As the story of TB Joshua rages on, rages towards its denouement, I have been reminded of the church politics in England of the late middle ages. And of course church politics necessarily meant the Catholic Church with its many Orders, its vast real estate, its ever swelling coffers, all set against gargantuan appetites of its supposedly holy, otherworldly inmates, starting with the Pope.
Far reaching reforms suggested for the Church in the 12th and 13th century had come to spectacular grief, as dictates of happy secular life got the better of monks and friars, got the better of church dogma, philosophy and vows to a life of devotional privation. Gone and gone for good was the devotional self-abnegation of the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th centuries which had given these religious figures and orders a higher spiritual plinth, well ahead of ordinary men and women of their time. Wealth had slowly but inexorably driven out single-mindedness and the devotion of yore, bringing with it “the world’s slow stain”, to quote A R Myers.
The things of Martha versus Mary
The abbot and the rest of the church officialdom found themselves spending more time in managing accounts of the church, in growing the wealth of the church through extortionate tithes and other exaggerated charges for the redemption of the soul, than in fulfilling St Francis’ dicta: follow naked the naked Christ. Myers puts it beautifully: “It seemed to them (church officials) a solemn, even sacred, obligation to maintain the privileges of their house unimpaired; but such a view meant that the things of Martha tended to drive out those of Mary, and that to its tenants and subjects the monastery appeared not as a holy community but as a property-owning corporation, tenacious of its legal rights . . . The lure of wealth had ensnared the friars . . . ”
Fixed and focused on the here-and-now, naturally the hereafter suffered, with the monastic values of isolation, ascetic frugality and regard for work, prayer and the poor, giving way to parasitic venality. So changed, so degraded, so material, so secular was the church that none in its ranks could dare repeat the Carthusian “nunquam reformata quia nunquam deformata”, which meant “it needs no reform that has never been deformed”. It was this sybaritic givenness to pleasures of the world which triggered massive disenchantment with the Catholic Church, and with faith in general, giving rise to the great ferment we now call the Reformation.
Holy See and the Mafia
Yet in spite of these excesses which are as old as the medieval era, the Holy See is yet to give us a clean Catholic Church. Only last month, in April, the Vatican was rocked by yet another sordid scandal involving the burial in 1990 of a mafia mobster, one Enrico “Renatino” De Pedis of the infamous Magliana organised crime gang, next to a whole row of bishops and cardinals. How such a sinner, how this dead bloody mafioso could buy his way onto the sacred grounds of the Holy See, and then find his way into one of the ornate sarcophaguses (marble tombs) of bishops and cardinals in the crypt of Basilica of Sant' Apollinare, all to quietly lie there unasked, unmasked, until 1997, lie there undisturbed and peacefully until April 2012, lie there a pretentious neighbour to so holy men, no one, no one in this great church is prepared to say! And how only keys to such a holy tomb could only be in the hands of the gangster's wife, now late, again no one was and is prepared to say to this day.
But Vatileaks dramatise even more bizarre dimensions to the story: the dead crook made too huge a monetary offer to the Church for it to refuse him a holy sepulcher. Much worse, there is very strong indication that De Pedis was not lying in the tomb alone. A mysterious caller to an Italian investigative television programme intimated the mafioso was in the company of the 15-year-old girl, Emanuela Orlandi, daughter of a prominent non-clerical Vatican employee who mysteriously went missing in June 1983, never to be seen again, whether in person or by remains.
The belief is that she was kidnapped and killed by De Pedis' Magliana gang, possibly by De Padis himself, on the orders of a powerful cardinal of American origins, all to shut the mouth of her father who knew too much on the arcane banking affairs of the Vatican. Apparently the little girl’s father who worked for the Vatican had stumbled on documents linking the Vatican Bank with the Magliana gang through one Roberto Calvi, dubbed “God’s banker”. In a spiraling mystery, Calvi himself was found hanging in London in June 1982 in yet another unexplained case of murder. He stood accused of stealing millions laundered on behalf of the mafia.
