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RESISTING THE RESISTENCE: CULTURAL WEAPONS OF THE STATE IN ZIMBABWE ABSTRACT This paper is motivated by theoretical and ethnographic accounts such as James Scott’s Weapons of the Weak in which the author reflects critically on forms and approaches to State resistance. This inspiration from shrewd scholarship is coupled with the historic images that have shaken the world recently, of Zimbabwe experiencing what is alleged by the Southern African Development Committee (SADC) to be a low level, non-violent, community backed and media alluring coup de tat or simply put some resemblance of a coup. This classic case, which has resulted in the resignation of the president from his 37 year reign is one of the many other instance in which people world over have grown frustrated with the state and resorted to all sorts of resistance. The paper becomes an exit point from Scott’s theses, which centers on forms of resistance from below, and instead looks at how post-colonial states resist all forms of resistance by the ‘weak’ to consolidate their hegemony.

As such the central question for the paper is how has culture been used and or manipulated to counter or confront resistance from the people. Culture specific studies on this thematic focus remain with limited discussion in the Zimbabwean context. This paper will therefore achieve its objectives by delving first into a conceptualization of the state and state problematics which trigger resistance. It will then be guided by narratives from anthropology and other disciplines to assess briefly the dynamics of state resistance by the weak both in Zimbabwe and in other contexts. Finally, it will engage critically with the way in which the Zimbabwean state has dealt with resistance, what the paper calls ‘the resistance of resistance’ using culture. The paper will employ an exegetic desktop research methodology informed by analyses and interpretation of related literature texts, and this will be augmented by reflections with selected cases.

The author argues that culture has been central in methodologies the state has used to cope with resistance emanating from the ‘weak’ and consolidation of power in the post colony borrows considerably from culture. INTRODUCTION CONCEPTUAL ISSUES AND CONTEXT: In order to lay a framework for analytical purposes, this paper indulges with various concepts to gain not only their definitional but also their contextual meanings and applications. These terms which include the State, and resistance will be unearthed in order to understand their interrelationships, which will precursor to answering the main question of the paper. For instance what is the state, that is the modern state, and what is its relationship with the grassroots, the people? Answering this question helps in locating manifestations of contestations or conflict between the state and the grassroots. This scenario helps also in understanding how the state on the one hand and the people on the other hand respond to this conflict in form of resistance. The next section looks at the concept of the State.

The State Defining the state has proved to be problematic and limited in anthropological literature, with scholars concurring that the state remains multilayered, contradictory, and always subject for negotiation by its actors (Gupta, 1995; Mbembe, 2003; Bouchard, 2011). The state for instance was earlier not conceptualized as anthropologists’ concentrated non state politics. Redcliffe Brown (1940) even warned against studying the state saying that it does not exist physically. He argued that critical in these fake states was legitimate use of violence to punish or to in the words of Hegel to defend the state.

Eventually though scholarship emerged then moved on to analysis of the states which paved way to anthropology of transnationalism (Boas’s 1928 Anthropology and Modern Life) and globalization (Childe, 1950; Kurtz, 2001 modernity as a driver of political change) Rodgers and . Sahlins notes that a state has a ”true” government that is structurally separated from the ruled population and, in conformity with the writings of Childe, affirms that a state is a social system richly textured with specialists, monumental architecture, and a dense and large population divided by class and often ethnicity, and he specifies that ”a society so large, heterogeneous, and internally divided cannot stand without special means of control and integration” (1968:6). Sahlins’s definition of the state remains valid. The state has been conceptualized broadly as bureaucratic, and that it can be governed without problems or challenges (Foucault’s myth of Governenmentaliy, 1993). Though not widely researched, there is a general consensus too for anthropology to study the state in relation to culture, states products and producers of history and states as universal (Clifford Geertz 1973; Bouchard, 2011). Essentially contemporarily anthropologists have struggled to study the states directly preferring to view states and the communities their favourite hunting grounds for research in binary terms.

(Kurtz, 2001 in Bourchard, 2011). Penguine Dictionary of Politics refers to the Geopolitical definition of a state as a nation state with a geographical boundary. This too is problematic since within states there are geographical differences and sometimes margins and boarders are created with the nation state. The Hobbes in 1651 in his Leviathan hypothesized that society was naturally selfish, that laws of the jungle applied in this society and that there was need for an institution in the name of the state that would govern, regulate monitor affairs and bring peace to communities through rule of law and accountability.

