The Other Side – Nathaniel Manheru
As I write this piece, I am looking at a piece in the New York Times done by one Alexander Noyes. It is on Zimbabwean politics. The writer introduces himself as a doctoral candidate at Oxford University, a profile no doubt meant to impart some aura to the piece. In essence, the piece makes a case for “a broad opposition coalition” led by former Vice President Mujuru, and incorporating Morgan Tsvangirai and the rest of the opposition. Reluctantly, it acknowledges a vexatious set-up of an ever weakening opposition on the one hand, and a breakaway from ZANU-PF unable to unseat Mugabe singly, on the other. Expectantly, the piece postulates that a fusion of these two weaknesses will somehow alchemically produce a winning formulae such as was seen in Nigeria. That is an understandable baldness from an aspiring scholar.
Throes of No-Yes ambivalence
What is really staggering is when this writer turns the ambivalence of his name — Mr No-Yes — into a template for reading what amounts to be a truculent reality. And he puts it in such a way that stylistic brilliance is calculated to overcome and detract from an unresolved paradox: “With Mujuru’s liberation war credentials and the opposition’s diminished but still considerable support, a coalition could finally beat ZANU-PF” in 2018. What is this student of politics saying?
How on earth does a thickly set contradiction with an in-built momentum for escalation ever become a solution to a problem that mocks it? And if liberation war credentials impart a forte to Mujuru, how do infinitely better liberation war credentials residing in Mugabe who joins nationalist politics in the 1950s, and Mnangagwa who joins the ranks of combatants in the early-to-mid 1960s, stand them negatively in the same race? I suppose because these two won’t have the “opposition’s diminished but still considerable support”? That is not a clever argument to make, surely?
When the medium is the message
But there is something of real value from the article. Firstly, that it is published by the New York Times brings out clearly where the impetus to unite these weak forces is coming from. The medium is indeed the message. We know which audiences are being angled and counselled. No amount of exhorting the West “to tread carefully” hides the fact that the same West, acting both directly and indirectly through tools like Noyes, is playing “an important role in helping quietly push opposition leaders to join hands”, in the presumptuous words of Noyes, “for the good of Zimbabwe and democracy in southern Africa”!
After all, Mujuru, as Noyes acknowledges, is the West’s best hope for fighting for “the reversal of controversial policies, including land reform”. It is that policy reversal which is “good [for] Zimbabwe and democracy in southern Africa”! Here is an organic intellectual of the West at work, but regrettably one using a long outworn argument where the wishes and interests of imperialism are pursued and justified in the name and supposed interest of its victims! Too late, too, too late, Sir.
Incitement to succession
Secondly, the piece reveals the deep fear there is to a succession hand-over scenario after Mugabe. But it’s a fear that hides its true colours by projecting itself as selfless counsel against a losing post-Mugabe scenario. If Mugabe hands over to Mnangwagwa, says Noyes, “ZANU-PF’s political fortunes might actually sink lower than if Mugabe runs himself in 2018.
This is because Mnangagwa lacks broad political support and because Mujuru has grassroots popularity among ZANU-PF supporters”. The article does not hide its preference for a Mugabe candidacy in 2018. I have heard this argument before, including warnings that Mnangagwa can’t address a meeting in Matabeleland.
That he does not have Manicaland; does not command the whole of Masvingo. And certainly does not have Mashonaland East. It is a thinking steeped in factional thinking. He does not have to have any province; only ZANU-PF and the President need to have all provinces, which they both do. It is an argument meant to make a second Mujuru out of Mnangagwa, an incitement to subversion, to a bid to force succession rather than receive it.
Without a leader
But the article and its argument is very good for ZANU-PF. It means the ZANU-PF message that Mugabe will be the sole candidate in 2018 is beginning to sink in the opposition. But with it also comes an acknowledgment that the so-called divisions in the ruling party have either been false, overstated or have since been defused. Noyes says it’s either Mugabe himself or his anointed successor.
