Zimbabwe: Departing without deserting
indeed. Potodikwa amadoda sibili, as the President always puts it.
But no violence please. No, no violence in the forthcoming poll. Coincidentally, it being a muscular year I chanced upon George Steiner’s highly philosophical “Grammars of Creation”, a treatise through which he grapples with the very notion of being and becoming. It is a muscular argument, very virile argument to reach the shores of intellect in so unassuming a garb. And you will not believe it, I picked the book at Avondale Flea Market, and for a ridiculous price of US$10! This encounter has left quite a profound mark on me, indeed has been existential. Not all markets sell fleas, the same way that not all big departmental stores won’t have fleas battening on their refulgent garment. Caveat Emptor!
When a tonne of rained cement was tossed
I lied to say 2012 gently ushered me into 2013. It didn’t. I made the mortal mistake of dedicating a very small paragraph to one Mutumwa Mawere in my last instalment for the year that has just gone by. Boy oh boy, did not the man descend on me like a tonne of rained cement! PC15 chaiyo! I groan from this hard new year gift tossed onto my delicate fontanelle. I was left quite sufficiently sunken when all around me was growing taut and elongated! But there is a creative side to the altercation, intemperate though the altercation might appear to be. I sympathize with many of our readers — Mawere’s and my own — for urging for some modicum of civility in the furious debate that followed, but one which ended up being a parley between Mawere and the many respondents who excluded me. But our readers must know that when a column addresses real issues, there is always an overflow of adrenalin. It is like the proverbial ripened wound: when it bursts, expect flying pus!
Stop it, Casanova!
As a matter of policy, I avoid debating my readers who reserve the right to give me any response they think I deserve. Of course I don’t regard Mutumwa Mawere as part of my readers. Like me, he is a columnist and thus will never be granted the immunity I reserve for my readers. If you are in the habit of debating your readers, then you are guilty of exercising unequal power at their expense. They may never have the media access you enjoy. After all, angrily responding to them suggests vain self-opinionatedness. You don’t write only to be agreed with! Nor do your readers read to agree with you, hey Mr Casanova!
Dealing with a core enigma
I said there was and is a creative side to my altercation with Mutumwa Mawere. That there is, which is why this new week in a new year has been dedicated to using Mawere’s response to tackle a critical area we columnists have not attended to in the course of our optimistic perorations. By the way Mutumwa Mawere is my contemporary at the local university in the early eighties. Recalling his personality then, watching his behavior now, the man has been loyal to his inclinations, his ambitions. That’s not to say he has been consistent, and I hope he does not think so of himself. I will not elaborate. There is a core enigma, a poignant paradox that runs through Mawere’s lengthy response to my very short paragraph, so short to have very well have passed for an afterthought. That paragraph played around with his name, Mutumwa, which means a “messenger”. If you are a believer, such a name could be very edifying, very satisfying, quite biblical. It would mean the harbinger, the forerunner, the seer the same way that apostles who came before Jesus were, are, in Christendom.
When a messenger is not the message
But if you are a down-to-earth man that many of us are, it means you are a mere runner, a bearer of news whose consequence lies not in your importance or in the news you carry, but in the deftness of your feet as you transport the important missive to its important consumer. When it comes to African thinking, the medium is never the message, which is why Shona fully exculpates the messenger from any consequences of the message he bears. Mutumwa haana mbonje, roughly translating to the messenger deserves no scars! So Shona culture belittles the messenger, protects him by de-centering him from the message, both by way of its authorship and reader impact. I must confess that my paragraph preferred the latter, down-to-earth meaning, a meaning in perfect accord with the secular game of politics which Mawere thinks he is about to join. I can fully understand his gratuitous response and anger. But that was fitting and proper, which is why I would repeat that paragraph right in his face, right within the stretch of his fist tip, however hard-knuckled!
Not another Cecil Rhodes
But there was a more serious question I raised. I wondered which country he hoped to be a president of, now that he was running for elections. Born of Zimbabwean parents, the angry gentleman proceeded to become something else to do with another polity neighbouring his place and country of birth. As he himself admits, he voluntarily decided to be associated permanently with South Africa, itself an African country in the south, more or less the same way Zimbabwe is. Geographically, the two countries are comparable and contiguous; historically, they are intertwined, connected.
