Povo, Esap, fulcrum . . .How language has impacted our thinking, behaviour over the years

David Mungoshi Shelling the Nuts
My  experience over the years has been that wherever people are gathered together for a purpose and whenever they engage in active programmes aimed at something, certain words and/or expressions gain currency and become part of everyday conversation.

Between 1980 and 2017 certain words became integral to Zimbabwean discourse.

Independence brought the Portuguese word “povo” into our consciousness. Creative and humorous as always, the people said it meant “People of various opinions”, a rather demeaning term. Former Zanla guerrillas and Zanu-PF cadres imported this word and others into Zimbabwe from Mozambique. Zimbabweans who had never been to Mozambique learned to yell, “Viva unidade” (Long live our unity) and “Aluta continua!” (The struggle continues). Even I could with confidence say, “Nada camarada” (No comrade).

Ex-Zipra guerrillas who had been to the Soviet Union for military and other training brought the Russian word, “Nyet!” This Russian word for “No” is by comparison much more emphatic and final than similar words in many other languages.

To this day we there are people in Zimbabwe called Nikita, Valentina, Anastasiya and Ivan. There is even a Lenin and a Stalin!

During the Smith era hardly any black person took any notice of the annual national budget. Then independence came, and with it Dr Bernard Chidzero, formerly with the United Nations, and budget language changed.

In every budget statement Minister Chidzero expressed everything in “real terms” as well as in “nominal terms”.

To that was soon added the acronym “Esap” (Economic Structural Adjustment Programme).

After a while, and with justification, Esap became the people’s number one enemy. The word tasted like ash, and the much-vaunted belt-tightening became a retrenchment tool in true capitalist fashion. This in a country whose declared path was socialist and egalitarian!

For years, thereafter, few new fascinating terms came into use; at least not until land reform began in earnest. Then terms like “designated farms” crept in as land reform rhetoric became a lot more pronounced. The Government appropriated white-held land for redistribution to prejudiced and landless black folk. This went some way in correcting existing historical imbalances. As the land question progressively became a major irritant, terms like “willing seller, willing buyer” and “fast track land programme” gained currency.

Depending on where one’s sympathies lay, land reform attracted such epithets as “chaotic, controversial, ill-conceived, ill-planned” and so on.

The word “cronies” also became common. According to the traducers of land reform, then president, Robert Mugabe, distributed land to his cronies.

Following the 2008 elections and the subsequent formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU) another word began to do the rounds.

Once Robert Mugabe had used the word “principal” it gained popular use and acceptance. Previously, the only principal most people knew was someone in charge of a school or college and other such institutions. The word was used across the political divide.

In the aftermath of Nelson Chamisa’s lodging of an electoral challenge against now incumbent president ED Mnangagwa in the country’s Constitutional Court this last August, nearly everyone has vicariously become a paralegal.

Social media were awash with words like “pith, fulcrum, primary evidence, residue, My Lord, My Lady, learned counsel, my learned colleague” and so on.

On the streets too it was the same. Whatever else it may have done, the constitutional hearing demystified legal processes and gave the courts a human face.

Points at law were practically illustrated, including the fact that the burden of proof lay with the complainant rather than with the respondent.

Chamisa had to prove his case beyond any shadow of doubt. ED being the respondent did not have to prove that he was not guilty of the allegations levelled against him or that he had not lost the election.

Uninformed partisan laymen were inclined to think and say that Chief Justice Malaba was being unnecessarily interrogatory with Advocate Thabani Mpofu and his team. It should now be clear to all and sundry that Advocate Mpofu and his colleagues had to be prodded in order determine with absolute certainty whether or not he had proved his case.

The Constitutional Court hearing will be talked about for years to come and the jokes around the hearing will also continue. You hear someone in the most unexpected places assume a pedantic tone and say, “According to Section this and that, sub-section (b) and so on …” you are in breach of this or that contract, or something to that effect.

To a large extent the live broadcasting of the hearing helped cement litigation and arbitration as a tool for dispensing with matters of civil and political discord.

Never before had this happened, despite the many big cases that went before the courts across the years.

The Constitutional Court is the highest court in the land. Once a decision is pronounced the matter ends there and goes into the archives for future reference. Associated law reports and books are used to teach law and argue points at law. The lesson being one should approach the court if they have a reasonable chance of succeeding. If this is not so, some cases become, as lawyers often say, “frivolous and vexatious”.

High-profile people may take that route just for another ego trip. But, I suppose, in this new dispensation, one has every right to be a nuisance if they choose to be. That too is a democratic right. Consensus is largely a pipe dream!

In the movies, defence lawyers and prosecutors punch the air and spray the room liberally with innuendo. The idea is always either to score a point or get a submission (almost like in a wrestling ring).

They use steely voices and push out their chins aggressively to obliterate opponents in the legal ring. And always, when they sit down, it is clear what rhetorical questions are at play.

In Zimbabwe’s constitutional hearing, ZEC’s lawyer, 34-year-old Tawanda Kanengoni who at first appeared like a lamb being led to the slaughter and at best a toddler playing adult games, hardly ever raised his voice.

Yet in terms of elocutionary prowess and illocutionary force he outshone everyone else. Speaking softly, Kanengoni made it imperative for everyone to listen to him very carefully.

While Kanengoni was eloquent in his delivery, he exhibited no trace of smugness or sloppiness, whatsoever. His precision, conciseness and clarity were something to marvel at. At the end of it all, Kanengoni was the amazing new discovery.

I heard it whispered on the street that he was a Gweru boy. Regardless of where we stood and how we had voted, people in Gweru, the city of progress, embraced Kanengoni as one of their own.

With the electoral challenge disposed of, the Second Republic began. A new Cabinet was appointed and the First Session of parliament in the Second Republic was set in motion. The legislative programme will require more work and less tomfoolery in the august House. It is time we all applied ourselves to the tasks at hand.

Everyone who has been to school knows just how cumbersome correction exercises can be. Perfunctory work has its just rewards.

Zimbabwe needs to do what has to be done and do it well. The things that went wrong and that willy-nilly practically derailed the nation must now be cleared. We need a new knowledge-based resoluteness on national issues.

That way we can protect our collective interests. Accordingly, terms like “ring-fence, offshore, nostro account” and so on should no longer be exotic. Everyone should, as a matter of course, know and understand what they entail. This newly-enacted intermediated tax is a case in point. A national buy-in is possible if the necessary outreach is done. Thus, the print media, electronic media and other means, including advertisements on radio and television can help bring all and sundry on board for the good of all.

Austerity measures are never a walk in the park. They carry the risk of further aggravating the situation and causing alarm and despondency. This notwithstanding, inaction can never be an alternative in our circumstances. It’s time for a change of mindset all round.

The cry-baby words of naysayers must be exorcised, and the words of self-styled prophets who really should go under the name “profits” must be assigned to the dust bin.

Too many people want to receive without ever breaking a sweat.

Typically, they would rather sit on their haunches. Today’s miracle-seekers are motivated by an almost morbid desire to acquire inordinate riches through dubious means. Through the now-you-don’t-have-anything and now-you-have-it-all syndrome, economic passengers are created. What happened to good old work and honest sweat?

There is quite a bit of negativity in the air right now, but it will end sooner rather than later. The school curriculum may have to take in new ideas including hygiene as a discipline so that in the near future the word “epicentre” can become redundant as cholera and typhoid become extinct. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness!

Source :

The Herald

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