Dead in company
Only Monday this week was the mafia boss’ tomb opened after the Vatican finally granted authority to Italian forensic police. That authority had been very long in coming. On prising open the tomb, De Pedis was found there, intact in his dark blue suit and black tie of the burial day. But also tucked under his body in this three-layered sarcophagus were dozens of boxes containing unidentified human bones. Italy is still to establish whose remains these could be, but with the missing Emanuela in mind.
The story of TBN
Still my mind wonders to TBN, Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world’s largest so-called God channel. As I write, it is embroiled in a vicious family feud, the latest in a series of scandals to gnaw it, including one of a gay tryst involving a male employee and TBN’s owner, Paul Crouch. TBN is a multi million-dollar world Christian media empire with so many diligent followers in many countries, including Zimbabwe. Now Crouch’s granddaughter, Brittany Koper, has filed court papers in Costa Mesa, California, that include allegations of US$50 million in financial shenanigans. Her suit was followed by another one from a Koper in-law which details opulent spending at TBN, including on purchasing such items as private jets mansions in California, Tennessee and Florida, and a US$100 000 mobile home for Crouch’s wife, Jan’s dogs. TBN is exempt from paying any taxes. Now the police and Internal Revenue Service are interested.
So little God, so much gold
TBN was founded in 1973 on the philosophy that if the faithful sacrifice for their belief, God will reward them with material wealth. TBN raked in US$92 million in donations in 2010 and cleared US$175 million in tax-free revenue. In the same year, TBN declared US$800 million in net assets. Reports speak of a maze of other organisations run by the Crouch through which financial transparency gets soundly and gainfully defeated. And the fight that has spilled into the courts is over competing lavish lifestyles. Gentle reader, it is not for me to draw any lessons for you from the foregoing anecdotes. That is your business. Or to suggest any parallels with any persons living or dead, here or in West Africa. Again, that is for you. Or even to impute un-holiness in the body of Christ.
Tithes and bank accounts
What I am very clear about is that our immigration laws place most West African nations in category C. That means they have to apply for visas well before their day of travel. That has not happened in respect of our guest of honour. That might never happen if May 25 is the day. Much more, many in the MDC-T did not think the invitation was clever, let alone uniting. They think it is much worse now, with all this mud bespattered everywhere. But the story of Jesus between two robbers on the crucifix, the story of De Pedis between tombs of bishops and cardinals, is quite intriguing, suggesting compelling parallels from Zimbabwe's brisk politics nowadays. Enjoy the National Day of Prayer when it falls due, always bearing in mind the basilica accommodates cardinals and De Pedis, indeed that in a bank account, even tithes and the widow’s mite, all come in one colour or money, indeed build towards a +dollar!
Thank you Excellency Deborah!
I heartily thank Deborah Bronnert, Britain’s official lady here in Zimbabwe. I spared her a few weeks back when she made some not-so-charitable comments on our policy on indigenisation, and what she perceived to be its negative impact on the country’s ability to attract foreign direct investment. I would have politely reminded her that our “mother country” Britain gave us a long lecture whose delivery began in 1890 and ended in 1980, a lecture that Newcastle coal is never given away to the Japanese, let alone to Russians. Coal tenaciously remains a British preserve, a dark British family “silver” for all time, for all generations, for all governments — Labour, Conservatives or Lib Dem. We took the lesson to heart, carried it in our bosoms for all time. We hope to be good students, so good that even the teacher shall not be spared the full wrath of well grasped lessons.
Not party to the GPA
But thank you Deborah, Your Excellency, for your candid remarks on the GPA and the obligations it unfairly places on your country in respect of the costs of our land reforms. I want to quote you: “Well, we are not parties to the GPA, this was a Zimbabwean agreement and we have never accepted liability to fund the land reform although we did actually provide some funds for land reform, soon after independence. I think it was £44 million which we paid.” You went further, Madame Ambassador: “But we do have a problem with the way the land reform was undertaken and we feel it was unfair to the individuals affected. It had a terrible impact both on those running and managing the farms, those working on the farms and the wider Zimbabwean economy.” Then you concluded: “At some point I think we are likely to . . . support a future settlement but I think we are a long way from it and it will require quite a big political shift and a political settlement here for that to be taken forward.”