And I notice there is confusion on when this happened, when this choice was made. Well, he can tell us if he so wishes. But let it be recorded here and now that this was well, well before he picked his self-consuming quarrel with the Government of Zimbabwe, a government he now regards from an alternative platform of another country. It is a privilege which you and me can’t afford, literally. I make it clear that geographically, both Zimbabwe and South Africa are African and in the southern part of our continent. Unless you bring in the socio-economy — and even that is debatable as far as I am concerned — there was very little opportunity cost for him in the choice or the staying of it. Mawere is not quite like your Cecil John Rhodes who is asked to migrate to the southern tip of our continent if he is to beat his ever aggravating medical condition. There was nothing existential about the choice he made. No, he made a voluntary choice, indeed chose to purchase he could afford, literally.
One thing I hate with full passion is to be made answerable for any identity dilemma arising as a result of a choice which a full-grown up man, well educated at that, voluntarily made in the full presence of all his faculties. Or am I taking too much for granted in saying this? Well, let him tell us where his faculties were, if he seeks to beg for, and aims to deserve our pity, this man of South Africa.
To serve or to contest?
And as you read through his reposte, you get a clear sense of an identity enigma which expresses itself as anger against the world. He curses the world to spite his fact! Let me illustrate. He thinks President Mugabe — now his political rival since he wants to be a political principal, not a messenger — should be “freed from the circle that his supporters have created for him to the detriment of the nation building projec . . . The President has been lied to and the attempt to see evil in every victim of misguided rule fits into the frame of what is to be expected when the very idea of change becomes toxic.” And: “The real traitors may very well be close to the President but the structure and design of the post-colonial state allows chameleons to become ambassadors of retrogression and not progress.” In both instalments Mawere comes across as too full of compassion, too full of the milk of human kindness to be an astute politician about to advantageously pounce on an opportunity. He pities the President as a victim of his human surrounds. Does Mawere want to replace civil servants around the President whom he blames for misleading the President, and of which he takes Manheru to be a part? I thought he is seeking presidency of the country, striving to be a principal? Why does he sound like he pities the incumbent, sound like he craves to serve the incumbent? Or is he doing that already? Let’s leave that one alone.
This albatross called Zimbabwe
He further says: “Zimbabwe is a country of my birth and my heritage can and should never be a subject for Manheru to play games with. I am and will always remain a firm believer in the Pan African idea that no inch of African soil is foreign to me. Accordingly, I am an African child and will be judged by the weakest link in the African chain. If Zimbabwe is weak because of misguided policies and choices, I can never rise above that. My connection with Zimbabwe is already established outside the birthright corner to allow people to use my name to expose that which has kept Zimbabwe down.”
What is Mutumwa saying in simple English? Can someone explain to me? Is he saying he is a Zimbabwean? Does he want to be a Zimbabwean? Does he feel condemned to be a Zimbabwean?
Is Zimbabweanness an identity of sufferance? And if Zanu-PF, Mugabe and Manheru are what have kept Zimbabwe down, what is the meaning of the last sentence from the above quote? Could he be complaining that he is perceived as Zanu-PF? Is he? Is he not? Does this add something to the first quote in which he pities the President and seems ready to save him from those who mislead him by serving him righteously? What is the significance of distinguishing country of birth from the Pan African sentiment which makes every inch of African soil not foreign to one? Does Zimbabwe supply such an inch? Is the inch adequate for him? Or is he a man-mountain bestriding Africa? Is the Zimbabwe inch another sufferance? Is trimming a country down to a place of birth quite the same as claiming, nay demanding identity? Or are you saying Zimbabwe is merely where you begin your life-long identity journey? Why do I get the sense that Mawere is telling me that to be born in Zimbabwe is quite distinct from being born a Zimbabwean? Get the sense that he feels strictured, nay encumbered, by being born in Zimbabwe, itself “the weakest link in the African chain”? Is he any different from Mungoshi’s Lucifer Mandengu who says to be born in Manyene is “a geographical error” that must be shaken off; a Lucifer Mandengu who says home “is where you come to die after you have spent your life elsewhere”?
A destiny so cruel
The enigma gets worse in the piece. He says: “I do not have to qualify to be Zimbabwean but any other identity I acquire is and will always be a consequence of choice. No one chooses where one is born let alone the parents to have. The fact that I am a Zimbabwean as defined in the constitution of Zimbabwe can never be reduced to a joke for political expediency.”
