PERHAPS we must do that; abandon the “Him” and deal with the “It”. We must leave the man and engage with the phenomenon. There are many profits in the present for reading and understanding Robert Mugabe as a political and historical phenomenon, away from a preoccupation with the Old Man.
A phenomenological reading of Mugabe may help us to peel away the sticky layers of the Zimbabwean historical and political onion, to unravel the meaning behind the multiplicity of myths, to explore the truths that lie below the fiction so that we may arrive at the Robert Mugabe behind the scattered shadows that we have been chasing all these decades.
Helpfully, as Robert Mugabe the physical man naturally retreats, the political phenomenon is stepping up its activity and force, the few coming weeks will, as a result, witness public performances of the Robert Mugabe, the photocopy without an original, that item which in its pretences, its fictions and fakeness is more authentic and cannot be repeated except by itself.
Zimbabwe is presently going through the historical season and political moment of the MOU, where between and amongst each other opposition political parties and their leaders have finally seen the foundational political wisdom of agreeing on common understanding, coalitions and solidarities which are basic political mathematics that have sadly taken our wise leaders decades to discover and understand.
Exactly how hard is it to get it that one plus one equals two, and two is more and bigger than one; in number, meaning, purpose and power? Alone, in its significance the gesture of political and electoral solidarity between and amongst opposition political parties, their unity, has scared the Mugabeness out of Robert Mugabe, for that reason activity, agitation, stratagems, plots and ploys are assured in this season of the MOU in Zimbabwe.
This is to be a season where political virginity is a great liability, where innocence can be perilous to person and to party alike. By the end of political innocence, I gesture that politicians in the political opposition and the ruling party itself must think and act in ways that Robert Kaplan described as “thinking tragically” and “thinking with a pagan ethos,” that is thinking in terms of the worst that may or that must happen. Bad news might not be the best news but in politics and in history it is the important news, for is history itself, after all, not a string of very bad news that are here and there punctuated with some slender break of temporary good news?Advertisement
As I write, the historical artefact and political phenomenon that is personified in Robert Mugabe is out to dance its last and most important dance, to perform itself in full intensity and this time not for legacy but destiny, to talk of the last kicks might be to minimise the gravity of what is at play, after all Robert Mugabe is out to succeed Robert Mugabe, phenomenologically speaking, that is.
A phenomenological treatment of Robert Mugabe is rewarding in that we depart from examining his character because he has none, we leave his personality because he does not have it, and we benefit from observing characteristics and personas, of which he has plenty and in them we better read and understand what is afoot.
Not only in the political opposition but also amongst my personal friends and fellow travellers in the analytic circles of journalists, scholars and both; the thoughts and the talk are summarised in how ZANU-PF must be defeated in the 2018 election. The bad and tragic news is that there is no more ZANU-PF to defeat, the target has long moved, we are pointing our political guns at a shadow.
To start with, as I have written before, the past thirty-five years have seen nationalism in Zimbabwe tragically narrowing down and shrinking to partyism, where ZANU-PF became the Nation and the Nation became ZANU-PF, anyone and anything outside the party-nation was declared enemy. Further, the party shrinked to the tribe where to be Zimbabwean was to be Shona or die; the Gukurahundi genocide ensured that. Furthermore; the party and the tribe together shrinked and collapsed into the person and family of President Robert Mugabe. The present hegemonic definition of patriotism in Zimbabwe is in how one is loyal to President Robert Mugabe and his family, his family has become a complex summarisation of country, nation and political Party all in one.
What the political opposition in Zimbabwe, an opposition that is found inside ZANU-PF itself and that is shaped of the coalescing opposition political parties, must prepare to defeat and overcome is the Robert Mugabe system, a hegemonic entity of thought and power. Physically and politically ZANU-PF managed through force and fraud to achieve dominance in Zimbabwe, using and abusing ZANU-PF dominance, the Mugabe system and phenomenon that is being treated in this article achieved hegemony in Zimbabwe.
