AT the expensive risk of being a hyperbolist, I argue that Zimbabwe is presently a political disaster that is impatiently waiting to happen. Anything can go wrong. Robert Mugabe, the old man, has become a metaphor of the country. His breathing and body pulse are closely monitored by foes and friends alike. His walking pace and voice tempo make news, the smallest sign of impending death is microscopically scrutinized and speculations made. Exactly for how long is he going to be with us, is the question friends and foes are asking.
Only rabid denialists and anarchist who relish in chaos will deny that something must urgently change and that political certainty and economic predictability need to be, at long last, restored to the country. When the old is taking too long to die, and the young is taking even longer to grow, Antonio Gramsci argued, the monsters and all morbid symptoms appear. The country is littered with all sorts of monsters and afflicted by symptoms of disease and decay. Some politicians and political actors have become walking symptoms, talking evidence of a secret malady.
Like Kwame Nkrumah, who was described by Ali Mazrui as one of the greatest Africans and the most terrible Ghanaian, Mugabe has managed to capture the imagination of Pan-Africanists and some decolonists as a gallant defender of the Global South, formerly the Third World, but millions of Zimbabweans at home and away have other experiences, other tales to tell from mass graves to scars, disabilities and disappearances.
As I write, Mugabe’s own strengths and victories, his successes and conquests against foes, and they are many, are about to turn into a tragic farce. The force of gravity, the strength that Mugabe built around himself and the machinery of power that he engineered and which occasioned his longevity in the reigns is about to be his catastrophic weak point. Well before the events of 911, when Bin Laden and the Jihadists conducted spectacular attacks on America, thinkers such as Noam Chomsky and Edward Said had warned that too much strength; and even too much victory is a weakness, it opens an individual or a country to attacks by some suicidal elements among the vanquished.
Mugabe’s power and victories in Zimbabwe and outside has produced multitudes of angry and even suicidal people who have lost everything; mighty people that have been turned into screaming and angry nobodies. Even more terrifying is the number of Mugabe’s close friends, confidantes even, that have suddenly become his angry enemies. This climate of angry enmity envelopes not just Zanu PF but the entire country. I call this climate of anger, fear, guilt and hatred a climate of transitional injustice.Advertisement
A Machiavellian Prince
Come with me, it’s too early in the day for political prophecies and scientific speculations. We have time to rely on raw human nature and observed experiences. The reason why Robert Mugabe will not suddenly step down and hand over power to one of his war time comrades; is the same reason why suddenly Grace Mugabe has become a front running prospective successor to her husband.
Yes, she is leading in this race. Come on Zimbabweans, this thing is not that complicated, it is only that as a country of philosophers we ignore what is before our nose and seek metaphysical explanations and mysteries to the obvious, that is why it pays to be a prophet in Zimbabwe these days. We are not fanatics of the obvious, we want intrigue and miracles.
This is a story; don’t expect me to move in straight lines. Stay with me or go if you don’t belong here, in this mindscape. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote of many princes and principalities under the theme of Florentine Histories, but never did he write so glowingly as he did of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca. Castracani was a warrior prince, born in 1281 and died in 1328. What he could not get by brute force he got by fraud and guile. He was a terrible enemy and generous friend, evil to the last measure, more evil than Lucifer and his gang of expelled angels.
Consciously, he built a reputation for himself as a saintly ruler; below the saintly reputation he slaughtered man in their prime, including close allies, trusted comrades. He studied night and day, and understood the minds and hearts of men and women, and manipulated them accordingly. This fellow was a magician of power, just when people thought he was dead he would spring up to spectacular victories, perplexing his opponents and exhausting his competitors. For that reason he commanded inexplicable loyalty, warriors knelt before him and shivered at his look.
Isolated rumours circulated about him having been a son of the gods or having been born under some sign, but it was all myth, calculated stories to portray him as indefatigable. Once in a while he would fake his death, only to appear again alive and strong. When there was dirty work to be done, such as causing injuries and killing some unwanted people, Castracani had trusted dirty fellows to do it. When good news had to be delivered to the populace, or some charity to be displayed Castracani would be in the forefront to harvest the reputation for being good news itself.
Some of the trusted hands, when they got to know too much about the leader, were methodically eliminated, by fire and by the sword or they mysteriously fell from their horses and died. This particular prince knew when it was time to be loved and when it was time to be feared, even though, unlike some that we know, he never made any public display of anger, or show any ranting speech behaviours. Many attempts were made to assassinate him but they all failed because Castracani had spooks and spies, and they were many. When three people met in the streets to have a lazy conversation, one of the three was sure to be the ears and the eyes of the prince.
