Our revolution will not be televised
On March 16, 2013 a BBC crew filmed what they claimed was an example of political violence in a low-income suburb of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.
The apparently stage-managed confrontation was beamed to the world as part of the increasingly regular fare of media reports claiming the situation in the country is not conducive for holding a “free and fair election”.
It was laughable stuff, but Zimbabweans shouldn’t be laughing. Neither should any African. Because many people across the globe take such images from “reputable” organisations like the BBC as nothing short of Bible truth.
Such images are dutifully beamed as the sole truth of Zimbabwe, and this has been standard since 2000 after Western government-backed groups like the Westminster Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy decided to fund the anti-Mugabe agenda.
More effort, time and money is going to be poured in painting as horrible a picture of Zimbabwe as is possible as the country heads towards elections.
After the elections, regardless of their conduct and their outcome, such images will not stop.
We will continue to be bombarded with visualisations of how bad and nasty President Mugabe is.
Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman call this the “manufacturing of consent” – a process by which the powerful corporate news media serve the function of creating perceptions that suit the economic, political, ideological and cultural intentions of the West.
It is called giving a dog a bad name and then hanging him. It is something the West has done very well over the centuries: from slavery down to neo-colonialism.
Scholar Mahmood Mamdani in his 2007 paper titled “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency”, shows how the politics of adjectives is just as brutal as the politics of the military arsenal that follows soon after the dog has been given a bad name.
He says: “Journalism gives us a simple moral world, where a group of perpetrators face a group of victims, but where neither history nor motivation is thinkable because both are outside history and context.
“Even when newspapers highlight violence as a social phenomenon, they fail to understand the forces that shape the agency of the perpetrator.
“Instead, they look for a clear and uncomplicated moral that describes the victim as untainted and the perpetrator as simply evil.”
And so we should not expect that corporate media which is a willing tool of power to give us a more balanced image of President Mugabe and Zimbabwe.
We really should not expect to see images of how land reforms in the country have benefited more than 250 000 families. (We are often told that Mugabe’s “cronies” are the main beneficiaries of the land reform programme – he sure does have a hell lot of cronies!).
There will be no images of the 60 000-plus new tobacco farmers who are commercially producing a crop that a handful of white farmers used to keep as their preserve.
There will be no pictures of how a newly-empowered people have regained their sense of dignity that has been stripped by generations of oppression, suppression and lienation.
The great poet-musician Gil-Scot Heron had something to say about this.
He wrote, “There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock news/ and no pictures of hairy armed women liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
“The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb, Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
“The revolution will not be televised.
“The revolution will not be right back after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
“You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
“The revolution will not go better with Coke.
“The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath. The revolution will put you in the driver's seat.
“The revolution will not be televised…”
Zimbabwe’s real revolution will not be televised.
There will be no updates about how the empowerment agenda is changing lives, no coverage about how people are increasingly controlling their own destinies.
No, the revolution will not be televised.
But that does not matter, because the revolution is unstoppable.