Hegemony, as canonically described by Antoni Gramsci, is a form of power that, to simplify it, persuasively and powerfully naturalises and normalises itself. It can be corrupt and illegitimate power that however erects itself into the common sense of a people as The Power, one that cannot be questioned and that can be taken for granted. For that unhappy reason, all of us in the political opposition, in the social movements and in ZANU-PF that are looking to the electoral defeat of ZANU-PF in 2018 must awaken from the nightmare, urgently; the target long moved, I argue.
We must defeat ourselves first, the Robert Mugabe hegemony has since gone and overlapped the party lines, it has possessed persons and parties and it runs the serious danger of winning elections against the whole of Zimbabwe and the world, without ZANU-PF the political party as we know it. After all, for many months now, the Robert Mugabe phenomenon has been busy starting and winning battles against ZANU-PF the party.
I was advised by some smart alecs from some small colleges in the UK to go to a mental asylum when I publicly and loudly anticipated the rise of Grace Mugabe to political prominence. I was asked to kill myself by some political interlocutors when I again critically anticipated that Robert Mugabe will clobber the war veterans to a stain. No one dreamt, for instance, that Solomon Mujuru, the “King maker” would be history before any king or queen is seen in Zimbabwe. That Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru, the girl who downed the colonial chopper would be unheroed and fired was unthinkable in a little two years ago.
In much dramatic and even spectacular ways, ZANU-PF as we know it has been losing some of its strongest branches and greenest leaves, in all the loss the Robert Mugabe phenomenon has been winning, fortifying itself and cementing its hegemony. This phenomenon has concealed its identity behind factions and true to our lazy analysis we see factions and every day wait for the juicy factional developments that we feed on as journalists, scholars and both. In the orgasmic joy of its constructed invisibility, the Robert Mugabe phenomenon has been spreading its tentacles and tightening its octopal grip on Zimbabwe, like the gigantic coating of the python skin that it seasonally sheds and leaves behind, ZANU-PF is a shell, the serpent itself is out and about, thina sibukel ikhasi nje inyoka isiza ngemva kwethu!
The hegemony of the Robert Mugabe phenomenon in Zimbabwe has set in so deep and so hard that Mugabe might win the next election, not through his party as we know it, ZANU-PF, but through the political opposition. One does not need to be a phenomenologist to get it that, if one erases party names and looks at politics and politicians in Zimbabwe, one sees that already there is opposition in the ruling regime and there is the ruling regime in the opposition. No exaggeration here, all the signs are out that Mugabe has his favourite politicians in the opposition and that some of our favourite politicians in the opposition have their preferred parts and persons around the Robert Mugabe phenomenon, not only signs, even texts and vocals are out in that regard.
Like all phenomenona, the Robert Mugabe one, especially now, is hiding where we very least expect it to be, right in us and with us. Over and above ZANU-PF and the political opposition as we know and experience them, the Robert Mugabe phenomenon has systematised itself and naturalised itself and defeating it, overcoming its hegemony and exhausting it demands more than partisan thinking, more than electoral machinations but also tragic thinking and pagan imagination, outdoing Mugabe in Mugabeness; I will return to this argument in closing.
Meet the Family
For many months now the First Family, that is Robert Mugabe’s wife Dr Grace Mugabe and children, has been talking to itself about itself and its place in the world. Individual members of the family have separately been examining their lives and pondering the future and collectively they have been meeting to share notes, heavy and weighty notes, about the people around them, the party and prospects of the near and the far future.
By now most of you dear readers have had a close look at the circulating picture of a small but meaningful part of the Mugabe family, wearing funeral faces, and gravely listening to a speech by Namibian President, Hage Geingob at State House. It is a rich picture whose importance is in the useless detail of one empty chair below the nose of the trio made of Bona Mugabe, Grace Mugabe and the Robert Mugabe under examination.