As a prince, Castracani punished and also paid, many became rich in his name, if Italians are known for the Sicilian Mafia, its roots might be traceable to the dark days of Castruccio Castracani, shaddy and dingy marketeers surrounded his throne. He loved to have guilty men and women around himself, the dirty ones were loyal, using their crimes and guilt he controlled them as one does a dog with a leash.
Castracani used pure guile, money and force to keep the friendship or fear of the many factions in the city. All the different factions that hated each other with all the spirit reported to Castracani and all pledged loyalty to him. Clandestinely, he financed and supported them all, as long as he remained the supreme leader. In Lucca, Pistoia and Florence, his name was a talisman, a fetish.
Until the end of his days on Earth, Castracani the former exile and sufferer was victorious. He knew how to make power make sense. Inspite of his wide and deep reading, and his experience and knowledge, there is only one lesson that he encountered at the point of his death, at the last hour. After a fierce battle with a neighboring principality, after his troops prevailed an excited Castracani walked half naked by the cold river banks and caught deadly Pneumonia. He held his Son by the hand and cried, “if I had known that death would come like this,” sooner than expected, unplanned for “I was not going to defeat all the many people and kingdoms that I have defeated, I am leaving you surrounded by many dangerous and angry enemies, I won’t be there to protect you, they will avenge my sins on you!” And he died.
It was a mistake for a man who lived the way he did to grow a family, to have children, to nurse estates and castles. He had a lot that needed to be protected but he ruled and lived like one with nothing to lose. Castracani had many glass houses but he threw many stones in different directions, and pelted people with pebbles. These wounded and aggrieved people knew Castracani’s power, they lay in wait. The mighty Castruccion Castracani conducted his life and exercised his power as if he was going to live forever. At the end he left his wealth and his family to be turned into supper by enemies, and were they eaten!
Did I say Grace?
Fellow travelers in the Zimbabwean political and intellectual debate, among them the sober Alex WaMagaisa, have asked in earnest if there is veracity to the present impressions that Grace Mugabe wishes to succeed her husband as president of Zimbabwe. Not only does she want, the fact of the matter is that she has no choice, here is a woman thrust in a political do or die scenario. She has entered the presidential and succession race, the Olympics of power, not out of choice. By appointing herself the referee of Zanu PF politics, she aims to eliminate all the players to leave only herself as the last woman and man standing. She suddenly has to eat people or she will be on the menu herself, and here is how it happened.
Magaisa has, as usual, given intelligent and deep treatment to the subject of how Robert Mugabe rose to power, and the engineering of power in such a way that he became irreplaceable. Similar to Castruccion Castracani, from his entrance into politics to these last days of his reign, Mugabe has mobilised politics and power in such a way that he has left many wounded. Robert Mugabes’ mathematics of power produces angry victims, it perishes people and it makes many big people suddenly become small, and angry, from Joshua Nkomo, Edgar Tekere and recently Joice Mujuru.
Internationally, rightly sometimes and wrongly in other times, Mugabe has made enemies of mighty individuals and organisations who have the capacity to command demnation. Some close allies of Mugabe, yeah, some of them handy men who have carried out dirty duties on his behalf, think of Emmerson Mnangagwa, stand beside Mugabe and salute and smile but they are bleeding inside.
Besides the many victims and survivors of Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina and the larger legacy of political violence in Zimbabwe who are praying for Mugabe’s death, people like the powerful Mujuru family are also bleeding in deeper ways than us Zimbabweans can see. Recently, one Joel Mujuru, the brother of the late General threatened public suicide in perplexity over the General’s death which was at once a mysterious accident but has become an intriguing incident to those with ears and eyes. This family does not sleep.
What has publicly been claimed as witchcraft orgies and rituals by Joice Mujuru are actually those well known African traditional practices of pestering the spirit of a dead person to confront the killers, and Joel said it, “Solomon will confront his killers!” In Ndebele and Zulu the ceremonies are called ukutshaya ingcwaba, literary to strike the grave so that the dead person may not sleep. In Zululand they even sjambok the corpse itself, urging the spirit to war. Since the General’s grave is tightly enshrined, his soul is being pestered from mountain tops and dark valleys, but it’s not witchcraft. With the dead not being allowed to rest in peace but being invited to war, what shall the living do?
It also happens that the General had many loyalists in the party and in the security forces including the powerful Zimbabwean Intelligence. Even now they sleep as if dead, but they are there, bleeding inside. In the wisdom of Gregory Isaacs, the late Cool Ruler, Mugabe no longer needs protection from his enemies because the enemies are a way too obvious, what must be feared are his friends, his potential successors. And they are all being refereed out systematically and brutally.
Mugabe knows it better than all of us that his successor, whoever it is, will work overtime to overturn his legacy and rubbish his politics to win Zimbabwe back to international favour. Mugabe knows that some of his close allies and fellow criminals against humanity are waiting to write books making disclosures and cleaning themselves of sin while soiling his name and legacy. Fully well, Mugabe knows that he is not so much loved but feared.
