Interface between African aphorisms, political rhetoric in Zimbabwe

MDC Alliance Leader Nelson Chamisa and President Mnangagwa
MDC Alliance Leader Nelson Chamisa and President Mnangagwa

By Sydicks Takudzwa Muradzikwa.

The use of rhetoric as a device for politicking and electioneering is as old as language itself in the history of politics.

Rather, what is new in Zimbabwean politics is the interface between African aphorisms and political rhetoric as an art in lip cosmetics.

The departure of Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai from the political arena gave the new impetus to the use of political rhetoric to persuade and dissuade the people towards political parties’ objectives and agendas. The use and misuse of African proverbs and aphorisms in conversations, dialogues and speeches is acceptably informed by wisdom. The frequent use of African proverbs and idioms in this pre-election environment defines the new approach of generating political rhetoric which can either persuade or dissuade the electorate. The 2018 elections’ biggest rivalries;

Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa’s messages are largely mixed with African proverbs and idioms at a descriptive, interpretative and motivational level with the former riding on the ‘Muka ubike doro’ statement and the latter on the ‘Chenga ose manhanga, hakuna risina modzi’.

While other maxims state that political expressions without aphorisms are a like ‘fish without water’, a provocative claim that has been of late recognized by main players in the country’s body politic.

Of note, world great politicians and famous statesmen are well known and remembered by their extraordinary abilities to derive political power by effectively articulating political rhetoric as a device for either diplomacy or violence in power politics. Political rhetoric has characterised rally speeches and political parties’ visions from the day Zimbabwe was born. A forensic enquiry into the political warfare of Zimbabwe since 1980, can overwhelmingly establish political rhetoric as a common denominator for political survival.

Because of the liberation war experiences and the independence euphoria, rhetoricians of Zimbabwe’s post-1980 politics involuntarily detached themselves from the use of soft power in which oratory prowess and diplomatic drills of persuasion and dissuasion signify political smartness. African aphorisms are cornerstone lingual devices for the inculcation and advancement of the epistemic and ontological standards revered in the African theory of Ubuntu. However, African political theory has generated useful ideological frameworks in which the application of political rhetoric has been widely accepted as a politicking tool.

Mugabe besides being an orator that he was, constructed his political rhetoric with aphorisms, something which stimulated his popularity and apparently sustained his political power in Zimbabwe against his political opponents. Mugabe’s popularity was courtesy of deliberative political rhetoric and cohesion, in which his rhetoric was a blend of philosophical dispositions and hate speech. Robert Mugabe used hate language against his political adversaries; amongst them is the famous “Zvimbwasungata” and derogatory language like ‘Chamatama’ against Morgan Tsvangirai. While Mugabe’s philosophical disposition created admirers and nemeses in equal measure, his rhetoric was hardly constructive and was pinned on dissuasion through derogatory attacks on his opponents.

Organised ideology is one of the five sources of power (the other four are violence, knowledge, money and love) and rhetoricians subliminally programme their listeners to command loyalty. Politicians usually make measured attempts to construct and deconstruct ideologies which people may ultimately follow; therefore, the aftermath of the muka ubike doro statement provoked strong feelings of sustaining the establishment. Moreover, it provoked the idea of maintaining the status quo through the non-violent art of dissuasion which contains hidden threats of political violence.

As Mnangagwa’s idioms capture the people’s minds, they are intended to clarify that his political party cannot be removed from power regardless of the voting patterns and hence, programme the electorate to either behave or think in a remotely controlled way. The same applies to Chamisa’s application of aphorisms where he tries to program people to think that everyone can be useful in Zimbabwean politics. In a certain way, these aphorisms are effective toolkits for constructing political rhetoric which can achieve political objectives.

With the use of plain language in political messages, the hearers will hardly remember the contents of the message nor the circumstances under which it was delivered. The delivery of political messages which are devoid of aphorisms has a consequence of yielding a weaker impact, for instance Morgan Tsvangirai was a political figure par excellence who could master political rhetoric in simplicity but people hardly remember his constructive rhetorical speeches and famed quotes except his isolated famous and infamous statements like ‘Murikuti muri kushaya chikafu muchasaisa’, ‘Kungomera sehohwa’ and of course his Morgan is more political apothegm.

The effect of Mnangangwa’s utterances which encrypts change of government in the event that another party wins has not been challenged enough by scholars and political pundits. Apart from the Muka ubike doro statement, the ‘ZANU PF ichatonga, ichingotonga muchingovukura’, further buttresses his message that cannot indeed, be removed from power.

I similar circumstances, Reza Khanya and Zohre Hamzelou in their paper, ’A Systemic Functional Analysis of Dictators’ Speech: Toward a Move-based Model’ stated that, much of the impetus behind such rhetoric and its studies has been on divulging the language misuse and the way such misuse has been legalized. Extracting from foregoing submission, it is my wish that public utterance must be legally binding.

The amount of dissuasion in Mnangagwa’s statements, churns out lethargy amongst members of the opposition with the effect of shutting out space for opposition and since the general masses are swing voters, they end up thinking that nothing will change regardless of their votes or they end up voting for the status quo. The negative effect of the (mis)use of political rhetoric in language can be that of forced voter and political apathy which in most cases, works to the advantage of the regime. In that understanding, political rhetoric is very powerful in influencing decision making amongst the electorate.

Chamisa’s oratory eloquence gained him public appeal and his vast rhetorical skills are of great significance to African political theorists and scholars who believes in democracy. His intellectual indigenous proverbs like chenga ose manhanga hakuna risina mhodzi and charachimwe hachitswanyi inda, are loaded with rhetorical persuasion. Moreover, these proverbs widely communicate a message of inclusion of all people regardless of race, creed or colour and therefore, place a nerve of relevance to people of different political belongings.

In terms political reality, the question of who is walking the talk between the ‘chenga ose’ and the ‘muka ubike doro’ figures is unequivocally clear that realism and idealism is at play. Through critical discourse analysis, it is clear that Mnangagwa’s idioms go beyond the mere use of political art of dissuasion but demonstrates a Zimbabwean political reality that ZANU PF can consolidate political power by any means necessary or unnecessary.

On the other hand and extracting from the precedence that ZANU PF has set in post millennium politics, regrettably; Chamisa’s rhetorical devices reflect lucrative political order and constructive use of the art of rhetoric which at the end will bring applauds, hope and following which need practical efforts of acquiring state power.

Chamisa’s speeches are a blend of deliberative and forensic oratory and thus, his rhetorical constructs are informed by the Aristotelian premise that rhetoric is the artificer of persuasion and its function is to persuade the uninformed multitudes at mass rallies with regard to political justice and injustice.

In conclusion, a reasonable interrogation of the interface between African aphorisms and political rhetoric in Zimbabwe reflects the reality of verbal war amongst political players with the battlefield slatted in the minds of the desperate electorate. It should be noted that political rhetoric should be backed by robust political actions as alternatives to save the words of wisdom from going to waste.

What seems to back up the muka ubike doro is the potential military assistance and Mnangagwa’s blind eye towards electoral reforms that may implicate his advantage in the polls. For the chenga ose lead vocalist, he ought to dance according to the music he is playing; failure of which may make him a victim of a calculated deception.

Sydicks Takudzwa Muradzikwa is a social and political commentator based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

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