Epistemology; why it is so difficult to understand the Zimbabwean crisis

When I started writing, I wanted to aire the rarely heard Zimbabwean perspective to a much broader audience. I wanted to express the thoughts and feelings that are mundanely exchanged between my fellow countrymen yet remain utterly inexistant to the rest of the world. I have had to make several protestations to my readers (most of whom are western) that they should not assume they can fully understand the Zimbabwean crisis from the casual brushes they have with our story on the news or on blogs (including mine). Many things remain uncovered, and many words remain unsaid; the truth, the whole truth remains pervasive.

A lot of what we see and hear about any situation, especially now in our cyber and media driven society, is just reality. Truth is a different thing altogether. Jacques Ellul, a French philosopher is famous for distinguishing a difference between truth and reality. Here’s my paraphrase: truth is what is; reality is what is now. Like a picture, reality captures a moment; it speaks to the here and now, but never beyond, and rarely to the before. Reality is evanescent. Truth on the other hand, is to me like a word, timeless in its import, and endless in its appeal. It reaches back into the recesses of time while simultaneously projecting perpertually into the future. There is a difference between truth and reality. Sadly, Neil Postman the American philosopher is correct in his assertion that along with unbridled progress on the developmenal continuum, western society is irrevocably shifting from being word and truth based, to being image and reality centered.

It is for this reason that I am not so chaffed when my country’s odyssey is attended to by such institutions of western media as the New York Times, BBC, CNN etc. I tend to be critical of their coverage, not because they always show the negatives in my country or because they treat us like we are bundle of constant problems. Simply put, my exception to western coverage of the Zimbabwean crisis is that they are western and therefore pander to western interests and more importantly relate things from the western perspective which is starkly different from our own here in Zimbabwe. Of course, there are many a time when the western media sometimes correctly report on Zimbabwe I am not arguing that point; my contention is that reporting it right is very different from understanding it from the same perspective as we do. Today’s media are obsessed with reality; in Postman’s words, media today have a “now this just in” mentality.

So it comes as no surprise to me that many people are baffled that I am willing to concede that Mugabe (cruel and regressive as he may be now,) has, in the past, worked for the good of Zimbabwe. I have been sometimes called a ‘marxist’ for admitting self evident truths about the history of Zimbabwe.

I bring all this up now because it sheds an important light on what has happened in my country over the past two weeks and how the west (both government and ordinary people) have interacted with it. (See this if you are not aware of what has taken place in Zimbabwe recently).

I happen to think western governments in Mugabe, have an antagonist who unlike Hussein, Gadaffi, Castro or Chavez, has a exceptional command of notions and language of western diplomacy. Europe and her allies cannot march into Zimbabwe preaching democracy because Mugabe will correctly challenge them on what democracy they are championing then Kabul and Bhagdhad are the ruins they are because of west’s mission to spread democracy. This explains to me, why the British and and American governments have been, for the most part, mum about abuses in Zimbabwe. Consider this as an example; while conveniently omitting details about their torture of MDC officials, Mugabe’s government used the Vienna Conventions to reprimand western diplomats in Harare for their overzealous curiousity about the Tsvangirai trial. That criticism rang true with many Zimbabweans; can you imagine Zimbabwe’s ambassodor to the U.S. being consipicously present at the Scooter Libby trial taking a clearly partisan stance?

Reality; things are bad in Zimbabwe and Mugabe’s regime and the policies they have wrought upon us are behind most of the rot. So of course it’s easy to criticize this regime; I do it all the time! The harder thing to do is owning up to the truth that as absurd as it may sound there people who feel land redistribution was a good thing. While the reality (busted economy, chronic food shortages, record inflation, failed health delivery system etc.) depicts little good on the tails of the eviction of thousands of profitable, succesful, and mostly white farmers. Truth compels we wonder how different the evictions of 1999 to present day are from the occupation of lands controlled by the Rozvi and Matebele empires by white colonialists early in the 19th century.

Please don’t take me to task for being pro-ZANU or whatever. This is just an epistemological analysis of the status quo in Zimbabwe. As we continue to confuse reality and truth, we will not make meaningful progress towards resolving the crisis.

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