IS THE national mind so easily distracted? Or so prone to escapism? A few figures will ram the point home. A story on Morgan Tsvangirai and his women on New Zimbabwe.com clocked 210 responses.
Two stories on mining recapitalisation and beneficiation which ran on the same day and on the same site barely managed 44 comments altogether. Of those 44 comments, only four were relevant to the theme, with most of the comments dwelling on the health and age of Vice President Nkomo, one of the sources for the two stories on mining.
The same story material on Tsvangirai and his women played out in the South African press, including in the largest circulating tabloid, the Sowetan. There, the story attracted 25 comments, including two very instructive ones.
One “Lindsay” wrote: “Please forgive us we don’t care about Tsvangirai or his squivies”. Bra_A simply wrote: “malemaforpresident”, while Miss Bhakajuju pleadingly wrote: “I hope this is the last article about Tsvangirai & his weddings!!!please.” An angry “Papage” had a mouthful for the Sowetan: “And now, is Tsvangirai a shareholder at Sowetan or is he writing a column for Sowetan, the whole week bathong. Don’t we have news around here, news affecting South Africans? Oom Dans Setshedi passed on, did you know that Sowetan?”
From Bunga-bunga to Harry
We have had comparable stories on leadership and sexuality. Silvio Berlusconi of the bunga-bunga fame, Berlusconi of shifty Italian politics which would rather spare the Devil by shaming the Pope. More recently we had Prince Harry who decided to share royal nakedness with an eager, prying world, while in Las Vegas, America’s desert sin city. And just two days ago, Closer magazine belonging to Mondadori, itself a publishing house owned by none other than the sexually inimitable Berlusconi, decided to publish Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, topless.
Never has royalty been so embarrassed, so angered, so unsteadied by so foul a sin committed in, but not by, perfidious France! In spite of the assertive knoll-like bumps on either side of the tender chest of Her Royal Highness, this is one physiognomy you and me — we of lesser, coarser blood, are never expected to acknowledge, let alone see. Only our wives, our girlfriends, our sisters have breasts. Her Highness has a chest, merely! It’s sacrilegious to think otherwise.
And when you see what’s inside — itself a great abomination, nay, a terrible augury — the expectation is demure muteness, the stunned silence of a 48-year old child so unfortunate enough to be there when his uncles are debating who shall take over his own widowed mother.
When momentary pleasure is so lasting
Sex and sexuality have always been matters that rudely obtrude onto the grand parlance of high society, indeed unseemly, coarse subtexts in an otherwise decorous lingo and code of the beau monde, the world of fashion, of the great and might.
And when that rude text breaks in and breaks out, it is always titillating and salacious, a flash bright enough to grab our attention, an indiscretion dramatic enough to lift us, albeit momentarily, from the drudgery of habitually unimaginative, dolorous politics.
Starved of creativity, shorn of laughter, we all feast on it, hungrily! But for a moment — for a brief period — before we, in remarkable obedience to Adam Smith’s invisible hand, get back to the daily chores of the economy of daily survival.
In the life of a nation, sex, like it is meant to be in biological life, is always a brief, great perturbation, a sharp, short sensation whose prolongation can only reside in the revelry of indulged, masturbatory memories. It cannot be a lifetime, so lasting and therefore so engrossing.
And because man, woman, must eat from sweat, God so designed it that sex and affection would ebb and flow, so man and woman have time to recover from mutual enamour, so crops are tended, children minded. Anything else would have spelled doom for mankind.
The play he so wrote
I go back to the numerical figures above, asking what they say of us, of the national mind. The Prime Minister has given us a great story on sexuality — his own sexuality — in two equally great instalments.
Whatever theories are spawned, all of them focusing on the legendary Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) on whose capacity and capabilities lore and yarn happily confer such might, enveloping power and reach as would be yearned for by any of its leaders — whatever these theories, however hair-brained they may be — let us all agree that this is one great story written solely by our own prime minister, with the blunderous Luke Tamborinyoka on gully proofs, making a fine mess of it all.
No grown up, let alone a widower, happily dates, unzips, do, reject or engage, all as a consequence of infiltration by an intelligence organisation. Let us all be grown-ups who take responsibilities for our actions, however untoward. So this one is by and for our Prime Minister. A remarkable drama in which our Prime Minister is the main player, the main villain at that, but seemingly undaunted.