By the way, I think we collectively robbed ourselves when we made too much noise too early at the development where Bona had started acting assistant to Robert Mugabe on his many visits to other countries, we shouted the phenomenon into retreat, we were going to learn more. Phenomenologically looking, Bona Mugabe, Mrs Chikore that is, combines several peoples in the Robert Mugabe scheme of things, in one she is his mother, sister, aunt, mother in law and lately, as he naturally weakens and returns to babiness, grandmother.
Who Grace Mugabe is to Robert Mugabe is well known. What she is, in actuality, and in justice is a matter yet to unfold. I have noted this before, in our laziness of observation and thought we have fixed Grace Mugabe to the lucky place of a cunning typist that converted, much immorally, her boss into her boyfriend and later husband. She is much more than that, or she is that and lots more else. She was a spy, a high profile one and she will always be. She is a business person of the mafia and tycoon extents. She was recruited from the business circles where she circulated with fast cash movers and shakers of Southern Africa and Asia; she pushed the numbers with the mob and rolled with the boys and girls in the African underworld.
As Sissy Grace, picture the hard shabeen queen type, she has always been a hard woman with a gigantic ego. Woe unto us to see her as that fragile and vulnerable woman, this is a man with more hardihood than some crocodiles and lions, a phenomenological appreciation of Grace Mugabe therefore, betrays a hard man hiding inside a woman. A little phenomenological courage to go beyond organisms and their organs leaves us with a real macho enterprise to encounter in Grace Mugabe.
Robert Mugabe, before the arrival of Grace Mugabe was, like his friend Nathan Shamuyarira, innocent of money and its powers. Grace Mugabe did not only bring children and therefore grand children into Robert Mugabe’s universe, she also brought money and a lot other considerations of the “libidinal economy”, the powerful push and pulls of loves and fears that accompany familihood and society. She deepened, widened and in many ways hardened the universe of a man whose love was power and the drive to be remembered many years after death as a conqueror and a hero. Around Robert Mugabe and in the Robert Mugabe phenomenon, Grace Mugabe has brought sons and a massive Empire in cash and cause.
I anticipate here and now that, from the vantage point of the Robert Mugabe phenomenon and its alliances, accessories, hired consultants and functionaries, the 2018 election will be around the themes of Women, Youths and Wealth (jobs, entrepreneurship, land etc). Following how the Mugabe phenomenon collapsed the country, nation, party and tribe into itself and its family, talk about familialising the nation and all, in 2018 the phenomenon seeks to nationalise the family and its interests. The loves and fears of the First Family will be amplified and magnified into national and serious political interests.
Publicly, Women and Youths, like the war veterans of yesteryears will be the new objects and subjects of high politics in Zimbabwe, and that is not divorced from the form and content of the First Family itself. Mothers and their young children are soon to achieve new importance in Zimbabwe, men and their old sons are the new enemy, families will be shaken as girls, young sons and their mothers become the political object petite in Zimbabwe.
The shape and content of political things to watch in Zimbabwe will have a lot to do with the character and behaviours of the First Family, its deep fears and passionate loves. This is still a young observation and argument that still needs an explosion of some myths and deconstruction of the litany of fictions that form the Robert Mugabe phenomenon.
The Robert Mugabe Phenomenon
There is a flourish of literature of biographic and hagiographic nature about Robert Mugabe, there is even a deeply theoretical and even philosophical exploration of Mugabeism as an ideology and or idea that was recently published by Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni and some young and senior scholars of note in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and the United Kingdom. Largely, the supportive literature on Mugabe tends to be too supportive and hagiographic to be helpful, the critical literature leans towards too much passionate anger so much so that critique easily gives way to criticism, much like in the divide between the public and the private media in Zimbabwe.
In these extreme divides in the understandings of Robert Mugabe, the true phenomenon remains in the cracks much unseen and unexamined, allowing it to perform its Mugabeness with impunity, free from penetrating probity and prediction. I intend to explode a few myths and crack a few fictions that have masked the true Robert Mugabe phenomenon over the past decades as I prepare to conclude my warning.
