Contrition integral to good politics

HARARE - British deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, hit the music charts recently.

Not that Clegg is a singer of any note. Some clever music producer, using auto-tunes, manipulated his recent speech into a song.

In that speech, Clegg uttered a word that has become so uncommon in politics: sorry.

Clegg’s party is in a coalition almost similar to our own; but theirs involves two parties and did not emanate from violence and electoral theft.

Before the last elections, Clegg had pledged not to raise university tuition fees if they were voted into power.

The Liberal Democrats, lured by Tories into a coalition, failed to fulfil this pledge; the fees were raised significantly, leaving many particularly students, incensed.

Clegg’s song is a caricature of politics. The reason his apology has been immortalised in song is simply because contrition in politics is as rare as a snowball in hell.

Politics has become a hellish pursuit of power detached from human emotions.

Quite often politicians have avoided apology to either evade responsibility or create the macho image of power.

So power does not apologise, lest it is not considered as power. The closest that politicians come to an apology is use of such expressions as “regret” — a word whose equivalent in Shona I have struggled to find.

One is reminded of President Robert Mugabe’s belated response to the Matabeleland atrocities; acts he merely regretted and described the act as a “moment of madness.”

Before Clegg’s rare show of contrition, British prime minister David Cameron had earlier fully apologised on behalf of his government for the death of 96 Liverpool supporters in 1989 and delays in enquiry.

His apology followed findings of the latest enquiry which ultimately exonerated the supporters and placed blame on the police, and other agencies, for the fatal stampede, known as the Hillsborough disaster.  

The police were profusely contrite. Even the abrasive British tabloid, The Sun, which had blamed the supporters 23 years ago, also humbled itself with a full apology.

One cannot help but draw parallels with approaches to Gukurahundi although Hillsborough may not have been a political incident.

The central issue is about accountability standards and contrition.

Without demeaning the 96 lives lost during the Hillsborough disaster, Gukurahundi comparatively accounted for an estimated 20 000 innocent people. Yet it has never been worthy of any formal enquiry or deserving of a full apology.

Like The Sun, the media here is embroiled too.

People from Matabeleland accuse a newspaper of exhorting the government to unleash the North Korean-trained storm-troopers.

In short, we disregard enquiry and contrition.

Comparatively, our politics lacks accountability standards especially after human losses. Mugabe, playing to the African gallery as usual, was at the UN recently where he condemned the killing of Gaddafi.

Why should Mugabe be so concerned about the murder of Gaddafi?

I have never heard him express disgust, with similar passion, about the demise of many opposition supporters murdered by his supporters or agents here.

Where these lesser lives?

If you uphold the sanctity of life, then be consistent.
For your revulsion to be credible, you must show it for the underserved fatalities at home first.

It is reproachable in some circumstances for Western leaders to kill foreigners, but it is even more opprobrious for a leader to preside over the murder of his own people.  

Few Western leaders, if any, would get away with either state-sanctioned or political murders. Yet here, it can happen times over without enquiry or consequences.

Westerners may murder in foreign lands but we kill our own, are dreadfully unaccountable and show no compunction.

This reluctance to acknowledge fault has also seen Zanu PF deny responsibility for Zimbabwe’s economic woes and desperately scramble for scapegoats in faraway lands. Zanu PF portrays itself as infallible.
Well, noone is.

Even Morgan Tsvangirai finally found the good sense to do the now tragically rare thing and apologise for his voracious libidinal energy. He should be commended.

The import of this contribution, though, is that politics needs to rediscover its human conscience.

Clegg’s apology may have been caricaturised but it reinforces a serious proposition that human contrition should be a natural part of human politics. - Conrad Nyamutata

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