The whole saga is now light-heartedly termed “Orchestra Mberikwazvo”, a typical humorous coinage for which Zimbabweans are well renowned. The bull that gores spots many wounds, don’t the Shona people say? Of course the clown of the piece remains the same, Luke! A clown who vainly hopes for pity to accrue, forgetting right from the days of William Shakespeare, tragi-comedies have never had objects of pity in them, or more accurately put that their objective is never to manufacture and distribute audience pity. They are founded on creating false tensions eased through humour, on carving butts for satirical laughter and derision.
The fire that won’t burn out
A drama with a definite beginning but a seemingly interminable rise. A rise, a rise and a rise, one defying any climax, one always gripping reader and watcher interest. Always. It’s an incredible feat our Prime Minister has achieved, one unexampled in the whole history of dramaturgy.
Shakespeare only managed five acts, each with a beginning, a rise, a climax, a denouement, and then an end. And then we go home, cathartic. Not this rise, rise and rise, all sustained by one man playing the most, all suffered by this one man, undeterred. A remarkable self-immolation like was never experienced by our sacrificing monks - of history, of now or of hereafter.
And the drama continues to be stocked of more fires by the very man — and by the very men — who should douse those raging fires.
When officiousness spoils it all
This column has shouted itself hoarse warning that the Prime Minister’s marriage — or is it mis-marriage — is a matter for his family, both immediate and extended. Ibasa raanaManasa nemadzisekuru avo. Ibasa revaDanga, revehukama. Isu navanaRuka tiri veMhofu. Hazvinei nesu izvi! And as a servant of the State, Luke must know that the State has no totem.
Equally, it is not a marriage officer, let alone a church within which banns are made and announced. Keep away from the bloody mess, Luke, and leave it all to the Tsvangirai family, and all concerned. By getting involved as a spokesperson of a Prime Minister of this country, you are inviting the public to judge Tsvangirai not as a human male, a human widower, a social being who must find and deserves companionship. You are implying the public must view and judge him as a failing and faltering Prime Minister whose wassails have a bearing on the quality of service he offers this great nation.
Can you imagine what vast difference it would have made if Sekuru Zvaita had simply told this great Nation that “zvese zvirikuitika ndezvangu nemwana wangu, nevakarabwe vangu. Tipeiwo mukana, tichakudanai kana raibva”? I bet my bottom dollar, much of the present yelling would have receded to naughty whispers.
But whispers all the same. In which African village are excesses of a neighbour ever a yell at the marketplace? Or discussed loud enough for children in a slumber to be woken up, for them to hear? We have always known how to purge ourselves of the embarrassing, of the sordid, but without demolishing reputations.
Of course there would always be those to banter loudly, to banter between long pulls of “angry” frothing beer; but that would come much later, well after the matter has been rendered “cold” through mature, responsible handling.
When sentinels beckon
Today, we cannot charge the media for the embarrassing shout that rang across and past the village. History records that by officialising the response to enquiries on his private conduct, Tsvangirai ceased to be himself.
He became a Prime Minister — a public figure and thus one deserving of public scrutiny, public censure. That by officialising his response to enquiries on a private matter, he legitimised media entry into the whole discourse. In a way he consented to the injury that followed and thus must never be heard or seen to complain.
In fact, he enlisted the machinery of State against “small women” who survive away and beyond the protection and power matrix of the State, women who feel hard done by and who, because of that, become candidates for our pity. We know who the David of this whole saga is, who the Goliath is.
And the media can go to any lengths, even well after the case is closed, without risking the ire of the Zimbabwe Media Commission, or its newest subaltern, the Media Council. Through Luke, the Prime Minister was adequately, although of course not well represented. Through Luke, the Prime Minister conveyed a willingness to be an interlocutor, both for better and for worse. He collapsed his own zone of privacy, indeed got the sentinels of that zone to beckon eager invaders.
Beware of the wheel of fortune
There is one other great lesson the Prime Minister needs to grasp. Power well deployed is power shyly applied; it is power unconsciously invoked. In a man of great power humility is not sparing power; it is using it effectively and conclusively amidst a show of feigned reluctance.
Above all, it is also knowing its limitations. It is not to haughtily sing “tonosangana ikoko”, oblivious of the fact that the law is an ass, that the wheel of fortune flings aground those it favoured only yesterday. Less by virtue of his being the Prime Minister of this country, more by dint of the fact of being a friend and hope of the imperious West, the Prime Minister has access to great resources which the West so gladly underwrites.
He gets money, western money. He gets advice, western advice. He gets all manner of succour from the West. But that is essentially his greatest weakness. If the man had only forgotten what great legal advice he could afford to hire, only remembered what great responsibility he needed to discharge in this row - in an African way - today his tears would have been far lighter, far less than he now sheds.
