THE events in North Africa where tyrants have either fallen or still risk being pushed out courtesy of a combination of people power and military connivance easily throw light into one of the thorniest questions of our time: The Zimbabwean Crisis.
Easily so because only a fortnight ago, an anticipated North African-style uprising failed to take off in Zimbabwe; and the activists arrested two weeks ago on allegations of trying to incite that failed insurrection remained in detention amid allegations of torture with little or no active solidarity. Moreover Zimbabweans themselves debated through the social media the merits of the North African option for their country.
In the end, one can’t help returning to the tired question: Just who is to blame for the Zimbabwean crisis? Is it just Mugabe or is it because the people and the opposition simply lack the backbone and drive or it’s a combination of many factors?
Writing in the Mail & Guardian last week, both Lashias Ncube and Trevor Ncube located the problem at the cross section of the aforementioned factors. These things have been said before, but one still feels that they should be said over and over again in the hope that they may one day sink into the minds of the people.
The real problem in Zimbabwe stems from the premise in which our democratic project is located. Up to this date, people still mourn what they want to say is Zimbabwe’s degeneracy from a prosperous democracy into tyranny and yet Zimbabwe was never a democracy but a timid quasi-one party state which easily veered into a quasi-military state.
Although he has demonstrated a rare skill in mastering his upward mobility and grip on the greasy pole, making him one of the craftiest politicians in Africa, Mugabe has never been a good leader. Mugabe never diminished. Instead, goodwill flew leaving him exposed. Malevolence and incompetence are not recent interventions into Mugabe’s initially benign rule as some want to have us believe. Instead, they were always ingrained in his character, style and worldview.
The reason for the refusal to face this reality is that those who championed Mugabe earlier on can, through denial, easily escape blame and continue to carve new masks for themselves and hide their sinister voices in the din for “democratic change”. And yet if the people had faced the truth and undergone soul-searching, Zimbabweans would have long found the will and means to confront their way of doing politics and consequently removed Mugabe.
The consequence of this fear of blame is that in the end, the democratic movement is not free from Mugabe’s reasoning and politics as today’s supposed saviours still conduct themselves the Mugabe-way. In essence, Mugabe is still alive today in the MDC and the civil society. The MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has repeatedly said that he considered Mugabe to have been a “hero”, and that he could have “killed” for him. In the end, Tsvangirai seeks to replace his erstwhile hero and never to change the political culture prevailing in Zimbabwe today. He wants Mugabe out not because of the tyrant’s poisonous politics but because of the popular disenchantment with his 31-year rule.
In essence, we have no alternative leaders but a range of fortune seekers masquerading as politicians waiting on the margins for Mugabe to destroy himself so that they replace him and his retinue. The meaning of this is that after Mugabe, it may still be business as usual — self-enrichment; consolidation of power characterised by a vengeful pursuit of political enemies and prosperity of the bootlicking industry.
Tsvangirai has got a fair share of his willing bootlickers and a number of adversaries with whom he has yet to finish, Welshman Ncube being one of them. To see that Tsvangirai admires Mugabe, one needs to look at the 2008 picture of the two shaking hands on the day of the signing of the Global Political Agreement. Tsvangirai cuts an over excited and gratified figure exactly like Wayne Rooney after his recent overhead kick.
While the West is evidently livid with Mugabe and hope that he may one day face the music, they will be shocked to hear that Tsvangirai doesn’t want Mugabe to be tried for crimes against humanity. With this mind, it would be absurd for anybody to ever expect a Tunisia in Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s tenure.
Even the intellectual community can’t escape the blame. “The really tragedy of Zimbabwe,” writes award-winning novelist and international lawyer, Petina Gappah, “is that the pain has continued after independence, and that its first and only leader has been overseeing the destruction not only of what he inherited at independence, but also of what he built.”
What is it which Mugabe built and which Gappah is referring to? You will have heard it said that Mugabe succeeded on the education and health fronts because of the fact that Zimbabwe is regarded as the most literate nation in Africa. And yet Mugabe found a ready infrastructure and functioning system. He simply carried on from what had been set started by the Rhodesians. The University of Zimbabwe, Harare Polytechnic and Bulawayo Polytechnic, Hillside Teacher’s College, United College of Education were already there, for example. It took him 12 more years to introduce another university despite all the goodwill he had. His real success is in dirty politics.
Gappah also celebrates what she calls a “Zimbabwean identity” reflected through the “virtual” absence of “ethnic conflict” as well as “ethnic balance” in the political leadership as some of the “significant achievements” brought forth by Mugabe’s rule. Sad to say, Gappah unconsciously celebrates a disaster hidden under Mugabe’s veneer of false tranquillity.
The so-called ethnic balance essentially reflects a problem which is perhaps at the core of Zimbabwe’s degeneracy — the triumph of ethnicity against competence and credibility. The unwritten rule that the majority ethnic grouping shall provide the leader, then call upon the smaller one to provide the deputy to achieve the so-called balance is straight from the Mugabe doctrine. The institutionalisation and practice of ethnic consciousness is precisely what tribalism entails.
