ONE stubborn day in April, the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twelve, President Mugabe stolidly walked back to Harare, clearly defying Press and prophecy.
The week before had been abuzz with rumours. He was seriously ill, the Press, in big bright banner had joyfully proclaimed.
He was going through his last gasps, read the same proud Press on the morrow. No, in fact he had just passed on, wildly wailed the same suitably sad Press. The ailing Air Zimbabwe had already dispatched a plane to bring home his remains, continued editorials.
The dire reports came in quick succession. All these dire reports were set against words from a prophet, one TB Joshua, a Nigerian soothsayer draped in holy verses of the heavens above. Within a few days, an elderly, ailing African leader would pass on, the good bishop had prophesied, heart heavy for mortal mankind.
And he could not help, he could not save what Divinity had willed, added the telegenic preacher, calculatedly strolling in assured dignity across the idiot box, or what we call in daily parlance television. Nowadays the word has become television, good television, had it not?
Today preachers follow television, believers watch. Both give us gospetainment!
Hearse of hearsay
Back to TB Joshua. We all sat, we the good bishop’s heathens, as this man of the cloth handed down dire prophecies. And zombie-like, we sat, transfixed, spellbound by holy beauty and prophecy, holy beauty of the man the flesh; holy prophecy gushing through him. The die had been cast, or so we thought, we who have turned out to be faith’s fools, faith’s buffoons.
In that televised dome of rumoured divine presence, dome of tangible secular opulence, who would be unwilling to suspend disbelief? Who dare think of “evangelprenuership”, who?
But Robert Mugabe stubbornly walks back, unharmed by prophecy, sprite and wielding the promise of many, many more vigorous moons. The Press — the good bishop’s subalterns — held a vigil the day RG’s “coffin” was supposed to be gently eased down and out of the big plane’s underbelly, to wailing leaguers. The Press hoped to bear witness to the prophecy, televisual prophecy!
But the horror, the horror! There he was, jerkily stomping down, step by step, step by step, well out of focus of cameras trained to capture the hearse of hearsay. Vigorous handshakes from the waiting party, peels of raucous laughter, happy clicks from reluctant cameramen!
The Press this confounded, I now hear the prophet has decided to come “down” himself, come in person to physically supervise the prophecy so badly aborted in Nehanda’s stubborn land. Welcome TB Joshua. Your MDC flock blows and bleats!
The other day I went into leafy Avondale for suburban lunch at some ethnic — European ethnic — restaurant. Fortuitously, I sat next to a table of four: a short, dark blackman equipped with searing, dilatory eyes; two elderly but still “useful” Caucasian men, one of them with sparse tufts of Einstein hair; and then some woman — again white — who looked so unconventionally dressed as to pass for a habitual gypsy living by the margins of the swift Rhine.
My circumstantial neighbours were voluble, very voluble, something I traced to a vigorous debate they were having. Whatever it was they were discussing — and sheer proximity would soon favour me with detail — was close, too close to the bone to warrant full animation. It shook their respective persons, furrowed their foreheads each time they hit a distasteful moment, provoked pearls of derisive laughter whenever they stumbled upon outrage to be execrated.
And the most animated was “brother-man”, this man after whom I took: by nose, by hair and by colour. He was one of mine, amidst the pale ones who clearly outnumbered him numerically, but never by measurement of animation and voice pitch. For a while I concentrated on placing my order. After all I was hungry, quite, and the waiter — again my kind — was taking too long to come, to deliver. Did he not see my famished lips? Or was I too dark for civilities?
Meeting Dzinashe Machingura
“On land, Robert Mugabe would never have changed his mind. Never! But the British had given him money, plenty of it. Eighty-three million pounds which he never used.”
The accent was clearly African, and I knew it was one of my own speaking. Not just the speaker, but also the subject matter, was one of my own. The issue of land is close, very close to me. I cannot be indifferent and I began to be interested. But discreetness was the better part of valour.
