The unfortunate symbolism of an MDC mass salute to its leader

Oct 20, 2011

The startling photo below appeared in one of the local papers a few months ago. It was said to be of MDC supporters at a rally ‘saluting,’ military-style, party leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

''Ok, so what could be wrong with party members showing respect to their leader? Why do you have to 'problematize' (Zimnglish) everything?''

The brief photo caption that accompanied it is the only explanation that was given, so perhaps there is a more complex story to the ‘salute’ than is apparent.

Appearances are tremendously important in politics. Many politicians and political parties often realize this after some disaster at the expense of their image. The MDC, through its many missteps as well as the concerted efforts of ZANU-PF to trip it up, has undergone a steep learning curve in this regard. It is still struggling to manage its image, rather than have it defined by others, usually its detractors.

Members of a political party should not be ‘saluting’ their leaders. The salute is in any case a military form of showing respect that is best left out of the civilian sphere. But if it must be used, it should be the ‘servants,’ the leaders, saluting the ‘masters,’ certainly not the other way round, as this photo purports to show. There are easily many other ways the membership could show respect for its leader than this kind of vaguely Nazi-ist mass salute. There is almost something frightening in its implications.

There is no questioning the right of party members to show respect for their party leader as they wish, but the propriety of the choice of 'mass salute' depicted is indeed highly questionable.

This kind of slavish hero worshiping of leaders even before they taste real power is how Africa so often spawns despots who don’t want to leave after they get in, and see themselves as tin pot gods.

This picture says all the wrong things about the developing dynamic between members and leaders in the MDC, the party that says its whole existence is premised on ‘democratic change.’

The Zimbabwe Review


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