Mugabe and his wife Grace are afraid people. Terrified. They have created enemies in the dark and in the light, powerful enemies. It is no accident that of late Mugabe is increasingly talking about Muammar Gaddaffy.
Mugabe knows that some of his potential successors might reach clandestine pacts with the West for a post-Mugabe regime that will turn around and make lunch of him and his family.
AN observant student of power and its effects, the late French philosopher Michel Foucault noted that “we are subjected to the production of truth through power” and that “we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth.” My interest in this pregnant foucauldian observation is in the loaded term of: The production of truth. All systems of power in the world invent myths and fictions of themselves that they erect and circulate as the truth. This invention and distribution of the truth is so much so that in politics there is no longer anything that can be called the truth but many regimes of truth that are received from the powerful and consumed (or resisted as lies) by the powerless as the truth. The incest between power and its invented truths is so criminal and so vivid that it has become a god unto itself. There is no regime of power without its truths.
By speaking his own truth to power, that he will not accept “boardroom and bedroom coups”, Jabulani Sibanda has soon learnt that after all he is not a war veteran and that he is not brave but he is a suicidal cadre who has gotten into the menu of those who only yesterday valorized him. By expressing ambition for power, Joice Mujuru has fast learnt that in truth she is not Teurai Ropa, and not a decorated war veteran but a corrupt pretender to the throne. What those who are interested can observe here is that as much as the truth can take away power, power can also take away the truth. Many in Zanu PF and in Zimbabwe at large are getting fast used to the manufactured truth that Mugabe is Zanu PF and that Zanu PF is Mugabe and that Grace Mugabe is now in charge of the party, and sorry, the country as well. Whatever other truths and wisdoms are circulating and being consumed out there are only peripheral, the truth that is ruling now and that is in intercourse with power in Zimbabwe is that the Mugabe family is, for now, in charge.Advertisement
Provocative and nihilist German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche cruelly observed that by our feeble nature, we human beings create amazing objects with our minds and our hands, and unfortunately after creating these amazing figurines and artifacts of our handiwork, we stand aside and ask “which god gave us this?” Not only that, but many a time, we then kneel down and worship our own handiwork as this and that god who created us.
The Robert Mugabe and the Grace Mugabe that are haunting Joice Mujuru, Jabulani Sibanda and others today are creatures of the mind and the mouth. Mugabe as “the son of god” who cannot be challenged and Grace Mugabe as the “new Mbuya Nehanda” whose insults and cruel jokes are prophecy are both pathetic figments of the imagination of their supporters and victims. Some of us will remember the sad episode in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God, where villagers learnt it the very hard way that it is possible to be prisoners of the god Ulu, a god that they created with their own hands, the high priest of this cut and paste deity, Ezeulu, told the villages of Okperi and Umauro that they could not harvest their own crops, even to the point of death with starvation. Joice Mujuru, Jabulani Sibanda and so many of us in our many ways, were part of the masons that built the new gods in Harare, and now we have to live with the concocted truth that we are nothing without them. They can even delete history, these gods. Mujuru’s history of the liberation struggle has been effectively deleted; she is being told by toddlers that she is a fake and corrupt heroine.
Zimbabwe, because of the scarcity of the truth, or the abundance of the truth according to power, has become what Slavoj Zizek has described as a “desert of the real”. In the desert of the real everybody becomes a shadow. Reality is expelled, myths and illusions take over. Soldiers salute cowardly civilians; honourable warriors kneel before cowardly maids and minions, the people begin to sing praises of those that they really hate, and everyone prays to gods that they don’t believe in just to keep up appearances and cling to life. Nobody means what they say, and fools have become philosophers, but it’s all fake, the naked truth lies buried in the minds and hearts of the people, below piles and piles of fictions, myths and pretensions. I write in this article to make some observations on the historical and political theatre in Zimbabwe, after which I will advance what I believe, is a healthy wayfoward. I must say here that this article is written for political thinkers in the real politik sense.
The fear Factor in Zimbabwe
Those who have looked closely at the ways of proud and powerful people should not miss the observation that, when they are really hungry and urgently need food and water, the powerful and the proud pretend to be just angry at this and that. In the same fashion, the proud and the powerful do not always admit to fear and terror, they just project anger. Where a humble soul will plead for water and food in hunger, and fly in fear and fright, the proud will throw royal tantrums and threaten fire and brimstone, judgement day itself. But it is always hunger and fear clothed in anger and bravado that would be pressing them.
