"What a dust thou dost raise! Smallest of mortals, when mounted aloft by circumstances, come to seem great; smallest of phenomena connected with them are treated as important, and must be sedulously scanned, and commented upon with loud emphasis."
I have just completed reading Morgan Tsvangirai's book, or more accurately William Bango and a number of white writers' book on Morgan Tsvangirai. Equally, I have read a number of comments on that publication whose real content value was overshadowed by both its timing and manner and place of launch and circulation.
Outside of what Professor Stephen Chan has written about it, I am yet to see a real assessment of it by a Zimbabwean. This is partly a self-sought ruin, partly a tragedy of our Zimbabwe. Self-sought because of where the book was initially published, launched and circulated.
Published in South Africa, the book only crossed the Limpopo much later in its short life, in fact a few weeks back, towards the dying moments of 2011. Maybe it was Tsvangirai selling himself abroad, never cultivating understanding at home.
The other Tsvangirai who stole the book
I did not attend the launch of the book at the ill-fated Book Cafe, would never have! But I found it curious that as Tsvangirai the Prime Minister was talking about Tsvangirai the character in the book, a third character was forcefully evolving by way of a loose-waisted politician clearly nimble at starting and ending amorous relations, but not so neat at putting them away, at resting them in solemn silence.
This third character proved at a deeper end than Tsvangirai the Prime Minister and Tsvangirai the character in the book. A big man in an enormous office, pitted against small and even churlish misdeeds of little knaves, a man tripping with such a thud against the simple but insistent wiles of a spurned lover, all to suck in a community whose sensitivities are offended as a result of that conflict, all that in rich combination, yielded a rich, multi-layered conflict for a drama that was part romance, part farce, part mock-heroic and nearly tragic.
A beginning, an elusive middle and an indeterminate end, all these were there, fueling a plot longer than end times, a plot more gripping than "At the Deeper End".
Laughter, suspense, empathy, anger, frustration, expectations, all these, too, were there as our man moved on, clearly a victim of dramatic irony that privileged us with omniscience. All the way, this riveting character was stalked by hubris. We have not yet seen the denoument, we are yet to enjoy the catharsis, but I have no doubt that all that is coming.
Could this be the end?
I thought The Herald almost gave us a happy-ever-after ending when they reported that Morgan and Locardia had sneaked out of Zimbabwe - their land of persecution and inhibitions as lovers - to a more permissive clime called Durban in South Africa. It is a typical flight in romance, is it not? Such an ending would have been logical, what with the main character finally seeing sense in settling with the offended chief and thus settling it all with the gods of our land.
Mombe dzakatengwa, mbudzi dzakaripwa, mucheka muchena ukabviswa as Tsvangirai, himself a scion of the Nerutanga chieftaincy, saw sense and complied.
So this is the real character who overshadowed both the Tsvangirai who is our Prime Minister, and the Tsvangirai who is in the book as a synthetic character aspiring to greatness, who drapes himself in great auguries, in greater providence.
When Mhanda is more interesting
A tragedy of our Zimbabwe because we no longer read; we no longer digest material that comes in book form. And when we try and read, we record that feat by way of very flippant reviews in our newspapers, reviews that show shallow grasp, shallow prejudice of the reviewing hand.
Let us face it, whoever Tsvangirai is and whatever his end might be - shallow, deep or deeper - he represents a tendency in our body politic, a tendency which must be fully grasped and understood, from whichever side of the political spectrum we might analyse it. The MDC-T people themselves do not seem to understand that Bango worked on the book in the hope that it would be part of the selling of the MDC-T president, ahead of the poll set for 2012.
The portrait is dying, possibly because the MDC-T people do not know how to follow through, possibly because the man in the book is no longer the consensual figure he might have been had he decided to obey the party constitution and bowed out of the stage to make way for people like Tendai Biti.
