Nathaniel Manheru THE OTHER SIDE
My inclination was to write on developments in South Africa, specifically on what must have been a traumatic week for President Zuma. I am still keen to understand what the issues are, what really is at stake. It cannot be about a good finance minister who must make way, who must redeploy, to another assignment, possibly bigger, more strategic for South Africa. About a little known ex-mayor who replaces him, albeit for a short three days before the President makes yet another appointment from history. A little appointment drama that reverberates in the markets. Or is made to by those who think all ministerial appointments must, in the final analysis, meet with their expectations and approval. South Africa must be governed for the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the JSE, we are now told and now know. Anyone who offends against the JSE must go. That includes Zuma, the President of South Africa!
When business shall govern
Of course the ANC has come round in solid support of the embattled President, but not before he had been badly mauled by the white establishment, better known as business. The actual rulers who must sanction governance as we now know. For it is so in South Africa: business is white, whatever superficial black encrustations may adorn it. And it is business, not the people, who govern and decide. The Financial Mail, itself the bellicose side of this white dimension, did not hide its distaste for President Zuma. Its editorial was emphatic: we needn’t be afraid any longer; now Zuma must go. Aah! Something rang final, apocalyptic in the editorial pronouncement. “We” stood for them, whites who have acquired a place in the sun, not by being better, cleverer than Zuma, but by being whiter, lighter than he is or can ever be. Race. Wealth. Now Power we thought had shifted across the table, into those dark, caroused hands from the struggle.
Dashing the little illusion
The “we” is meant to conscript us, to incorporate all of us into this one, hateful basket from which we feel evenly injured by this one man Zuma who must now go, according to the white gods of capital. To make us part of an aggrieved, multiracial mass which allows us, for the first time, to be in one basket with the rich and corpulent. A basket from which we all mourn the laceration of the rand, our Rand. From which he wail at the collapse of stocks, our blue chips. From which he bemoan the flight of capital, our capital! For white business needs black anger to secure itself, to look democratic in its ways. Its agony must become our agony, its setbacks our setbacks. We the outsiders from a long history. And that is what we are all about: pawns moved by the mighty invisible hand that moves and shakes the JSE, our JSE. Give it to them. In two short days, they have been able to show who makes the Presidency. Who decides. Who appoints. Who governs. Yes, who votes. And you don’t need real elections, votes. Just angry, jittery markets, an angry rich white man a.k.a. investor, and an ANC President buckles. It is not about how good or bad Zuma is as a President; it is about dashing even that little illusion we ever had that something happened in 2004. But I am not writing about South Africa, the ANC, the rich, angry whites. I am home, thinking about our war veterans.
When genius arrives
The Irish, the Dubliners, gave us one great writer, Jonathan Swift. He wrote Gulliver’s Travels and many other little, incendiary books which include that grimly cynical book called A Modest Proposal. And Swift’s proposal is that Britain which can’t be bothered about its starving street urchins, simply fattens them, to despatch them to the human abattoir, for some little, tender human veal, for some fat and tender hindquarters for her rich sons’ tables. As grim as it comes, I tell you. Such extreme views, and his imaginative fictional shrinkage of Man into some puny Lilliputian, or growing Man into overpowering ugly grotesquery he called Brobdingnagian, made Swift a near misanthrope, a diligent hater of Man. But he left us one gem. I always find myself going back to it. Writing about Man, the angry Swift described him as “the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.” Or worse: “a lump of deformity and disease both in body and mind, smitten with pride.” Like Alexander Pope, his Augustan contemporary, he saw the world as afflicted by vain mediocrity, a curses planet where the arrival of one rare genius manifests itself as a thousand dunces ready to traduce it.
John, Peter and Thomas
Many thought Swift a hater of mankind, dismissing him for his out and out misanthropy. Until one day that Swift decided to answer the thousand dunces laying the charge. Did he hate Man? “I have ever hated all Nations, professions and communitys and all my love is towards individuals . . . I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas.” For a man who had announced his main purpose in his writing life as one “to vex the world rather than to divert it”, the answer could not have been more perplexing.
