Reason Wafawarova on Monday
THE quintessential aspect of democracy, and indeed that of a good community, where each of us can build flourishing lives for ourselves, is tolerance. If there is any discipline of life where opinions differ sharply, it is politics, perhaps only equalled by religion.
The fact that the diversity of interests, desires and opinions in politics is so great is exactly why tolerance matters. It is understandable that we differ so much as people that we often come to a point where we do not understand why others should think and behave the way they do.
In our politics, we have had political players associated with certain ideologies, and others styling themselves as patriots, democrats and liberals. We have had this divide in the past that said the ruling party stands for revolutionary patriotism, while the opposition are pliant liberalists driven by Western aligned economic policies, and that assertion was not without cause during the tenures of former President Robert Mugabe and the late MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Now we have a reformed ZANU-PF that is pro-business and pro-investment under ED Mnangagwa, and an MDC-T that preaches an aid and donor funded liberal economy based on pliant relations with the West. Nelson Chamisa believes the West has an obligation to fund our development, and all we need to do is have “good boys” for politicians.
ZANU-PF has repackaged its election manifesto from radical patriotism and nationalism to liberal nationalism. The party is now preaching re-engagement with the West, and this has been a departure from the famous “keep your Britain and I keep my Zimbabwe” chant of former President Mugabe.
While patriotism and nationalism are ideologically popular, and perhaps borrowed liberalist policies have in the past been frowned upon by many, not least for their poodle outlook, we must always acknowledge that those that believe in borrowed policies have a right to their choice of thought and opinion, just like those of us who see themselves as patriots also cherish the same right for themselves.
The very possibility of a democracy depends on tolerance. Society by definition involves people getting along peacefully and cooperatively most of the time, if not all the time. All this cannot be possible unless we begin to recognise the entitlement of others to their choices.
We cannot develop a democracy where one generation becomes intolerant of another, where supporters of one party label supporters of one political party idiots; where a declaration is made that it is unacceptable for people to support a party of their choice just because those opposed to the party in question say so.
I am a writer who is somewhat strongly opinionated, and given that my domain is political commentary, I have had first hand experience with intolerance. I have been vilified, demonised, persecuted, victimised, and targeted as an apologist or supporter of former President Mugabe, as if support for the man qualified for a criminal offence.
I rose to prominence in political writing at a time when Zimbabwe was seen in the West as a country divided between pro-democracy angels and tyrannical followers of an equally tyrannical ruling ZANU-PF. The Canberra Times boldly declared me an agent of Robert Mugabe, and numerous failed attempts were made by others to either deport me from Australia or to get me indicted by the ICC for possible prosecution at The Hague.
My left wing politics and the support I have for pro-people policies across the world has not helped matters.
It is sad when one is persecuted, vilified, plotted against at the highest levels of authority in a country that counts itself as the heartland of democracy; the perceived hub of tolerance. Even sadder is the fact that my continued stay in Australia has been seen as a representation of that familiar rub of tolerance. Others count me an undeservingly tolerated person.
To some I am this much-tolerated risk living in this country courtesy of the magnificent tolerance of this wonderful society. This is the paradox of tolerance where intolerant people after your demise will count themselves tolerant because they consider you unqualified to co-exist with them.
Back home we have supporters of political parties who count me intolerant because I have written in criticism of their favourite political leaders. A small time clown is magnified into a national hero by a contrived conspiracy of hear no evil, see no evil political fanatics and we as writers are supposed to look the other way.
When I have written against imperialism in the past my views have been seen as radicalised, if not intolerant of other people’s political ways.
When I have written in defence of Zimbabwe’s land redistribution programme my views have been seen as uncompassionate, as intolerant of the interests of the ousted white commercial farmers.
Many times my work has been derided as intolerant propaganda intended to further the interests of the ruling ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe. These days we are reminded the new crime of ZANU-PF is being in power for the past 38 years.
The other former crimes no longer wash under ED Mnangagwa of course. The man has immensely opened the democratic space in the country.
Muckracker from The Standard has never forgiven me for failing to make the compliance grade of a writer based in the West — the grateful praise singer for the wonders of Western democracy.
If you reside in Sydney, Australia, you are seen as stabbing the heart of your host for daring to challenge the foreign policy of Australia, even if that policy was a threat to the sovereignty of your own motherland.
Once you are seen as intolerant, rightly or wrongly, you then face the deemed remedy for the paradox of tolerance — that tolerance must not tolerate intolerance if it is to protect itself.
Our own state apparatus in Zimbabwe have sometimes used the same remedies. There have been people seen as undeserving of the tolerance expected of a state to its citizens.
It is encouraging that state tolerance has immensely improved under the dispensation of ED Mnangagwa. Now a fringe opposition leader can afford to be foolish enough to assault a ZANU-PF official on national television because he simply cannot stand the sight of someone wearing ruling party regalia. That kind of intolerance and foolishness was unheard off in the Mugabe dispensation, but now the madness passes unremarked — no repercussion at all.
At times the people at the receiving end of intolerance have been political activists carrying out frivolous noise making gimmicks in city parks, or simply passing reckless opinions in public, or at drinking places.
During the Mugabe era there was this unwarranted overzealousness by some in the security power corridors. Virtual jokers would be given undue national attention for petty foolishness. The Law and Order section of our police force looked like it was run by officers whose only qualification for the job was their volcanic intolerance.