No alchemists please
We understood your English, forever being grateful that you put it so plainly that none lost your meaning in all its compelling fullness. As with other lessons from your great, great civilisation, we take this one to heart, too! Your country is not a party to the GPA. This is truly and correctly put and we hope this settles the matter definitively. That you spare us the need to remind you in the not-so-distant electoral future that GPA is, in your own clear English words, “a Zimbabwean agreement”. Needless to say it did not, does not, should not, concern foreigners from any clime — Britain, Europe included. Zimbabweans should and must be left alone to deal with their GPA, in the best way they know how. It cannot be a document that outsiders conveniently and alchemically turn into a whip with which to lash at us. Equally, it cannot be a conditionality invoked in our name, invoked against us. Indeed the few quiet months which have gone by, with no meddling from all outsiders of whatever hue, who have been so solicitous in the name of our welfare, have seen remarkable progress in our effort at finding one another as Zimbabweans, GPA Zimbabweans.
When all are fed up
And as should be clear to Madame Deborah, Mugabe is fed up, Tsvangirai is fed up, Ncube is fed up — all are fed up with one another and with the Inclusive Government that all are ready to move to the GPA’s last phase, its last assignment, which is elections. We need to be left alone, something which most people, including this our good British lady, seem incapable of. I sometimes wonder why my little country prompts such deep but unsolicited engagement and involvement. Let me illustrate. After correctly renouncing the GPA, Ambassador Bronnert then goes on to voice “a problem with the way the land reform was undertaken”. Well, she does not have to for I am sure that as the British ambassador here, and as a British citizen away from home, her plate is already full, already spilling with unresolved British issues crying out for attention. She does not have to carry extra burdens from, and of, Zimbabwe. In any case we are not likely to be thankful, to be grateful. How we do things here is part of the exercise of our sovereignty. She does not have to like it, she does not have to shed an impulse, whether of empathy or of revulsion. Which is what begins to rile me about this woman.
Big political shifts?
Her last bit on the requirement of “quite a big political shift and political settlement here” before British support for land reforms which she says do not concern Britain, is quite provocative, to say the very least. I will hate any political shift meant to please this solicitous girl or her country. My country and I are not bound to please her and her Britain, the same way her country need not please or even help Zimbabwe. To require political shifts and settlements, whatever these are, is to meddle in our own affairs. It is to invite Zimbabwean opprobrium and revilement. And that she tries to hide her racist concern for white former farmers here — towards whom she simulates impersonal detachment by referring to them as “those running and managing the farms”, deludes no one. We know fully well that her heart goes out to evicted setter farmers the majority of whom are of British extraction, with blacks she calls “those working on the farms” only being dropped in to mask this racialised advocacy.
That gives colour and political identity to the “big political shift”, to the big “political settlement” she hungers after, but which she might never live to see or celebrate. This ambassador has chosen to take us back to Labour’s politics of confrontation in order to wreck the engagement currently underway with the EU. She must be taken on; we must not shirk confrontation if her country, simply on crass grounds of ex-colonial legitimacy, thinks it owns this country, and controls people and its destiny.
Locating Deborah’s politics
Buoyed by Deborah, we see the otherwise moribund CFU in a resurrectional stir. Its president, one Charles Taffs rues what he terms the destruction of property rights and land tenure during our land reforms. “The attrition of these rights has impacted, not only on citizens, but also foreign investors. Compensation for expropriated investments is a pre-requisite to the restoration of the country’s image as a good place to do business.” You are left in no doubt that he is Bronnert’s “those running and managing farms”, and whose stability only returns through “a big political shift”.
Equally, you cannot miss the implied throwback to a pre-land reform discourse, in its a-historical conceptual form, and seeking to gloss over massive colonial land alienation, massive destruction of original property rights without a single dime for compensation. And since Deborah has repudiated British obligation to meeting costs of resolving this colonial land question, it is clear from whom compensation is being asked. And a political settlement that guarantees such compensation can only exist outside the framework of Zanu-PF-), indeed can only exist inside the framework of MDC-T with its neo-liberal political outlook.