Feigning disinterest, I turned my ponderous frame imperceptibly, or so I thought, to catch the face of the vehement speaker — catch it by the corner of my eye. Soon my mind was shuffling old pictures, old snapshots, all to establish the identity of the face before me. My eyes receded into time and memory and, yes, I soon recognised the speaker, greater proof coming from his heavy, convulsive voice.
Wilfred Mhanda, aka Dzinashe Machingura, one of many who fled University of Rhodesia in the early 1970s to join the liberation struggle on the Zanla side. Twice I looked for confirmation and, yes, there he was: darker than two African nights put together; burning eyes struggling against imposing, sagging brows; a big, splayed nose playing poor bridge to high cheekbones; frame short, obviously shrunk by time and life's burdens. But detonating amazingly forceful willpower.
Lord Soames’ Guests
He was born on May 26, in 1950. He had provided leadership to the guerrillas during the incarceration of the Zanla command in Zambia, following the assassination of Chairman Herbert Chitepo by the Rhodesians, and the bloody pogrom which this tragedy triggered.
After the release of the command, ahead of the 1976 Geneva Conference, Dzino and a group of close comrades took a different line on the whole struggle, on leadership, creating a situation of conflict in the rear. The whole group was rounded up and detained in different places in Mozambique. The year must have been 1977.
The detention would last until 1979 when the British, tipped by Tony Benn of Labour, insisted on their release as a precondition for Zanu's participation in the crucial post-Lancaster 1980 elections. Zanu relented. Mhanda and his group came home on the ticket of the British — guests of Lord Soames — the man the British government sent to Harare as its Governor to oversee the decolonisation process.
The British thought the group would create a divisive splinter in Zanu, thereby weakening its chance of making an impression in the heavily contested elections of ’79. Equally, the Rhodesians had an interest in this dissident group, whose bitter experience could be harnessed to paint an apocalyptic vision of life under a “terrorist” government. Then “men with guns”, as Kissinger had called them, had to be farthest from the reigns of power. Or if this was inevitable, had to come in, heavily diluted and compromised.
In the past tense
Back to my neighbours, I listened the more, intently. Mhanda spewed hate, hot contempt all the time. Except during those moments he spoke of Robert Mugabe’s impending “health” demise and what it boded for larger Zimbabwe. Only then would he regain composure, heart fully gladdened. You got a sense this was one happy calamity he and his white guests could not wait for, thoroughly relished.
In their view it was imminent and preparations had to be made for the future without Mugabe. It is a sickening pastime I have heard and read, many times over.
Mhanda referred to politicians in Zanu-PF, concentrating on those he believed stood in the line of succession to Robert Mugabe whose fate, in his judgment, warranted the use of past tenses. On one politician whose name I shall not mention, he lingered longest, pouring vitriol, corrosive words.
Clearly he did not like this politician and sought to bedim his prospects. He did more. He made sure his white congregation not only got it, but vicariously joined him in this loathing.
“We have good intelligence. When he was in prison, he worked with the Rhodesians. Chris Mbanga’s father was a prison warden; he told us! And he also spied for Zambians. We have enough intelligence on that.”
And Mhanda’s problem was that “these people” at some point believed this one politician could succeed Mugabe. In fact some still believe in changes predicated on the triumph of a faction within Zanu PF, that hated politician’s faction. And “these people”, I later reconstructed, were Western governments, led of course by the British.
All told, Mhanda counted four factions in Zanu PF, the fourth one being the uniformed forces, led by General Chiwenga. “It is Mugabe’s faction,” he stressed with the knowing finality of an insider who had to be believed by these poor white souls!
Wounds that won’t heal
Noticing that the man was getting worked up, was now indiscreetly speaking at the top of his voice, the white party began disintegrating, the lady being the first to place valedictory pleasantries. Soon, the two men followed suit. Mhanda, too, left for his car and, like a good soldier, checked around before going in and then taking off.
For a while, I realised how wounds and differences of the mid-1970s were still fresh, how they still wept bitterness, burnt incandescent. These wartime differences rage on, undiminished by time and age, often looking for renewal through new allies, new audiences, new grievances, new narratives, new opportunities even.
