Manheru: The challenge for both victors and losers

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THE hardest challenge for any leader is dealing with the aftermath of defeat. Leadership qualities are taxed to the limit in an environment of increasing loneliness and encroaching indigence. The aura vanishes and, so shorn, you become a mere man. Fallen too are the props of power, its stilts that made one tower.
Only yesterday, the day before defeat, the challenge was to manage abundance, to handle height, to sneak from a suffocating crowd, to dodge the limelight, temper fulsome praise, indeed keep a sense of proportion in an environment of gratuitous praise where everything is oversized.
Then, even a cough of suppressed malady drew raucous ululation, intense anticipation. A cough was greeted as a profound preliminary and interlude pending a thoughtful discharge. Then, too, you couldn’t go wrong, enjoying a veil of infallibility only graspable to popes of yore, popes who sat on celestial thrones when Rome truly still ruled. But in an instant, all that and much more get shattered in defeat, leaving you bare and pale like ashen bones of the veld, long licked by dinosaurs well before the dawn of mankind.
Scapegoat must be found
Much worse, the base nature of man kicks in, wholly to your detriment. After defeat follows the search for scapegoats, all pursued with the vehemence of bloody pogroms memorialised in history. Who cost us victory? Who didn’t do what, thereby lending us in this rut? Early days are polite to a losing leader. I am not so sure why.
Maybe because of the persistent but residual aura of invincibility, of super-humanity that attached and carried him to and on the pinnacle. Maybe because defeated followers are still numbed, too numbed to make bold assessments, if bold they are. Maybe both, I don’t know. Then little by little, small by small, the veil is pierced, the aura challenged. Lowly officials begin to talk — grumble is the right word — mumble about leadership failures in their immediate, local spheres.
The blame is microcosmic of the cosmic blame to follow. Blame radiates, quietly seeps and widens like deep blue ink spilled on woolly cloth. The gyre of culpability widens — always little by little, even glacial — but always and inexorably creeping towards YOU, the leader. You are helpless. In the first place you have been defeated personally, and thus are at pains to come to terms with that setback. You are in anguish, very much in need of a plaster for the fresh wound. Your mind is in a flutter, looking for the whys and wherefores. And outside, the demos are celebrating.Advertisement

Your triumphant rival’s demos. Their happy incantations descend on you with the tearing lash of a cowhide tong falling on tender portions of the body. Typically, the joys of the winning contestant is a song full of taunts. All that you have to take, bitter salt on weeping wounds. A very insalubrious environment within which to search for whys, for wherefores. Yet search you must, not just to quieten your whirling mind, but also to soothe your turbulent, agitated support base now demanding an explanation in place of yesterday’s pledges of unconditional loyalty.
The outward gets noisier, a mounting commotion unevenly blending the reckless, boundless joys of victory, and the frothing anguish of questioning defeat. And you come under universal watch, all and always for different motives, to different ends. The victor watches you, seeks damage assessment, seeks to calibrate the defeat, wishing for some confirmation that you are truly down, dead or if not, soon be out. Your defeated rubble craves for a fragment of illusion, the Conradian saving lie, on which, bat-like, to batten in an unhappy swing, a swing so low. You have to brave both, brave those searing eyes from foe and friend, so undeterred by your sorry state.
Pelted by inciting advice
There is yet another challenge, very huge. In that state of lonely defeat, you are pelted, really assailed, by needless advice from erstwhile doting officials, now emboldened by your vulnerability, now sensing openings to win your attention through fawned concern in time of defeat and loneliness.
Get it from me, these solicitous advisors don’t evolve strategies of recovery, proffer new thoughts on how to rebuild your battered circumstances. The sense is always destructive, the tone gossipy. You were back-stabbed by so-and-so. So-and-so didn’t do this, didn’t do that, and hence our defeat.
Sir, if only you had gotten rid of that evil man! See what he has now done to you. So-and-so was working for Zanu-PF. Didn’t you see it, Sir? Of course the conspirator didn’t see it. Otherwise why would defeat have come if he was wiser before the event? Always, post-defeat counselling is conspiratorial, gossipy and destructive.
Far easier, far lighter to bear is actual defeat than the challenge of sifting for sparse grains of wheat from this ever mounting bushel of conspiratorial gossip parading as profound, saving advice. And each trip is undertaken less to advise, more to assess if anything can still be salvaged from the dwindling leader.
Gradually, a conclusion develops: apera uyu. Soon after, mass desertion and a party is truly buried. Tekere went through this as his ZUM twitched its last. Dumbutshena, the same when his Forum folded. And in both cases, the twitches take the form of a valedictory sunset party: Zembe’s DP in the case of ZUM; now NCA in the case of MDC-T. That is how Zimbabwean opposition parties die, peculiarly.
Even Zanu PF, save for its resilient leadership, would have died the same: as Makoni’s Mavambo and Dabengwa’s Zapu as if to recapture Zanu-PF’s pre-Unity Accord duality. When parties die in Zimbabwe, their corpses throw a shadow!