There is a presumption of a reigning status quo. Or a smooth hand-over, both a far cry from the implosion narrative. There is also a deeper, more subtle meaning in the article. In the past, the opposition enjoyed raising the argument that Mugabe was a virtual prisoner of those behind him who will not, for various and often conflicting motives, allow him to quit.
I have always known that argument to be oppositional. At a simplistic level, the argument was expected to inspire suicide in the President and ZANU-PF, namely to instigate the President to prove his critics wrong by actually resigning! Of course the calculated result would have been a ZANU-PF without a strong candidate. Or so they reasoned.
Contesting a beaten successor
At a deeper level — and this is where Noyes’ article becomes significant — it is a yearning by the opposition, principally the Mujuru camp, to buy and have more dignified time by way of another term for President Mugabe, post 2018. The opposition finds it more palatable, more dignified, to lose to Mugabe.
What they cannot stand is losing to Mugabe’s successor whom they think is Mnangagwa. Just now, they are not yet ready to contest him. Right now, they do not think he is ripe enough to be contested, to be shaken. They want him longer in government as Vice President in the hope that he will make mistakes that will diminish his appeal. The current story on zisco is meant to project him as a liar, a failure in his own backyard. The spirited questioning in Parliament was meant to expose him as without depth. Unfortunately for them, Mnangagwa has used Parliament to demonstrate the exact opposite.
But they also want him severely enervated by internal opponents inside ZANU-PF itself, whether real and imagined. This whole drama around the First Lady, and around so-called G-40, was calculated to put Mnangagwa on the spot, to weaken him well ahead of the eventual national electoral contest. He does not have war credentials, claimed the propaganda. He was not part of the Crocodile Group, went the narrative, all of it calculated to de-legitimize him. The opposition does not seek to beat Mugabe’s successor, whomsoever he might be; rather, they want to meet an already beaten successor in a skewed contest.
The fringe that fears Mnangagwa
And the forces to beat that successor run the whole gamut: from the hope that sheer time will degrade an incumbent, right up to the expectation of internecine ruin from contestation from within ZANU-PF. Let us face it: the argument that post-Mugabe candidacy of Mnangagwa will weaken and secure defeat for ZANU-PF is internal to ZANU-PF; it is not imported from lecture halls of Oxford, although it might need Oxonian dummies as propaganda.
It comes from ZANU-PF itself, peddled by very senior officials in the party who do not like Mnangagwa. The revelation this week that these officials have been inspiring anti-party narrative in the private press was confirmatory. The biggest fear which this anti-Mnangagwa fringe within ZANU-PF harbours presently is his pre-2018 anointment. They seek to spoil it because they fear it’s inevitable, fear it might come sooner.
They have run a campaign of fear, and hence the hysteria. They seek to pre-empt this imaginary succession by peddling the myth that Mnangagwa lacks a broad national support base. Above all, they have sought to ruin it by manufacturing dummies and ghosts to pit against him. Herein lies the devastating significance of Mataga. At Mataga, the First Lady exploded the myth by which this fringe had survived, namely that she is angling for succession. What we now have by way of this inspired Noyes article is a cry for a holding position by this fringe, a cry answered by the candidacy of President Mugabe in 2018, indeed a cry answered by a delay on the succession question. And out of desperation, this little group might consort with Mujuru.
The story they will not pick
Where are our negativity vendors? The late Dr Mudenge enjoyed calling them nabobs of negativity. I am talking about those sections of our media given to trawling in very deep, blue seas for anything, everything negative on Zimbabwe so as to give it local play. It does not matter that such reports are patently false, malicious or denigratory.
They only need to be negative on Zimbabwe for them to warrant a pick-up and enlarged localisation. You cannot avoid suspecting a searing campaign to dispirit our country, to really batter its self-esteem so Zimbabweans are not confident actors in the affairs of their country. A few weeks back, Newsweek published a graphic status of global Internet governance by country. Whilst Zimbabwe did not pass for a polity where the Internet operates without fetters, it ranked among those countries classified by the magazine as most progressive, most permissive, by way of Internet governance style.
