ZIMBABWE – Give it to our African heritage. You don’t go very far in search of a proverb appropriate to express strange happenings in your neighbourhood. Our forefathers will have something for you, itself an indication of the expansive experience they have accumulated and distilled for our future use and reference. It takes a great culture to distill and compress such vast and variegated experiences into aphorisms and sayings that are malleable enough to encompass and express new realities, resolve an otherwise baffling set and turn of events.
As expected, the News open the week with attack headlines on Emmerson Mnangagwa, Vice President of this country. Monday carried the headline: “Mnangagwa begs Mugabe”. Tuesday had another: “VP allies face ZANU-PF sack”. Wednesday had yet another: “Mnangagwa in a corner”. Thursday headline, though obliquely couched vis-a-vis this seemingly inexhaustible news character, still referred to Mnangagwa. It read: “Terror group haunts ministers”, a claim that Midlands, home to the same Mnangagwa, had conceived a terror group going by the “sick moniker” Al-Shabaab. And this headline rested on a well-highlighted, smaller side-headline: “Another break-in at Mnangagwa offices”. That kept Mnangagwa on the radar week-long, both directly and inferentially. You can draw your conclusion, gentle reader.
When the hyena vomits grey hair
But I have a friend, an ex-journalist, who cracks a joke on such a cast in journalism, if journalism we can call it at all. He maintains it is forgivable to repeat headlines and stories, forgivable to foist such repetitive matter on our long-suffering readers. But . . . but don’t mug the reader of his only dollar, please, he maintains. Why sell such stale stuff as news? Give it out freely, he maintains.
I don’t know whether it’s ethics or laws of the market which need summoning as final arbiter on this one. That is by the by. My real focus in this digression is on the Wednesday story on Mnangagwa in the Daily News. It contained statements and comments which got me to rummage through my heritage for meaning. Our elders have a saying: “Chembere yonyangarika, bere rorutse imvi.”
I am not so sure that I can translate it to full effect. I will try, maybe not so much by translation, but by painting a situation. Picture this: some hoary old-timer goes missing in the village which goes on a man-, or is it old-hunt. Meanwhile, in a nearby shade, a well-gorged hyena vomits tufts of white hair. Would you not call off the search, quickly raise the village crier to declare a funeral, to find a priest for final rites, and of course to look for an ox yenhevedzo? You would be a fool to continue or step up the search against such plain but grim augury, wouldn’t you?
Augury or coincidence?
The Wednesday story carried many portentous claims. Yet none beat the claim that Mnangagwa’s foes “were now ‘more determined than ever’ to finish him off and his allies politically”. Of course the adjective “politically” seems to lift the claim beyond human physical hazard and tragedy. That seemed to redeem the report.
But that is to be wilfully simplistic on matters of political communication. In any case, in its universe of meaning the article did not permit you as the reader to treat its reference to death as a metaphor. It deployed abundant verbal cues that kept dissuading you from wondering too far off the intended meaning.
To be a little pedantic but accurate, the article strictly delimited the semantic range it permitted in the reader. A portion of it warned: “Analysts who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said as long as Mugabe, who turns 92 in a few weeks’ time, did not anoint a successor, the wars in his party would escalate – with dire, possibly fatal consequences soon.” And “soon” was just that: same day soon! The following day headlines announced a break-in in Mnangagwa’s Government Complex offices, the sixth such attempt in the political recent past. That means the day of the break-in was the day of the portentous story. Was that clairvoyance? If I was such an editor whose grim story prefigured a grim reality, I would not brag. I would grow goose fleshes, wondering what the country laws on conspiracy say.
Tracing lineaments of thoughts
But the News went thinly – very thinly – further: “The insiders who spoke to the Daily News also said Mnangagwa’s party enemies were determined to deal with the beleaguered VP and his key supporters ‘in the same brutal manner’ that they destroyed his predecessor, former Vice President Joice Mujuru. ‘Mnangagwa’s loyalists starting from the Politburo, the Central Committee and then the provinces will come under the hammer more and more. Very soon we will see them being chucked out from the party one by one. The idea is to leave him (Mnangagwa) with no support and to expose him as a person who cannot stand for his comrades,’ one of the sources said.”
