By Tendai Ruben Mbofana
I KNOW that Zimbabweans have resigned themselves to expecting anything from their leaders — no matter how horrendous and disgraceful — as that has been the shameful hallmark of the regime ever since taking power in 1980.
From the cold-blooded massacre of over 20 000 innocent men, women, and children purely based on ethnicity, and butchering hundreds more for supporting the opposition — to maiming, abducting, torturing, beating up, and arresting perceived political opponents on spurious charges as well as burning down their homes.
One would have thought we had seen it all in Zimbabwe — yet, what I read in the media yesterday was even more shocking.
Of course, it was not as heinous and sadistic as the usual cutting off of the limbs of those critical to the establishment, or gang raping female opposition activists, or gouging out unborn babies from their mothers’ wombs using gun bayonets — but, it was still shocking, nonetheless.
Apparently, during a tour of exhibition stands at the just-ended Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) by President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, it was reported that an unidentified man was “tackled and taken away” by State security agents for shouting, “Huya pano iwewe!” (you, come here!), presumably to Mnangagwa.
It was alleged that a uniformed police officer grabbed the man and slapped him once, and then the President’s plain-clothes protection officers led him away.
We have heard of numerous people being arrested under a dubious law that criminalises insulting and denigrating the President, despite being declared unconstitutional several years ago.
Nonetheless, the ZITF event just took on a whole new sickening level, which made me ponder over a question that has puzzled me for decades.
Why is it that in this day and age, when the human species has significantly evolved from the medieval mindset, and become more civilised and mature in terms of our reasoning capabilities, as well as our understanding of human relations and democracy, do we still have national leaders who consider themselves demi-gods, who are infallible and beyond reproach such that anyone who dares speak out, or stand up against them, is punished?
Surely, I would have thought that we had since evolved from the days of kings and queens who would charge anyone, who expressed dissent, with treason.
I honestly fail to wrap my head around this.
I try to imagine myself being the president of Zimbabwe, for instance, and then someone shouts at me, “Tendai unopenga!” (Tendai, you’re mad!) — why would I take offence in that, and more specifically, why should that person be worthy of punishment?
Would that not be the height of immaturity and savagery, if I were to be offended, and have that person punished?
Even my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (who I believe is God’s Son, and a God in His own right) was insulted several times, but He never took any offence, neither was He angered, nor did He ask His heavenly Father in prayer to consume His accusers with fire.
As a matter of fact, when He was being crucified, Jesus passionately prayed for His killers to be forgiven.
Why then would a mere president view himself better or more important than God?
Let us also not forget that in any true democracy, a leader is elected by citizens and, as such, unlike God, or even a father or mother (who are not elected by their children), a president is subject to the people who voted him into office, and pay his salary through tax.
Why then can we not question or even insult our own subject?
As much as any civilised person has to respect the next person irrespective of their station or position in life, the reaction by the security apparatus was uncalled for.
However, a leader is supposed to be the “bigger person”, and not be easily offended.
A true leader should be driven by compassion even towards those who hate, oppose, or speak out against him or her.
In fact, an event like the ZITF was a missed opportunity for the president to step up and show his leadership qualities, by demanding that the unnamed man be immediately released, and all those who mistreated him be held accountable.
However, if we still have leaders who have no qualms arresting, manhandling or even murdering, torturing and mutilating, abducting anyone who opposes them, then we are still centuries behind the rest of the civilised world.
It is so shameful.