Tichaona Zindoga Political Editor
This week, Tendai Biti, one of the principals of the opposition MDC-Alliance, touched off a storm when he described the people of Marange in eastern Zimbabwe as uncivilised and backward.
The lawyer and former finance minister spat on Marange’s social institutions, in particular the family institution.
After addressing a campaign rally, Biti wrote on his microblogging site Twitter: “A big rare smile from Marange . . . Manicaland regrettably has the highest rate of polygamy in the country with 45% of ‘married’ persons in this community being in polygamous unions. Education &development will eliminate these throwbacks from our feudal past.”
Not unexpectedly, the post drew a lot of fire, not least from the secretary-general of the MDC-T party, Douglas Mwonzora, who objected to the classification of the people of Marange and Manicaland in general as backward and feudal.
A quick dissection of Biti’s statement -which he has not apologised for yet, if ever – will reveal a number of assumptions that informed Biti’s unfortunate remarks.
First, he assumes that the people of Marange do not enjoy life as normal, natural and a gift from God, hence the “big rare smile” (sic).
Secondly, he assumes that in the same life, the people of Marange are not capable of building institutions of nature and society – in particular marriage. He regrets as though the people are condemned by fate into their way of life.
Thirdly, and associated with the second, Biti trashes the traditional institution of marriage and its variant of polygamy and does not dignify it hence his putting “married” in quotes, meaning that the unions are assumed but not real or existent.
Fourthly, Biti assumes that his type of education, which also informs his profession as a lawyer who deals with foreign legal precepts, is central in civilising the backward people of Marange.
Connected to that, and lastly, Biti was seeing himself as some kind of latter-day Christian missionary – and this will warrant further discussion as we also take note that Biti and the MDC-Alliance are making promises based on what Europeans and Americans will do once the opposition gets into power.
It is like you are in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” all over again.
But Biti’s snobbishness and his contempt for ordinary people warrants a further probe.
His statements regarding the people of Marange came hardly a month after issuing a similar view while in Chipinge.
On April 21, while preparing for a rally at a business centre in Chipinge in the same Manicaland province, Biti captioned a picture of himself on Twitter thus: “Kondo in Chipinge West, the home of the Ndau people who came into Zimbabwe 300 years ago is ready to explode …”
The caption is not innocent of Biti’s contempt for the ordinary folk.
By referring to “the home of Ndau people”, Biti is very much saying they belong to the feudal past that he refers to in Marange.
He views the people as unsophisticated tribesmen and women in some kind of homeland or what they call in South Africa, bantustan.
He gives the timeline of 300 years to buttress not only this view that these are unsophisticated tribesmen and people but also that they have not yet been fully integrated into the civilised, cosmopolitan world.
These are all dangerous assumptions from a leader.
However, the fact is that Biti makes these assumptions not quite deliberately but from a subconscious mind that speaks volumes about his leadership qualities and attitude towards ordinary, African folk of a Third World country.
But another specimen warrants attention.
Biti is in the habit of seasoning his talk with metaphors and metonyms such as “a woman from Mutoko”; “an old woman from Dotito”; “Ambuya vaEzra in Chendambuya”; etc.
If one thinks deeply enough about these metaphors – which for long have been mistaken for witticisms – it will be revealed that Biti has a streak of contempt for people, and especially women, from backgrounds that he assumes to be backward and feudal hence his patronising attitude towards them.
All this points to a man who hates not only his people, whom he assumes to be savages, but himself.
He probably thinks he is a geographical mistake and does in fact hate the people.
It explains his failure to lead, for all his assumed brilliance academically and professionally.
His recent history in the MDC led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai, through the “Renewal” misadventure, to the failed People’s Democratic Party, reveals a failed leadership.
His latest dalliance with Nelson Chamisa and Alliance will end badly, too.
It has to be put on record now, also, that Biti hated Morgan Tsvangirai on the same basis that he felt that the humble former trade unionist was not educated and sophisticated, hence his rebellion against him on a number of occasions.
This is despite the fact that Biti needed the same Tsvangirai to assume power and the death of the latter provided a much-needed psychological relief so much so that Biti is freer and happier in the Alliance minus the founder and enabler of the idea of not only the opposition but its later idea of a grand coalition.
Within the cover of his big ego and grandiloquence, Biti is such a small, self-hating human being – sometimes given to violent and vulgar outbursts.
His love for himself and power is far more uncivilised and atavistic than the ordinary men and women across Zimbabwe that he is so contemptuous of.