Mugabe’s misleading gift of oratory

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IT WAS New Zealand’s great writer, Frank Sargeson, who once said “There is no talent as deceiving and dangerous as the gift of oratory”. Sargeson has been proven right by many politicians in our midst, across the political divide. President Robert Mugabe is a typical example. In the 1970s, somebody described Robert Mugabe as “more reasonable in private than in public”. Over the years, his leadership style has confirmed what the 1970s observer concluded as well as what Frank Sargeson discovered.
Following President Mugabe’s public speeches, one would be forgiven for thinking that he is a very strong and pragmatic leader. However, given the way he has mismanaged our economy and politics especially in the last decade or so, it is now obvious that we are led by a person who shouts loudest in public but does very little in private. If there was a PhD for rhetoric and inaction, he would be a perfect candidate. It would appear that he is the kind of leader who rises to the occasion only when his personal interests are threatened.
In 1997 when he was confronted by agitated ex-combatants in Chinhoyi who were demanding pay-outs, some of them singing “Zvawaikanyaira semombe….”, it became very evident that President Mugabe is a typical old school teacher who is most effective only when he is talking to students not answering back or a preacher on the pulpit who knows that whatever they say is never directly challenged by congregants.
When ex-combatants confronted him that day in Chinhoyi, occasionally shouting him down, he started frothing at the mouth, literally and looked totally confused. He did not know what to say or do. Many people were left wondering if it was the same man who comes across as “VaMazivazvose” or “VaHandinzarwo”. That is probably one of the moments in recent history he would certainly like to forget quickly.
A few months ago, at Shamuyarira’s burial, he came out guns blazing, incensed by what he called “weevils” and a “devil incarnate” whose agenda was to destroy the party from within. His gullible supporters thought that somebody was going to be fired soon after this explosive speech. Quite to the contrary, the same targets of that attack became instant heroes a few weeks later. All they did was to turn Grace Mugabe into a strategic shield and they were safe.Advertisement

Given what has been written in state media lately about Joice Mujuru as well as Grace’s great disclosures about the Vice President’s penchant for corruption and proclivity for extortion, any strong leader would have stood down the Vice President immediately and called in the police to investigate. The Vice President would be re-instated only after being cleared. This is what the rule of law and functional democracy are about.
Since President Mugabe is a master of rhetoric but a novice when it comes to practical action, he chose to address an improtu rally on the same day a serious Politburo meeting was to be held to deal with the Mujuru case instead of wielding the axe in the Politburo. True to form, he turned to other people to fight his battles. He would rather use Chinotimba, Mahofa, Muchinguri, the Women’s League or some drunk youths than take Mujuru or anybody else head on behind closed doors. Kun’ombe taiti vana tinhaidzirwe!
Even some GNU actors would agree that President Mugabe is a very weak character behind closed doors, to the extent of sounding reasonable. When he is not on the microphone, he is cunningly moderate and chooses his words very carefully. This may explain why he has never fronted up to parliamentary debates because he simply can’t engage in a frank and thought-provoking conversation where his weaknesses can be easily exposed. This is where Emmerson Mnangagwa, for all his imperfections, comes out stronger. Like Eddison Zvobgo, the man, like him or not, can engage in any discussion or debate with outstanding intelligence.
I’ve no doubt that while in the Politburo, President Mugabe would be fidgeting endlessly in his chair whenever a sensitive matter is brought up without making any conclusive or firm decision. He would be busy thinking of what to say at the next rally, funeral or public event while others are busy debating issues.
When people thought Mujuru was going to be shown the exit door instantly, she was actually made to act as president on at least two occasions following the entertaining drama. This demonstrates the magnitude of indecision, cowardice or hypocrisy that characterises President Mugabe’s leadership style.
There is no country where speeches made at a political rally have translated into progress or prosperity. What Mugabe says in public only sees the light of day if unilaterally and often illegally, actioned upon by somebody else. It is for this weakness that we have never seen a minister fired for corruption or incompetence. Joice Mujuru knows that there is no clean horse in the stable hence, she is unmoved by the allegations against her. Zanu PF and corruption are inseparable Siamese twins. For them, taking action against corruption is like switching off their own life support. This hullabaloo about Joice Mujuru will come to pass and soon, it will be business as usual. Keeping both factions walking on a tight rope is a working strategy for life presidency.
For lack of transformative and visionary leadership, we waited for twenty years after independence for shallow-minded functionaries like Chinotimba, Hunzvi and Francis Zimuto (aka Black Jesus) to embark on a disorderly, violent and disastrous land grab exercise that eventually brought our agro-based economy to its very knees. Good leadership, which Zanu PF doesn’t have at the moment, would have planned for sustainable land redistribution.
Zimbabweans must now look beyond the misleading gift of oratory. Only pragmatic leadership will extricate our potentially great nation from the self-imposed conundrum we find ourselves in.
Moses Chamboko is a pro-democracy activist and Interim Secretary General for Zimbabweans United for Democracy (ZUNDE). You may visit ZUNDE at or email