You don’t require the clairvoyance of the News editor to paste names to such boastful thought tracks. All you need is a keen knowledge of the country’s political who-is-who, including past disappointments, and convoluted claims made in respect of the 2014 Mujuru ouster. That development has now become a source of legitimacy in political terms, a carte blanche for any political action however gross, absurd or subversive.
And you are struck by the boast and blackmail in the so-called opponents of Mnangagwa the Daily News tells us are inside the party, struck by an out and out sense of playing little gods who shape events in the political world, in Zanu-PF. They had power to remove Mujuru; they have the power to make Mnangagwa share a similar fate. What other power do they have, do they wield, and for themselves? Which other careers can they end? They are, in other words, the power and whispers behind the throne? And brag about it? They create idols, create gorgons, giving both a lifespan. What is their endgame, these political makers, un-makers? Ahh!
When it all comes from inside
All this holds true and valid claims by affected publishers that they cannot be accused of subverting ZANU-PF or Government; that they do not seat in decision-making centres of the party and Government, in which case all they publish comes from inside the establishment. Of course while that does not make the publishers innocent, it does in a great way get us to know where to search for the missing village old-timer. The trouble is the brazenness which is now being displayed, as if they have acquired and achieved terror-power over everyone, the leadership included.
And don’t get me wrong. It is not so much about Mnangagwa who has survived a death sentence, survived imprisonment, and survived a whole war. He is an old soldier who should be presumed able to handle the current situation, or even much worse. Rather, it is about the rise of illicit power centres in the establishment, centres playing god on persons and processes, centres passing death sentences on careers and characters. That cannot be right to the extent that it lifts leadership processes outside of the domain of collective membership action, lifts them to some exclusive settings which are outside of, indeed which are anti-party. I mean affairs and careers in Zanu-PF cannot be decided in the columns of Daily News and NewsDay, surely?
Politics of rancour and vindictiveness
Much worse, this relentless campaign against persons can lead to a certain genus of politics which are deadly vindictive in the realm of those who aspire to lead. You bid for power armed with a set of supporters, and facing a phalanx of enemies, both of whom must be rewarded and gotten rid of respectively, along the way and upon ascension. You must have demolition plans, not governing strategies.
This is what we are nurturing, politics of rancour, spite and vengeance in the national body politic, politics which might refocus politicians away from decent and beneficent goals. Or even introduce internecine violence and eliminations. I hate to be a citizen of such a polity. And once such a tradition begins, there is no stopping it. New leaders will walk in, not with a governance focus but a vengeance reflex. Losers, too, will assume a conspiratorial reflex. The result is a long night of equally long knives.
Whatever arguments the Daily News might mount in its own defence, today the country views it as aiding and abetting this very dangerous climate of nurturing worst proclivities in politics and politicians, yes, of stroking egos of those little but hugely destructive politicians who play final arbiter to ZANU-PF succession processes. The paper succours them, protects them through the abuse of the media institution of source sanctity and privileged anonymity. Yet both institutions are meant to advance public interest, not to protect scoundrels we see prancing about, vaunting dubious powers.
Catching what you have
Which takes me to the rut the private press has herded itself into. Their formulaic coverage of Zanu-PF risks unleashing demons I have just alluded to, demons which will swallow everyone, themselves included. The one thing you can never tell is where and how the dice of politics falls. They should know this from successive elections we have had in the country, know from dramatic shifts in politics of the ruling party. But this is as far as the establishment politics is concerned.
When it comes to the opposition, their feeding off the palm of Mujuru’s People First thing is creating another destructive scenario of no less danger to themselves and to the very opposition they want and wish to succeed. Here is how. The Saturday issue of Daily News ran a story under the headline: “Mujuru winning ZANU-PF battle”. On closer reading, it was clear this was less a story of new facts, and more a show of goodwill towards the Mujuru thing through flatulent claims and dramatising false breakthroughs.
The focus of the story was on ZANU-PF rejects already dismissed by the party for working for and with Mujuru. Unless you imagine a very foolish readership, how on earth would you regard such persons as “new catches” for Mujuru, let alone a breakthrough for her thing? How does she win a ZANU-PF battle by recruiting persons she already has, persons dismissed from ZANU-PF precisely for their loyalty and membership to her? Such that the real story in the story was not on the Ngunis, the Marians, the Dzingirais of the ZANU-PF universe once upon a time. The real story was on the MDC-T MPs the daily paper told us had defected to join Mujuru’s thing.