This state would thus have a social contract with the people. Marx Weber 1919 was the first to conceive the modern state as a sovereign authoritative state with institutions and a structure of formulation of decisions and creating identity. Thus states became a symbol of identity that brings people together, for instance to be called Zimbabweans, who subscribe to a Zimbabwean flag etc. More so, he suggested that a nation state in the modern society would also guarantee security of the people, hence the creation of boarders and security systems.

The field of security has gone on to integrate other definitions of security other than state security to include human security. This further complicates both their role and their definition. The foregoing therefore recapitulates Philip Abrams remarks that: ”we have come to take the state for granted as an object of political practice and political analysis while remaining quite spectacularly unclear as to what the state is” (19882006:112). Failures of the state Whilst the state is not easily definable, critics of the state find it with limitations especially looking at it from the definition of Resistance and its dynamics Resistance is expressed verbally or non-verbally, visibly or non-visibly, when compromise has failed as a conflict management approach such that one conflicting party competes or avoids the other party maliciously (Rahim, 1983). Gramsci’s (1972) writings, notes from the prison of an emerging fascist state, to better understand how states can be hegemonic and how oppression can be masked and the oppressed co-opted by state ideology, while recognizing that agency remains possible and ideological machinations can be resisted (Bourchard, 2011 direct quote). Moreover, even the inculcated can come to reject the hegemony, using Verdery’s study of the fall of Communism in Romania as a template for ethnographic methods to study competing groups and how they strive to produce rival images of the nation and consequently the state (1991:4–5).

Just as Geertz affirmed that anthropologists do not study villages, but, rather, study ”in” villages (1973:22), to better understand how villages are tied into larger structures HYPERLINK “” Source: Adapted from M. Afzalur Rahim, “A Measure of Styles of Handling Interpersonal Conflict,” Academy of Management Journal 26, no. 2 (1983): 368–76. Resisting the Resistance: Zooming in on Culture The power limiting role of CS in most African States was pronounced during the Colonial era which helped towards the attainment of independence/self-rule. In Zimbabwe, record has it that precolonial black organisations were active in limiting the power of the colonial government (Raftoupolos, 2000). Reports of burning of municipal buildings and schools belonging to whites are vivid examples in literature, but the white minority was repressive in response to such acts (ibid).

The existing laws for instance “gave the government powers to curb free speech, movement, assembly and association, to arrest and detain without trial and to control businesses and prevent strikes in the so-called essential services area” (Nhema, 2002:81). After independence, some (CSs) mutated into being rulers or the state themselves, while others were now lost in their erstwhile power limiting role and hegemonic stance (hegemonic or counter hegemonic) given their working history in the colonial period. The civil society (business and farmers’ associations, the labor movement, student movement, the media, the church, women’s groups and development NGOs) found themselves having to configure itself as watchdogs of the state as opposed to being antagonists of the state (Nhema, 2002:99 emphasis added). More so, the new rulers, inherited the preceding governance systems and structures, without necessarily democratising them (Nicholas, 1994; Doig, 2006) hence leaving the CS at cross roads, with their status as ‘comrades’ before independence being affected by their rise to power after independence, much to the decimation of their ability to limit the power of the state. Coudere and Marijse (1991) connote that most African countries adopted the Socialist political ideology (everyone is equal), hence CS was left with a false sense of security (this augers well with Gramsci’s thoughts) The power limiting problematics can also be traced to the cold war, where aid was given on ideological basis, hence strengthening the state, and making it difficult for CS in Africa, given its dependence on aid from western countries to heighten its power limiting function. The result was that of a strong state against a weak society (CS) as forewarned by de-Tocquiville.

CS in the west did not go through this historical contradiction. Unlike in Africa, the CS in the West developed at the same time with the state (as attributed by Aristotle, Plato) hence its deep roots and ability to limit power (Makumbe, 2003). Continuous reference to the past. Our land our prosperity. We died for our nation Ceremonies such as the Independence Day celebrations and heros day celebrations which have cultural significance come in handy in serving the states to resist any form of resistance. Mbembe posits that the postcolony is a site of excesses, where the commandment dramatises its power, authority and status though “ceremonies and festivities” (1992, 9) which are part of its “lecherous living.” Both these days make the people to feel the state being concerned about their history and hence their culture..

