THE OTHER SIDE: Nathaniel Manheru—
A BIG thank you and apology are merited. Thank you to The Sunday Mail for hosting me last week. A big apology to the Editor of The Herald and of course my readers for not meeting my commitment last Saturday. What man proposes, God disposes. Matters simply went beyond my control, which is why I could not meet my fixture. And because the issue on hand was time-sensitive, I had to plead for some space in The Sunday Mail. I hope you, my readers, were still able to catch a whiff of my defining pungency, in the process locating the temporary hole which housed the civet cat for the week that went by. Amazingly, the responses were as good and as robust, the hits reaching a staggering 25 000 at the last count. It speaks eminently of the group spirit, the collegiality of this behemoth called Zimpapers. A big thank you to you PD (Pikirayi Deketeke) for the broad, encompassing, group-wide corporate culture you have helped nurture. And of course to the Editors for running seamless editorial propositions.
Resorting to a head count of enemies
Is it not rather strange that the opposition media has obsessed and made so much about Ian Khama’s alleged comments on Robert Mugabe, the elected President of Zimbabwe? Alleged because the Botswana foreign ministry decided on a quiet explanation tendered to the Zimbabwe Government, but without taking the trouble to make a public retraction of the story. To me that said a lot. Still I failed to grasp the rhyme or reason of the excitement in the opposition press, apart from a truculent desire to make cheap pot shots at the President of Zimbabwe. And you get a sense of a defeated lot finding succour in deriving perverse pleasure in whoever throws a missile at Robert Mugabe, however dull and gratuitous the hurled epithets may be.
Far from reflecting on Robert Mugabe, this editorial proclivity says a lot about the desperation of Mugabe’s media detractors, who reason that having lost the argument, the next best thing is a head count of whoever else is displeased with their diffident nemesis. And diffident he has been, what with the loud silence with which he has personally greeted the Khama story. Very much typical of the man. He will not pick a fight with a fellow African leader, however, wayward and stilted that leader’s thinking may be. And there is a lot that was wayward and senseless in what Khama is alleged to have told Reuters, a few days ahead of his country’s national day.
Overly sensitive on what least matters
In the first place he, out of own volition, invited the Zimbabwean leader for his country’s national day, with his solicitous lady chief of protocol pressing the Zimbabwean delegation in Zambia to know if President Mugabe was coming. Khama did not have to invite President Mugabe, all the more so given his weird views on Mugabe’s tenure.
Why slur the dignity of your nation’s commemorative event by having an unfit guest? It is this paradox which seems to give credence to a reading that the invitation was done without any sincerity, and in the hope that the invitee would turn it down. Which the delayed confirmation from Zimbabwe almost did. And the reasons for such expectations were not very hard to find. The Botswana President had invited his “uncles” from the UK, as well as a high-ranking official from the Obama administration. That is Botswana’s prerogative, indeed an expression of its sovereign will. Except both sensitivities did not matter, if only the Tswanas had advised their President properly.
The British royalty has largely stayed clear of the bilateral tiff between Zimbabwe and Britain, with members of the British Royalty even sitting next to the President of Zimbabwe far back at the height of that bilateral tiff between the two nations. Secondly, Mugabe’s foreign minister met with the very same official from the Obama Administration whom the Botswana government invited on the occasion of their 50th Anniversary. And the meeting was at the instance of the Americans. Really, there was little to worry about. To tender this explanation is not to suggest there was a desperation to attend the Botswana event. It is simply to help the Tswanas know that they were overly sensitive on matters which Zimbabwe had long gotten over vis-a-vis the Anglo-Saxon nations in question. And even when it comes to the British Government, there is reasonable level of interaction in spite of the wide differences.
When courage failed a soldier-president
Secondly, President Khama had met his Zimbabwean counterpart on two occasions in the most recent past, including in Zambia, at the inauguration of President-Elect Lungu, barely two weeks before. Fortuitously, the two were the only heads of state who graced the occasion, which is why they wound up seating next to each other in the stadium. If President Khama had issues with his Zimbabwean counterpart — whether national or personal — he should have taken advantage of those encounters to raise them directly with President Mugabe. He would have come across as both courageous and sincere, indeed such a gesture would have expressed the depth of his concern on the politics and fate of Zimbabwe as he saw both from his perspective. This is not to raise issues of pertinence. That he did not raise a whole host of questions about his motives and courage index, when pitted against the veteran nationalist he says he is a problem for him and for the region.
Helping a wilting cause
Thirdly, there is the whole question of timing. Like the Mawarires and other local opposition actors, he elected to express his unsolicited opinion on Mugabe’s leadership and its tenure in the week of the United Nations General Assembly. What impact was being sought and which audiences was he performing to? Was it a matter of coincidence that he picked the anti-Mugabe mantra when the publicity wiles and subterfuges of the local opposition were showing every sign of wilting? Or was this meant to help and shore up a local cause he clearly saw as faltering? And whose cause, and why was it so important to a whole President of a neighbouring country?
