ZIMBABWE – 2016 arrived nine days ago. Or so we allege. As before, and before, on New Year the sun still rose from the east, still set in the west. The clock — not time — ticked as before, giving us an illusion of recording reality, of time past, time present, time future. Arguably, there is no time past, no time future. Only a continual, eternal present in which we inhere for a little while, and, when our life is spent, then decay or depart to . . . we don’t know where. And not to know where is not quite the same as not to believe where. The priest — or is it pastor nowadays — tells us we head heaven-or hell-wards, depending on our goodness or its deficit. Gentle reader, I hope you notice I slipped. Nowadays? How nowadays when I have repudiated a past-present-future continuum? How nowadays when I have repudiated time and periodisation?
Well, there is reason in my madness. The cosmos is an eternal moment: indivisible, un-segmented, infinite. But it is man who comes, who goes. Man who seeks to understand, to make vast reality cognisable, who then invents time. For reality to be cognisable, man needs and invents a frame, invents a template for giving vast, interminable reality some order, some illusion of movement, some meaning.
And being such an overweening creature, such a vain creature, man thinks — and biblical belief backs him on this one — he wields dominion over the vast cosmos that ironically outlives him, thinks he makes and marks time. So he makes himself the centre, the beginning, the end. The marker. Wordsworth put it so well: where man is not, nature is barren. How more vain can puny man ever be?
Time male, time female
So, time is man’s invention, an inverted sense of own importance by vainglorious man. It does not matter what name he gives himself, gives time, give all that is around him. To name things: another of man’s way of imposing and ordering reality, a way of making reality cognisable. The name Adam to mark the first man, the beginning of time, life.
Or so belief tells us, in the process commissioning a false, patriarchal beginning and order in human affairs. Patriarchal time. Ever since, man the man, as opposed man the humanity, has dominated, usurped all power, making women such a charming chattel. Or Eve to mark universal motherhood, to designate some universal temptress and weakness, depending on your givenness to Christian belief. To measure female time, sin’s age! Or both Adam and Eve to mark the beginning of life in its idyllic form, Edenic form.
Short time! With Eden being a symbol of all that man enjoyed without knowing in the beginning, but now a symbol for all that man aspires for from the position of a fallen being, but without ever grasping it in an imperfect world. That includes his own wish for immortality, for permanence and thus for timelessness. Adam, Eve, Eden these become names for a symbolic ordering of a vast chaos that man has to conquer, to comprehend, to encompass, to make cognisable. With himself at the centre of course.
Beginning of time, civilisation
But the ideal will have to connect with man in his real, current state, a state principally marked by mortality, by sin. So another symbol — the serpent — has to be invented as a crystallisation of that which is evil. That which robs humanity of its heavenly innocence, and thus its claim to the reward of eternity, to timelessness. So the snake slithers into Eden, and does things to (or is it with?) Eve. In turn Eve does, or tempts Adam to do things, bad things in the eyes of God, his Creator and Prescriber.
Both Adam and Eve fall as a result, the evil serpent getting cursed in the process. And as Adam is flung into a new state of transgression, a state in which he is alienated from his Creator, he defensively enters a rule fated to govern the relationship of man and woman: it is this woman you gave me, oh Lord, he fervently opines, making woman the timeless scapegoat for anything, everything, that goes wrong in the kingdom of patriarchy. With transgression comes hardships, pain, mortality and therefore human temporariness. Comes time, in other words. Man is born; man dies. Woman is born; woman dies. The serpent, too, dies. And the vast moment begins to be graduated, never to measure itself, ever to measure man’s temporary durance in defiled Eden. Earth for short.
The fall that became the beginning
And because fallen man no longer lives in the infinite benevolence of his Creator, man henceforth needs to fend for himself, lest he dies too early. No longer God’s darling, man has to invest in himself, while turning less and less to divine benevolence. He learns to wring life out of unyielding nature which he has to learn to subdue and bend to his will and comfort. He must make fire to beat harsh seasons. He must break the clod to make the hard earth yield food. He must create shelter. Thus begins civilisation, human history.
Thus begins humanism: a growing belief in man, a belief in man as a maker. Thus, too, begins the death of God. Of faith as man begins to take greater faith and belief in his own infinite capacities. Milton makes the point in Paradise Lost: that with the fall of man begins the enlargement of knowledge, man’s self-belief which ends up stretching the cord that tied him to his Creator, to belief. Apart from his own life, key turning points in his progressive evolution and therefore better husbandry of nature, became markers of time. Stone Age. Iron Age, etc., etc., until we get to the digital age. Out of the fall, eviction, adversity, came time, civilisation, man the maker.
The great din that never was
Gentle reader, I have summoned all this to make a simple point: time is a human invention meant to mark and record Man’s short progress in his biological and social circumstances. In this life on this earth. It is a social construct, an aid to measuring life while it subsists, to setting goals, to measuring progress. In or by itself, it is no magnitude, no miracle, no wand, no elixir or panacea. As a measurement of human aims and human conduct, human rights execution of tasks, a great tool, a great aid to performative man.
Let there be no halo, therefore, around 2016. Colonial Christian millenarians used to lie to us, and we all lived through that lie. The lie that at midnight of every December 31, a great din would be heard to mark closure of the old, waning year, to herald the opening, the beginning of a new one, another. As children, we heard all this in awe, fought slumber in the hope of witnessing and hearing this great perturbation, this big din marking the death of a year, which is the birth of a new year.