They make it appealing that the state cares for the families and communities who lost the galant soldiers in the quest for freedom, and these days have been underlined with reference to a shared common culture and history. It is here where the state uses the history to enchain the people from making any form of resistance. The people are made to feel part of the state and to be owners of the state and in is here that nationalism becomes associated with the state. Ensuing from the nationalist domain, the people thus feel less obligated to resist the government or find themselves giving the government second chances.

More so, the realm of social cultural forms resistance of the state stems from the music traditional music which has been used by the state. According to Guzura and Ndimande () music has been a tool used by the state to suppress any form of resistance. This is premised on the fact that music played a significant role in the liberation struggle, in motivating the comrades before a battle, in celebrating victories but also in mourning both losses and deaths within the struggle. At independence the former colony, adopted this important tool that carries significant meaning, to continuously remind the people that the new government was acting on behalf the people to protect the gains of their liberation struggle. This music is played at ceremonies and in the national media to brainwash the people leading to their limited drive for resistance. Even when criticisms grew against the state, including in the music industry, the state used counter narratives by sponsoring, people that produced music advancing their ideology or at least reminding the people of a shared history while also criticizing these critics as belonging to the opposition and agents of ‘division’.

This counter approach, was augmented by the state media which is largely monopolized by the state(POSA and AIPPA see Schlee, 2011; Chuma, 2004), such that music that make the lists of media houses are those sifted and rendered to be in sync with state ethos and fundamental beliefs. Such only led the people to be brainwashed and to memorize state agendas and the state itself being turned into a deity or cult, and this music has continued to be played in state ceremonies, political gatherings and other functions. Even the younger generations born post-independence are socialized through the music into images of a perfect state led by a great leader (Matenga, 2015b). This sterilizes motives of state resistance and renders resistance futile. People have gone on to use such music pieces in social gatherings such as weddings, village meetings and so forth, only but rubberstamping the deity of the state and thus further diminishing the drive for resistance.

Polyphony and dialogism/monologist Unlike their Western counterparts, African civics exist in a culture mostly patriarchal and with individual deference towards power, therefore has very little social resistance (Louis, 2001). This therefore limits social capital mobilisation and hence weakens communities’ abilities to organise into formidable social groups for power limiting the state (ibid). More so, ethnic and tribal divisions existing in Africa as compared to their western counterparts militate against the CS, and hence weaken their power limiting function (Lewis, 2001). The same has played out in Zimbabwe, were ethnic conflicts tend to override state power limiting functions by society. Instead of focus being directed on limiting the power of the state, society is continuously conflicting and negotiating over ethnic spaces. Zimbawe has two major ethnic groups, Ndebeles from the South and Shonas from the North.

These two have continuously been at loggerheads, and their ethnic rivalry has been translated into various spectrums. Conflicts raging from food, land, citizenship, political affiliations, and employment among others have played out in Zimbabwe with ethnic overtones. Michael Billig (1995) The Government even formulated two vice presidency (VP) seats after independence shared by the two ethnic groups. This was meant to pacify the conflict which was exacerbated mostly by the popular Gukurahundi attacks soon after independence which supposedly were directed at exterminating the Ndebele by the Shona. Such divisions negatively impact on the ability of self-organisations, mobilisation and advocacy towards limiting the power of the state. Furthermore, from a nation building point of view, differences in perception of nationhood have stifled progress for instance in his piece Do Zimbabweans exist, Gatsheni (2009) notes that different pockets of society might not subscribe to the same notion of nationhood.

According to Turner (1992) the Kayapo people of the Amazon had to first overcome individual differences with their neighbouring societies before they collectively launched a successful resistance to the building of dams by the Brazilian Government on a river that cut through their forests. These dams from their perspective would lead to flooding of the forests and destruct their cultural practices and livelihoods. It becomes difficult for conflicting notions to successfully make progress in limiting the power of the state. In fact post-colonial states in Africa have consolidated their positions through exploring those problematic aspects of their societies (Jonathan Moyo, 1992).

Anthony D. Smith (2003) in Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity Representation of People in the state based on culture eg Nkomo and Mpoko, Heroes acre in Harare and a Heroes acre in Bulawayo The states themselves have portrayed themselves as cultural and social custodians of the nation. Deboeck explores how Mabutto Seseseko tried to legitimize his state by traditional political symbols such as kinship systems, polygamy, his dress cord (hat with leopard skin resembling Totemisim), his associations with chiefs that he was like chiefs the father of the people and that the people had to reciprocate through gifts to their father. People had to change their Christian names associated with Westernization and adopt local names De Bock states that in the same manner, Mobbuto fundamentalised the narratives that corruption was a way of repaying the father who would have built schools for his children. Violence for Mabutto Seseko was explained in cultural terms as in the case of a father that disciplines his children. This paper argues that all these are cultural forms of resistance used by the state in resisting any form or potential form of resistance.

