ZIMBABWE – It has been an eventful week, quite eventful. On my way home last Saturday, I ran into an everlasting convoy of MDC-T supporters. Their vehicular beeline pointed beyond, passing through and past Chivhu. The journey source, as I was later to establish, was Nharira, a vibrant growth point in Chikomba District. The MDC-T had held a commemorative rally there, marking their founding in the cursed month of September, way, way back in 1999. It is the same rally which Temba Mliswa, nephew to Didymus Mutasa of People First, used to take a deadly dig an Amai Mujuru, stressing she could only accept a post from “the well-branded” Tsvangirai, should any coalition be contemplated. Apart from a mere name, what else did Amai Mujuru have, quipped the impetuous Temba, to the total edification of MDC-T supporters. By contrast, Tsvangirai had a quantifiable national constituency, and dried bruises to show he has been in opposition trenches for long, and suffering as a result. That gives him an upper hand, conferred upon him natural leadership status! Much worse, added Temba, Mujuru’s popularity was overrated. She did not command a huge following in Zanu-PF, as is being claimed. This was not the first time Temba had made such a surprising point, which suggests a well considered, digested thought.
Before close of this week, Rugare Gumbo, de facto speaker of People First, hit back, stressing Temba was not one of theirs, indeed was pushing a different agenda. He could be right; he could be wrong. But that does not take away the fact that after Zanu-PF, Temba was introduced by the same Gumbo as People First. Is it not more accurate to say we have fallen out? Or lost him to MDC-T? In which case you deal a mortal blow to claims of popularity, to claims of consensus within ex-Zanu-PF members? To claims of a broad church with other opposition? Certainly vying for same persons, same fishing ponds, and ridiculing each other in public, is no route to political ecumenicity.
So much advice, so many claims Gumbo also wore a brave face: People First are not afraid of Zanu-PF, but without telling us what threat he was responding to, so as to lift his remarks from an undignified projection of a harboured fear. Before then, we had an elaborate piece from Bernard Manyadza, aka Parker Chipoyera and Max Mkandla, suggesting dubious characters hobnobbing with Mujuru should not transit to the new party. The reference was thinly veiled, it being clear they did not like the likes of Mutasa, Temba and Jabulani. Then we also had a piece from Mawere, who surprisingly asked whether it was “people first” or “Mujuru first”. The piece carried with it a “must watch” video lesson in leadership, with clear recommendations for a Mujuru watch. Add to all this a stark rejection of alliances with the Mujuru group by both Madhuku and Professor Welshman Ncube, a rejection stated for the second time, in the case of the latter. A more interesting piece angrily came from Wilbert Mukori lashing out at Vince Musewe for the latter’ unhealthy ambitions that drew him closer and closer to People First, which to Mukori is nothing but Zanu-PF incognito. In between all these pieces was a holy one from Baba Bakare, denying association with People First, the British and Americans, yet asserting the correctness of using their money to convene the so-called convergence platform, come October! He came through as holy by collar and declaration, secular by deeds and beard, this retired Bishop. It won’t be too long before we know what has a stronger drawing pull on his navel, the ethereal or the corporeal. After all, too few moons remain before the month of October.
When rumours swirl
I almost forgot. Kindness Paradza. He has repudiated any contact with People First, something a former minister from the same Mashonaland West province might have to do sooner, or not do at all, if he is to overtake or live with rumours stalking him at present, respectively, rumours claiming he and yet another former Cabinet minister are criss-crossing the province, he claiming he will soon take over from Gumbo the role of spokesperson of People First. The world swirls with rumours, some of them quite lethal. All of this to mean what? Well, sometime ago I went to China on an exchange programme. I asked a Chinese scholar how one would sum up Chinese foreign policy in a few words. “To make the world safe for China’s rise”, was his answer.
What is your exchange value in coalitions Lifted to politics, I have always thought this is the best advice to political party beginners, a lesson Biti would struggle to grasp, but because of a different weakness: that of talking, fighting, too much. Joice Mujuru is proving another hard student of this same lesson, but also for a different weakness: non-disclosure of information of material value. Could this be tactical? Could this be lack of confidence? Could this be lack of influence, hoping to benefit from doubt? Or simply a legacy of liberation soldiery? Whatever it is, its limits are beginning to show. And bite. Temba is abusing Mujuru’s nascent project by denying it a constituency, any constituency at all; by denying it people, any people at all. And people are the very staple of every politician, his or her exchange value in the market of coalitions. Either of the two outcomes is what Mujuru must budget for: being forced to prove Temba wrong, in which case the crocodile will have fought on land; or suffering through the abuse, all in the hope that the perception of a big name without a big cause and big following, might not take a hold. But it being politics, meaning does not reside with the beholder as he intended it. Rather, it lies with rival hunters vying for the same catch.