As matters stand, his young lawyers gave him excellent advice under the circumstances, but little else in a matter that required the skills of sekuru Zvaita to diffuse. This column made the same point when he thought he had won against Chief Chiweshe. You do not win against the soil. No, you never do! In the end it is the soil that swallows you. But there is also the physical side. With politics and politicians, morality far surpass the courts.
Judges do rule in their small domain of the courts; the people rule beyond the courts, in the world, itself the politician’s habitat. This is why heroes of courts are often losers of votes.
Long after the Prime Minister won the first round in his marriage saga, elsewhere the courts of public opinion continued to adjudicate, acquitting his losing rivals, indicting his win so undeserved by popular reckoning.
What about the children?
It must be very uncomfortable for the Prime Minister’s children, more so for those of his children who have married. Through sheer ineptitude, the Prime Minister has equipped his daughter-in-law, equipped his son-in-law, with a devastating put-down in the event of family disagreements. Tapa muroora nemukuwasha chituko chekunyaradza veura rwedu pabopoto.
Let not Edwin dare to be away from his newly wedded home in circumstances which the wife regards as suspicious. Unless where she comes from there are exceptionally good, counselling grandmothers, her dart to poor Edwin will be: “Chiri kwenyu. Musatanyoko. Kufana bambo!” Like father, like son, she taunts. Edwin will either explode, or limp away, mortally wounded.
His sister could be a candidate for similar barbs. Or something like: “Tanga wapingudza baba vako!” This is the human side which spokespersons, in a vain bid to win the shouting match, never want to acknowledge. There are children out there whose standing is greatly hurt by what is going on. But that is for Tsvangirai, his family and his staff. My worries are larger.
When the venue has become the meaning
This week has been a very dense one for our country. We have had the constitution-making matter, still unresolved. And amidst the din over the Prime Minister and his women, had it not been for The Herald, we would have missed a great hint which the Prime Minister gave on this very matter, missed it as did his spokesperson when he decided to be so engrossed in the urgent but the unimportant.
In an interview with Violet Gonda of an American pirate radio which I will not dignify by a name, the Prime Minister hinted the Constitution-making matter would be resolved through meetings of principals in Government, and through meetings of leaders of political parties outside Government.
This was a real volte-face given that the man had pushed hard balls before leaving for the US. And also after when he pretended to be launching his yes vote. So Mutambara will be part of meetings of principals when they meet at State House, while Ncube shall be entertained at Munhumutapa during meetings of leaders of political parties.
The venue has become the meaning but a seemingly big issue has been resolved. Now Welshman feels he is in the loop. Equally, Mutambara feels useful and the President can gain from both but without losing either. It is called shrewdness, shrewd leadership.
From what I gather, a lot has already happened, with President Mugabe agreeing to proceed to a Second Stakeholders’ Conference as programmed under the roadmap, and as suggested by the Prime Minister, all to break the current impasse.
The Prime Minister in turn accepted that only two documents, namely the National Report and the Copac Draft, shall be presented to the Second Stakeholders’ Conference which shall strictly be for the purpose of allowing parties and other stakeholders to comment on the Copac draft in the light of the national report.
The conference shall not be a decision-making platform, as indeed was the case with the first one. Thereafter, as the Prime Minister again conceded, the Principles shall meet to decide on the way forward, before the matter is tabled before Parliament. It was a remarkable give-and-take, one happily struck before the Prime Minister and his women started their noises.
Riding on Zanu PF
But something else happened. Quietly, Welshman Ncube has been sending messages to say there is no Chinese wall between the views of the formations and what Zanu PF proposes.
Indeed, he conceded that some of the so-called changes were really a matter of drafting improvement and clarity.
Where changes proposed are substantive, these are either valid or understandable, and thus negotiable. More important, it has emerged that the formations do in fact like many of the changes Zanu PF is proposing, for themselves, but were afraid of either their constituencies or certain dynamics internal to their parties. And on this one, Zanu PF is far ahead of the rest, enjoying a better cohesion than the two formations. It leads.
On conservancies, land
This same week has seen Zanu PF take a major decision on the future of conservancies.
Apart from being a burning issue presently, this is one leftover from the land reforms, a grey area which the land policy never addressed, and understandably so. Then, there were more pressing issues on the table for people to worry about uninhabitable havens of wildlife.