I felt sad, felt so sad. I cried for my country, my beloved country whose founding processes spewed so much emotion, such hate, such overflowing passion. Its founding process had created enemies out of allies, foes out of friends, aliens out of allies, indeed hostile combatants out of comrades.
But I quickly told myself history does not move on pity, on tears. I sobered and weighed what had just transpired.
Behaving no better
But the irony of it all just wrecked me to fragments. I, too, got angry, very angry. Who were these white people to whom Wilfred was pouring his heart and heat out? I know the party. I know personages in Zanu PF, the party which sent Alfred to war. It does not have such faces, all of which looked Rhodesian, Bohemian. By truth or decoy, all of them drove away in vehicles with local number plates. Who were they to deserve the most animated slice of our hearts, or our history, our legacy?
To deserve secrets — real or claimed — from the struggle which, after all, pitted us against Rhodesians? And Rhodesia was white, solidly united behind Ian Smith, behind the war he waged against us.
And if Mhanda’s gripe was against betrayal, against spying, was he being any better that afternoon? Or when he was adopted by the Helen Suzman Foundation; by George Soros’ Osisa which funded his narrative on the struggle? Or by Eva Goldsworthy, a British “volunteer” working in Mozambique in the late ’70s he claims was his “catch” during his incarceration in Mozambique? Or much worse his return to Rhodesia as “Governor Soames’ guests?”
Into the arms of the special branch
I will let the comrade pick up the narrative: “We flew into Salisbury airport to a small, cheering group that had gotten wind of our impending arrival from Soames’ office... Upon our arrival, we were taken to Tomlinson Depot of the BSAP.
“There, over a period of two days, we were debriefed and vetted by the Rhodesian Special Branch and then transferred to the Skyline Motel, about 20 kilometers to the south of Harare. Superintendent Jeff Price of the Rhodesian Special Branch was assigned to us.”
I have extracted this from Wilfred Mhanda’s own autobiography, “Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter”. With such a chequered history, why was the man casting the first stone, I wondered and asked myself.
This chance but searing encounter poses a number of questions to all of us Zimbabweans who are so passionately involved in the contemporary affairs of our country. And as should be clear from the intensity of what I have just recounted, even the war of liberation is contemporary.
This toddler called Zimbabwe is barely on her twos, barely taking her first tentative steps. So the past is not far back, let alone another country, another age. If we do not remember it, it is because our memories are too short, ourselves too reckless with our collective being.
I have enormous difficulties with inviting outsiders to the fireplace where the home and its secrets are discussed. Real difficulties. Especially if these outsiders think worst of us, work day and night to secure our ruin, to wrestle from us our heritage. That invitation, however tendered, makes them automatic stakeholders in our still mortgaged futures, futures on whose elusive handles we barely grasp by our finger-ends. Thirty-two years on, our grasp remains tenuous and we do not need to weaken it any further.
Tears that must be wiped
We bad-mouth our country, all the time to make an impression on whites who see our only value to them as existing in how well we collaborate in bringing about our demise, in trashing ourselves. This is my biggest fight with the MDC formations: their dogged belief that whites and ourselves can ever be equals, can ever be partners, in circumstances of material inequality, circumstances of a divisive history such as we inherited from Rhodesia.
This belief that we bear the burden of closing the chasm — racism chasm — of Rhodesia while its architects sunbath and suntan in postcolonial opulence guaranteed by an economic status quo you and me must police, must protect. I reject that.
This was the long and short of Tendai Biti’s message to the Atlantic Council, a message echoed by his boss a few days ago at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair. There are pains, there is responsibility to misdeeds of history and that responsibility does not selectively start with Gukurahundi. We have tears before 1983 and those tears matter, must be wiped clean, wiped dry. Why take those that caused those tears yesterday to parade today as arbiters of our destiny, arbiters of our futures, all in order to look clever, knowledgeable and fearless? Why?
There is a cost to European history on the continent. That cost cannot be twice paid by we the victims of that history. Or have its settlement delayed in the name of our poverty.