Zanu PF and 2008
Robert Mugabe knows what I am writing about. He experienced it in 2008, lived through it for the duration of the Inclusive Government. At one time he confided in all of us, confessing that the humiliation and impudence he had to put up with at the hands of the two MDCs was just intolerable.
Little boys — boys along whose nose bridges oozes the milk of youthfulness — would not hesitate to dish impudence to this veteran politician, this liberation hero. In more permissive society, he would also tell you the anguish and loneliness of March 2008 when the negative result came.
More important, he would tell you the “advice” that swirled around him post-defeat, threatening to sweep him off his feet. He was told who the evil ones were, where the treachery was hatched and how it played out, to yield the humiliating result he was landed with, pre-runoff.
The temptation, nay the goad, to act impulsively, to act irrationally, was overwhelming. And that goading meets all leaders, any leader experiencing defeat. The Unity Accord could have been smashed to smithereens had President Mugabe taken this cost-free advice. Zanu PF as known in history, as known now, could have been reduced to rubble.
Maybe the ballast of constitutionalism could have failed. I collected a group of war veterans came to him with proposals to pick up arms yet again. This faction of the war veterans, it later emerged, was not only fawning; it was in fact working with the enemy, hoping to use its fawned loyalty to accelerate Zanu PF’s demise.
How Mugabe rode the storm
Watching from a far margin, seeing little and hazily through squinted, tender eyes, I learnt this bitter truth that defeat is consuming, really gutting, and should never be allowed. But I also learnt that true leadership is made and tested in circumstances of defeat.
Robert Mugabe handled defeat with amazing leadership. He had cause to go on a witch hunt; he had reason to become vindictive, to want to settle scores; indeed he had the means to name crime, bring and hand down punishment. He did not do any of these.
Instead he rallied his forces, rousing them from the debility of defeat. There were many conspiracy theorists, many papers done in the name of election post-mortem, but all of them disguising the urge for short-sighted vengeance sure to destroy the party. Opportunists moved in, hoping the hour had come for an ouster.
Out there, the MDC was cheering themselves on, jeering Mugabe all the way. For a man who had won a war, ruled Zimbabwe from its birth until that fateful March of 2008, a pot-boiler that repeatedly described Zanu PF as “the former ruling party” must have been hugely searing, really gulling.
For a man who had ruled Zimbabwe undiminished, ruled it un-trammelled, it must have been most mortifying to share power, to be told for the first time that “it can’t” by little university boys and earthy trade unionists who used to eat from his palms only yesterday. Yet he took all in his stride, regained the confidence of his forces before moving on the offensive that gave him a resounding July 31. As he may confess today, the biggest challenge is never the electoral setback; it is preventing this setback from extinguishing a losing party.
Same fate compounded
Today Mugabe has swapped fate with Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, his political bete noire. Mugabe’s harsh fate in 2008 is today Tsvangirai’s lot multiplied at compound formula. On July 31, the MDC-T was washed clean, taking the biggest defeat ever recorded by a party which had come so close to power only some five short years before.
The converse of that is Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF: a remarkable story of a turnaround far more spectacular than a miracle. Miracles, after all, were done by holy men who enjoyed the glow of divinity. July 31 was a result of human political ingenuity, a feat by mere mortals. That makes it more spectacular than biblical miracles. I hope my readers who support the fallen MDC-T don’t waste time sponsoring a useless counter-narrative of results denial whose convenient mantra rests on the myth of a stolen ballot.
As a people, we have deep lessons to draw from July 31, important institutions to build from the same. And the bricks for building such institutions for the future come from victors and losers alike. But just in case the denial counter narrative re-emerges, I have a simple silencer for its proponents: if the ballot was stolen, why haunt Morgan Tsvangirai from leadership.
Surely the cure to theft is not the persecution of the owner of the stolen property. Let’s not waste time on the inane.
Even Kofi Annan has seen this point too. No friend of Robert Mugabe, the former UN Secretary-General recently told the British Guardian that Mugabe did not need “games” to win. His party has deep roots, unassailable experience, Annan added, supremely helping the British ruling class to manage opinions, to manage its runaway press so given to chanting the anti-Zimbabwe, anti-Mugabe mantra. Even Brian Raftoupolous, himself no friend of Zanu PF, recently told the British Mugabe won fairly, squarely.
As did Chan. As also says Peta Thornycraft, that personification of British landed gentry righteous anger against Mugabe. All these are Mugabe’s detractors who today stand out as his third-party endorsers, willy-nilly because of the sheer force of circumstances.
Avoiding a baneful legacy
I said we must build from results of July 31. Yes, the bricks come from both victors and losers. First victors. Zanu PF must learn that it is good leadership, not good guns, which overcome setbacks, which assure victory. As a party that brought freedom, it cannot be the party that introduces unconstitutionality, whatever setbacks visit it. To do so would be to introduce a baneful legacy.
