LIKE my favourite muzukuru always warns me: when you are among vultures, don’t die. I don’t know whether there was much forethought to Mai Mujuru’s party launch date: Super Tuesday! Maybe her schemers thought Zanu-PF would be distracted by a session of Cabinet. But for how long, if at all? To what advantage anyway? They never saw the fraught environment, never anticipated a hefty comeback. They, in other words, chose death amidst vultures. Henceforth, they have become a perfect morsel.
Together with Democratic Alliance
Much worse, the launch was also on the day the white patrician Democratic Alliance of South Africa was trying — abortively trying — to push through a no-confidence motion against the ANC’s Zuma. I emphasise Zuma’s ANC parentage because the futile act became a season for attacking liberation movements in the region, Zanu-PF included, if not especially. And of course a day later, ZBC would be holding its traditional birthday interview with President Robert Mugabe, Mujuru’s former boss, now political bete noire. What an environment for launching the poor woman!
What about connotations, Madame?
In the area of political communication, timing is as important as the message, in fact is part of the message. You are required to gauge the ecology of your messaging, required to gauge the overall environment within which your message is situated, is received and is set to be consumed and interpreted. It is the environment, of course among other factors, which will lend meaning to your message, meaning especially connotatively. And as always, political communication is hardly literal; it operates at a symbolic level, a level fraught with associations. And even where direct meaning is intended, connotations must be noted and dispelled. Otherwise, they are brought to bear on the message, creating the unintended.
Only from Zimbabwe!
At a very obvious level, picking on a Super Tuesday to launch a party, guaranteed the Zimbabwe People First of a remarkable fringe status in the world of global news. The day belonged to Trump and Clinton; it could never belong to Joice and her little ZPF. Even here in Southern Africa, the cynosure was the histrionics in the South African parliament, which is why all that Mujuru could only hope for was a crawl at the bottom of the news panel, a crawl soon to walk out of news. She got just that. Let no one at ZPF argue that her target audience was local.
It was not. In the previous week she had tried to yell for western attention through the Sunday Times magazine, using a right-wing journalist called Christina Lamb. Those of us in the media know who Christina is when it comes to Zimbabwean politics. Those in politics know her as Christina Lamb, OBE! Which tells you a lot about her connections with the British establishment.
And of course in that anticipatory splash, Mujuru tried her damnedest to appeal to British and western sensibility, a kind of I-am-the-girl-you-have-been-looking-for interview which makes right noises on land, private property, indigenisation, gukurahundi, re-engagement, human rights, democracy, etc, etc. Joice Mujuru sought to address the western world, only from Zimbabwe. Ours was setting and background noises. And the preponderant presence of western ambassadors at Meikles — yes Meikles — was quite telling.
Needing what she must destroy
What you then have is a communication nightmare, assuming she has a reflecting communications department. The day, the venue, the media, the message — all these sent messages quite contrapuntal to the intended. It gets worse when you factor in what exclusive interviews with the private press suggested on Joice Mujuru the person.
The line of questioning, the line of answering — both — fatly suggested she still labours under the Zanu-PF tag, groans under the dead weight of Zanu-PF history which will not go away. And it cannot go away ironically for her sake, quite apart for the sake of her critics who are multifarious. She needs the company of her late husband in her present and future struggles. She hopes to profit from his ghost. She thus needs the Zanu-PF she must defeat. By claiming that her membership is in Zanu-PF, it means she needs the structures of Zanu-PF, again needing the machinery she must destroy.
Much worse, the world stubbornly knows and calls her “Mugabe’s former deputy”, a tag which leashes her to the man and party she must now contrast, fight, and hopefully defeat. So, yes, together with the day, the venue, the media, she herself remains heavily connotative politically.
Unready on birthday
I ask myself how a party for so long rumoured as set for a launch in the infinite future picked on so bad a day, so fraught a moment. There was no hurry, no pressure. Or was there? Which tells us what about the new opposition leader? I ask myself why no forward-looking message was composed for Mujuru, composed by a party I want to believe chose its birthday.