The ZANU-PF 15th Annual People’s Conference has come. I am not so sure that it is gone. No great events ever have closure, still less one so soon. It was a great convocation, and what a better confirmation of its success than the desperate attempts by the opposition to bedim it! I laughed my heart out when I read in the opposition press that Mujuru’s people had finally signed up to Tsvangirai’s NERA, National Election Reform Agenda, all under the holy “see” of one Bishop Ancelimo Magaya. Not so much the signing which gave mirth. No. But its gratuitous interpretation as a great perturbation in national politics. An attempt to see it as a prologue to the much-yearned for unity in the opposition. You have to be politically bald and wishful. Well, the little, hapless idea was to stage some little event, little sideshow, hoping to overshadow Victoria Falls. It didn’t work, except as a backhanded accolade to ZANU-PF and its annual conference.
Deep pockets, good recompense
So, does it mean all is clear for ZANU-PF? Not quite, and this is the issue to focus on. The Mujuru people are struggling, in spite of the rumoured monies they are said to have aplenty. I hope that is true, too. We are no longer transacting in Zimdollars, a factor that made it so easy and cheap to destabilise Zimbabwe. Anyone who wants to fund opposition politics now has to have a strong financial tendon, and/or a good basis for an electoral outcome that brings recompense. Just now there are no donors with deep pockets, no certainty of electoral outcome for the opposition either, however it may be configured. The only horse sure to gallop home is the unwanted one, ZANU-PF. So really, ZANU-PF has little to worry about in respect of the so-called People First and its corrupting half-pennies. As for the MDCs and their shards, well, Chamisa is a good reposte. He points to more that is brewing, effervescing in fact.
The only danger to ZANU-PF is itself. By way of severity of damage it is willing to inflict on itself in internecine bloodletting. Victoria Falls demonstrated that this is a controllable variable, one whose seeming runaway proportions was only to the extent it was tolerated by the leadership. Of course no living party wants uneventful peace and settledness in between elections. A phlegmatic or languid calm presaging political passivity and even indolence. The pot of politics must never show a bottom, or a clean meniscus at the top. It needs to spew magarahundwi, muddying its waters to show activity and readiness. I think the one admirable thing about ZANU-PF in the year about to close is the robustness of internal debate. Of course one wishes it was more on issues, more issues, instead of personalities and just succession. But in politics every cloud has a silver lining. The overemphasis on succession and personalities has made leadership debatable, and has allowed for rules on succession to be impliedly written. After all, here are two magnitudes in national affairs defying hard and fast rules, a black and white clearcut contrast. Often, it is not the rancour accompanying; it is the taboo broken, which matters.
Politics guiding the gun
But there are two matters to emerge from Victoria Falls requiring sensitive handling and management: war veterans and the security establishment. And it is a two-in-one, as both are inextricably connected. President Mugabe, commander-in-chief of both the security establishment and the war veterans, made comments critical of both. The security apparatus must keep away from the party’s succession and factional politics which must come to an end anyway; the war veterans must avoid becoming and behaving like a new, emerging elite simply on the strength of their war record and claims. Very strong messages which the President has never given in an open forum. But what has been missed in ensuing discussions on the President’s messages is the fact of those messages’ provenance in two key philosophies which have guided ZANU-PF in its long life of struggle. The first principle is that it is politics which guide the gun. Not just a philosophy copied from some Chinese little red book, but a philosophy hewn out of bitter, bloody experience. Both ZANU and ZAPU went through internal armed rebellions which demonstrated in vivid and bloody proportions how deadly an antagonism can become with the help of gunpowder. About this, let little be said.
Fish and water
The second philosophy is that guerrillas must come from, go back to, live with, and fight together with, the masses. The goal is that of a people’s war, which in peacetime has translated to a people’s party. Again, this was a matter of survival, not of merely copying from other peoples’ struggles. The trade-off was that the ideas and grievances that motored the struggle had to be the people’s grievances and ideas. Put metaphorically, the fighters were the fish, the masses the water. It was a relationship of mutual dependency, mutual support, mutual protection. The President did no more than underline these two founding principles which have always guided ZANU-PF politics, whether in war or in peacetimes.
Both pronouncements have now been taken advantage of to deride the war veterans and to seek to destabilise the security establishment. That is where the danger lies, where ZANU-PF must show great wariness. There is an attempt to cull ill from two good messages conveyed to comrades in a comradely way. Yes, there may have been spurts and strains of disappointment, or even anger in the message, but it was all comradely, counselling and inclusionary. After all, it was not all veterans, only a few deviant once. Let no dire conclusions be drawn, no harsher fates predicted or wished for anyone. The President did not redraw the role and value of war veterans in national politics, whether in the struggle or in post-independence. How could he, can he, ever do that? It is to completely misunderstand him, his message and his attitude to that vital arm of the country, nation and party. The war veterans are a key, unshakeable constituency of ZANU-PF.
