COLUMN: DR ALEX T. MAGAISA
By Dr Alex T. Magaisa
THE Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe is a land of the incredible beauty. The great mountain ranges from Nyanga, Chimanimani down to Vumba form a stunning landscape that showcases the best of nature’s choreography.
The misty peaks, sharp and jagged granite spikes, the mixture of exotic and indigenous forests competing for space on the undulating landscape punctuated by streams and rivers, combine to create an almost serene atmosphere.
It overlooks a rolling countryside, beautiful valleys and perennial pools, which, some natives swear, are sacred. It is over this incredible landscape that, every day, the sun makes its glorious entrance into Zimbabwe.
With such a rich and beautiful backdrop, it is, perhaps, natural that the natives of this beautiful land are a cheerful lot, endowed a priceless sense of humour.
Just as it delivers the backdrop to a brilliant sunrise, this land has bequeathed to the Zimbabwean nation a multitude of great sons and daughters in various fields of endeavour. But few have had luck in politics.
Few are highly spoken of as Chief Rekayi Tangwena, the man who led a young Robert Mugabe to join the guerrillas in Mozambique at the height of the liberation struggle in the 1970s. He symbolises the struggle against land dispossessions by the minority regime in the 1960s. The man is a legend. And then there is Herbert Chitepo, Zimbabwe’s first black barrister and a revered leader of the then revolutionary Zanu party – but a life brutally severed in its prime.
Edgar ‘Twoboy’ Tekere, is another veteran of the liberation struggle, the man who was by Mugabe’s side as they were led to Mozambique by Chief Tangwena. Ever the independent man, he was one of the first to wriggle out of Mugabe’s grip in 1989. Through the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM), he led serious opposition to Mugabe’s leadership and ridiculous plans for a one-party state in the 1990 elections. They were brave efforts but they were in vain. Over the years, he rolled over to the margins, only making occasional comments, and only recently a book. The only remaining chance is as a prop, not a leader of men and women.
The story of this region would be incomplete without mention of the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, the original Zanu leader. But he too, fell by the wayside and attempts in the 1990s to summon opposition when he returned from exile did not achieve tangible support. The Zanu PF leadership never forgave him, even in death.
The list of luminaries native to these eastern lands, ranging from politics, business, academia to sport is so long it could fill a whole book. But one cannot help but detect a common thread running right through the political careers of the sons of this land: so much promise, so much potential but always destined for an early sunset.
With such a rich political background, it is no surprise that two men leading the current struggle against Mugabe hail from this beautiful land of the Samanyika. Both Arthur Mutambara and Morgan Tsvangirai have roots in this land. But they too, like their eminent predecessors, have encountered great obstacles in their respective paths towards national leadership. Their talent and appeal is undoubted but a combination of factors has ensured that they are yet to crack the leadership code.
It is interesting, therefore, that the man reported variously in the media to be the latest in the line of Mugabe’s challengers is yet another illustrious native of Manicaland. But beyond the shared geographical origin, there is little to connect the new man, Simba Makoni, and fellow challengers, Tsvangirai and Mutambara. The man, Simba Makoni, has been Zanu PF through and through. Zanu PF flows in his veins.
One of the youngest of the post-independence cabinet, it was not long before he was designated to the then young regional organisation SADCC (now SADC), where he served as General Secretary for many years. Critics say his tenure at SADCC is not without controversy, though the charges have never been clear.
It was thought that he was earning apprenticeship in the science of government, in preparation for eventual leadership of the country. After all, he was a young man who could only learn and wait for his chance later in life, presumably, when the old hands retired. But he returned, waited and the old hands are refusing to retire, though the country is collapsing. Along with like-minded counterparts in the party, he must be a frustrated man.
Makoni has a certain stature, urbane appearance and exudes an aura that makes his presence difficult to ignore. There is an air of sophistication about the man which, even suspicious anti-Zanu PF folks cannot dismiss. He looks and carries himself like the modern, 21st century leader, suave and well-spoken, a refined politician that you could possibly trust with the future. It is no surprise, therefore, that his name is often mentioned, when people have talked about credible “alternatives from within”, a euphemism for internal opposition within Zanu PF.