Security by its very nature means there are things that cannot be tolerated, things that at law are deemed unacceptable. From a security point of view tolerance is not this warm, woolly, feel good attitude of smiling at everything that goes around.
But what was the point of these numerous arrests on the charge of “insulting the President” when not even one person was ever convicted of the offence?
Tolerance is a principle based on the philosophy that everyone must respect everyone else’s rights and principles, for as long as the behaviour does not threaten the security and rights of all others.
Our media sometimes leads ahead of its readers in the crusade of intolerance, and one just needs to read the Zimbabwean papers to get the point, especially during electioneering like what is happening right now.
Our papers run on editorial policies where rights and entitlements of one side of the political divide are totally disregarded and disrespected, simply because their views and interests are deemed intolerable. The deprived rights and entitlements include the right of reply before a story is published.
Nelson Chamisa habitually exaggerates, makes up stories, lies completely, but is also sometimes quoted out of context. It is sad that the man is rarely ever taken to task by being given the right of reply. It had to take a BBC Current Affairs anchor to interrogate Nelson Chamisa over his many infantile baseless claims and utterances.
This publication had to quote Steven Suckur when in fact it is the most widely read paper in the country where Chamisa was making these unfounded and childish claims. Why Chamisa was not interrogated by The Herald to account for his baseless claims remains a mystery.
Tolerance, pluralism, and individual liberties are principles so central to the running of a good society, and also pillars to the principle of democracy.
We live in a country where intolerance reigns supreme from our political parties right into Parliament and other state institutions, not to mention the disastrous filter-down effect to the generality of the populace. We cannot wish away supporters of the ruling party the same way we cannot wish away supporters of the opposition.
Intra-intolerance in our political parties is rampant, and it is the role of the media to report on it without fear or favour. Yet one media house will choose to look away if the intolerance is happening in a party so favoured by the particular media house for one reason or the other.
Purges, expulsions and unjust suspensions are common within the two top parties in the country, and when these acts of intolerance happen, the media is not there to defend the victims. Rather the media becomes accomplices to those wielding the unfair hand of unbridled authority to railroad everyone into submission.
We are not even going to write about the intra-party violence that often receives partial coverage from our media, depending on who has been beaten up, and who has done the barbaric deed.
While tolerance is not a demand to licence just anything whatever, least of all behaviour that threatens the existence of organisations, it must also be noted that there have been clear cases of unwarranted heavy-handedness within our political parties, only traceable to mere intolerance.
Thokozani Khupe deserved tolerance and respect at the burial of Morgan Tsvangirai, yet she was brutalised by mercenaries of intolerance hired and sponsored by people aspiring to be our national leaders.
Free speech and tolerance are fundamentals in an open society in which individual rights are respected and protected.
It is hard to imagine any right that can be effective without free speech; for when one is silenced they cannot lay claim to any of their rights, or even seek remedy for the abuse of any such rights.
Of course a society in which free speech is essential is a society that must by necessity be tolerant.
Where free speech is not tampered with, frequently someone will be offended by someone else’s utterances, this being an inevitable concomitant of free speech itself. I am not surprised at all when I read angry outburst against some of the things that I write.
I write freely, and my views are bound to offend one or two people whose own views could equally offend me. But I have trained myself not to be angered by views and opinions of those I disagree with. Anger is a sign of defeat, and I try as much as possible to avoid being angry.
There must be agreement in principle and in practice among members of the same society that they are all prepared to tolerate sentiments, opinions, attitudes, affiliations and views that are different from their own. It does not matter that these views may differ radically or offensively. For social cohesion to be possible such views must be tolerated.
Zimbabweans on social media specialise in insulting each other when it comes to political debate. I deliberately post very provocative lines on social media, and I can only enjoy the saddening intolerance among our people.
Instead of the perceived high intellectualism of Zimbabweans being evident in the debates, one is confronted with the most primitive of abusive language; as protagonists trade the most tasteless of insults. I am often the target of these graceless lowbrow attacks, but my many years of writing have given the tolerance to put up with whatever amount of derision.
It is very important to know that tolerance is hard work. It entails people putting up with what others do, even when those actions of others look strange, stupid or simply unfavourable. It involves recognising the right of other to be different, and allowing them a chance to openly express their views, for as long as they are not harming others.
It really does not matter I may seem odd, offensive, obnoxious, or disagreeable. Tolerance entails the ability to put up with all that on the part of those offended, as it equally applies on my part.
Of course we as people can argue, try to persuade each other, mock each other, satirise each other, criticise each other, and so on and so forth, expressing our own freedom of speech that way, but we cannot forbid or prevent other people from expressing their views.
Freedom of speech is not in itself absolute, and tolerance does not mean limitless acceptance of anything that goes.
Radical views associated with terrorism today are sometimes nurtured in communities practising the principles of tolerance, raising the question of how big the margin of tolerance should be stretched.
You come to this situation where in the name of defending the right of people to their views and opinions, society inadvertently allows unsavoury opinions to flourish, and to attract followers, endangering the same tolerant society in the process.
We remember the Nairobi Law School graduate who just saw it fit to spray hundreds of bullets at defenceless students at another Kenyan university a few years back, and it is reported the psychopath had been freely allowed to develop his radical views within the Kenyan community.
The risk that tolerance can breed monsters is a real one, whether we are talking of common political thuggery or the more egregious scourge of terrorism.
Perhaps this is the price that tolerance itself exacts, and that we must pay.
Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!
Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in SYDNEY, Australia.