Elsewhere in the world, competence and other related attributes carry the day ahead of ethnic origins when it comes to choosing leaders. In some societies, ideas and clear thinking are let loose to vie for public patronage without any recourse to tribal sympathies. Not in Zimbabwe where, as evidenced by Gappah’s reasoning, people have purchased wholesale into Mugabe’s drivel that even the MDC and the intellectuals agree with him on it, without any semblance of shame.
The sad truth is that the MDC are not just crazy to have sailed along with this line when Tsvangirai was made MDC president ahead of his ZCTU president Gibson Sibanda. Obviously, Zimbabweans have yet to accept any leader who is not from the majority ethnic grouping, no matter how astute and credible that person may be. In other ways, the people of Binga, Ntepe, Ntalale, Chipinge, Plumtree and Hwange can never produce a leader; they can only seek solace in Mugabe’s “tribal balancing” simulation which Gappah celebrates. This, Mugabe presents as a fruit of good stewardship and is happy to see the intellectuals celebrating it because it proves that he indeed did a sterling job on the education front too!
The real tragedy of Zimbabwe is that in Mugabe, she produced a malevolent and paranoid leader who duped the world through his false reconciliation policies into affording him a blind eye as he went about riding roughshod over people’s rights, entrenching his hold on the body-politic in such a way that all efforts to remove him today have failed, leaving it plainly obviously that he will die in office having succeeded in his totalitarian project — producing gullible intellectuals and supine politicians.
It is a tragedy that many people today, most of whom were praising Mugabe yesterday, believe that his departure will usher in a new era of prosperity and yet all the evidence shows that his influence will remain and stay for very many years to come.
Mugabe has over the years been able to pass the blame onto other people and many events illustrate this. In the 1980’s people hated Abel Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole and Joshua Nkomo for no reason other than Mugabe had told them to. “Nkomo is an enemy to all the people. We don’t want to see him in Zimbabwe anymore. He must die in exile,” they said. And yet when Nkomo died, it was clear that he was the hero and not Mugabe. Sithole and Mozorewa have long died but Mugabe is still around and unyielding.
Now enter Grace Marufu who has taken all the blame for Mugabe’s quarrelsome brand of politics and yet she has nothing to with it. “Mugabe’s wife is a bad influence on Mugabe,” says Lord Carrington’s wife in Heide Holland’s book ‘Dinner with Mugabe’. And yet in reality, Mugabe doesn’t need Grace to inflict pain on anybody. Over and over again, Margaret Dongo has said that Mugabe used to be good and only changed when his first wife, Sally, died — meaning that she agrees with the view that Grace has had a significant influence on Mugabe’s behaviour. Elsewhere Martin Meredith turns reality on its head: “Only his wife Sally,” he writes in one of his books, “managed to exert a calm influence on his ambition and anger. After her death in 1992, he became increasingly detached from reality. His destiny, he believed, was to rule for as long as he wanted.” Propaganda has never been so comical!
To be fair, Grace is a simple and less sophisticated typist with no capacity to change Mugabe and that is why Mugabe remains the same. Mugabe has always had his mind on untrammelled and perpetual power. Indeed the crushing of PF ZAPU supporters which turned out to be his worst crime ever, was mainly about a one party state and was carried out when Sally was still alive. Moreover, Sally was also known to carry large sums of money out of Zimbabwe in boxes. On many occasions she and her husband went shopping in Europe with Mugabe cutting a smart, suit-wearing gentleman who kept dyed hair. It is then that Mugabe earned his Vasco da Gama nickname, and to this date he hasn’t changed.
Grace simply joined the gravy train. Isn’t it mind-boggling that while Mugabe regards his earlier years in office as a “moment of madness”, others regard that period to have been a spell of exemplary stewardship?
Thabo Mbeki has been another victim of this brazen buck passing. Witness how the former South African President’s reputation has been laid thread bare. Without Mbeki’s support, Mugabe wouldn’t have conducted his Murambatsvina horror show and other crimes, says RW Johnson. Really! Mbeki should have removed Mugabe, Zimbabweans say. Why would Mbeki be the one to have removed Mugabe when he found him there and had and still has no capacity to vote him out? Imagine the Zambians rampaging mad about Mugabe failing to remove Rupiah Banda?
In any case, why does Mugabe keep getting so many votes if indeed the Zimbabweans don’t want him? If you say the answer is that he rigs the elections, the question is how does he rig? In 2008 the Western embassies set up money for anybody to come forward with information on how Mugabe rigs elections and nobody brought useful information forth. Right in the middle of the crisis, Mugabe set up his Border Gezi institute to train youths in violent conduct and thousands of Zimbabweans joined. And there is no doubt that if he were to start another brigade today, the response would be overwhelming. So how does Mbeki come into all this?
Zanu PF politicians are prepared to tear each other apart just to be in Mugabe’s good books. Mugabe is aware of this and he enjoys it. Even during the 2004 ‘Dinyane Declaration’ saga, many in the opposition and media disgracefully celebrated Jonathan Moyo’s political demise without linking the so-called Tsholotsho rebellion to Mugabe’s poor leadership.
In the end, the real chance for an uprising in Zimbabwe lies ahead and beyond Mugabe’s grave where it is highly likely that the Zanu PF elite will turn on each other in the fear of being ruled by the other after their master is dead. There is nothing to expect from Morgan Tsvangirai and company.