Our parents upheld the lie by telling us we dozed off before midnight, in the process missing this big din that never shook us up from our sweet slumber. And we would plod through the year guilt-laden for missing God’s oracular announcement of a new year, God’s launch of another beginning, a new life. Too guilty to notice, father, mother, sister, brother, uncle and, above all ourselves — all of us, all life — grew up, older, nearer death by each day guiltily passed.
Nabobs of negativity
I chuckle when I read predictions and scenarios in the press, predictions and scenarios for 2016. Surprisingly, all those predictions, all those scenarios, are bereft of human agency, exile man as the performative agency. The press — private press especially — gloat that 2016 will be worse, will be the worst. They have become masters in drawing up the calendar of human suffering, human pessimism. And they have made that great news, routine news as if unaware that by definition, news cannot, should not, be routine, repetitive. Our self-esteem gets battered, the national ego gets willow-wilted by these little men and women in newsrooms who think makers of history are pessimists, men and women of no hope, of desperation, authors of chaos. I used to wonder why.
Speaking from own rabble
But a small, easy-to-overlook story in the New Year gave me a clue, an answer. The story told us AMH, publishers of Zimbabwe Independent and NewsDay, had paid out part of October 2015 salaries for its staff only in January 2016. Before that story, we had had another one telling us workers had been paid by way of gift vouchers. And before then, the same media house had hit headlines in South Africa for teetering on the commercial brink. Its publication in that country, it was reported, was foundering.
The story is not very different for ANZ, another private publisher. Here is the puzzle. When you have publishers who have become unfolding commercial disasters in the country, in other countries they are domiciled — disasters on both sides of the River Limpopo — how much standing do they wield to chastise political leaders for the country’s economic challenges? What lessons do their own enterprises impart to the political leadership they daily exhort to create “an enabling environment” for entrepreneurs?
How do enablers suddenly become accountable for failures of actors? The politician has given them a free reign, an international currency, even an unlimited license to abuse him editorially for screaming headlines they say sell better. Yet these concerns sink deeper and deeper into dire straits. What lessons in management, what lessons in running a country, does one get from such an entrepreneurial record and history? And in an uncanny parallel, owners of both publishing houses are non-resident, permanently reside in South Africa.
One example, a thousand precepts
The President of the country goes on one, yearly leave, and he is told editorially to stop the leave, or cut it short, in order to hasten home and take charge, lest the country burns. Really? Is that not the message they need for their masters who have escaped to South Africa, if mere presence and on-site supervision is what is required to recover? Why is a similar message not needed by their enterprises? Or are they tactically chastising their bosses through a dummy? Should they not be humble, speak in low tones inspired by the own rabble from where they address the world?
I have no difficulties in hard editorials, even manipulated news. But hey, is it not better to speak from righteousness, from a shining example, itself worth more than a thousand precepts? To speak to us as a chameleon: yes slow, hesitant, but directional. Not like a crab: fast, swift but always preaching about direction while moving sideways. Their principals are away, non-resident. Their enterprises can’t pay, won’t pay. Won’t even give dates. So why shout atop Mt Sinai? Why see a government that delays paying, never a publisher that can’t pay? So why see a President on leave, never a boss who has taken leave of the company, deserted its screaming, starving employees, bosses who have voted by their feet?
Assembling all negativity
There is a bigger problem. We invest in hands such as these for the painting of a year we have just started? What do we expect? A failing enterprise only sees bleakness, communicates bleakness. Above all, it needs scapegoats, invents them. And what a more enduring scapegoat than a politician! What a more comforting scenario than one where you colour the whole country bleak all to hide or explain your own micro-disaster? The current crop of publishers are failures, real failures.
They cannot be relied upon to generate a lifting message. To see the shoots of recovery which are so evident. To mark the passage of time, new time, when they wallow in eternal failure. So they strip the year of hope, promise, human intervention, human agency. They seek to dispirit, to batter Zimbabweans as purposeful actors in national affairs. They want to carve a timeless moment of unrelieved gloom. And they do it so destructively well: collect and collate all passing negatives, all to create a picture of intractable, synthetic gloom.
Suppress all good news to blot out any hope. Import even, problems from elsewhere to darken days to come. Above all, particularise to Zimbabwe all those problems that afflict the region or even mankind. So the only stock exchange burning is the Zimbabwean one. So the only drought-afflicted country is Zimbabwe, the only food importer is Zimbabwe!
Dangerous games with security
Much worse, they foment chaos, wish it, instigate it, in the hope that this country burns for a regime change they hope will change its politics, improve their fortunes somehow. They want people in streets and will lie to create social outrage they think will trigger social unrest, will present opportunity to the hopeless opposition to fish in the chaos they hope will ensue.
They want to destabilise the military, the police, the intelligence. They behave as if there is any jurisdiction this whole world over where journalists are allowed to play garwe hero sadza, swedera with the security establishment. Even think a presidential censure of commanders clears them to peck that sacred seed. Well, let no one cry. But our time-markers cannot be such a hopeless lot.
Equally, we cannot allow them to make our 2016 read the same as the 2015 they ruined by negative perceptions. Above all, to allow them to reduce us to sinking, wailing spectators when we have been created to make, create, act, get. So 2016 is me, is you, is us, minus these nabobs of negativity. These utter failures wielding poisoned pens, offering no lifting examples.