It happened in apartheid South Africa. The hardliners in the National Party and some right wing elements openly threatened and planned what was called “a total strategy” that would finish off the liberation movements that were a pain in the wrong place for white supremacy. On the other hand Chris Hani and other war types in the liberation movement planned, openly, what they called “a total onslaught” that was meant to militarily dethrone the Boer once and for all. An Armageddon was in the offing. A world war of some sort was in sight. But this was a pure “desert of the real”.
The truth was that all the Boers in South Africa slept with the fear of a “night of the long knives” where they believed that one day soon blacks would descend upon them and their children and slaughter them, fear is what possessed the later day Boer. And the world, Big Business, and Margaret Thatcher had at last said “stop this apartheid” to the Boer. On the other hand, Cde Thembisile Hani and others could threaten to bomb their way to Pretoria from Zambia and Tanzania, but the truth is that they had run out of food and the bombs were very few, and the soldiers tired. The Soviet Union had collapsed and Mikhail Gorbachev had given Joe Slovo a signed photograph of himself, and told him in the eye that “it’s time to talk to the Boers.” There was to be no more money or guns from Russia to back the “total onslaught.”
While both the liberation movement and the apartheid regime, in “the desert of the real” were preparing for Armageddon, while in the truth of power they were ready for a “final push,” both parties and their backers were enveloped in deadening fear of death and defeat. In political theory, William Zartman calls such an event as this, “a mutually hurting stalemate” which can only be broken by a few courageous and intelligent players from both warring camps.
In South Africa it took Thabo Mbeki, a few philosophers from the University of Stellenbosch and some visionaries in the intelligence community to know that the time to swallow pride and talk about talks had come. The anger of the black people had to be acknowledged as actually hunger to be free, and the terror of the Boer had to be given its correct name, fear of revenge of the black man that had to be allayed with the rhetoric of reconciliation.
Mugabe and his wife Grace are afraid people. Terrified. They have created enemies in the dark and in the light, powerful enemies. It is no accident that of late Mugabe is increasingly talking about Muammar Gaddaffy. Mugabe knows that some of his potential successors might reach clandestine pacts with the West for a post-Mugabe regime that will turn around and make lunch of him and his family.
Every night he dreams of these vultures that are hovering around waiting for his meat. And for Grace, the thought of being a nobody again is worse than death, she dreams of disrespectful successors pissing on Mugabe’s grave one day, and in her own words “dragging” her “down the road”. Joice Mujuru fears for her empire, and of late she even dreams of a dirty jail cell. By the side Morgan Tsvangirai fears impending poverty and being the next Muzorewa of Zimbabwe. Losing power that he actually never had has become, for Tsvangirai, a cause for trauma. Behind the screen of anger, respectability and power that all these characters in the movie of Zimbabwean politics are showing, fear is abound and consuming. In the true nature of the “desert of the real” all of them are putting on a mask, pretending like the cowardly man who whistles in the dark forest at night, concealing behind the whistle, fear of witches and ghosts.
Many of us, scholars and journalists, have bought into the “truth” that Mugabe has a big sealed succession envelope that he will one day open and surprise all of us with a powerful successor. This is another “desert”. The man is waiting to see what will happen next just like most of us. He wakes up to be surprised by some of the events because all along his preferred successor has always been himself. This is a hungry proud man who is also in fear of the unknown. Never mind the anger and the threats, big people will never climb a tree one day and say “I am afraid !!”
When Dr Lovemore Madhuku opined that Grace Mugabe might be assassinated by those who, even if they back her, feel that she is usurping power that they have long waited and struggled for, he observed a bleeding reality. Grace Mugabe cannot pretend that she is not in danger unless she wants to deliberately mistake a “desert” for a forest. Mathematically speaking, such Zimbabwean war types as Emmerson Munangagwa, Dumiso Dabengwa, Sydney Sekeramayi, Joice Mujuru, Jonathan Moyo, Simba Makoni and others who have built Zanu PF with their hands and mental muscle were in the trenches, some of them, before Grace Mugabe was physically born. Her sudden “will to power” provides for a violent rupture that seeks to short circuit a long history of struggle, and that is a strong recipe for a bloody assassination. I will talk about this type of assassination when I address the issue of the impending coup in Zimbabwe, later below.
At this point I wish to treat the series of self-assassinations that are presently taking place in Zimbabwe. Not the type of self assassinations of the category done by Morris Nyagumbo who killed himself in fear that Mugabe would kill him. I am talking about the type where politicians assassinate their characters in public and demolish those of others. Many who have made political speeches in public know the kind of speech that one delivers on the podium and climbs down, even in the midst of thunderous applause, one knows in the heart that one is less of the person that he or she was before the speech; self-reducing rhetoric.