What is our Pan African citizen now saying? Has he acquired another identity outside that which Pan Africanism grants him? Is his place of birth, his parentage a case of the cruel hand of Providence, a cynical Destiny that plants man where he least favours? What is the consequence of that choice which he makes regarding his identity? Might the question I raised about him be part of those consequences arising from his choice? And is he saying his Zimbabweanness is a matter of law? That thinly staked? As distinct from a birthright, from Pan African claims?
Another Nick Oppenheimer?
I raise yet another enigma from Mawere’s freely composed piece. He writes: “In as much as Manheru calls Zimbabwe his home and erroneously his country, so should I and others who fall into the same category. The future of Zimbabwe has to be of interest (hopefully no pun intended by this shrewd businessman!) to any person who has interests in the country. My interests in Zimbabwe’s future are substantial and obvious. However, what is not obvious is Manheru’s interest other than signing (singing?) for his supper. He is after all a civil servant who is paid from other hardworking people’s incomes that is collected as taxes. Instead of serving the interests of the country, he has chosen to serve partisan interests exposing the kind of mind that informs his diatribe”. Where is the error in calling one’s home one’s country? What is the implication of such a distinction? To free and release Mawere from the encumbrances of his birthplace? Of his home? And there is a ringing wordplay on “interest(s)”. Are we back to the Southern Rhodesian era where citizenship, and with it, the power to vote, reposed in property? Which would, quite competently, make me less and less of a citizen!
For I have no estate at all, and Mawere is right! What are those interests which Mawere has in the country? They do not sound so obvious to me? When he says so, is he sounding any different from Nick Oppenheimer, his fellow South African with interests here, with an identity there? And if he so easily challenges Manheru’s interest (singular!), does this suggest that any identity can be challenged, or merely that of “civil servants” who are deemed to have no interest in the country, deemed not to be working while battening on taxes which they themselves don’t pay? Do civil servants not pay taxes, apart from being public servants? Well, let them answer for themselves. Just what is the relationship of interests (commercial) to identity and citizenship, to one’s entitlement to membership of a country, an identity? I loathe a reader who contemptuously dismisses Mawere’s arguments. He is raising key issues. Or provoking them. With what amount of advertence, I obviously can’t say! But as Zimbabwe begins to pick up its own monied class, or those who claim to be monied, the issue which Mawere raises in his diatribe assumes centrality.
Mawere the Blairite
Then comes a postulate which is quite irksome, but remarkably consistent with the evolving worldview. I will leave out one sentence where Mawere rhetorically wishes for me bigger thinks: “For how long can Manheru pretend to speak on behalf of others?”! Well, one day, one day, Sir, I shall stop speaking for others!!!! He writes: “Zimbabwe’s problems pose a security risk to the region including South Africa. The sooner the freedoms that Zimbabweans rightly expected from the post-colonial dispensation are restored the better for Africa. It cannot be acceptable that the Chinese are more welcome to be partners of Zimbabwe than me. To Manheru, I am a foreigner and, therefore, I should have no interest in ensuring that my country of birth is better governed and friendlier to blacks. South Africa is host to millions of Zimbabwean-born residents and nationals the majority of whom have relatives in Zimbabwe. This cannot be said about the Chinese that are now better friends of Manheru and his principals”. It is the first sentence I cannot possibly accept as coming from Mawere. My goodness, it’s Blairite! Exactly the anvil statement which Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, George Bush and their anti-Zimbabwean lobby used to take this country of Mawere’s birth to the Security Council in 2008! And I recall then and before a massive build-up of western media teams at Beitbridge, on the South African side, all to show that Zimbabwe was spewing threats to neighboring South Africa. No one paid regard to the fact that South African farmers were encouraging labour migration from Zimbabwe. Or that the South African industry was turning, is turning, on the strength of skills from Zimbabwe. Or that labour migration is endemic to the political economy of Southern Africa. Or that this media hype was a way to get at Zimbabwe for daring take back the land. Now to have such a statement from a man who furiously asserts his Zimbabweanness?