Who is threatened?
Without any sense of editorial shame, NewsDay replayed the same story two days later, on Monday, under the headline, “Mujuru rips into Mugabe stronghold”. More names of MDC-T defectors were given in the story, while no new names from the party providing the headline were mentioned. NewsDay made a follow-up, published on Wednesday under the headline, “Tsvangirai panics over Mujuru”, which seemed to reset the Monday headline appropriately. Yet another follow-up followed on Thursday under the title, “Tsvangirai flexes muscle”.
ZANU-PF was no longer in the picture! And the star of all those stories was one Rugare Gumbo who purports to speak for the Mujuru thing. Without feeling the need to justify why Obert Gutu, MDC-T spokesperson, has to answer questions in a story where “Mujuru rips into ZANU-PF”, NewsDay asks the lawyer if his party is not giving way to the Mujuru thing. Gutu replies: “We don’t feel threatened. Mujuru is actually a threat to ZANU-PF because she will split it into halves. Kasukuwere should actually be the one to panic not us. How can she be our enemy, in fact we welcome her.”
Re-igniting rivalry in opposition
A split-second later, Gutu senses he is not making sense, in fact has a presentment of a sharp rebuke by an article so full of names of defectors from MDC-T, and an even sharper rebuke from the better half in his party which is stiffly opposed to any understanding with the Mujuru group. Having thus recovered his senses, he blurts a portentous parting shot: “How can we be threatened by a party yet to be launched?” Whereupon a question is out to Rugare Gumbo, a question on when the Mujuru thing will be launched into a party. Gumbo, clearly exhibiting unsureness, answers “anytime soon”, adding: “There will definitely be a congress this year so that people are elected to positions and are not imposed. I can’t say when but it has to be this year. That’s all I can say for the time being.”
NewsDay is not deterred, and proceeds to disclose that the billed congress “could be held next month”, in the process setting the agenda for Mujuru. But it’s a haunting question for People First: they are not a party; they have not held any public meetings, contending to give the world snaps in place of action, in the process prompting deadly jibes such as one from Professor Moyo: “Picture First! They have no leader, only a signature backed by another picture. They have no candidates for the many by-elections that are being held at their expense, only claims and yells of gingerly approach.
As children we used to laugh at the slow, unsure pace of a chameleon through the little song: ‘Tenge-tenge, usa-tsike-mbuya’, all the time mimicking the chameleon’s hesitancy. Much worse, in most areas, they claim to mobilise under ZANU-PF structures while in areas like Mutoko where Kaukonde and Muchena are active, they rely on MDC-T structures. Are they superseding these parties or are they being taken for a ride? When do they project themselves? It is such questions which give resonance to Gutu’s parting shot, underlining a new situation of re-ignited rivalry in the opposition – reignited by the zealous coverage of the private press.
And the reckless Rugare Gumbo does not help matters, does he? Instead of steadying nerves of MDC-T leadership, he says about the MDC-T and its edgy response to Mujuru: “They have not complained to me personally or officially to us, but they maybe complaining to some people. They are not happy that their members are joining us, but it must be understood that whoever is now identifying with us has been attracted by our brand, the product we have put out to the people thus far.”
He continues: “However, I must say the MDC-T has no need to worry because we are fighting the same enemy, the same system, but people will always make choices at any given time given what would have been presented before them. We are not approaching people. In fact, most of them are approaching us.”
What worse aggravation does one who is in the MDC-T need? What harder, deeper poking? That way another complex and reflex is being bred into the national body-politic: a complex and reflex of fragmented politics in the opposition, inadvertently to match the attempted fragmentation in the politics of the ruling party. It is when you see it from such an angle that you begin to appreciate the huge damage private media coverage of political issues is wreaking on the national body-politic.
Holding Tsvangirai up to ridicule
Gentle reader, in case you have missed nuances on the issue of Tsvangirai and Mujuru alleged rivalry, here are the facts. Newsday is playing the Cha
misa card, playing it quite skillfully I must say. I mean it is absurd to report that Tsvangirai responds to the broad threat posed to his party by Mujuru by summoning Harare province only. Come on! And to his house at that! And through Hebson Makuvise, a relative! What is being communicated so skillfully? A strong sense of a failed party leadership by a person who recedes to village identity when faced with a modern political challenge he has courted. Full stop.
