On Contempt for the People
The one disease that afflicts the nation can be summarised in a single word – contempt! And the main object of this contempt is ordinary people.
Contempt is one of the more hateful positions that humans can adopt: it arises from a sense of superiority, that only I possess that something, that is superior to yours.
It might be my intellect (but rarely so), or my money (increasingly so), or my power, and always so! Contempt presumes that the “other”, whoever that might be, is in some way inferior or defective.
The worst example of such contempt is seen in hate speech, and Zimbabwe is flooded by this contemptuous behaviour. Never mind what we call “whites”, we now begin to use these expressions for the ordinary working people of Zimbabwe: “vendors” now become a nuisance, even “vermin” as was stated during Operation Murambatsvina. Yet these are the people that the 2012 Census claims are in “active employment”, apparently generating wealth, and in a country that is going down the toilet. We begin to see the new working class, courtesy of the government’s incompetence, as a “nuisance”!
Reflect for just a moment on the words that flow around us every day. Kalangas are criminals, and on and on. People are “stupid”, “the opposition are imperialist stooges”, ordinary rural people are “peasants”, and on and on. And what does this horrible speech reveal: nothing more than the psychopathology of those who utter the words. For contempt is not a virtuous position: it is the position of the fearful and the frightened and the damaged. You do not need to be either a rocket scientist or a psychoanalyst to utter these degrading words as being in deep psychological distress.
Consider the “real” people in Zimbabwe.
Collectively they control more money every day than the state can extract in taxes. From the diaspora, cross-border trading, illegal mining and a myriad of other activities, they are holding the nation together, while the state and the government cannot collect sufficient money from the formal sector to pay the tens of thousands of workers that are mostly the recipient of patronage. No-one knows accurately how much money the so-called informal sector controls in its collectivity, but it is probably way in excess of the taxes collected by the state. And it is mostly used wisely, to look after families: to feed them, to get them education, obtain health care, start small businesses, and so on. They do this all without any hope that the state will help them, but nonetheless they hold the country together and peacefully so!
But the public acknowledgement for the heroic efforts or the ordinary Zimbabwean is to be subjected to an endless litany of contempt. If they hold a different view from another political party than the one they like, they can expect contempt at the very least, but more likely it will be undiluted vitriol. The worthies extol the virtues of “Ubuntu”, but at the same time practice division and contempt.
The worst feature of contempt, and the most manifest feature of the underlying pathology, is that WE know better than THEY. The elite understand better than the ordinary man or women, and thus the view of the latter are not worth considering. So, when every reputable public opinion survey report from the last 15 years demonstrates that the ordinary people want employment, better management of the economy, freedom from hunger, an escape from poverty, education for their children, better health care, we offer them the problems of sanctions, neo-imperialism, and the loss of the gains of independence. And when the ordinary people say they believe in democracy, understand what this means, do not want a one-party state, or a dictatorship, or military rule, we offer them the problems of sanctions, neo-imperialism, and the loss of the gains of independence. And when the ordinary people say that that they are fearful about expressing their opinions in public, or fear political violence, or are unwilling to participate in political activity, we offer them the problems of sanctions, neo-imperialism, and the loss of the gains of independence.
So, the ordinary people of Zimbabwe are treated with contempt, because they do not know what they are talking about. Or do they? After all, they are holding this disaster of a country together, and the only offer they have from the state for any kind of participation is to vote every five years. And this they do, in the hope that things might change and someone will hear what they are saying, but also because, in their wisdom, the ordinary Zimbabweans know that the ballot is more powerful than the bullet and that bullets have not solved any of the problems in the past, despite the legacy of the liberation war.
And this is where the contempt becomes so acutely obvious. Zimbabwe is a country of the young: nearly 70% are under the age of 30 years. They are the future, and they do not live in the past. They do not take kindly to being told that they do not know what they are talking about, or that they should listen to their elders, who are so much wiser and experienced than them, or suffered so that they can enjoy the benefits of their suffering.
This is pure and undiluted contempt. And it stems from the deepest fear: the fear that the elders do not know what they are doing or where they might go, or how to listen any longer to the voices of ordinary people.
If they did listen, then the anxiety would overwhelm them. They might have to admit they have been wrong; that their egotism was a cause of deep suffering; that they needed the help of the ordinary Zimbabwean to restore themselves to health; and that they could trust the ordinary Zimbabweans to assist them to redemption.
But this is unlikely to happen. For the depth of the contempt that the rulers feel for the ordinary Zimbabwean is proportional to the depth of the anxiety that drives them, and, as all therapists know, only the truly courageous confront the anxiety that confronts them. Most will remain defensive, avoiding the consequences of acknowledging their anxiety, and continue to abuse their children, their wives, their workmates and, for the immensely powerful, the whole nation.
Diagnosis is not a solution for the disease, but at least it helps in understanding what disease afflicts one. To see the contempt with which we are treated daily does not offer a cure for the ways in which we are treated, but it does allow us to see the disease, and the remedy may well be to demand respect. Demanding respect might well be the treatment with which this very wise citizenry can cure the disease.
Tony Reeler 7.05.15