Land, mines and indigenisation
In fact Taffs gets quite explicit in his disappointment that the MDC-T has failed to fight in the CFU corner, for the greater part of the past decade. Bemoaning the party’s naked weakness, Charles Taffs says: “What is the MDC’s policy on indigenisation, mining and land? It concerns us that all that they want to do and will hinge their election campaign on is to remove President Mugabe and Zanu-PF from power. That is what they have been trying to do in the past decade. At least Zanu-PF programmes are clear-cut and well known. It is about time the election became a contestation of ideas.” You cannot miss the clarity and coincidence of thought between Bronnert and Taffs, a coincidence which more than attests to the reactivation of a political common front involving the British government, settler farmers and the MDC formations. Equally, you cannot miss the fact that white interests strip the next election down to land, mines and the rolling back of the policy of indigenisation as it relates to both classes of assets.
The real role of white farmers
If there is anyone in Zanu-PF who thinks land is now a done deal, that land is now irreversibly transferred, I urge them to think again. The electoral question and agenda has hardly changed, has hardly moved an inch. Though numerically trimmed and economically weakened, white farmers remain belligerently hopeful for a return to their pre-land reform heyday. True, they may not have the money now but their hopes remain as implacable as ever. They may have fought a lonely war but today they think miners and industrialists are so upset and shaken by the policy of indigenisation that the front against Zanu-PF could be decisively broadened. Their frustration with the MDC formations does not amount to a capitulation, a surrender; rather it underlines a desire to challenge and hopefully galvanise the formations’ inert leadership. Or even to rattle it in a way that brings forward new blood in leadership. MDC weakness cannot be merely read from the attitude of farmers. Long broke, white farmers no longer count for much as financial benefactors. But they help rouse British opinion and with it, the British Government. This is why the Deborah-Taffs axis must be taken seriously.
Equally, the divisions in the ZCTU might mean very little to the MDC vote. The ZCTU will throw its weight behind MDC anyway, the real issue being that its membership has been declining precipitously over the years. The real issue is for Zanu-PF to interpret its indigenisation programme in a way that engages this dormant worker-voter who is no longer part of the ZCTU anyway by virtue of the fact that he is either unemployed or self-employed. That is where the numbers are; that is where the effort should be, apart from the youth.
Down to zero
More critically, the link between the efforts of Britain and white farmers to “push the clock back”, and certain ministerial behaviours in the Inclusive Government must be established. While Zanu-PF has been focusing on indigenisation and its own restructuring, a vying wing within the MDC leadership which is linked to angry white interests, has been mounting a very serious comeback rear attack on land. That attack has depth, has been developing incrementally. It has now gathered enough confidence as to be openly bold and defiant.
The capacity of the new farmer has been under an inexorable attack since the start of the Inclusive Government, initially furtively, now blatantly. And this capacity has been whittled down progressively to a stage where, as with wheat farming, it has shrunk to zero! What is even more worrisome is that both affected farmers and authors of the land reform programme, that is, Zanu-PF, appear to have been wearied, to have been worn down to zero protest. And the MDC faction’s anti-land reform strategy has been overwhelming: nil funding for farmers, overwhelmingly erratic power supply to levels where as a farmer you think you are being sensible by not planting anything at all. And because you are being sensible, you are content with silent self-congratulations for your induced no-show on the land.
Subduing a sense of ownership
Three outcomes are immediately apparent. Land is fast becoming a dead asset whose emotional attachment and intensity to Zimbabweans is being precipitously lowered to become a rallying point for elections or against their possible loss. That is worrisome, deeply worrisome. Much worse, because the land lies fallow in your hands, with someone relentlessly pointing that out to you daily through politically contrived editorials, you begin to feel guilty about your owning and occupying it, indeed begin to regret that you were ever given it in the first place. And guilt is not the impulse for resistance, for assertion of one’s heritage. The sense of deservedness associated with ownership gives way to a new sense of failure and futility founded on low or nil productivity. Farmers are being set up for failure in order to induce a sense of self-contempt for ownership. And of course a people without a strong sense of ownership are ready to be subdued into a new, menial role of a worker. Need we wonder then that Biti is pushing for a jobs programme?