So there is no euphoria around the portrait, no sense that a party is rallying behind its leader as portrayed in the book. One saw greater MDC-T interest in Wilfred Mhanda's autobiography, than in this one? Why? As for Zanu PF, there is very little recognition that the book is rich campaign material against the man it is set to face in the forthcoming poll. But the book has to be read-ka for that to be grasped. Yet Zanu PF makes true that colonial adage that to hide a secret from an African, put it in a book! Or is there a mistaken view that through silence, the book is being killed? How mistaken!
Where is Humanikwa?
As I have said, I have read the book, read it against what I know of the Prime Minister and his home, Buhera, his village which he mistakenly puts under a village head called Humanikwa. I don't know about that. What I know for a fact is that his home is under headman Makuvise, right on the eaves of headman Tsodzo's village. In the years of drought, and there have always been many in Buhera, little "books" were created for the sake of enhancing access to food relief.
These "books" have always been unofficial, albeit fulfilling little egos of larger families which have always thought they might have been "kings". We pejoratively call these mabhuku enzara, villages hewn out of the need to receive food relief. I have no doubt in my mind that Humanikwa might be one of them, either hewn out of Makuvise or Tsodzo village. The Prime Minister will certainly agree that there was no Humanikwa in his days of youth. Did the book miss an important sociological feature of Buhera?
The native who never returned
But I want to hurry to a more significant impression I got from the book. In relation to Buhera, the Prime Minister is the proverbial native who never returned. He left Buhera for Zviyambe for part of his primary education; left Zviyambe for Chikara, Gutu, for the rest of it. Little time was spent at Munyira, the home primary school.
Thereafter it was Silveira and then Gokomore, the one in Bikita, the other on the outskirts of Masvingo Town, as it was then. After that it was Umtali as known then, Mutare as known now.
Then Mutare, Mutare, Mutare until a friend suggests an opportunity in Bindura, which materialises by way of internship as plant operator. Then it's Bindura, Bindura, Bindura until Susan is fortuitously met and courted, then married to sire children for the Tsvangirai family, starting with Edwin.
In between long moments, the man would return to Buhera, his original home, but very briefly: paRhodes and Founders, paChristmas, paNuwere as New Year is phonetically known in Buhera. Clearly a native who never returned. But all that is for him and for his family.
The war that never came
Where this becomes a national issue is when and how he seeks to narrate the liberation struggle, with his family and professional circumstances as his backdrop. It is a fact of time and history that war comes to Buhera around 1976, largely and determinedly from 1977. It stayed with Buhera right up to 1979, extracting numerous lasting damages as behoves all wars and those caught up in them.
Expectedly, war flowed into the rest of Buhera from other parts of Manicaland, parts that abutted the border with Mozambique. It drifted westwards in the direction of the Prime Minister's village from different parts of Nyashanu, with the Buhera-Birchenough road being the main theatre of conflict as Comrades sought to lay siege on Buhera Camp, itself a significant forward position for Rhodesia's operations in Buhera, principally what we know call Buhera South, Buhera Central, Buhera East and lately Buhera West, the last being where the Prime Minister's village is located.
And because the Prime Minister's village is very close to Buhera Offices, there were never an encampments of maComrades, let alone mapungwe or nightly meetings. It simply was not safe. Much worse, villages surrounding the Buhera Offices which included Tsodzo, Makuvise, parts of Marume, Mudziwembiri, Mbire, Chikuvire, Machaka, Mupfigi, right through to the margins of Nyazvidzi River, all these were catchment areas for the regime by way of recruitments for maDA nemaDzakutsaku.
Those villages were heavily infiltrated and amounted to a security perimeter for Buhera Office which, as already stated, was a forward base for Rhodesian operations into the rest of Buhera.
The link with current politics
Only towards the end of 1979 did war veterans devise a scheme where select families within Mbire village, which is to the West of Buhera, and the rest of the villages abutting Nyazvidzi river, would cross this river to attend pungwes kumatengenyika emaNyazvidzi in Gutu. It simply was unsafe to hold meetings in those villages.