Our ‘bad’ independence
Which takes me to my next point. It takes even a fool to know that Zimbabwe is at its watershed. Not necessarily in the narrow sense of the President’s lifespan — and may that lifespan bracket many more moons! It is in the broader, existential sense of its destiny, its direction.
There is something deeply foreboding about our present, and it does not need TB Joshua and his political prophecies to bear that out. It is not even about political dynamics which are internal to our politics. Rather, it is about Zimbabwe in the global context, about Zimbabwe and the West.
There is a reckoning in the Western world that Zimbabwe’s independence was a grave mistake which must be corrected. About this, the Western world is unanimous. We are a bad independence about to infect other African independences. We are a runaway liberation movement which broke and bolted out of the stables built for us by Kissinger through his National Security Study Memorandum 39 of April 10, 1969, a document which set out boundaries for all the liberation movements of Southern Africa, vis-a-vis America and Europe’s hallowed interests.
That plan was to ensure as Southern Africa decolonised, the Western world neo-colonise it. And for a while, we appeared to be tending in that direction. Until 2000. Until now when we have deigned tackle the subsoil asset which triggered Western interest in us, in our country in the first place. Immediately, we became a bad independence which must be reversed.
Building scenarios for change
It is at this juncture that the Western world gets divided. How is that bad independence to be reversed? Is it by way of a Democratic Alliance look-alike? But Zimbabwe does not have the white numbers of South Africa? Is it by way of the MDC formations tinctured with elements from the liberation struggle which Tsvangirai made reference to, barely two weeks ago at the burial of Dr Mudzingwa, himself a dissident war veteran just like Mhanda?
It badly needs an enlightened, bold leadership, something the West is trying to cobble together. It needs legitimacy steeped in the liberation struggle. Again, alliances are being sought, seemingly with little breakthrough. Or is it by dividing Zanu PF? To what end? Mavambo? Zapu? Through vying factions with some connections to the MDC formations? Or simply through the much-predicted death of the President, followed by parliamentary processes which will see lots of horse-trading across parties, across so-called factions? This is why this Mugabe-gazing has become an industry, mediased industry.
Beware of constitutionalism
But all of the above scenarios should not bother serious players. Zanu PF is an old enough party to cope with such standard challenges of neo-colonial politics. If it has not by now evolved mechanisms of defending itself from all these, then perhaps it’s time is up. Rightly so!
What should worry serious players are three threats. Firstly regime-change politics smuggled in as constitutionalism. About this, Zanu PF was once beaten. In 2000 when it naively thought the constitutional process was indifferent to party politics and party prospects it laid back, leaving the MDC and Rhodesian farmers to campaign for a No Vote. Only after the result did Zanu PF realise it had been put on notice.
From an imperialist point of view, the present constitutional effort seeks any of the following four outcomes: an outright electoral defeat for Zanu PF, which is why constitution-writing has become part of the minimum conditions for elections, indeed why Nelson Chamisa boldly tells the world the real constitution will be written after the Zanu PF defeat.
The birth of a weak, non-interventionist, neo-liberal state which is so hamstrung as not to move an inch from the “damages” inflicted so far on imperial interests through indigenisation which are bad enough already.
Weak, captive State
And weakness is not just a question of restrictive constitutional provisions, a powerless, hostage president and a myriad of commissions through which power is dispersed and consensus prevented; it is also the threat of irredentism which will keep our politics buffeted and troubled.
The birth of a strong opposition with enduring links to the West, apart from giving the West a durable foothold in our body-politic, such a creature allows fatal litigation which keeps the State in circular motion along the enchanted line or boundary. Or simply create a constitutional regimen which yields a disputed election which no one can avoid, all in order to allow for intervention the Libyan way.
All these factors explain why the current constitutional process must never be viewed innocently, but as a continuation of the struggle to consolidate the defeat and displacement of imperial interests here. Otherwise, it stores a prelude to defeat and reversal.
Rumours as attack
The second threat Zanu PF must watch for relates to defending, preserving and extending its legacy. The prologue to dismantling unwanted politics is dismantling its narratives, its myths, its leading personages, its defining policies. And you notice all these four are under attack. The heresies about the President’s health are part of it all, not just to wish ill of the President, but also to naturalise his absence from national politics.