It is no secret that Tsvangirai courted Mujuru for a possible alliance, less against ZANU-PF, more against Chamisa, Mudzuri and his party Youth Leaguers. The Newsday articles are telling MDC-T supporters that your party is being swallowed by Mujuru through a Tsvangirai invitation! Arise! Hahaha! It is a powerful message, one sure to undermine Tsvangirai irrevocably, unless of course he pulls a strange one.
It makes good the internal opposition’s vow not to desert the party as did Ncube, Mangoma and Biti, but “to take it”. And to take it means getting Tsvangirai out of the way through questioning his credentials and sense of political judgment. Both articles referred to above present him as a reckless leader who has invited a monster which is slowly swallowing his party. That is sure to intensify leadership tussle within the MD -T while preempting possibilities of alliances.
Setting up your exam
Nor will People First emerge the winner. In the first place it is busy fighting Mnangagwa, alongside a cabal inside ZANU-PF which for all its claims to the contrary, is in fact acting at one with the Mujuru group. People First is fighting Mnangagwa because it thinks he will be the ZANU-PF candidate in 2018. This is the same reckoning which the anti-Mnangagwa cabal in ZANU-PF has, and hence the spirited opposition against him which the Daily News plays up daily. Thus the two are together, in spite of themselves!
This is key to understanding the state we are in. But here is the absurdity of it all. The People First and the anti-Mnangagwa faction in ZANU-PF are setting up an opposition they like, setting up an examination they want to sit. Not one they will have in 2018, they have to sit in 2018! They like to fight Mnangagwa, like to decide for ZANU-PF its candidate for 2018! And they have done so already, immediately entering into battle mode against a candidate they have made and designated for ZANU-PF, a candidate they want ZANU-PF to field, indeed a candidate they want to oppose in 2018.
For Rugare Gumbo, it is even more absurd. Instead of announcing a party, announcing dates for its launch, presenting its leader bodily, “mouthily”, his communication strategy revolves around buying journalists into headlines that suggest People First is feared across the political divide. Some “they-fear-therefore-I-am” Cartesian logic. So ZANU-PF is afraid, very afraid. MDC-T is afraid, very afraid. And in both fears is proof that People First exists, is in being!!!!
It is when, not if
Here are sobering thoughts for Mujuru’s thing. What happens when – not if – Mugabe registers as the ZANU-PF political candidate for 2018? There are resolutions to that effect already. He is the party candidate for 2018. What happens when – again not if – Mnangagwa is not the Zanu-PF presidential candidate for 2018, as you please? He cannot be for as long as President Mugabe is still in the ring.
You cannot wish him candidate without wishing President Mugabe away. Or entertaining such thoughts. What happens when – not if – the opposition remains split, thanks to People First? That is a fact which is being aggravated by press coverage everyday. What happens when – not if – Tsvangirai is no longer the leader of MDC-T? He is battling for his political life, and does not seem to have a plan in the alliance he proposes with Mujuru, and for his party which he must carry along in that new marriage. What happens when – not if – it turns out that it is ZANU-PF, not People First, which has been playing a waiting game, a stalking game?
ZANU-PF is building material for its 2018 campaign. All mistakes and dubious alliances being forged by Mujuru, a war veteran, are going towards that preparation. ZANU-PF does not need to do much for now in respect of opposition challenges. It only has to put its house in order, which is why this unofficial opposition to itself, from within itself via the private press, cannot be helpful.
But Mujuru cannot pit herself against an opponent she chooses, pit herself against a person ZANU-PF will not put up as a candidate. It is sheer madness. And if she claims that her support base is inside ZANU-PF, clearly she needs those ex-ZANU-PF supporters to find enough time to overcome the overawing psychological barrier of standing against the President, himself a forbidding icon and symbol of what ZANU-PF and the liberation struggle is about.
History will have to be revised drastically to de-stool Mugabe. That has not happened yet, whatever absurd noises Gumbo may be making. Mujuru herself is having real challenges in crossing that psychological barrier. What more her supporters? Her thing is having problems in saying anything at all without a reference, direct or implied, confirmatory or contrastive, to ZANU-PF. That is how encompassing ZANU-PF is and remains, how hegemonic. Yet we are only two short years away, much of it already squandered by the Mujuru thing fighting a non-candidate. We shall see. Icho!