Of course the war veterans had deliberately jumped past Buhera to start operations in villages along the Buhera-Chivhu road so as to cut off Buhera from supplies that came from Chivhu. Had the war continued after 1979, Buhera Office would have been abandoned, thanks to operations mounted by war veterans from villages like Gwebu, Zengeya, Chapwanya right through to Manyene which targeted the main road.
One result of this fact of the escape of villages that surrounded Buhera Office from the war is that MDC quickly gained a foothold there, especially in the 2008 elections. Most of its officials in Buhera West are former Rhodesian security agents.
Death in the last days
I have gone to quite some length to draw the map of the war to highlight a small but significant point about the Prime Minister's narrative of the war. He makes long and impossible claims about the war and his village, all to claim a place for himself vis-a-vis that founding process whose role in legitimising politics and politicians nowadays is well known. The war skirted around his village which supplied the regime with many youngsters as conscripts.
Only in 1979, during the ceasefire days, did a group of comrades stray close to his village, into the neighbouring village of Tsodzo, fatally thinking the war was over. They were attacked by the regime and we lost one comrade in that engagement.
Curiously, that incident is not recorded in the Prime Minister's narrative, possibly because he does not know about it, or did not care to cover it in spite of the sensation it caused then, made worse by the fact that the body of that war veteran was burnt close to the aerodrome by gomo reMarawi, close to Marume village.
No organic connection
His rendition of the war as it related to Mashonaland Central is no better. It is also based on hearsay, on anecdotes, as indeed it was in respect of operations in and around Mutare, which reached and affected him as rumours or fables.
Significantly, his book confesses that our Prime Minister saw not a single living veteran throughout the war, only meeting them for the first time well after the war, when, as he claims, a few veterans came forward to express their sense of betrayal by Zanu PF leadership.
It is curious that throughout this engulfing war, the man never saw an armed combatant. His experience and sense of the war was through Rhodesia’s propaganda machinery, and he makes repeated references to that. The whole war started and ended when he was safely tucked away, safely within the white laager, busy producing wealth for that war, all on the side of the regime.
He was the native who never returned, not just to his home in Buhera, but also to the cause of his people. And his attitude towards that war is heavily coloured by Rhodesia propaganda which his biographers perfunctorily criticise because they know they should, to make a credible claim on the libration legacy so vital to post-colonial political legitimation.
There is no organic connection to the struggle, something which says a lot about the role he plays later in national politics. His flirtation with Zanu PF at Independence comes across as a matter of fashion, appeasement, atonement, or all of these.
Claims to epochal stature
Which takes me to my main point in this piece. Gentle reader, you notice I opened this analysis with a long quote. It is from an Englishman by the name Thomas Carlyle born in 1795 but percipient enough to write incisively on the French Revolution.
The quote relates to puny man born in epochal circumstances, in the process pretending he is the reason or agency of those far-reaching changes. Or explaining his own inconsequential life by way of those great developments which merely coincided with his coming into being.
The Prime Minister's narrative, especially between his birth days and when Independence comes, between his Rhodesian days and trade union days, reads very thin and false. His writers abortively sought to impart cosmic consequence to his uninteresting life of clear political disinterest.
There is a ludicrous attempt to make Tsvangirai the centre or the referent of political changes he least understood, little followed. This is why that part of the narrative reads wafer thin, a poor composition on the Rhodesian social scene as grasped through poor reading, never as lived, never as witnessed. You look in vain for a living tissue in that whole narrative. You vainly seek to dodge embarrassment from claims made retrospectively all to defraud history, all to suffuse a life lived ordinarily with epochal destiny, or the ring of it.
