Blessing-Miles Tendi would make a lot of enemies with civil society in Zimbabwe if his book: Making history in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe was widely available in the country.
The book says critical public intellectuals in Zimbabwe have commercialised the struggle for democracy by inventing a “crisis industry” which is bankrolled by non-governmental organisations and foreign donors.
And there is competition among activists about who gets bashed most as this means more income and continued survival for them.
“There is competition between activists in civil society over who gets more badly treated, beaten or imprisoned by the state,” the book says. “The greater the history of one’s ill-treatment at the hands of the state, the greater one’s legitimacy as an actor in civil society.”
The reason for this, the book says, is to create a “permanent Zimbabwe crisis” which guarantees continued donor funds for more consultancy work and for the formation of more NGOs.
To make sure that the money continues to flow, some of the intellectuals are bending their analysis to perpetuate the crisis.
To illustrate this, the book reproduces a conversation between Tendi and a University of Zimbabwe academic.
UZ academic: Today I learnt that a security guard at the government’s Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe earns a higher salary than me, a UZ lecturer. UZ intellectuals hold PhDs, are getting old, do not have cars or drive an old car, have lousy houses and have not accomplished much. What else can they do but sell out (for money)?
Interviewer: But you have stayed out of it and managed to maintain your integrity.
UZ academic: Who says I am not in it? I do consultancy work for NGOs and I bend my analysis to please them. I tell NGOs what they want to hear. I tell them Mugabe is bad and there is a serious crisis and I say it loudly so they are satisfied. That way they will come again next time for my analysis and even bring me new clients. That is how I survive.
Though this interview was conducted in 2005, hardly a day passes without a report of one activist or another being arrested, detained or harassed.
A British Member of Parliament who was in Zimbabwe in March told the House of Commons last month that when he asked some human rights lawyers during a dinner what they would do for a living if the situation in Zimbabwe cleared up, they did not have a response.