But the hierarchy of needs and issues has moved up, and the time for tackling the land allocated to wildlife has finally come, but in this very acrimonious way. The current acrimony pitted white owners of conservancies, many of them well connected to lobby groups abroad and in partnership with few blacks, against new claimants to those conservancies, many if not all of them coming from Zanu PF elites and a few officials of government.
Of course the boundary has not been strict, with membership crossing these two camps. But the truth is that neither side represents the solution and justice we seek, the fairness we put at the heart of our land reforms.
A major decision to dismantle this unfairness is about to be taken, but without failing to recognise the capacity limitations of Government in managing wildlife havens gainfully and sustainably. To all this add a new instrument on 99-year leases designed to make them tradable but without reversing our land reforms, and you have a major decision taken in this same riotous week.
A subsidiary mining economy?
Still the same week saw a major indaba on mining, which while making the usual noisy platitudes, took advantage of the nationally distracted mind to slide in a sinister reversal of policy and practice.
Winston Chitando of the Chamber of Mines is quoted as saying that Zimbabwe has not yet reached a stage where it makes economic sense to invest in a platinum refinery. Seeking to lull all of us, he claims the country lacks a clear beneficiation policy, which must begin by acknowledging that a lot of beneficiation is already happening.
I never expected this from Chitando, frankly. He is much better, and has done far better than parrot such a disgusting multinational view. In any case, the executive is lying, I am sorry to say.
The three mines in platinum at the last count were on the verge of hitting the 500 000 tones benchmark which the Chamber of Mines itself gave Government as the requisite throughput that made a refinery worthwhile investment. What has happened in the last five months? What is happening now?
Have these multinationals been rattled by indigenisation that they have cut back on the expansion that was happening? Is that what Winston is drawing to our attention? If it is, let him say so without creating an impression that Government is being absurd to demand beneficiation in platinum.
Also, what is the considerable beneficiation he says is already taking place? In gold? In chrome? In platinum? in nickel? Why is he suggesting beneficiation is something to be taken in with a contorted face like a bitter pill?
Why is it not good value, for companies, for his country? Or is he wanting to make Zimbabwe a victim of the internal arrangements of MNCs? In which case we remain a microcosm of the subsidiary status which the concern he manages here is to his group domiciled elsewhere? I hope I am wrong.
Quiet retreat after a roaring charge
Then comes Tendai Biti and his begging bowel. He has gone to South Africa to beg for over a billion rand equivalent. It is a major climb-down, but one which white South Africa hopes to use to create conditionalities which can hamstring Zanu PF, while improving MDC-T’s electoral chances. We are too distracted to notice that, as indeed we also are to notice that fabulous amounts have been fetched by the mining sector in the months that have gone by, with diamonds again topping the list as a source of revenue for Government by way of dividend and royalties.
Biti’s own Ministry has released the figures, as has also the Chamber of Mines. ZMDC alone has paid US$300m since 2011. Biti has taken advantage of the mayhem engulfing his boss to make a quiet retreat after a failed roaring charge.
Dismissing our Bar-Jesus of politics
Which takes me to my main point. Worldwide, reader response is always a pointer to what is preoccupying society, and with what intensity. What are we to make of the rough statistics I gave at the beginning? That Tsvangirai and his women are the issue? That the decisions of the courts on Locardia’s court action, or Tsvangirai’s defence of the whole action, are far more important to us than the search for a national constitution, the search for an effective national government beyond the charade of inclusivity?
How does our mind frame important issues? With what amount of competence? Or are we escapists who would rather debate the colour of petticoats, debate the statistical dimension of paraded hinds, than grapple with the larger question of the economy? In such a fraught week?
South Africa is burning. Its mines are shut in a wave of instability sure to hasten the coming of our mining hour. The prices of all base metals are pointing up. All eyes are now on Zimbabwe as a mining alternative to South Africa, indeed as Europe’s way of avoiding dependency on nationalistic Russia for platinum.
The same Europe that has sanctioned us. Are we ready to ask for our pound of flesh? And our managers are busy talking our mining prospects down at a time when opportunities have never been this good. We are distracted.
Distracted by private emotion, not public economy; by court action, not constitution; by petticoats never politics; yes, by dates not debts. How does it matter to this country who Tsvangirai weds, or does not wed? Is not this whole marriage saga a clear message to all of us that Tsvangirai is a false issue?
A political Bar-Jesus we shunt aside to move on after a false prophecy so wasteful to national time? Are we able, as the voices from South Africa quoted early on, to say don’t distract us through false issues? We are not about to weep for the plumage; we seek to save the dying bird, so leave us alone? Are we?
Nathaniel Manheru is a columnist for the Saturday Herald