Written by Thando Khumalo
Smoke and mirrors are the bedrock of politics. The trick is to manage to keep the masses so distracted with theatrics that they inadvertently leave politicians to continue ruling. With people too preoccupied by the endless sideshows they pose little threat to those in power. The Emperors of Rome knew this to be true and employed this smokescreen to their advantage.
Zimbabwean politicians pulled several pages from that book.
For decades now, Zimbabweans have been subjected to nothing short of a magnificent circus. An elaborate deception designed for the sole purpose of keeping us distracted. The government and the party at the helm have always been good at keeping us busy with endless conspiracy theories. One strategy used to perfection is control different sides of the same debate and you control the outcome. Such conspiracies will range from economic saboteurs (3rd force) threatening the nation’s financial stability, dissatisfied members of the armed forces who will do God knows what at any moment, foreign countries that are ‘enemies’ working non-stop to destabilise the country through any means, discontent within party and government ranks to name but a few. We the citizens always end up with this ‘sensitive’ information through a series of ‘leaks’. Now, more than ever before, thanks to social media it’s very easy to disseminate all this ‘leaked evidence’. What is clear is this information is fed to us by the very same people we are to believe are in danger should it become public knowledge.
Magic shows are masterpieces of misdirection, magicians know that for their tricks to be awe inspiring they need to include audience members to make the illusion more believable. Just as the events of November 2017 were orchestrated for our benefit by ZANU (PF), we were even invited to become active participants. The hallmark of a great magician is manipulating the viewer’s choice whilst simultaneously tricking them into believing they willingly made the decision. This brings me to the most recent magic show of which we had a front row seat. Anti-Sanctions March, held on the 25th of October, a day declared a public holiday to give it national clout. Zimbabwe has been under sanctions from the West since 2001. SADC has been co-opted to join in this day of outrage so to speak, lobbying for the removal of sanctions. A lot has been said about them with two camps emerging, the West and their supporters say they are targeted against certain individuals whilst the government and its supporters insist they affect the whole country in terms of functionality and doing business with western nations. Each side of this debate has their own facts to substantiate.
Sanctions are a very emotive issue with the two political sides (ZANU PF and by extension the government & the main opposition MDC) declaring which narrative to run with. The government has been consistent about where they stand with regards to sanctions so this march wasn’t a departure from what they have always claimed. What was surprising was the reaction from western embassies, opposition and activists. Instead of writing this off as a side show and propaganda, they were very defensive stating once again the ‘true position of sanctions’ in the country. The fact that they even had to respond to this goading, in my view weakens their argument and strengthens the government’s positioning of themselves as victims fighting an unfair global system, they are controlling the narrative. Indeed, this was more than a day’s event, it was the launch of a crucial talking point leading all the way up to the 2023 elections.
Misdirection is an effective weapon employed to maintain the status quo. The purpose of sideshows is to divert attention from critical matters such as; economic meltdown, corruption, shortages, etc. It keeps the population focused on political theatre, outraged, critiquing, analysing and ultimately by design, further entrenching political divisions in an already polarised society. An opponent you understand is weaker than one whose every move baffles you, know their position and you can always respond to their tactics. This can be our saving grace, instinctively we know when we’re being manipulated, a divided people who predictably respond to an agenda set for them are easy to manipulate.
It’s high time these tricks stopped having an effect on us.
Thando Khumalo is a writer and a political commentator . Other interests include African development, women issues and Children education.