A national who wants to be regarded as a partner
Much worse, the millions of Zimbabweans he says are in South Africa include him! And he claims their relationship with this country is thinly by way of relatives they left behind! Is he speaking for Zimbabweans in South Africa who view themselves as Zimbabweans who happen to be working on a foreign country? Can he represent them anyway? And why are those Zimbabweans comparable to Chinese he thinks are referred here? Supposing they were loved in equal measure to the Chinese, would that be satisfying? Is there a basis for comparison? Does having relatives here make those Zimbabweans comparable to Chinese who are foreigners? Anyway, whose argument is this? Who is represented by it? Why does Mawere want to be, much like the Chinese, accepted as a partner of Zimbabwe? Where does that leave him? How does that distinguish him from Nick Oppenheimer? What semantic value does this line of reasoning lend to the word “interests” which he uses as a predicate for staking a claim on the country which happened to be his birthplace, much against his choice?
A well-to-do self-exile
He ungainly says I regard him as a foreigner and for that reason, deny him the right to see to it that his country of birth is better governed. Well, the foregoing has made it clear he regards himself merely as a man born in Zimbabwe, of Zimbabwean parents, never as a Zimbabwean. He wants to be regarded as a partner the same way the Chinese are regarded. His relationship with this country is founded on his commercial interests in the country which he rates as substantial. What is more, going by the politics of post-land reform programme, it is clear who has had an overriding interest in how Zimbabwe is governed, even to the point of wanting to go to war. It has been the Westerner, who by the way, is just as exercised about the Chinese getting a foothold in Zimbabwe as Mawere is. Who by the way views Zimbabwe’s land reforms and the subsequent destabilisation of the country arising from a political fall-out with the West as amounting to posing “a security risk to the region including South Africa”. He sounds to me like a well-to-do self-exile who finds his fellow countrymen exactly in the same country quite embarrassing to him and how he is regarded by his newfound hosts! I hope I have gone quite some way in illustrating the enigma of Mawere’s response, an enigma which cannot be dismissed as a peculiarity of one man.
The issue of national identity
Let us grapple with the substantive issues. Firstly, there is the issue of self-exile and identity. Let me clear a likely misconception. To stay outside Zimbabwe is not necessarily to be in exile. Exile stems from a conscious decision to leave your country vowing never to come back until it is safer for you to do so, or until certain changes – largely of a political nature – will have been attained. This is quite distinct from seeking opportunity in foreign lands, the same way whites come to Africa for exactly the same, albeit without any stigma attaching to them, any cameras hovering over them for a story to suggest a meltdown at home, indeed to suggest a security threat to our African region and Mawere’s South Africa. Quite distinct from being an economic refugee even. There has to be a dispute between you and your country. A threat to your being even. Secondly, there is a big difference between exile and deciding, for whatever reason, to take up citizenship of another country. The notion of exile asserts your continuing citizenship to the country of birth, which is why the politics of exile revolve around the hope of a return to the homeland one day. Not quite the same with a voluntary relinquishing of citizenship. Or choosing to enjoy a resident status elsewhere in the world. I don’t want many Zimbabweans who are clear about their national identity to feel vicariously harpooned into this Mawere paradox.
How to name our other fraction
Then you have the whole issue of identity. Ordinarily, this should haunt you for all your life, stubbornly challenging your decision to be the Other, your claims, juristic or otherwise, to any other person, any other culture, any other identity other than what birth and upbringing conferred on you. Those who acquire new nationalities always resolve this paradox by calling themselves Britons of African descent. From Mawere’s piece, you get a distinct sense of an unresolved dilemma which may or may not be peculiar to him, but which may very easily raise a fundamental question for our emigre population. This is why I chose to see a broader angle to my altercation with Mawere. I have no answers to that dilemma, but I think we have a sufficiently big part of population living outside of our borders to want to make this a real issue. How do we handle that part of our citizenry which drifts by the wind of globalized identities?
Replanting our resources
In the case of Mawere, a second issue also begs. He is a very bitter man, bitter from his loss of SMM, the asbestos concern which he claims as his own. There are key issues which anyone who has followed his case against the State, and the debate which ensued after my altercation with him. Just what is the basis of his claim to SMM? Is staking a claim on SMM, or ACL or ARL – whatever his vehicle is called – the same as staking a claim on our asbestos resource which can never migrate or denationalize itself to replant itself in British Virgin Island, as does these corporate vehicles? These are finite, national resources all along exploited by the British by dint of colonial economic logic. By some formulae, they fall back into national hands, but are taken back into British hands by one of our own, on grounds that he was born in Zimbabwe only, but without feeling sufficiently Zimbabwean as to consolidate the recovery of a national asset after so long. Spare me legal arguments. There was nothing at law and in conscience to stop Mawere from having his concern, with all its confusing permutations, registering here back home. Nothing at all. And this is the point which some of his readers raise.