The reaction of the leadership, going by the vitriol spewed in the state media, seems to indicate a high level of discomfort with reports of the manoeuvres of the pro-Makoni group. If he didn’t pose a threat, they would dismiss him out of hand; not even mention him – but they are dedicating whole columns to it. Someone somewhere is feeling uncomfortable.
Yet he too suffers from charges similar to those that have dogged his fellow native of the East – Mutambara. It is the questions that enquire into his whereabouts during the many ears that people have been suffering. Why was he quiet all along?, people are bound to ask before entrusting their allegiance to his leadership.
Margaret Dongo once called his likes “Mugabe’s wives” – a reference to their submissiveness and inability to openly challenge Mugabe. Mutambara has called them cowards, for the same reason. There is also the charge that he is still “one of them”, which, even if it lacks basis, is a public perception that is difficult to dislodge.
But more importantly, there is the question whether he has sufficient grassroots support that is necessary to make an effective challenge. Being a capable and marketable politician to the urbane, sophisticated voter is one thing. Attracting the passionate and faithful allegiance of the foot-soldiers in the streets and rural enclaves is quite another, perhaps more arduous task. The MDC controls the urban vote and he would struggle to win their hearts and minds carrying a Zanu PF ticket. The rural vote is even harder to capture, a task made worse, without sufficient time to set up structures.
But, who knows, perhaps the discontentment within Zanu PF is so profound that Makoni has powerful backers that could capture the structures and deliver the much-needed grassroots support? It is likely that Makoni knows a lot more than we do about the rotten core of the Zanu PF political machine.
The enormity of his task, though, cannot be underestimated. There is simply no time between any official announcement of political intentions that have been strongly rumoured of late and the proposed election in March. Perhaps he and his backers wish to exploit the “shock-value” that comes with the announcement just prior to the election, giving instant vitality to the political campaign. A lot will depend on how well the news of his challenge will be received, if it happens at all. It is a huge but brave gamble.
There is a sense that he is viewed favourably by the international community, by which reference is made to the West. He is the one Zanu PF man who has consistently appeared and spoken at such grand occasions like the World Economic Forum.
His public views have tended to be critical of the path taken by the Zimbabwe government, if not in principle, then in terms of implementation. This has caused consternation within the party, Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu reportedly referring to him as a “sell-out” in the wake of his more recent critical statements. That the BBC made a grand affair of reporting his emerging challenge is also indicative of the reception that he is likely to get in the Western media. There has long been a view that the most effective challenge to the Mugabe regime would be from those within his party.
Whatever the case, there are some positive aspects about the developments. It has long been known that there are reformists within Zanu PF, although they have been too scared to come out. The party has always presented itself as a strong unit, surviving the rough waters of internal factionalism but there has always been disgruntlement simmering under the surface. A split Zanu PF is more likely to divide its electoral base than split the opposition vote. To that extent, the current opposition need not fear.
But one hopes that the reported internal opposition in Zanu PF is not a ruse engineered to further the overall party cause to retain power: create an appearance of division designed to achieve a greater objective. But the reaction of the leadership suggests this is more serious. And there are far too many reputations to protect to be used in such clandestine machinations.
These are interesting times. The new entrance could either fall flat completely or reinvigorate politics in Zimbabwe, as the country heads towards yet another election. But Makoni, Tsvangirai and Mutambara may look back at the path well travelled by illustrious sons from their shared native lands. They will find that none of them made it, despite the abundance of talent, courage and charisma. They are just but three men joining a long list of celebrated sons and daughters that have tried and failed.
They stand there, like the biblical wise men from the east, but whether one or all of them bear good news to an expectant nation is yet to be known.
Meanwhile, the sun will rise beautifully over the Eastern Highlands, just as it has done for centuries. The hills have eyes, they say. Sure enough they have seen signs and daughters try and fail. It remains to be seen whether they will witness success, and live to tell generations to come.
is based at Kent Law School, UK and can be contacted at email@example.com
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