Zimbabwe was faulted in two areas only, namely in what the report said was a touchiness on anti-establishment politics, and on reports on corruption. When one scans through the political Internet, it is very difficult to concede to the report on the first count, namely that Zimbabwe censors political stories. That cannot be. The Internet has become one platform from where Zimbabweans pelt their government and their leadership with near-absolute impunity. And this has everything to do with the national temperament.
Zimbabweans are generally expressive, effusive even. They wield vast intellect for it. And in terms of intellectual traditions, we are a perfect polyglot, irrepressibly so. Quite naturally, the country is always effervescing. And it’s not just on the net. Even in the real press, the political debate rages undiminished. We enjoy abusing our politicians and our government, even to the extent of repudiating both. But that is a point for another day.
Freedom after speech
My real point is that Zimbabwe, all the time reviled and traduced as suffering a democratic deficit, scores remarkably on a pillar attribute of that same democracy: free speech. And that this is strident and ceaseless means not only is there freedom of speech, it means there is also freedom after speech. That makes it insuperably difficult to go by other western ratings which claim Zimbabwe is at the bottom of the democratic heap.
Still not quite my emphasis. My real emphasis is on the serial nabobs of negativity who make it their bounden duty to scour all corners of the world for any and all reports that portray Zimbabwe negatively, all to domesticate them for local consumption. These nabobs exhibit a clear wish and craving for bad news, a real urge to dispirit the country.
By lifting or summoning all such reports, re-presenting them to a domestic audience in graphics and in an extended fashion, the goal has been to scorch the national spirit until it wilts, sags until it dries up. It is to lower the self-esteem of the nation. So, why not show even perfunctorily, some modicum of balance by importing this positive piece of rating to the same readers you daily abuse through negative imports? Don’t they deserve some relief? Some balance?
The two twins so co-joined
Then you have another one. The South African rand. Today the once revered rand has lost its lustre, lost its allure. It is scorned and reviled as both a medium of exchange and a store of value. It is slowly in that state that the Zimbabwe dollar was before its total abandonment. And when you consider the size of the South African economy; when you consider that there is no big argument between South Africa and the West as is the case with sanctions-ruined Zimbabwe, then you realise the currency plunge in the two countries is as comparable as it is intriguing. Still that is not my point. Time was when local commentators, the private press especially, would excoriate the Zimbabwe authorities both outrightly and indirectly through a gratuitous, contrastive admiration of the South African economy, currency and policies. At some point the debate went much further, with one weekly which still publishes to this day, militantly suggesting we adopt this Rand, join the Southern African Customs Union and bid kwaheri to April 18.
So sweet an abeyance
But the authorities refused to adopt any one currency, let alone the South African one. And the reasoning seemed weak, even jealousy at the time, looks percipient and prescient today. South Africa, the authorities warned, was still in honeymoon phase, with its social question sweetly in abeyance, independence euphoria seeming eternally soothing. But later, the issue of catering to the millions impoverished by apartheid would thrust itself to the fore, exploding the myth of good, conscientious stewardship of the economy.
What shall determine the currency, and thereby the future of South Africa, shall not be the balancing of national accounts, national books; rather it shall be the balancing of classes standing antagonistically on either side of the racial divide wrought by apartheid. And if we tie our fate to that of South Africa, yet our social features are virtual Siamese, we will drag each other down the route to perdition. Is that assessment not unfolding? Why is the excoriating media quiet?
And as in the first instance, that same media are likely to mischaracterize what currently obtains. It is not about Mugabe or Zuma. It is not about the Zimdollar or the Rand. It is about two dependent economies creaking under the weight of legacy issues. Zimbabwe and South Africa must both never live in denial of their respective social questions. Or seek to deny and denigrate each other. Their shared status as white post-settler states grant them a shared fate, much like co-joined twins. They either stand or perish together. I am happy reality, recalcitrant as it is, now imposes itself on both. Icho!