More thousand questions
They raise more questions. What exactly was the nature of the deal? Did he pay for the takeover? Or was he going to settle the purchase from the exploitation of the Zimbabwean resource? He himself tells us it was the latter, comparing the deal to a housing mortgage. Did he use the exploited resource to pay off the original shareholders? Is it true that by the time the State moved in, the original sellers were about to reverse the deal on account of nonpayment? Meanwhile, the asbestos resource was being mined furiously. What was happening to the proceeds? Where were they being banked? In British Virgin Islands? In South Africa? Who was ARL selling its asbestos to? On what terms? Who was the owner of that buying company? Was it, like Mawere himself, domiciled in South Africa? Why was it buying that asbestos from Zimbabwe? For how much? To sell to who? And at what price? Is it true that there was transfer pricing involving a Mawere born in Zimbabwe, and a corporate Mawere who also transfigured to be the owner of the ghost company that bought a Zimbabwe resource from a Zimbabwean, only to sell it to the same Zimbabwean who them resells it abroad at true market value, to stash the money elsewhere away from home? A split personality, sharded identity?
The role of Zvobgo
But I have a more historical question for Mutumwa. Who got to know that T&N plc were disposing their asbestos interests in Zimbabwe because of indebtedness? Can he explain to Zimbabweans how the late Mines Minister, Eddison Zvobgo, comes in? And for whom? What exactly was the involvement of the Zimbabwean Government? With what obligations? To him? From him? Of course I don’t want to leave out the question from one of his readers: where did he get the money to buy such a resource at such lightning speed? Did he buy anything at all? What was the state of the mines at the time Government moved in?
Is there something called identity in business?
So many questions, but all underlining one core issue: what is the identity of our businessmen when they seek to exploit national resources? How binding is it to them? Do they have any obligation to this country? By way of their own identity for a start? The identity of their investments? The identity of their banking transactions? How they view home? How they view home politics? Participate in them? What claims and concessions they seek in the name of being Zimbabweans? How they should be treated at home? By Government? By fellow Zimbabweans?We are entering a phase in which wealth is set to transfer in meaningful quantities to Zimbabweans. We likely to run into problems is this vexatious issue of identity is not dealt with sufficiently. And I hope Mawere has seen from the quality of his debate with Zimbabweans across the political divide, across the globe, that there is a huge interest in how wealth is transferring, to who, under what parameters, and to what ends? Gone are days when you wave the card of victimhood hoping the fact of being at odds with Government, ZANU(PF) and the President, is cleansing enough. Not even appropriating Manheru for an opponent helps. Or calling a long list of persons you deem to have been persecuted by Government? There are core issues regarding the rise of a new, African national bourgeoisie on the back of ownership of finite national assets. The issue of economic nationalism.
A world elsewhere?
Mawere’s self-consuming bitterness reminds me of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. A hero of Rome in its countless wars against other nationalities, this vain fighter would not subject himself to the common people or plebiens who sought compassion and humility from the ruling patricians. He would not show them those deep wounds he had incurred for Rome, finding the practice too humiliating and undeserved by such a high-brow fighter. He cursed the commoners when and where he should have courted their support and love. His opponents took advantage and accused him of treason, an offence punishable by exile. A man of fiery temper, he turned on the commoners to deliver a curse on them which won him exile. But before leaving Rome, he gave them his bitter piece of mind: “You common cry of curs! Whose breath I hate/ As reek to the rotten fens, whose love I prize/ As dead carcasses of unburied men/ That do corrupt my air, I banish you”. This vain fighter could never be exiled. It was his people who had in fact exiled themselves from his gallant hand! He wishes Rome to once again become a subdued and prostrated nation under its enemies who, ironically, became his new hosts in exile. Reckless Rome had given itself “the powers to banish its defenders”. As he leaves unthankful Rome and its citizens he so despises, he says: “For you, the city, thus I turn my back:/ There is a world elsewhere.” Is there a world elsewhere for Comrade Mawere, our latter-day Coriolanus? You depart from your country. You never desert it.