabwe’s liberation war: A case study of Dandawa Community of Hurungwe district”. Reading Marowa informs that the history of the issue of sellout is not anything new to the vocabulary of Zimbabwean language dialects but the difference is in the weight and significance that has become attached to the word.
He teaches that the term sellout, pronounced mutengesi (singular.) or vatengesi (plural) in Shona dialects has a general understanding attached to it. Generally, it means one whose business concerns disclosing plans, strategies or ideas not necessarily to the enemy but to an opposite camp.
The sellout identity developed differently in the different socio-geographical regions of Zimbabwe.
History records how “vanamukoma” would deal with the conundrum of sellouts. Ivan Marowa (2009) tells of the chilling story of the Musukwe River in Dandawa where one Sarikosi Matiirira was shot in the head by the Zipra forces because he stayed near the river. The issue of the branding using space is no different from the case of Masarira who was branded because of what she posted wearing. What the MDC-T standing committee simply did is to attach legality to categorising sellouts, a little different from the Musukwe River misfortune. The mention of Article 5.10 (a) read with the provisions of Annexure C, Section 2.1 (a), (b) and (i) of the MDC can be summarised to be a piece of legislation that identifies and categorises selling out. What remains questionable is the (lack of) intelligence and wisdom of the mentioned sections in that it sustains a horrendous culture, less thought, and unintelligently informs decisions.
Of interest in Masarira’s expulsion is the reincarnation of the “sellout” label attached to her.
With or without mention, the expulsion meant that and it’s important to treat it as such. In political movements a “sellout” is a person or group claiming to adhere to one ideology, only to follow these claims up with actions contradicting them.
Her case requires us to search the historical context of the “politics of sellouts” in Zimbabwe, to which ample literature traces the phenomenon to pre-colonial era, however, the discoursing of it is located in the early 1970s during the liberation struggle.
She is not the first “sellout” in MDC-T or any MDC for that matter. In February 2018, Thokozani Khuphe and Obert Gutu were declared sellouts, and the penalty was obvious – the merchants of violence were deployed; its consequences are public records (2018 Elections). In 2005, Morgan Tsvangirai declared Professor Welshman Ncube a sellout, a label he reaffirmed on 2 December 2012 at Mpofu Primary School while addressing Mat North leadership, the penalty and its consequences were obvious – again, the merchants of violence were deployed and the political consequences are the sham of 2013 elections. Not to be outdone, Biti once declared Tsvangirai a “sellout”. He said: “Each struggle has its own sellout and Tsvangirai is our own Nyathi”. He, too, was once declared a sellout by MDC-T.
Learning history from Marowa further informs that in the historical existence of the Zimbabwean societies, instances where their plans or ideas where made known to the opposite camps are numerous. However, as highlighted by Marowa, such cases were not frequent and their intensity was minimal. The scenario changed with the arrival and establishment of colonialism in Zimbabwe. At a time when black Zimbabweans were brought together under the banner of nationalism with the zeal of fighting colonialism for Independence, also saw the social creation of a concrete sellout identity.
The existence of this identity since then has culminated in the evolution of the sellout culture. In Zimbabwe, the sellout identity exists where political intolerance escalates; politics is no longer read on lines of competing ideas to improve lives and secure governance mandate, but factions and fractures of power- “Wena ungokabani?/ uriwani?”
The case and curse of Masarira was not adjudicated on the merits or demerits of her ability to discharge her duties in the MDC-T, but on the dislike of the cloth she was wearing when she posted her picture, thus categorising her as a “sellout”- the highest criminal offence a politician can commit.