Zimbabwe must learn from Chile, Cuba and Venezuela. Rumours are an integral part of attacking an unwanted leadership, political and even physical attacks. And you notice the attack on the leadership extends to the party’s second tier, all to complete the psychosis of total elimination of Zanu PF as a self-succeeding party, a party of the future. The headlines screaming about succession, factionalism or imagined isolation of the President from his party, shall be with us. But they need not exact a price if the party is solid.
Threshold of national history
We have repeatedly raised the issue of Rhodesian writings on the liberation struggle and how these are recasting the liberation struggle in bad light. Much worse, the dissident element in the party is being used for deadly assaults from within. It is in this context that I read Dzino and his white-consumed whispering campaign.
Two weeks ago, the South African Sunday Times’ editor prayed in an opinion piece that the ANC be saved from “strugglespeak”. This is the new language of imperialism as it attacks the sinews of our history. Turning your back on your history is a mark of modernity, a test of fitness to govern and to deserve power.
As with Cde Mhanda, the muzungu pampers you out of your history, out of your struggles and identity. Do we, as Zimbabweans, have a threshold beneath which any criticism of our history becomes treasonous?
In Israel, you cannot question the holocaust and still claim to be a Jew. In Rhodesia, you cannot question Rhodes and still claim to be a true Rhodesian. In contemporary Britain, Winston Churchill is unimpeachable, with all his horrendous foibles, including a drink problem and walking into the war room equipped with journalistic skills only! And the British try and make him our hero too, the same man who was Secretary for Overseas Colonies, indeed the man who stiffly opposed decolonisation, starting with that of India.
Wiles on land
The third threat is for Zanu PF to fail to defend the masses, both in the sense of meeting their short-term needs and long-term goals. 2008 demonstrated that faced with unmet pressing needs, a people can even oppose their own interests, all for a morsel for the day. Land came. Land is now taken for granted. What is more, the erstwhile opponents of it have now embraced it, all to outflank Zanu PF. And they are appealing to the human sense of ownership by pulling a false argument to do with title deeds. Or building an attitude against land as a living asset by denying us working capital.
The strategy is to devalue land as a focal point of political contestation. Once again we face a year of food shortage. It is also the year of elections. The MDC strategy shall be for our people to feed from NGO budgets, to our detriment. What is ours, we who brought the land back?
The potency of history
On Indigenisation, the MDC is slowly moving towards discrediting the policy by linking unemployment to it. As if we have taken anything just yet. The idea is to give a good policy a bad name.
We must watch out, close all flanks. Above all, we must believe in ourselves, in our history. History is such a potent force, which is why one Uruguayan dictator in 1977 erected a high-class prison against one Jose Artigas, a founding revolutionary national hero who had died in 1850, aged 86. As Eduardo Galeano tells us, “word had it that the hero might escape, a century and half after his death”.
Or what happened nearer home, in the Congo of Lumumba. Allen Dulles, the CIA director told his President, Dwight Eisenhower that Lumumba had to go. He was undesirable.
The US president told Alec Douglas Hume, the British Foreign Secretary who had something to do with our own history. “I wish Lumumba would fall into a river full of crocodiles,” said Hume, evincing British hopes.
Belgium, too, agreed. In 1961, Lumumba and two of his comrades were dispatched, their bodies dissolved in drums of acid. Two weeks later, the new President of the United States, the world-revered John F Kennedy, announced: “We will not allow Lumumba to return to the Government!” Or the story of Allende of Chile, a day after he was killed in a CIA-inspired bloody coup led by Pinochet.
A day after his body had been buried in an overgrown cemetery for the poor, the Pinochet government was rattled to the marrow by a makeshift epitaph poorly scribbled on a cardboard box which was then fastened on the headstone of Allende’s tomb. It read: “Here lies the remains of Allende, future President of Chile.”
Mr President, you are the history we have. Icho!
Nathaniel Manheru is a columnist for the Saturday Herald