The reality of the golden cage

For many people, the period between May and August of every year is one of the most painful.
The European soccer season is over and there are very few international football engagements to keep them occupied.
A common gripe you hear is of men sitting with the missus on a Sunday evening watching Big Brother Africa while wistfully thinking that a couple of months ago you would have been watching the Milan derby.
Many are getting accustomed to the almost atrophying existence of Big Brother Africa on their tellies. They sit tight and know that come August they will be in charge of the remote control once more.
I’m sure you can tell that I’m no fan of BBA. For starters, I don’t believe in the concept of “reality” TV: television can never be “real” regardless of hard it tries. It is always scripted, edited and packaged – and this goes as much for Big Brother Africa as it does for news and National Geographic.
Secondly, I cringe at the sight of that all-seeing eye and shudder at the thought of the Orwellian reference to Big Brother watching your every move.
What many fans of Big Brother who I have talked to – or rather suffered through a conversation with – don’t know are the twin origins of the concept.
The first, as I mentioned briefly, is George Orwell’s novel “1984”, which was written way back in 1948, and is set in an authoritarian state where everything is monitored and “freedom” is the realisation that you actually love the omnipresent machinery that is always watching you. The other is that the concept as a viewer package dates back to 1997 when Dutch producers thrashed out the “reality” TV notion and called it “The Golden Cage”.
The producers, I think it was Endemol, were more direct then than they are today. They acknowledged the setting of their “reality” show as a cage, a golden one, but a cage all the same.
The marketing geniuses a few years later decided on a softer approach, one that would not make viewers and participants gall and would even conjure images of security and homeliness, and packaged it as Big Brother’s House.
But it really is a cage.
The golden cage is premised on the notion that a person is trapped but they are trapped in comfortable surroundings. Once in a while, feelings of disenchantment, alienation and frustration may arise, but on the whole they conclude that they are better off in a comfortable cage than they are with the responsibility of self-determination.
Independent Africa is a golden cage.
We have flags, anthems and constitutions. But we are nothing more than little cogs in a global financial and political machinery that determines for us what is right and what is wrong.
We don’t have self-determination, despite the colourful “independence” day celebrations we ritualistically hold every year.
After every four-five years or so, depending on the country you are in, you will have another ritual of an election and think that you are exercising self-determination and that you have power of agency over your future.
The truth is you have none of that. It’s a golden cage.
Political scientist Reason Wafawarova puts it thus: “The vote is the instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.” Harsh, but true.
Noam Chomsky, the linguist and political analyst, puts it more elaborately in his famed “Manufacturing Consent”, placing the golden cage at the centre of all human society as we know it today.
“…because of the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason, but faith. And this naive faith requires necessary illusion, and emotionally potent oversimplifications, which are provided by the myth-maker to keep the ordinary person on course.
“It’s not the case, as the naive might think, that indoctrination is inconsistent with democracy. Rather, as this whole line of thinkers observes, it is the essence of democracy.
“The point is that in a military state or a feudal state or what we would now call a totalitarian state, it doesn’t much matter because you’ve got a bludgeon over their heads and you can control what they do.”
Zimbabwe, like much of Africa, lived in a golden cage from 1980 to the late 1990s. Then some peasants, tired of the cage, decided to assume real power of agency and took over land held by white commercial farmers.
Maybe we can say the government was dragged out of the golden cage by these peasants. It matters not. What matters is that the state started extricating itself from the golden cage.
Land reforms followed, and now there is a drive to ensure 51 percent of the economy is in local hands.
The experience has been painful. The economy has suffered and people have had to withstand immense hardships.
The West, through its media, would want us to believe that Zimbabweans were better off in their golden cage of 1980 to 2000.
So many vested interests are fighting hard to shove the country back into that golden cage, telling us that as Africans we should be happy to have jobs in companies owned by Westerners and afford a bottle of whiskey every month end.
For them, Zimbabweans cannot run agriculture, they cannot run mining.
And this is a view they hold of all Africans. For this reason, the outcome of the July 31 election in Zimbabwe will represent for the whole of Africa either another step out of the golden cage, or a regression into blissful oppression.

July 2013
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