Grace Mugabe has excelled in this dark art of self assassination. She has spoken like a verbal suicide bomber who demolishes her opponents and herself with venomous words. She has remained after her speeches empty of character and humanity itself. Using taxi rank invectives, she has thrown mud at others, without relish and the polish expected from those who have eaten book like she has allegedly done, she has taken true “sibhorane talk,” village borehole jibes, to the high table of politics in Zimbabwe. Some of her advisors would never say in private what she has said in public.
Mugabe too has assassinated himself by, at his age and with his experience, seeming to endorse and ignore his wife’s vulgar excesses. No one ever thought of it that after all the gallant warrior Mugabe is now led by his wife, he can only echo and tag after her. Others will be forgiven for believing that Grace Mugabe has been running Zimbabwe for years after all. I am of the lot that believes that Grace Mugabe is largely a rough stick being used by some to beat others. But this particular stick appears to be enjoying the assault on others that it is now carrying out its own unsanctioned assaults.
For a storied war type such as Joice Mujuru to allow Grace Mugabe to walk on her as she has done amounts to self-assassination. The myth of Teurai Ropa is exploded; we have a hapless and scared veteran before us. It will be said soon that she was not a hero, it is only Mugabe who had called her such, and now Mugabe has taken away the title, she is alone, dead. The myth of Munangagwa as a scheming crocodile and a slippery warrior is exploded, this is a shy, timid and probably afraid man who would stand and watch, or appoint a proxy fighter than come out and seize the throne the way strongmen do. One would think the Ngwena had enough hardihood to get close to Mugabe’s ear and say “chef when can we discuss what you need me to do during these coming days of your restful retirement, I think Joice also needs to know her role and maybe when her chance to lead might be…” but alas. We might think there is a crocodile when there is a rock lizard.
Verily, by the time the December congress arrives, many big people who have so far been taken very seriously would have become very small caricatures. When some decade and some years ago Mugabe claimed that he will leave power “the Mugabe way” nobody could have guessed that the “Mugabe way” would amount to this unhygienic drama. Everybody who is imbricated in this melodrama is getting reduced every day, to the possibility that new names of potential successors to Mugabe might start coming up. Myths are exploding rather too fast.
The Presences that are Absent
As the political melodrama in Zimbabwe proceeds, it is not only Grace Mugabe’s Central Intelligence Organisation that is on duty 24 hours in seven days. No. True, like the biblical Holy Spirit, these days in Zanu PF when two or more gather, the eyes of Amai and her ears are there. Besides the eyes and ears of Amai, the super powers of the globe and their spooks are present even if they are absent. Big Money is in circulation, and some gun-runners are also eyeing business. The world’s Big Business has their men and their ears on the ground. Each group has its candidates that it hopes will win. Not only those from the West are hovering around, even the usual suspects from the East are here. Not only Mugabe and Gideon Gono are able to pay some big mouths in America to lobby for their interests in America, the Americans and their allies pay bigger and better, to get a few dirty jobs done, and they have been doing so for centuries. In short, the world in its darkness is in Zimbabwe as much as Zimbabwe is in the world. It is no longer just this faction versus that one, or that politician against the other one, but world powers and forces are in full gallop.
The Coup in Zimbabwe
Nathaniel Manheru who thinks that Madhuku is insane to imagine Grace Mugabe being assassinated in Benazir Bhutto style must read this slowly. The present political disputants in Zimbabwe are almost all people who stand to gain everything or lose everything in this struggle for power. There are fortunes to be lost. Some of these characters are almost richer than the country and they risk being reduced over night to nothing. Almost all these players are also war and intelligence types with die-hard sympathisers in the security forces. Added to this, as I said above, the world’s super-powers and Big Business are also whispering in the ears of some of these disputants, promising assistance and other talismans of the rituals of power politics.
The insults and language of war that is at play carry no promise of conciliation but create a do or die climate for all. This happens in a country where there is a huge population of people, some of them in the lower ranks of the security forces with nothing to lose but their poverty and hunger. On both warring sides, people would rather die than witness the inauguration of their enemy as president of Zanu PF and Zimbabwe. Others fear their physical death and the death of their tribes.
Rational dialogue has been banished and the grammar of war unleashed. Many who are opposed to certain politicians are forced to publicly proclaim support and love, and this does not need Niccolo Machiavelli to tell that the ground in Zimbabwe is fertile for dark conspiracies. Fear and Hunger, disguised as anger because of power and pride has turned Zimbabwe into a true “desert of the real” and reality once concealed under myths and fictions, only manifests itself through gunpowder and the sword. There are many in Grace Mugabe’s camp that have Joice Mujuru at heart, and many in the Mnangagwa group that are sympathetic to Joice Mujuru, and even so many who are inside but are tired of Zanu PF itself, even many are those who are praying that those who are fighting should finish each other fast so that life can begin for them.