And as politics stand, only Zanu PF has the infrastructure, experience and capacity to overthrow constitutionality. I don’t agree with some little boys who write from some university in Botswana claiming Khama averted a civil war after March 2008. There may have been thoughts of one — bad thoughts at that — largely counting on Khama’s support, the same Khama touted by these impressionistic researchers as the saviour of Zimbabwe. Of course Zimbabwe remained watchful, very watchful which is why these ideas never moved beyond bad thoughts.
Zimbabwe was never threatened by insurrection for the force capable of it was the party wielding the reigns of power. Such a threat could only have come from Zanu PF acting recklessly or in panic after the March 31 setback. Good, steady, calming leadership held the ring, creating circumstances for a constitutional path which has made our democracy much stronger.
Limits of majority
Secondly, Zanu PF must know that in spite of its four-thirds majority, it can never bring back pre-2008 Zimbabwe. From 1999 to 2008, the MDC formations moved our body-politic a small step forward for our politics, a giant step forward for our democracy. The people have tested certain liberties, certain benefits and practices that come with democracy.
Today they now hold these dear, and will resist their withdrawal or denial. While the MDC formations may have politically suffered from mounting an agenda founded on impalpable neo-liberal values and goals, those values are now stuck in the collective national psyche. They have become real.
They are now on the agenda and Zanu PF has no choice but to pursue its liberation struggle ideals and values while cognizant of this new, neo-liberal appetite already cultivated by years of MDC agitation. To bury the inclusive Government is not quite the same as dispensing with inclusive, consultative politics.
What may be exclusive is the mandate and the blame in times of failure; governance must always remain inclusive. What may have been buried is the political agreement, but the ideal of global governance remains compelling. This is why Jonathan Moyo is right to embrace the private media so he is better able to advance the values of the struggle which, fortunate enough for him, are now a constitutional imperative.
This is why those leading the recovery plan of the economy are right to mount a series of consultative workshops so the inputs of business and civil society are captured. It would be tragic if Zanu PF thinks it has won the mandate to go back in time and values, to rule exclusively.
Death of the fishermen
And now to the losers. I hope Morgan Tsvangirai realises the “stolen election” lobby has collapsed, both at home and abroad, both inside his own party and within his support groups. Externally the EU is engaging. Individually, EU countries are looking at ways of engaging Zimbabwe outside parameters of coercive sanctions and obloquy.
The so-called the fishmongers have become “fishmonsters” we have always proclaimed them to be. The so-called Friends of Zimbabwe, FOZ have now been exposed to their governments and the world as FAZ, Friends against Zimbabwe. In the intervening weeks the British government will send a team to lay groundwork for a change of policy, all against the counsel of their “friendly” ambassador. So, too, will the Americans.
We don’t know what the new conservative government in Australia will do frankly no one cares. And all the three countries provided envoys who gave Tsvangirai stilts of candy here in the savannah. Those props are dismantling.
Trailing behind the party
Within his own party, the general membership is moving very fast ahead of the leadership. Each day, each week, we record defeat confessionals. It may be councillors, mayors unseemly congratulating the President, intellectuals making bare, unvarnished analyses, his whites challenging his leadership, in the process solidifying confessions of defeat. Clearly the centre cannot hold.
Or is this how purgatory plays out in politics? That the sins of fathers are confessed by their sons? I don’t know. Which means what? Well, that if I was Tsvangirai I would know that the only contest I have not yet lost, that I stand a good chance of winning, is that of national legacy leadership, and not of a party or of a government. These latter ones he has lost three times. The one he has not competed for, may only compete for posthumous politically is that of earning a place as a Prime Minister of this country once upon a time. And on that one, he alone is the contestant, the opponent, the loser, the winner.
Running from Morgan, Richard
Clearly he can’t be the MDC-T leader any more. Nor can the successor party ever be MDC-T. All that is lost. But he can still be an elder of this land, ironically a status he can achieve faster than his real elder, Robert Mugabe. And to achieve that, he has to catch up with his own party by admitting to defeat.
He has nothing to gain anymore by stubbornly refusing. Such a stance no longer helps the West which is already engaging Zanu PF. Or his party which has already admitted to defeat ahead of him. Here is one about-turn which levies not an iota of a cost on him personally, on his party or his white benefactors. Yet it will restore him dignity, open new possibilities of engaging the winner in national spirit, for national gain. Yes, for personal gain. Even his supporters will gain too.
His former ministers, including his deputy, want assistance from the Zanu PF government, as indeed does him, too. But the bind is a simple one: how do you engage a government you don’t recognise? Once he recognizes the obvious victory of Zanu PF, he leads his defeated supporters into becoming strong MDCs who are good, loyal citizens of the country.
That is a key block in building a new electoral ethos. If I were a Tsvangirai, I would speedily run away from Morgan and Richard, run away from this double-barrelled Eurocentricity that negates the nativity of my African forebears. Will he do it? Icho!