The bastard of the struggle
Much worse, you see an attempt to vulgarise the ideas that drove the liberation struggle, all to re-characterise it as a precursor to the politics he now leads, whatever adjective one wants to engraft onto them. The liberation struggle was about democracy, human rights and transparency, one page in the narrative claims. Such a claim is meant to make Tsvangirai a political natural outcome of the struggle, a scion of that epic conflict with the settlers.
You cannot miss the fraud, especially when you take into account the MDC's Rhodesian and western paternity, indeed when you take into account his hostility towards the land question, itself a core grievance of the liberation war. And it is like that through and through. There is a clear tag between obligation to the white agenda on the one hand, and attempts at trafficking with radical ideas imparted to him by students and workers who formed the backbone of that whole movement for the redemption of white settler capital in its fight against the nationalists.
In the end, Tsvangirai comes across as a person who is reflexively on the opposite side of whatever Zanu PF and Mugabe are doing or saying. That takes me to the second issue of this piece, namely what ruling ideas are running this GPA dispensation.
To rule, to govern?
With the consummation of the Global Political Agreement and the subsequent advent of the Inclusive Government, the conventional wisdom was that Zanu PF had ceased to be the ruling class. It had been toppled by the MDC formations. Or the obverse, that MDC formations had become the new ruling class, albeit with Zanu PF hands still on the power deck. And as is always the case with such assumed changed power relations, derisive accent lay on the perceived loss and losers, while euphoric welcome was showered on the perceived winners and incomers.
Some sections of the media even coined the phrase "the-once-ruling class", all to capture Zanu PF's perceived tumbled-down power misfortunes. Zimbabwe only had a Prime Minister and a defeated Robert Mugabe, a "Mister" Tsvangirai and a mere Mugabe who had hit a new nadir, never a Prime Minister and a President, indeed never a Head of State and of Government both rolled into one in the person of Robert Mugabe on the one hand, and a Prime Minister battling effeteness at every turn in the person of titular Morgan Tsvangirai, on the other. A Prime Minister desperately seeking to be-plum that powerlessness with the accouterments of office, with gilded, macho rhetoric.
Moulding necessary illusions
And the media was an accessory in creating this saving lie, this necessary illusion as Noam Chomsky usefully would call it. What the Prime Minister lacked by way of real power, the captive media sought to make up for by way of flatulent words, by way of shrill and editorial hyperboles. That way Tsvangirai emerged a thin man disguised by a stout garb which the media kept swelling, swelling and swelling
The stable interregnum we have enjoyed this far owes to this well and studiously cultivated illusion. The media-led malice against Robert Mugabe thus had this very positive outcome of cathartic satiety that gave us a stable interregnum we now call the GPA. What an asking price! Never was so little paid for peace by way of a society so badly in need of it! Indeed never was a customer so satisfied by so impalpable an illusion!
A menace in the beginning
But grant it to him, he was threatening at the start of the GPA. He seemed to be angling for real power, for real consequence in his seat. Zanu PF looked befuddled, completely overwhelmed by the new entrant riding on national euphoria, on a sense of beginning and feeding so fat on the usual beginner's benefit.
Given that Zanu PF had been the incumbent, movement on the GPA and within the Inclusive Government could only have come through concessions from it. It had to concede and those concessions came thick and fast, creating deep despondency and near defeatism within Zanu PF structures. Power seemed to be sliding, to be eluding Zanu PF.
The retreat in Victoria Falls and the resulting draft Government Work Programme, suggested MDC formations were settling in, overwhelming and visibly cutting through Zanu PF's quaint governing ideas. If you were in Victoria Falls during those heady days, you could not miss the array of intellect which the formations paraded, including scholars who had defected or deserted Zanu PF in previous years. It was like the formations were pounding Zanu PF with its own weaponry.
Only he who governs is blameworthy
Today, more than three years into this arrangement, we can now, I am sure, assess with greater sobriety who is who in this whole political equation. The fumes of ascribed grandeur, the throes of denied power, are all gone now, surely. Equally, our clouded eyes – whether from red-shot wailing or from tearful joy – have now cleared to allow us to see and meet bare man in is real life size.