A game of subtraction
Secondly, what Bakare, Kindness and others who declare themselves non-members of People First, are doing is to foreground an equation of subtraction to a supporters’ pool of no known numerical value, a pool of conjecture. So, People First shall be known by the numbers that have repudiated it, not positively by members it has, or sympathisers it is winning or cultivating. Is this how they want to introduce it, namely by who is not in it, by who is pushing a different agenda from theirs? I wrote about People First last week. A few of their ghostly members wrote back, more accurately hit back at what they saw not as an analysis, but as a dig at their leader, their cause. Soon, I shall give them a taste of a real dig, they need not fret for it. There was a certain degree of irritability reminiscent of a self-awareness that a bad truth has been outed. This betrays an unknown base, a factor which could explain why the notion of “sleepers”, of ghost structures within Zanu-PF, is so much in vogue with People First. They remain a ghost rumored to be seen nightly in the graveyard.
Ghosts that never mobilise
And going by Gumbo’s recent response to Temba’s jibes, it is not difficult to gauge the limits of People First’s strategy of silence. Why are they responding to Temba if their game is surprise? And if they have the faculty of irritation, isn’t that the way to force disclosures? And if Temba is not one of their own, could it be that not all those chased from Zanu-PF are theirs? And if they did not tell us from the outset that Temba was not one of them, who else is not theirs from that group, or theirs by silence pending denial once membership is challenged? Jabulani, whose is he? He appears at Tsvangirai’s rallies, appears at Biti’s launch, accosts the leader of Zanu-PF for meetings. Goes somewhere for resources. Whose is he? I don’t think silence and conjecture makes the world safe for Mujuru’s political rise, Mujuru who is rumoured to have been goaded into releasing a manifesto by Jabulani Sibanda. Nor does offering limited or incomplete information to the market, but information big enough to trigger conjectural conclusions, damaging impressions. The People First people must take a leaf from San Suu Kyi of Burma. Ghosts don’t mobilise, let alone win elections. And San Suu Kyi was a good or holy ghost, a handsome one too! Yet she just won a constituency, lost the poll, with her party coming a distant third, when her appeal was tested. She never took over, much to the chagrin of the world that cheered her, while jeering the junta that had incarcerated her. She joined the junta as a result, a junta which was her mortal enemy all along.
A halter on her neck
Something hitting me as a kind of a puzzle. From last week’s piece, I drew attention to hints at some connection between the People First and western interests. This was at the level of policies. This week, NKC African Economics, a UK research unit, has adopted Comrade Joice Mujuru for a truly begotten daughter. She is Zimbabwe’s “realistic hope of salvation”, the British think tank said. And the basis of her saviour status? She has “more clout than current opposition party leaders”. Which is to say? She has more clout than Tsvangirai, Biti, Ncube, Mangoma etc, etc. What do you have to say Temba? Luke? The backlash aside, this is a UK-based think tank for goodness’ sake! Which Zimbabwean politician ever got anointed by the Queen’s cold country, and ever warmed up to the Zimbabwean voter after? Not with Zanu-PF around. Does she want that diplomatic accoutrement?
Paid by hindquarters
But give it to her. Mujuru might not know who else in the world supports her, beyond Mutasa and Gumbo. She certainly knows she has AMH and ANZ. And this former minister form Mashonaland West, assisted or is it reporting? to another, has been putting together a cabal of journalists to help with their cause. I have the names, and shall have occasion to share with you, dear reader. Including revealing a scribe with some little, struggling butchery in one of the high density suburbs, who often gets paid in cash or hindquarters! It’s a crazy world, but a world all the same. I shall grade the reporters for you, including telling you those who can reach the political queen directly, who via screens. I have to establish first whether this partisanship enjoys the nod of publishers, or comes about in spite of publishers’ wishes and interests. Only after that will I give you a good summary. But this takes me to my main subject: the politician, the press and the people.
Tabloid gods who don’t reach heaven
The backward thing about our politics is that they are not yet mediased. To a very limited extent are political messages mediated. I suppose this points to the limits of media reach and influence in our circumstances. Of course radio is different. But which politician cares about it? It is blind, a blind medium which only hears and speaks. Our coxcombical politicians want an image medium, one which shows the colour of their suit, dress, tie and hair, even to the detriment of their content, which they do not have anyway! For its known television is no media for thoughts, only for dazzling.
They think politics is image and performance, which is why they prefer a medium that shows, but does not speak or hear. It is television, a box well known by its absence where the majority of our people, than by its wished ubiquity and people-centric messages. Here politicians are re-elected by what they have done for the community, and by how many times they have attended funerals, bought coffins, Lobels and cabbages. It is not by frequencies of television appearance.
Still less by the number of times they have images or headlines on front pages of News Day and/or Daily News, for better and for worse. The gods of these tabloid don’t make it to political heaven; the devils of these tabloids often make it both to kingdom now and kingdom come, the latter measured by the next polls.