When he should have worn the cap
Fourthly, Ian Khama handed over the chairmanship of sadc not too far back to Swaziland, after a whole year at the helm of the sub-regional body. In the context of Southern African politics, it is difficult to think which other time, and what other capacity would have given him the legitimate status to comment on the politics of the region, including those of Zimbabwe, than when he was chairman of sadc. After all, precious little happened on the sadc front during his year-long tenure, meaning the time he was not an activist sub-regional leader was time enough for him to reflect on the whole governance ethos in the region. Again, that chance was not used.
In Swaziland, he tried rather unseemly to raise the issue of Zimbabwe using the pretext of some dubious communication he alleged he had got from a curious group which calls itself “The Elders”. Had any other sadc leader, he asked, received any such communication on Zimbabwe from this group? None had, he learnt. He backed off.
By that time President Mugabe had already left Swaziland for Dubai. Other sadc leaders, correctly sensing the rather impious motive behind the seemingly by-the-by enquiry, decided to send a very clear, unambiguous signal to both the so-called Elders, and of course to Khama himself whose interest in the communication hardly measured up to the disguise. Leader after leader spoke against the so-called Elders, and against the whole notion of seeking to influence sub-regional politics through national political processes of member countries. The message was clear, and looking at his silence on the day, and his eventual courage expressed through Reuters, a character profile of the man begins to show. It is not a very flattering one, less so for a soldier-president who must show courage and conviction.
“This is the Mugabe I know”
But also is it not ironic that he merely elaborated on a theme developed by President Mugabe for sadc when his turn to lead the sub-regional body came? Surely that does not suggest hoary thinking and leadership which the Reuters interview imputed on the Zimbabwean president. By the way, Khama had personally ululated for Mugabe when the Zimbabwean leader confronted South Africa at the sadc Summit in Victoria Falls on the issue of the deleterious de-industrialisation of the rest of the region, thanks to South Africa’s beggar-thy-neighbour industrial philosophy which it has since revised, diplomatically at the very least. “This is the Mugabe I know!” is what Khama said then. It suggested a Mugabe who not only led his nation, but the region as well ideationally. Indeed the unanimous adoption of industrialisation and value-addition as a key sadc regional policy resoundingly demonstrated that leadership. When then did Khama re-classify Mugabe as a regional problem, as he claimed in the interview?
Mapping poverty down South
But there were other developments which unfolded, and which seem to help us contextualise the (mis)behaviour of the Botswana President. Apart from the intrusive Elders — strangely enough a motley crowd by all human measurements — you also had statements from western embassies here concerning local political developments, statements clearly uncalled for and intrusive. Then you had Mboweni, Tito Mboweni, the former Governor of the Central Bank of South Africa and his queer fund meant to help poor “Zimbabweans” begging in “our street corners” in South Africa. It is a fact that there are many Zimbabweans in South Africa, including some who beg or sell their wares at street corners and along the intersections of South Africa’s major roads. That is a fact. But it is also a fact that there are a lot more South African beggars and vendors on South African soil, if truth be told. Above all, there are many other vendors from neighbouring countries and even beyond, which is what makes poverty mapping in South Africa such an intricate process.
But to suggest setting up a fund for poor Zimbabweans in a country where there is upward of 40 percent black unemployment, and where, like in Zimbabwe, there is massive informalisation of economic activity for black South Africans, is surely to be at odds with hard facts on the ground. There is no arguing that poverty in South Africa, as indeed in most Southern African countries, is black, and also a combination of local unemployment and migrancy. But to choose to see begging and vending as exclusively Zimbabwean is to indulge in deceitful self-pleasure. It is — Dickensian Mrs Jellyby-like — to indulge in telescopic philanthropy.
For those who did not read Charles Dickens’s forbiddingly fat Bleak House, Mrs Jellyby was a personification of what Dickens saw as the grotesque hypocrisy of Victorian Britain’s loud, empty philanthropy. The lady would heartily weep over some Tuckahookapo Red Indians in some imaginary, newly discovered South American country, natives she weepingly suggested sorely needed redemptive adoption by the Europe’s white philanthropic industry.
Meanwhile, back home, nay meters away from her maudlin sentimentality, her own urchin children — unkempt, unfed, undressed — would dangle dangerously pincered between two iron rails – thoroughly neglected — just next to her fretful person. She personified monumental failure in British parenting demonstrated by a generation which hypocritically sought to parent millions of “heathens” living happily and closely knit in faraway lands. Central Bank governors are supposed to be down-to-earth men, something which the dilettante Tito Mboweni seems to find hard to learn. Except all this is to assume the gesture was meant as a genuine fight against poverty. Of course it was not. It was meant as a show for the notice of the anti-Mugabe western industry. Once one looks at this whole broad external build-up, one then begins to understand why Khama’s act was part of a
longer, richer and wider scene in intrusive politics planned from across the seas, but employing “local” actors to give it a patina of localism. And “local” in this sense is regional.