In short, the paradigm of politics that is at play now in Zanu PF is a paradigm of war. In the words of Carl Von Clausewitz, politics has become war and “war is continuation of politics by other means”. The language of war has been witnessed already, what is to manifest are the physical weapons and their casualties.
Toward a Decolonial Political Pentecost in Zimbabwe
I promised above to advance what I believe to be a possible political wayfoward for Zimbabwe, at least from the present events in Zanu PF. Politically in Zimbabwe now everyone has their fears and are speaking their own different political languages. Just like in South Africa where the apartheid regime was threatening a “total strategy” while the revolutionaries were promising a “total onslaught”, the disputants in Zimbabwe are carrying metaphors of “Gamatox” and others, I am told, “Mazoe Orange.” Some are even watching from the terraces hoping for the worst and others praying for the best. How do we get all these people to remain being themselves, and to continue speaking their languages but secure Zimbabwe and its future?
I propose that we address hunger and fear that are the real motives of this anger and the brewing war that I described above. Individuals and parties have for a long time, because of pride and fear not spoken about their hunger, and continued to disguise it as anger. To begin with, people like Emmerson Munangagwa, Dumiso Dabengwa, Sydney Sekeramayi, Joice Mujuru, Jonathan Moyo, Simba Makoni, Ibbo Mandaza and many other players in the dark and in the light, collectively, should by now have swallowed their pride and presented to Robert Mugabe and his family their plan for him and his family after living office, and allayed his genuine fears. To this, Mugabe would make his own recommendations as a living ancestor of the country. African statesmen such as Joaquim Chissano, Thabo Mbeki and the peaceable Kenneth Kaunda would facilitate such an important process. What has led to Mugabe’s fear and the fear of his family is the pretence that nothing is happening and that no one wants his post and that no one is planning anything. Mugabe has had to rely on the CIO for reports about who is planning what about his departure or death.
After Mugabe’s fears have been addressed and he has been given a clear vision of his future of safety, peace, security and that his advice would be sought on everything the party does, and that cadres would rather die than see any imperialists near him or near the country, he can then graduate to his new and higher position as a founding father of the revolution. This political homework has not been done, hence the fear and anger.
Thabo Mbeki became an enemy of war types such as Chris Hani and a few others for understanding it in advance that the anger of the Boer was actually fear buried behind pride. The Boer needed to be told that he was not going to be crucified but accommodated as a citizen. The reason why the Boers today love the name of Mandela more than some black people do is exactly that he made real his promise of guaranteeing their safety in a new South Africa. My intervention is that all this noise that is threatening to drag Zimbabwe into a civil war emanates from the fear and genuine concern of the Mugabes that they are about to be sacrificed and handed over by an ungrateful successor to the cruel hands of their enemies. The young and ambitious in Zanu PF should engage their thinking gear and address Mugabe’s ego, anger and fear. In reality, this is the time for all Zimbabweans to reckon with the Mugabe factor.
After the Mugabe factor has been dealt with, the reformed Zanu PF can lay out its power-sharing plan supervised by a retired and happy Mugabe. On the other hand, the renewalists and other activists in the opposition can prepare to contest the reformed Zanu PF in a climate free of the war and violence of old. Zimbabwe still does have a chance to experience reformed politics inaugurated by reformed politicians who can then approach the larger world and help re-admit a proud Zimbabwe into the comity of world nations.
I call this possibility a Decolonial Political Pentecost because it does not propose to change anyone’s thinking or political party, but it proposes that we change our minds from war to life, and realise that we are all afraid and our fears need to be allayed. In a Decolonial Political Pentecost we can retain our political identities and beliefs, but abandon the politics of war and embrace what Argentinean philosopher, Enrique Dussel has called a “will to life” and practice of “obediential politics” that is preservative of life and guarantees a collective future for all. This decolonial option takes brave and intelligent operatives like Thabo Mbeki, who stood up at a conference in June 1987 in Dakar and told some sad and angry Afrikaners and Africans that “I am an Afrikaner!” It was the time to polish the Boer ego and allay his fears and manufacture an alternative future. We all know the truth, and that there are many truths out there, but the right truth must be said at the right time for progress to be made, and at this time, Zimbabwe needs a certain truth.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Pretoria based Political Scientist and Semiotician: firstname.lastname@example.org