The way a fish needs water for its existence, the Robert Mugabe phenomenon requires enmity and enemies for its very survival. Robert Mugabe cannot be or can he do without an enemy to insult and to fight, if one does not avail itself he invents one. When the white settlers turned into his friends in 1980 he invented Nkomo and ZAPU, when this enmity was no longer useful he returned to the whites, then to the MDC and to some groupings within ZANU-PF as we know it.
Mugabe is at his best, and his real, against and not for something, his living philosophy is anger and hate, when he attacks he claims defence or revenge. He is the anti-colonialist that fought colonialism and in the true Nietzschean sense became colonial in the process, reproduced colonialism in its utmost vulgarity up until his own family was the only friend he had; only in the blood contract does he trust.
After his small family, Robert Mugabe’s greatest possession that he can commit genocide to safeguard is the mythical and stolen credentials of his as a brave guerrilla leader. He is not by any measure a man of war. Warrior and war leader are his stolen qualifications. Wilbert Zvakanyorwa Sadomba in 2011 did a telling job unravelling how the scholarly Hebert Chitepo led the guerrilla movement from 1964 to 1975, and the ZIPA/Vashandi group from 1976 to 1977. Robert Mugabe pretended to do so, against much internal resistance from 1977 to 1979, a time when political negotiations, peace talks and the political settlement were already in the air, he became an after the war leader. In reality the Man led the guerrilla movement for a wishy washy two years and nine months, from March 1977 to December 1979; in his mythology Robert Mugabe was born a guerrilla and will die one.
So jealously has Mugabe guarded his stolen war credentials that he will fight off any threat to demolish them. Part of the hate and anger Mugabe reserved for and directed at Nkomo was the idea of “Father Zimbabwe”, an idea that he only made peace with when Nkomo died, otherwise the only “Father Zimbabwe” that Mugabe can sit with is himself. A large part of the Gukurahundi genocide was the attempt to erase that huge part of the Zimbabwean liberation and guerrilla war in which Mugabe was no claimant to the heroism. Besides the erasure and silencing of bodies, Gukurahundi was a theft of history and memory, an epistemicide.
Unknown to many of us, is that as late as the 1980s, Robert Mugabe believed in Zimbabwe as two different countries, as quoted in Gatsheni’s enriching Mugabeism compendium, Davies, Smith and Simpson write in 1981 of a day Robert Mugabe eye ball to eye ball told Lord Soames that Nkomo should keep his political campaign in “his country”, Matabeleland and he Mugabe will be content with “my country”, that is Mashonaland. This was after 1977 when Mugabe had made the shocking speech that “Zimbabwe will be a pure Shona nation” an imaginary motherland that had no other people except his clan.
Behind the façade of Robert Mugabe the Pan-Africanist and nationalist is a really dangerous and genocidal nativist who would have led secession from Zimbabwe if he did not achieve control of state power. For the love of liberation war credentials Robert Mugabe even competed with the war itself for credentials, so happy was he when the late Vice-President Simon Muzenda led a change of slogan from “Pamberi ne Chimurenga” to the personalised “Pamberi na Comrade Robert Mugabe,” that from then Muzenda became the ideal Vice-President that was content with his permanent station as Vice never to be President. Over years, Mugabe has personalised the heroism of the liberation struggle, he can give it and take it away, and he personally selects and deselects the bodies that get buried at the National Heroes Acre, he is the first and the last hero.
The world has been made to believe that Robert Mugabe heroically took land, without compensation from white commercial farmers and gave it back to the owners, the dispossessed and displaced black peasants. Far from it. Robert Mugabe was forced by angry war veterans to back and accept land seizures; he just could not stand the way the vets had started calling him a sell out who betrayed ideals of the liberation struggle. Not so many of us remember that Mugabe joined the vets when they were about to seal a political MOU with the workers in shape of the ZCTU.