In like manner, although somewhat approached differently, the Zimbabwean state has delved into the socio-cultural sphere of representing the president for instance as a demi-God or ubaba (father) of the nation. The Vice presidents once said of the president that “as Zimbabwe, we are proud. You have your head above all heads, you are a mountain of mountains,” and a “dura reruzivo” (cistern of wisdom) (Matenga 2015b). Ranger (2004) and Tendi (2008) acclaim that such expositions have cultural implications for the leader of the state as a god, a chief or a king acting on behalf of and deserving respect from everyone round him.

Such narratives become a discourse that shapes behavior, and hence leading to limited resistance from the people. The state in Zimbabwe has advanced the claim that Mugabe the president of the state was endorsed and prophesied by spirit mediums and that he was prophesied to rule forever (Newsday, 12, 09, 2017). Such insinuations by an army general to the traditional leaders, were aimed at ensuring the latter, closer in contact with the people would spread messages of connectivity between the presidents long stay in power and cultural authentication. Former Vice President Mujuru after her dismissal from the ruling party made similar comments as well as Vimbai Gukwe Chivaura an author and lecturer who at a traditional leadership event accentuated that Mugabe would never die and that even if he died his spirit would continue to live and to fight imperial tendencies (The South African, 13, 03, 2013). As such, ultimately, the people are bound to reduce their dissent let alone resistance, simply because of respect to cultural codes and principles.

In this way culture is manipulated by the state to advance state hegemony, while from another lens of critic culture will be appearing as a barrier for resistance by the people. More so the institution of traditional leaders has become a trading ground for the state through inviting them both coercively and voluntarily to act on behalf the state. Gupta (1995) claimed that the state manipulates local institutions in India. For Herderian, preexisting cultures have sometimes been turned into nations or existing cultures being reinvented and recreated to obliterate preexisting cultures. Known as the custodians of the people due to their proximity to the people and by right of their roles, the traditional leaders have historically been depicted as having relations with the ruling state (Musekiwa, 2012). Post independent Zimbabwe saw them being integrated into official legal structures of the country through the Traditional Leadership Act of 2002.

This act, which accorded them power over their constituencies was coupled with benefits from the State in the form of vehicles and an official salary, among other perks to dispel any forms of state resistance driven by them (Formal Structures of Power). In augmenting the foregoing a local newspaper (Newsday, September, 18, 2017) in Zimbabwe ran with the tittle ‘Chiefs to the highest bidder’ claiming that the chiefs required off-road ford ranger vehicles and increases in their salaries in order to extend their support to the ruling party in the fourth coming elections. Although the chiefs later responded (Herald of 16, 11, and 2017) by suing the responsible newspaper, key to note that the state has used a carrot and stick approach to ensure that chiefs remain in check and supporting the ruling government. This is coupled with conditions of poverty in the country which have defined the traditional leader’s drive for wealth accumulation, as shown recently by their demand for money from villagers seeking proof of residence and affidavits for registration to vote (Newsday, October, 17, 2017). Formal Structures of Power states that the traditional leaders have been used by the state to redistribute land to the people (a political move to limit state resistance in the early 2000s) and to ‘win’ elections since the year 2000 (see also Holomisam 2004).

Non the less, the presence of the traditional leaders, who are closer to the people and agents of culture, ensures that the people find it difficult to resist the state, and that the state has its way in everything including elections, but also to the extent of abusing their cultural status and roles to exploit the people. Resistance by the people becomes difficult on cultural grounds and thus in the process becoming one of the ways in which the state resists the people. The traditional leadership structures themselves have served as a way for the state to resist resistance from the people and the organizations that represent them. How? First the state set up parallel structures which sometimes compliment formal structures of governance in the local. These structures which go up to the national level have appeased any sorts of resistance from the people and are said to “consider all matters, including cultural matters, affecting the interests and well-being of all the inhabitants of the people”. The prCONCLUSION


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RESISTING THE RESISTENCE. (2019, Jul 28). Retrieved from