She got bogged down on the relational question: what really happened between her and her principal, between her and her principal’s wife, the First Lady. She could not step out of that history, could not exorcise her Zanu-PF days, to give a contemporary message that talked to me and you in our circumstances. A very accommodative man asked me after the Super Tuesday presser: so what was the take-home? I was hard put for an answer. To which a passer-by quipped: her Zanu-PF-time wardrobe! But one no longer a perfect fit.
Mouth, asset, word
The paraphernalia leading to, and around, the launch raises key ideological issues for Mujuru. Those will not go away. Why did she want American circumambience? Why did she unveil herself through a right-wing British paper? Why was she worthy of supportive messaging from Oxford and from the International Crisis Group? What shaped her views on land, on indigenisation, on private property, ironically while bragging about so many chickens raised on land to which she wields no title, land “grabbed” by Mugabe? How will she reconcile her word of mouth and her word of assets? Just what is her world view? Her value system. Just who is Joice, against all else? That she struggled to answer these key questions before a captive media audience, one chosen and primed by her staff, presages greater challenges in the future when the question shall be posed for her from rival quarters.
And I thought she made the fatal mistake of obliging personalised politics, even having the temerity to describe Mugabe as “primitive”. Labelling Mugabe primitive while she — a Ph.D — struggled to read through a statement cast in such rustic style. So many questions. That did not leave an edifying impression. What that did for sure is to guarantee her of two formidable responses from husband and wife, both wielding voices that echo far and wide. Two days later, she got a foretaste, again thanks to her bungling communications outfit.
Taking off on broken wing
So all said, Joice is trapped in the past, in history, and cannot see the future, and exaggerates the present and its portents for her. I am just talking about Joice vs Joice, well before I raise odds about Joice vs Zanu-PF; Joice vs other opposition forces, and of course Joice vs Zimbabwe People Second, Third, Fourth, etc, etc. And for the last odd, you don’t need any clairvoyance. You just need a profile of the impossible personality mix which she has brought together in her hurried quest for numbers. Including well-known crooks, lumpens. An ill-fated eagle trying to take off on a broken wing.
But in very large measure, she incarnated the Zimbabwe opposition’s congenital weakness: a belief that an anti-Zanu-PF message is what kneads and galvanises opposition politically. And what a better illustration of this disease than a piece from Professor Welshman Ncube, just a few days before! Quoting Lenin, he posed the question: What is to be done? One girded for something professorial, something profound, but here is what came from the learned gentleman: “If we are to bring the misery of our people to an end in 2018 we must seek ways of building coalitions which exclude no one who, at the barest minimum is committed to seeing an end to Zanu-PF rule.
We might not even agree on what kind of government is to be put in place, guided by what policies after Zanu-PF is gone, but we must unite around the imperative of removing Zanu-PF from power and leave the post-Zanu-PF future to be fought over when Zanu-PF is gone. It might yet turn out to be a false revolution, but it is difficult to imagine how it can possibly be worse than this.”
Indulgences of omnipotence
Is that what is to be done? Is this the opposition we have, deserve? An opposition with a clear demolition vision, but totally blind to what to erect atop of the rabble it has created? Exactly the Libyan scenario where a rag-tag, foreign-controlled opposition comes together to destroy a standing state, only to come apart soon after, tearing a great nation to shards. And this is coming from a whole professor. My goodness! The trouble is to exaggerate an anti-Zanu-PF sentiment.
If truth be said, this is an elite sentiment, a non-voting elite fad, an Internet sentiment wrongly measured by repeated hits and comments from the same, few busy hands. The trouble is to confuse that little embittered pocket for the voting Nation. The trouble, too, is to exaggerate divisions in Zanu-PF, forgetting these are divisions which Zanu-PF can afford. What is more, divisions which have made Zanu-PF e-ready — elections-ready — and not enervated it the same way comparable divisions paralysed and continue to paralyse MDC formations. Divisions in Zanu-PF-PF amount to the indulgences of omnipotence, never the travail of the prostrate.
When the time came to call them off, the gods spoke and all was quiet. And now that Mujuru is launched, now that Zanu-PF has some nuisance to focus on, let us watch Zanu-PF at work. And the starting point is to feed the hungry multitudes, in the process turning adversity to advantage. But the message is very clear: an opposition that shows fatal weaknesses against a self-distracted Zanu-PF, can never hope to survive a Zanu-PF crouching for the kill.