Veterans and abused gratuities
What needs to be addressed is a lingering, anti-war veteran sentiment planted and cultivated by Rhodesians, and which now periodically resurfaces in our national politics. The whole propaganda effort of the Rhodesian machinery was meant to project war veterans as heartless terrorists who lived on gore. The Rhodesians invested heavily in that image and perception. Even in their scattered present, Rhodesians continue to psyche some of us in the same direction of perception. And often, this anti-war veteran spirit assumed recondite but still deadly forms of disguise. Like blaming the 1997 economic meltdown on the disbursements of war gratuities for veterans. The underpinning thinking is that war veterans are not legitimate claimants to national resources, that they are not a legitimate spending item for the State. It was as if gratuities amounted to the funding of terrorism under Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. An illicit act. Really? What was the paltry payment to war veterans vis-a-vis pensions paid out to Rhodesians overseas; vis-a-vis subsidies paid to white industries and farmers at the time? Vis-a-vis wholesale transfer pricing done by Rhodesians spiriting away our minerals? An educated Zimbabwean once asked me: if tobacco is racking in nearly half a billion dollars today under black farmers, how much did this nation lose by way of externalised earnings before land reforms? Does that not take us far in understanding the meltdown than the paltry monies paid out to war veterans? There were more compelling reasons for the meltdown and let no one scapegoat war veterans who only got a modicum for an entitlement, and all under a national law.
Did they have to be wartime veterans?
Whichever way, the Rhodesian establishment used the meltdown to reverse the image gain of liberators which war veterans had achieve at Independence, indeed to recast them again as outsiders who import chaos and destruction. Then followed land retrieval and reforms from 2000. Again the framing was not one of a continuing sacrifice on the part of the war veterans, a framing founded on unfulfilled wartime goals which the war veterans were now fulfilling. They were projected as an unkempt and murderous lot out to ruin “a once sophisticated economy” that played bread basket to Southern Africa. No one stopped to ask why a sophisticated economy excluded war veterans. Why the veterans or any other self-respecting black Zimbabweans needed to respect and protect a basket that bore no bread for him and for his family, needed to preserve an economy that fed fat a particular race against whom a whole war had been fought. Even attempts at institutionalising the war veteran ethos by socializing new fighters on the land struggle was framed as fraud. These were not genuine war veterans, the mantra ran. They were too young to have fought in the war of liberation, the narrative went. Did they have to be wartime veterans? And anyway, what makes a veterans genuine except the struggles they are engaged in? At the heart of this charge was a great fear that the war veterans were reproducing themselves and the culture of resistance in the youth, a great fear of a second take at fighter-collaborator liaison which had won the second Chimurenga. The hope was that what the Rhodesians could not finish on the battlefront, time and mortality would do in peacetime.
They must not govern
Then came the MDC and its borrowed imperialist politics. The war veterans were again framed as a violent lot, a real danger to democracy. It was as if democracy was what was at stake. In reality the fight was for a land heritage, and blocking a second colonialism. Yet it was thinned down to democracy, rule of law and come such nonsense. And traitors were packaged as victims, defenders as murderers. One only needs to recall how Hunzvi was became a gorgon in western and westernised local media, both of which were carriers of the Rhodesian ethos. The high point of these Rhodesian politics by proxy was the MDC mantra which said those that liberated the country must not govern it. Who deserved to? Quislings? Again, we see an attempt to delegitimise war veterans as a stakeholder in governance politics. An attempt to present treachery as best qualification for leadership.
Foibles of John, Peter and Thomas
Let by Magaisa, the President’s remarks on the security establishment is now being used to reignite and revalorised debate on the so-called security sector reforms. The President, the argument goes, has confirmed the need to restructure the security sector to ensure the forces remain in barracks when the national question is being decided. Fortunately for us, publications like The Patriot have done a sterling job to trace the western, regime-change origins of the notion of security sector reforms. It is a programme of containment, an attempt to blunt liberation politics in the name and under the guise of professional soldiery. Obviously inspired by some bad apples in ZANU-PF, one weekly publication went as far as redesigning the command! From a newsroom? My goodness! But it all goes to show the forces ranged against our veterans and security actors. And how these forces are only too keen to treat the badness of John, Peter and Thomas as a repudiation of mankind! Man, what a puny, verminous creature.