When Namibia stood tall on principle
Lastly, two developments in the region also help us understand this whole affair even better. One happened in the US, at some American university. The Namibian President was asked a similar question as put to the Tswana President by Reuters, only this time by some character who claimed to be a citizen of Zimbabwe. And the response of the Namibian President — oh my God, what a stark difference with that of Khama! Not only did it show maturity; it exhibited a firm grasp of the length and breadth of his own authority as the leader of Namibia, a country in sadc. Zimbabwe was a sovereign country, he maintained, with its political questions falling exclusively on Zimbabweans whose sole province it was to resolve them. Such was the ethos of sadc, he added. By contrast, Khama tried abortively to be transcendental. Abortively because there is practically nothing he can do about those politics obtaining here, try as hard as he may. In fact, he has tried to be the power behind Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC-T, but to no avail.
There is not much to suggest that he will fare any better now or in future, however old he thinks Mugabe may be. After all it is not about the age of Zimbabwe’s leadership; it is about Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, something Botswana under Ian’s father, Sir Seretse Khama, heroically struggled towards achieving. One hopes Khama the son has not misinterpreted the motive behind Sir Seretse’s glorious input alongside his Frontline States peers.
The one invite Mugabe will oblige
The second development relates to Lesotho, another sadc country which is also celebrating her 50th Anniversary only this coming week. President Mugabe has been invited and from what I understand, he is likely to honour that invitation. Just by so doing, President Mugabe will finally vividly make his point, relish his day through a damning comparison. He will be able to quietly chastise Khama, while showing the Batswana people how much of a huge cost their leader’s blunderous diplomacy is to the two peoples who are also close neighbours historically and even consanguineously.
But the whole contrast will once more bring to the fore how under Khama, Botswana has pursued a foreign policy which is non-Africa, non-sadc, non-collegial. And that Mugabe gets invited for national days of virtually most Sadc countries, suggests that skipping the national day of Botswana, to which he had been invited, can only be a statement against Khama, never against Mugabe and his rule. And the big question that begs is: if Khama’s Botswana has been non-African, non-sadc, non-collegial, what has it been? Gentle reader, I leave you to reach your own conclusion.
When viewpoints don’t matter
My last point has to do with the rule and tenure of President Robert Mugabe, vis-a-vis Sadc. It is also a point that applies to all Presidents in Sadc, in Africa and in the whole world. And, as the reader will discover, while the point is so obvious as to make its restatement redundant, the sheer ignorance of our clever opposition media make restating it so vital. Democratic leaders are in office because of national elections.
They are not in power because of endorsement by a leader of a neighbouring country, or a sub-region. Quite the contrary, both are forced by national electoral outcomes to recognise the leader of a given country. Secondly, the tenure of a sitting president, whether in sadc, on the African continent, or in any part of the world, is a function of a national constitution. It is not predicated on the whims or predilections of the leader of a neighbour or of a sub-regional organisation. Quite the contrary, both recognise the term as provided for by the constitution of the concerned country.
This holds for Botswana; holds for Zimbabwe, which is why the issue of quality of Khama’s leadership of his country is of no concern to the President of Zimbabwe. We could debate and debate and debate how well Khama has (mis)governed his people. We could debate and debate and debate on who gave Botswana the growth momentum that Khama inherited and, to his credit, has kept going but arguably within structures of persistent social inequities. But all that would be academic, only matters of the seminar room if held here in Zimbabwe and by Zimbabweans. The Tswanas are not expected to pay attention to our views at all, however solicitous we may be, whoever outsider we may seek to please. The trouble is to begin to think that our views on Khama matter to the Tswana nation and its whole governance processes. Simply they don’t, and, by reverse logic, Khama’s views on Mugabe can only be just that: airy views soon to be blown away into the nether.
Lending a thinking hand
The trouble is to accord those views any modicum of importance than they really deserve. As routinely does the opposition and its captive press. Mugabe does not need the endorsement of Khama, and this whole piece has had to be written not because Khama’s views matter, but because he seems to think they do when it comes to Zimbabwean politics. Much worse, because a fringe body of opinion in this country seems to think Khama matters. He does not, except in his own country and among his own people. A Mugabe who viciously fights western colonialism cannot be expected to relate charitably to interference from any other quarter, whatever its complexion, whatever its geographic placement on the world atlas. It is also this strange inclination in the national opposition here to think their cause in opposing and seeking to challenge the electoral dominance of Mugabe and his Zanu-PF can be assisted by a Khama who is losing by-elections in his own country which one finds a bit perplexing, infantile in fact. Or that his biting comments on Mugabe would make them any more legitimate claimants of the throne than what national processes would allow. I just thought I could lend a thinking hand. Just in case.