We can now tell those who have been made taller by real power wielded, or those lengthened by stilts of compensatory flattery. The tell-tale signs were abundant. Even those in the media who feigned seeing power where it never existed or visited, still showed backhanded awareness of where real power truly lay. Each time something they did not approve of happened in the Inclusive Government, the one party, Zanu PF, the one man – Robert Mugabe – would always be blamed. As if power was singularly wielded. As if one man, one party ran the governance show!
One could not miss the full equation: the party and man so blameworthy, so adequate as a reviled scapegoat, could surely provide some clue on who really wielded governing powers, on really who was behind the regnant ideas, whether driving or stultifying the GPA.
I still wonder whether those in the media punting this blame game quite knew what they were acknowledging through this inadvertence. A Tsvangirai who explained no mistake in Government could never have been a figure of real power, could never have been a governing character, a living politician. Rather, he remained unborn, a pure creature of innocence thrust in a green Eden before the birth of Eve the temptress, before the beguiling serpent.
For me, this infantalization of a man supposedly at the helm of national politics by the private media ironically betrayed a third sense on where real power lay in the Inclusive Government. Only real governors make mistakes, draw raw reaction from the governed. He cannot err who does not govern!
Ruling class, ruling ideas
Marx and Engels made their famous declaration on how classes that rule are also classes that conceive and produce ruling ideas. If I am not mistaken, that theory was developed in their muscular treatise called "The Germany Ideology". The postulate was that in every age, the ruling ideas always belong to the ruling class, that as leading classes rule, they also produce ideas that rule the very society they hegemonise politically.
This thesis opened a whole new vista not just on how power founds and bases itself on a system of ideas, but also how it justifies and legitimises itself through the selfsame system of ideas. The likes of Rosa Luxembourg, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, Plenkanov, Lucas, Mao, Althusser, Williams, right through to latter-day leftist revisionists like Eagleton, Said, Pilger and Chomsky, developed this new thesis into various strands that gave dramatic impetus to studies on the relationship of ideas/ideology and power: how these two interrelated magnitudes interact in a complex way to produce legitimacy to hegemony, however ill-gotten.
The point to salvage and stress is that groups that run societies always are groups that proffer dominant ideas, that conceive ruling ideas around which societies are governed and are moved forward.
When governors don't rule
Clearly, governing and ruling are distinct and different activities, never mind that the two may sometimes coincide. Governors run formal structures of rule, whilst rulers shape and fashion States, national pursuits, ideas, ideals and temperament in deep, epochal terms. Ruling is always more profound than governing.
Illustratively, whatever the vicissitudes of party politics, Britain is always ruled by the Conservatives even though it may from time to time be governed by the Labour Party. The so-called Blair Revolution demonstrated this point. His ticket to power was to assure highbrow England that he was the better manager of the Conservative agenda, compared to John Major who proved such a poor scion of Conservatism in management terms.
Conservative Britain did not hesitate to put aside their own, for the sake of renewing their hegemony over Great Britain, a hegemony that had grown dangerously anemic under the colorless Major. That process of renewal continues to this day, with the Conservatives' Cameron, borrowing renewal spurts from the Liberal Democrats, more so now when Britain faces a new spectre of militant grassroots dissent akin to the dreaded Chartism of yore.
As political parties come and go, ascend and descend, the ruling structure and its underpinning ideas of conservatism remain remarkably intact, always renewing itself, always elaborating its conscripting premises for larger governing consent. That way the British system endures while steadily and stably evolving.
A mere thirty-one years old, Zimbabwe's own ruling edifice remains remarkably nascent, remarkably formative. But not featureless. Its outlines are now clearly visible, all the time showing that we have before us a chick that is set to grow into a big cock for the roost. The issue is to determine who has and continues to give that chick its character, traits and hue. That is not quite the same as asking who brings it its daily bread, is it?