The domino effect
Much worse, with agricultural production heavily compromised, the whole economy has drifted towards a reliance on food imports. And with that decline goes all processes of agro-value addition, principally milling. This week we saw millers wailing through a huge advertisement. The mills have ground to a halt against flour imports, against zero wheat farming. It is a sign of things to come. Had it not been for tobacco, those involved in the manufacture of agro-implements would have been wailing too. With little activity on the land, no one comes for services. They will cry eventually, unless this trend is checked.
Weakening the defence of land
With the farmer impotent and inert, he ceases to be a homogenous constituency for political outcomes, including voting. He also begins to seek livelihoods elsewhere, away from the land. And as he does so, he harbors bitterness which is not always easy to causally link with the guilty fraction in the Inclusive Government. Already we have witnessed a situation where Made and Biti are being blamed in equal measure.
Yet Made only moves upon disbursements of funds by Biti. When culpability gets this blurred, you could be witnessing a seismic shift in attitudes. With power outages endured everyday, we begin to get used to Mangoma’s non-delivery on energy, a non-delivery that we never got to at the height of sanctions. We forget this has a direct bearing on the meaning of land reforms, especially at a personal level. And where the meaning has been lowered, few are motivated to resist politics of land reform reversal. In such circumstances, Ambassador Bronnert’s “big political shift” becomes feasible.
Blaming it all on land reforms
The MDC is not concerned about agricultural failures. These will be posted on Zanu-PF anyway. And as reports of likely imports from Zambia gather visibility, we have seen the return of that discourse that blames imports on land reforms, that see imports as an indictment on land reforms. That discourse does not recognise that from about 2008, the productivity trend has been upward, except in times of drought. Such that we can no longer trace low productivity to land reforms, but to aborted agrarian reforms, thanks to the anti-land elements in the Inclusive Government. The agrarian reforms which were making steady progress before the Inclusive Government, have now been denied their inputs components, principally finance, well before hitting their threshold.
The budget tool
All of which means what? Well, that we must take notice of the clear definition of white interests and the relentless pursuit of their realization, riding on the platform of forthcoming elections. As Taffs says, it is not the removal of President Mugabe as a political proposition which matters in the forthcoming elections; it is the land, the mines, and reversing indigenisation. And in this crucial election, MDC formations are being instrumentalised by these white interests.
The budget becomes a principal tool. Biti’s double thrust of refusing to plant for a national harvest, while wanting to harvest what God planted in Marange for more and more debilitating imports, is quite telling. And you notice together with Mangoma, he will not import power to drive our engines, to drive our farmers, to drive our economy. Only to import wines, mixed flour, stale chickens and some such needless goods we can grow here with better financial support. Zanu -PF has been allowing this to happen.
Is all lost? Of course not. The MDC formations are not ready for elections. Tsvangirai is all over the world, including in Austria looking for funding for his sellout politics. His party is deeply fractured, with the white lobby losing patience with his leadership, while also pushing the likes of Biti in what amounts to a negative campaign. Bennett’s recent outbursts should be seen that way. Much worse, as Eddie Cross’ most recent piece shows, the MDC-T know they will not win the forthcoming elections. I quote him: “Almost certainly it will be another GNU — but this time led by Tsvangirai as State President and the leader of a defeated Zanu-PF as first Vice President.”
This is an admission of a failure to win the forthcoming elections, seeking measly consolation in imaginary convoluted posts. An MDC outright win does not yield another GNU. That was the essence of his article tellingly titled “making progress”, and not “winning”. He is right, the MDC formations will not win. Zanu-PF will, which is why it needs to understand the politics and subterfuges of this dire moment. The land issue is back on the agenda; the issue of mining and mineral rights must be firmly on the agenda through the programme of empowerment which will constitute its central message in the forthcoming election. Both issues should be carried by Zanu-PF. This means as it fends off attacks on the previously conquered and occupied ground of land, it should at the same time, fight on in respect of the new and more exciting ground of mines and minerals.