Insults, nastiness do not win votes
Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
The election date has been proclaimed and campaigning has shifted gears upwards for all serious political parties.
We are seeing all sorts of attention- seeking gimmickry being deployed. The presence of international observers who have already started making forays into the country is great and something we have not experienced on this magnitude for quite a long time. But like everything else there are side effects.
Some opposition parties are now behaving like that weakling coward in the playground who always provokes others when they have caught glimpse of the headmaster. It is very annoying behaviour, but a very effective attention- seeking ploy. The planned protest march by the MDC Alliance today is part of that kind of histrionics.
The hate insults and hate language have also see an escalation. From the podium to social media insults are being used as a political tool to cause mental anguish, demean and sometimes disgrace a person for their political choice or position.
Even in an election season, there are principles of politeness and there is absolutely no need to violate same as one can still express their points politely without the need to aggravate the next guy. Many a time this writer has asked his social media interlocutors noting their level of aggression what would happen if they were physically in one place?
It goes without saying that verbal aggression would easily transition into physical violence. But peaceful elections cannot exist in an atmosphere charged with political hate and aggression. It is happening already. We have to stop it.
In this election season we have already experienced sexism at the highest level of some parties. We have heard mocking invectives of the spouses of highly esteemed political rivals and other negative stereotypes. We have already experienced the infantilisation of own wife by technically telling her that her position is not next to her husband but in the kitchen.
There has been an upsurge in personal vilifications. Whenever some very grandstanding politician takes to the podium he does not give two hoots about insulting his elders or mocking the dead who are not in a privileged position to defend themselves. Come on Mr Chamisa, you are surely better than that.
If the truth be told, the whole thrust of Nelson Chamisa’s campaign is based on hate speech. He attacks women, he attacks a whole generation for simply being older than him and believes their usefulness to society has expired or elapsed. Why? Because they are older than him. Surely, if someone can attack the dead at a rally who can be spared? Nobody is spared. If the humble disposition of the late humble Zimbabwe patriarch Simon Muzenda can be attacked, who is safe from this man’s condescension?
He was getting a buzz from mimicking a dead old man just to draw some laughter and feel good about himself? This is a man who was at the helm of our politics who passed on, one and half decades ago. He is not here to defend himself.
But to Chamisa he is cannon fodder for a few cheers from his massively dwindling Mashonaland East crowd where he is meeting his political Waterloo.
One may have said VaMuzenda was from a different party. But he has shown the same level of disdain to the late Morgan Tsvangirai, who he conveniently claims he was his mentor and icon.
This is the problem with populism and grandstanding. One has to walk the fine line between being a charismatic politician and a not so serious comic. If not careful you transcend into a charlatan. Jokes, like everything else, obey the law of diminishing returns. They tend to lose their humour as the number of rallies roll. For one to continue drawing laughter one has to take them closer to the edge of what is acceptable in society. This is where people end up mocking whoever they can just to draw that laughter and momentarily feel nice.
We are not saying for one to be a statesman one should come across as a humourless aristocrat. But equally one should not behave like an unrefined plebeian desperate for adulations and validation.
One should just be a decent human being. Their politics should fit in the 21st century. We are tired of hearing people talking of their age and generation when their views on gender and age are so antiquated.
It is these antiquated views that have cascaded down to their rank and file who now believe that aggression is a legitimate political tool or an acceptable debating device.
It is not, but decorum is. In a democracy there is naturally rigorous debate and contestations of positions. But resorting to aggression and insults is not healthy, is not therapeutic and does not win one a debate in real life or in the now popular cyberspace.
It is natural that we should expect to see grandstanding and political posturing from immature political players, but some of the rhetoric we are hearing is quite disgraceful.
There is an expected adversarial positioning in such highly contested elections and a lot is at stake but it is not war. We are politically polarised, all right and our country sees everything in a binary configuration. Those anti-establishment and those pro, Dynamos vs Highlanders, it used to be Thomas Mapfumo v Oliver Mtukudzi and it goes on like that.
But let that be harmless banter not the rage-filled discourse we hear and see these days. Let our competition be a contest of ideas and not a contest of nastiness to see who can be viler than the other.
The main opposition party in Zimbabwe loves the use the word “consensus”. But the irony of it is that’s the very thing they don’t like. They meet and engage with other parties including Zanu-PF and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), on the one hand, and march against ZEC when there is no stalemate on any issue.
We are dealing with a very dishonest outfit to whom everything is done for show. All outstanding substantive issues have been ironed out. Should people need another meeting, why don’t they just call for it? Of course, they won’t do that because what they are actually looking for is chaos and something for their supporters to feel they have some mojo. This is the reason why today there is walk of shame which they say is for electoral reforms.
Every area of disputation in any subject has to be resolved by talking. Has ZEC refused to meet with the MDC Alliance? No, it has always met them. They will continue to meet. So why tamper with peace and investment?
Perpetuating disorder is not the progressive consensus building politics we expect. Consensus is only built by people coming to a table. In most sports or social activities all parties have to respect the referee. You can’t hurl abuse at the referee all the time and antagonise him/her at every corner and turn. That’s undermining the game itself.
Our democracy like in any other country is striving for perfection but it seems, it is only the oldest party that has learnt lessons on the perils of toxic acrimony in our politics. Some of the insults we are hearing have the effect of stoking tensions within communities. The mere fact that one finds it appropriate to insult a person because of their political choice or position is evidence of intolerance and failure to understand the basic concept of plurality.
In a multi-party democracy you can never take a position that anyone who doesn’t see things your way is wrong. That is the epitome of intolerance and conceit. Everyone should mind their language.
Nelson Chamisa uses intemperate, uncouth and disdainful language on the podium. He therefore gets in many a jar of pickle knowing behind him is a bunch of raw and unrefined brigades ready to spew vitriol on anyone who dares criticise him. This is a big part of what is stirring some tensions in these elections. It is quite unhealthy. We need to value civility among ourselves and this has to come from the top.
This is not the first time we have experienced incendiary political language and actions from irresponsible politicians who are ready to do anything for power. What the nation did not foresee is its youngest presidential candidate embracing dismissive and insulting rhetoric as a political tool. Can we as a nation think that mocking rivals and the dead is the right thing to do at this stage of our human development and nation building?
Chamisa is not a stand-up comedian who has to put the joke on someone including a member of the audience. He is a presidential candidate vying for the highest office in the land. He has a decent following, therefore his rhetoric and conduct should reflect our own value system and the clean politics the new dispensation is trying to promote.
Using mockery as political tool might excite a crowd but it does not build consensus and surely does not bring people together. A politician needs a filter. Sometimes it’s not just what Chamisa says, it’s his mocking tone which his pure nastiness. This behaviour has legitimised ad hominem attacks on social media on anyone who writes any post that appears critical of Chamisa. This very piece will attract acerbic attacks from those who have appointed themselves Chamisa’s vanguards.