To respond to this one issue is then to deal with the Gramscian question raised by this article, namely who in Zimbabwe governs, who in Zimbabwe rules? Whilst the control of Zimbabwe's governing structures can very easily be dealt with in the superficial sense of looking at who is who in the Inclusive Government, the issue of who rules is much more complex. It deals with sources of those profound ideas and programmes that continue to shape and reshape society in a profound way. It is to look at the ideas that have moved us in the thirty-one years we have been independent, and how these have been challenged or given added fillip in the short years we have been sharing power, the short years the MDC formations have joined Government.
The great questions
We have a small problem. I am sure the reader saw private newspapers running ratings of ministers by way of their performances as perceived by the same media. Even the public media felt the compulsion to join in that. Performing well and badly over what? What ideas were these ministers pursuing, or working to fulfill? Anyway, what justifies their political disembodying? Or has GPA produced an all-party or no-party Government?
How do you measure the performance of Government, ministers and ministries outside of a reconstruction of the ideas they are sworn to, ideas they undertook to fulfil during their term? What are those ideas and who has provided ruling ideas in the dispensation of the GPA? What are those ideas? Who generated them? Who acquiesced to them? Who implemented them? Who subverted them? Which ideas won popular support, which ideas courted spirited resistance? Which ideas moved Zimbabwe under GPA? From which party or parties?
Getting to the core
We are going for elections and there has to be a way of identifying each of the vying parties. How do we differentiate these parties if we look at them as a monolithic GNU, look at their representatives as mere colourless functionaries within the GNU?
Surely if land remained the issue, if dollarisation became the redeeming issue, if Indigenisation became the focal point of the three or four years that have gone by, we can put a party name to all of these ideas? Does that not help us determine which ideas ruled, rules the GPA dispensation? Or was society obsessing about moving towards democracy and change?
What is in the draft constitution? Whose positions were upheld on that draft document? We need to get to the core of the GNU agenda to gauge who rules us. Not this fascination with individual ministers all of them running little structures for governing, but within an ethos of ruling ideas.
Deep end, deep idea?
Let us start that debate and see where it leaves us. Only that way are we able to decide who can rule us, who should govern us. Only that way are we able to reconstruct the broad consensus which in fact has been evolving imperceptibly beneath the false conflict between parties on the GNU, a consensus which our media, so lost in the conflict mode, has been unable to pick and present to all of us.
For instance, who in the media knows that Minister Tendai Biti recently gave a spirited defence of Zimbabwe's right to sell its diamonds to whomsoever pleases, using a corporate vehicle it wants and has created as a sovereign nation? This was after the chairman of the World Diamond Council had suggested that Zimbabwe reconfigures ZMDC to escape American sanctions. Which and whose ideas animated the minister in that encounter and what do they suggest about agency of their authorship? Where does he stand in reality, never mind the slogan he mouthes out perfunctorily?
It is such shifts, such turns, which really reveal the underlying ruling ideas, which make party membership superficial, misleading. Looked at that way, you begin to understand why the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, Eric Matinenga, himself an MDC official, may not have been mad to say the result of the next elections may very well be another Inclusive government, of course for reasons quite different from those he proffered in order to look politically correct.
Is there a greater convergence than we are ready to acknowledge? Around whose agenda, whose ideas?
In the same vein, I want to look at the Prime Minister's book as some manifesto, some vision of the Zimbabwe he wants, the Zimbabwe he seeks and strives for through the instrumentality of the MDC-T party. Has his book hegemonised any space in the battle of ideas that seek to rule? Within his party? Between parties? Within Government? Do we have another Lee Kwan Yuah, an African Singapore in the grip of a great idea, a great vision?
Let us debate the book from that perspective so we see where that leaves us. I am ready. Are you? Icho!
Nathaniel Manheru is a columnist for the Saturday Herald. E-mail him: email@example.com