Inventing a crowd in solitary jail
And now the hard lessons. The swirl around Mujuru is whether or not she has people on her side at all. Why is that so, given her good tabloid rating day in, day out? Mugabe quakes in his boots, we are told, at the mere mention of Mujuru. Zanu-PF is so scared that it is courting Tsvangirai, meetings being set in faraway lands, we are again told. And punchlines are cooked in newsrooms, for newsrooms: Joice is Choice! Clever, isn’t? I am sure the impressionable Gumbo smirks with satisfaction each time he wakes up to such headlines, including those which claim irrevocable disintegration in Zanu-PF. Or fatal character clashes within the leadership. Or the President’s imagined ailments. Or images of Tsvangirai in front of bursting crowds at Nharira! Until of course when a person like me tells you of the endless beeline of vehicles rushing back to everywhere via Chivhu. The story changes to one of imports, as opposed to the image of a popular politician who says “huni tinonodziwanira ikoko kuNharira”, to adapt a popular war song. It is not difficult to invent a synthetic image, a wish image nowadays. To import popularity even in a solitary jail!
Performing to media
Which takes me to the media and their role in cultivating a compelling lie. Or in cultivating a saving illusion, as wished by a lonely politician. The media, we are always told, refracts reality, truth. Others prefer to use “bend”: that the media bends truth, reality. The more forthright ones will say: it edits reality, trimming or augmenting it, all to wishes. It can deny an image. Or import it. It can lend gravity to words. Or simply attach levity to them. It can record words. Or exile them from public eye. It can make occurrences, or kill them. And given that the message is as good as the medium, and the medium the message, there is a way in which choosing to play your message in the media, is to make the media your message. Or your people. Your receivers! And that is the nub. I have seen politicians who play, write and speak for the media, hoping people will hear as a matter of collateral consequence.
Politician, press, people
In advanced polities, politicians who feel hard done by, by a hostile media, will by-pass it to hold town-hall meetings. Rallies in our case. The matter is not hard to grasp. Where you face the media playing noise to your message, the media intercepting your messages, you take your message directly to the people through direct, interpersonal, oral communication. This is why it was Pungwe during the war, not the Herald or RBC. Of course Radio Maputo augmented the messaging; it was never the primary carrier of the liberation message. Going to the people directly not only delivers a clean message; it manages a reluctant media which has to reckon with the numbers a politician attracts. Not to mention the bandwagon effect of huge, cheering crowds. The two liberation movements used this to devastating effect in the1980 elections, forcing the Rhodesian press to acknowledge the Patriotic Front willy-nilly. A hostile media is never a bar to a cause whose time has come, never a bar to a politician who has gained people’s confidence. So it boils down to the politician, the press and the people. How that equation connects and balances, or not.
A brave disclosure
Going back to our comrades in People First, they have the Press, like I said, the tabloid press, which for now, they share with the MDCs and other opposition parties. It remains to be seen whether this is a relationship which endures, or mere fascination with a well-dressed, anti-establishment fad. I have always said there is a huge difference between supporting an opposition and wishing and cultivating one, more so given the mistaken conviction in our ill-learned media leaders who think to be a dog that watches means wearing and keeping the guarded jewel. Or becoming it. Where you support an opposition, you cover its messages faithfully, with open partisanship. Where you wish and cultivate opposition, you cover up for its deficiencies, enlarging it even, against its real size. A cat becomes a leopard in such situations. It will be interesting to know what answer our politicians would give if asked whether they have the people or the press. Or both. Or conversely put, whether they are not confusing the press for people, or people for press. Tsvangirai tried to answer that by bussing people into Nharira, all to lie that his national strength was in fact a local strength. It is a gigantic trick in communication, a manipulation of crowds. But one using real people as raw material. I don’t begrudge that. Zanu-PF parades by-election results, but without confessing to a low voter turnout, or to the absence of key opposition in the election. It is a technical win, but one based on real people as raw material. Again, I don’t begrudge it, more so in Zanu-PF’s case where this only relates to areas of low influence, never to its heartlands of support. Biti sought to answer it through attendees to her Congress. If you consider that congresses are for party devotees, and that Biti had a mere handful, then you give it to him: that was a very brave disclosure, a bold admission to a political outfit of the margins.
Some many “Ps”
What of People First? That is the million dollar question. Headlines they have. Editors they have. Reporters they pay, fete. Bitter officials – rejects from Zanu-PF, now and in the distant past – those they have, and by handful. People? Well, you drift into brutal irony. People First? How come it has been Press Release after Press Release first? How come it has been Picture after Picture first? How come it has been apology after apology first? How come it has been punchline after punchline first? Press. Picture. Punchline. All to give Politics of Puzzle, never of People. And knowing as I do media skills in that group – knowing it from Gumbo’s disastrous performance in his days at Zanu-PF – there is bound to be confusion between press support and people support. Without an accompanying knowledge that the press world is not the real world. That the rules of the press world are founded on manipulation, while those of the real, people-world are based on fear of human unpredictability, human frivolity. A stochastic magnitude where variables cannot be controlled, or reduced to pen, picture, paint and paper. Punchlines – Joice is Choice – very easily parodies to “Joice is Noise”, and all falls down. The politician, the press, the people: that deadly equation.