In the business sector too, many moneyed Zimbabweans have been injured and personally harmed in deep ways. Some of them at least are able to express themselves in punchy articles and open letters; many remain silenced in the dark, bleeding inside. The Zimbabwean political and economic crisis turned businessmen into philosophers.
I hope I have painted the picture that Mugabe cannot trust anyone anymore. Even his preferred successor, who remains concealed; is looked at as a suspect, his eyes and words are studied daily. Mugabe designed his game of power in such a way that loyalty is forced not earned. His friends are actually his enemies who are only too afraid to get into open combat. Machiavellian Princes such as Castruccio Castracani all have to die in office.
And here is the crisis, if Robert Mugabe was to lose power, retire or be called to higher office up with the Cherubims and the Seraphims, or the ancestors down below, what will become of his wife, children and assets? It is an unfriendly world that Mugabe would have left his loved ones in. A world peopled by angry crocodiles, aggrieved widows and multitudes with grievances. If she does not seize power by all means necessary, Grace Mugabe would have to consider exile, which would be a loss, and even her exile destinations would be limited. She has no choice but to seek and find power or else she will not only wake up to be an ordinary person but a haunted soul unwanted and chased all over, and even taunted in the streets.
Besides her known business empire, the First Lady has many interests that are under the care of trusted fronts who range from ‘men of God’ to the Mafia and tycoons. Some trusted members of the Organisation, the spooks are her business runners. Here too, there is trouble, in the absence of Mugabe she is not sure if these fearful and loyal fronts will keep the faith, some of them might as well kill her or ignore her, the money is in their names not hers. This lady stands to lose a lot in losing access to high power.
She said it during a rally in Binga, that “some people think I am a mental case.” She surely has every reason to go mental. She never stops imagining angry mobs coming for her and her children, laughing looters counting her money and seizing her many assets while singing songs in celebration of her downfall. For Grace Mugabe, presently the question is not whether to succeed Mugabe or not but how to win the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans and to navigate that many hurdles like her lack of liberation war credentials and some skeptics within the army and the party, the Intelligence she has in her bag. If Zimbabweans were shocked at the public crucifixion of Joice Mujuru, they must wait to see how crocodiles are turned into lizards, mercilessly.
It is not out of anger or out of any moral responsibility that she is going to go about pruning down big trees, it is out of fear. She finds herself in a political position where she has to succeed Mugabe, retain his power or face brutality. Deep inside she wonders why people would hate her and wish her hell for sins that she believes are not exactly hers. To her advantage, she and her allies can hold meetings freely and conspire in liberty without being accused of factionalism and damned Emmerson Mnangagwa and others are closely watched, even their silent prayers are listened to, their lips read and their body language scrutinized for the smallest sign of secessionist mischief.
Robert Mugabe, in his sensitivity to history and his own political wisdom, gathered from the battles, has managed to conceal to the whole world his personal preference for Sydney Sekeramayi as his successor. Sekeramayi is the man Mugabe trusts, but Grace Mugabe will not have a future based in the trust of any other human being except herself, she will not have a future left to serendipity, and this is because logically, anyone who succeeds Mugabe and wishes to earn credibility in the world will have to naturally betray Mugabe. Grace Mugabe knows that for a fact.
Her strategic allies are carefully chosen for their connections, their skills and talents, the levels of their own fears and visions. She has an assortment of, not the usual mother’s milk and going to heaven types, but hard plotters, some thugs as well and well known crowd pullers. She also inherits Mugabe’s magicians, the spin doctors, strategists and artists in political gamesmanship. These fellows are busy cooking plans for future GNUs, how the opposition would be enlisted to calm international concerns, to arrest the imagination of the Zimbabwean populace and turn Mama into a national fetish. If Zimbabweans and the world were bewitched beyond repair by the Baba Jukwa magic and its impact, they will be killed dead by the coming games of power.
Sadly, in my view, this drive for power with all the promises it holds is based on Power with a capital P, the defeat of enemies and opponents; total victory. Which creates the same problem of producing victims, angry enemies and making the future painfully limited.
My next article, the gods willing, will be on exactly why Zimbabweans, political parties, powerful individuals including Grace Mugabe, need to consider transitional justice, as a method of expelling anger and violence from the spirit of Zimbabwean politics. Philosophers of liberation have proven that political competition can proceed and victories and loses recorded without the need for revenge, hatred and violence.
As much as Grace Mugabe needs certainty and security in her life, all Zimbabweans do, so it’s time to imagine another politics, other games, not the same games that have brought us here.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Pretoria based Zimbabwean Political Scientist and Semiotician: firstname.lastname@example.org