Biti’s game is anything but chess
Tichaona Zindoga Political Mondays (Guest Columnist)
The game of chess has been associated for a long time with thinking and strategy and applied to politics, the grandmasters are the ones that calculate every move — and win.
This is precisely the reason why a number of politicians, especially the smarter types, across the world and throughout history have had a hand at the game of chess.
Of course, Russian leaders and strategists tend to be more celebrated, if darkly admired, in this regard.
So, recently when one Jacob Mafume bragged that, “We are playing the game of chess, while (opposition MDC party leader Morgan) Tsvangirai is playing draughts”, the symbolism and intended effect were obvious. By the way, Mafume is the spokesperson of the MDC-Team or Renewal which is being fronted by Tendai Biti to dislodge Tsvangirai from the MDC.
The Renewal Team believes it is smart enough — having a lawyer in Biti as its face — in contrast with unlettered Tsvangirai who leads the eponymous MDC-T, hence the Renewal Team’s claim to be chess masters. Before that can be interrogated, it would be useful to carry a few examples where the chess/game speak has been employed in modern politics.
Take the 2008 elections in the United States of America, for example, where Barack Obama squared off against John McCain. Various media houses depicted the contest in chess terms.
Here are a few gems collated on one website:
“McCain is playing checkers. Obama is playing chess.” — Huffington Post and others
“Obama debated like he was playing chess. McCain debated like he was playing checkers.” — Blog
“Obama plays chess and McCain isn’t quite sure what the horsie piece does.”— TPM
“As a gambit in America’s political chess, grandmaster McCain’s move was so brilliant that it left Obama nearly speechless and floundering.” — Newsmax
“McCain evidently isn’t much of a chess player. Anybody could have anticipated that Obama’s next move would be to extend the trip so that he could walk on the world stage.” — Newsource
“McCain also has the amateur chess player’s weakness for making an impulsive move just to see what will happen . . . In chess, what almost always happens after the impulsive move is doom.” — LA Times
It is not very hard to conclude that chess is associated with the smarter types.
The Biti camp believes it is smart.
However, from what has obtained so far in the turf war within the MDC, the Renewals and Biti himself are not as smart as they may fancy themselves to be.
The setback that the Renewals faced at the High Court last week where the resolutions of their Mandel meeting were suspended throws some uncomfortable light on these chess players.
The courts are neutral and sober not to celebrate anything but the same celebrations that are issuing from the Tsvangirai camp may yet tell us how the Biti camp is not so sharp — even without extolling Tsvangirai per se.
It is now known that there are issues with numbers with those who attended the Mandel meeting falling short of representativeness and authority.
The Tsvangirai camp is daring Biti on this suffice to say Biti is also daring Tsvangirai on the Harvest House numbers. Checkmate or bhobho?
There was uncertainty over the MDC-Team’s disciplinary procedure against Tsvangirai and others, with the hearing initially failing to take off and being dubious when it was supposedly done. Douglas Mwonzora revealed that “the invitation that was sent to Tsvangirai does not contain the names of people who constitute the tribunal and it does not also state the venue; it simply says Mandel Training Centre.”
Mwonzora has been describing the tribunal as a kangaroo court. He may be right.
Meanwhile, after the High Court ruling, the Renewal camp tried to comfort itself by alleging that they had not been served with the papers.
Mafume says the Renewal team will proceed with its actions “as if nothing happened until a time we are served with the papers.” This may yet serve the egos in the short term but it betrays a deeper vacuity within the anti-Tsvangirai lobby.
The next moves will be interesting and if someone is to proceed as if “nothing happened” they surely will be embarrassed.
Groping in the dark
It was on March 6 that Tendai Biti made what should have been a seminal presentation at SAPES Trust in Harare, where he, apart from the much vaunted admission of opposition failure, called for the formation of a grand alliance.
“Big man” politics had failed.
Zimbabwe’s opposition “big man” Tsvangirai failed in 2013.
There was now need for a paradigm shift.
These were his words: “The opposition movement, the democratic movement. I am not talking about any political party, I am talking about all of us: Zanu Ndoga, Welshman Ncube’s party, Job Sikhala’s party, Cde Dabengwa’s party, Cde Simba’s party, all of us must go back to basics and say number one, can we go back to the value system , can we refocus our attention on a value system. We call ourselves social democrats. Let’s do that . . . In my respective (sic) view I think that as far as I am concerned it is no longer possible in post 2013 Zimbabwe for anyone with a little party to dream that he or she can challenge the ruling party on his own. I think that we need to move to a new form of politics in Zimbabwe that is inclusive, that is de-personalised and one of the things political parties in Zimbabwe must know is the capacity of forming broad or united coalitions or alliances.”
Since this call, no one has come to the party to join Biti and the Renewals.
The camp is groping in the dark for both legitimacy and numbers.
Even the western embassies are not in universal acceptance of the Renewal lobby. This does not sound like chess at play. As the situation pans out, Biti’s project will face even more headaches.
Some people are already talking about a stillbirth.
Readers may have come across a piece by one Tshepo Mabalane Mabalane titled, “A coalition that may resurrect somnolent Zanu-PF”.
The first remarkable thing about this piece is that the writer sounds very suspiciously like Tendai Biti — from the viewpoint of diction, as we are told of “somnolent Zanu-PF”; “Reactivation of a dormant Zanu virus”; “ethnocratic state”; etc.
The second, and more importantly, remarkable thing concerns the proffering of more permutations to move the opposition forward which resonate with Biti in both content and form as well as the general confusion and groping in the dark outlined above.
The writer proposes a coalition, the timing of which he argues should be key and suggests a date after the Zanu-PF congress in December.
As to who should lead the coalition, the writer is apparently at a loss, but makes some interesting suggestions.
He writes: “In line with coalitions leaders are usually head-hunted and not voted for into power. If this is the case I would propose, as a symbol of a new footing and a deviation from the monstrous past, the coalition should be led by a woman, a caucasian or a person from the minority for Zimbabwe has been an ethnocracy for too long.
“It would be a mistake to confine this project within the current ethnocratic framework, for that would be to miss much of the project’s essence. If ever there was going to be a new footing in word or in deed, David Coltart stands out as a suitable candidate. Nothing will pain the pseudo nationalists than to see a white leader in their lifetime. This will symbolise a new Zimbabwe that has deviated from the racist pseudo-nationalist past . . . a David Coltart leadership will be symbolic in many strategic ways.”
Even if one were to grant that this is not Biti writing, the agony with the leadership vacuity within the opposition is palpable.
The proponents of a grand coalition, better personified by Biti himself, are at sixes and sevens.
They are unsure of their next step.
And that does not resemble the sure-fire moves of chess players.