Equally compelling is the myth that Robert Mugabe is anti-corruption, a clean operator. He actually sells corruption in exchange for loyalty; the ministers who sing his name can sin and steal with impunity. Joice Mujuru told the world a few moons ago that Robert Mugabe keeps dossiers of the crimes and sins of his ministers that he uses as a leash to control them and extract their loyalty, in the true fashion of the mafia Godfathers he uses the crimes of his team as political capital, he profits from their corruption. Grown men, aged war types have been seen publicly kneeling before Robert Mugabe as to a god, not out of love but fear for their lives. For most of them, if ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe lose power it means the end of political protection and legal immunity and the end of the world in earnest.
Guile and the Robert Mugabe Phenomenon
The present Zimbabwean historical and political moment is a moment of the dinner with the devil, the last supper of the very long spoons. It is a moment of the end of innocence in that it combines dark Machiavellian prospects and deadly episodes drawn from the Sun Tsu. War by other means is afoot in Zimbabwe. Both Stuart Doran and Timothy Scarnnechia have effectively shown how Robert Mugabe got the West to understand and somehow support the Gukurahundi genocide.
Unknown to the world is that to get the West to see ZAPU and Nkomo as legitimate targets for mass murder, Mugabe sent secret operatives to capture and kill six white foreign tourists in an operation that enraged the world against ZAPU and Nkomo who were falsely accused of murdering the innocent visitors. In the here and the now, Robert Mugabe’s opponents in Zimbabwe, in ZANU-PF and outside should know that he is capable of attacking himself and then put the blame on his enemies that he will go on to arrest and eliminate from the political and electoral field. This is a man and a phenomenon that can attempt a coup on himself and then use the fabricated attempt to blame and jail the peoples and parties that threaten his political will in the present.
Much naively, our opposition leaders enjoy boasting about the information that they receive from Mugabe’s CIO agents; most of the agents who approach opposition leaders with juicy information are double agents who come with “red intelligence” not to work with the opposition but to work on the opposition, drive it to the direction that Mugabe wants. In 2008, some double agents convinced Morgan Tsvangirai to flee to Botswana leaving Mugabe to “win” the crucial election run-off that sentenced Zimbabwe to more Mugabe rule.
In short, Robert Mugabe’s opponents in present Zimbabwe are walking on slippery political ground, traps and political landmines will be strewn all over the place to ensnare and eliminate the uncircumcised, the Robert Mugabe phenomenon is a phenomenon of dirty and dark political play. From North Korea, Machiavelli and the Sun Tsu, Robert Mugabe has learnt very well. To confront Robert Mugabe and the Robert Mugabe phenomenon in such a crucial historical and political endgame as the present is a true dance of life with Lucifer and all his expelled angels in dark and dangerous hell.
Important to know is that Robert Mugabe, in the slippery way in which he wormed himself into power, does not trust people especially those close to him that is why he is a very dangerous extra-organisational operator. Few people know that, in actuality, the Fifth Brigade was not in truth part of the Zimbabwe National Army but an extra and special entity that was built for the purpose of the genocide and that answered to Robert Mugabe and a few well known Gukurahundists. He did not trust the training and discipline of ZNA with such a job as genocide.
In the same logic, extra to ZANU-PF, extra to the army, the police and the intelligence Robert Mugabe has his organisations within and outside Zimbabwe that stand ready to push the “Mugabe way” when the real chips are down. Some of them are specialised hired consultants, civilian and military. There should be no surprise why some tried and tested crocodiles become lizards in the face of Robert Mugabe; they are in the full know that he controls many powerful but invisible dangers. Out of his storied cowardice he had to do things in that way.
The Successor Robert Mugabe doesn’t want
We have done too much work speculating on the successor that Robert Mugabe wants when the secret of secrets hides in the qualities of the successor that the Mugabe phenomenon may not accept. Well, Sydney Sekeramayi, the shy Gukurahundist stands to benefit if Robert Mugabe suffers sudden incapacitation, he has been prepared to be the unifying figure around whom all the factions may rally under any emergency and he is an organ of the Mugabe extended family and, by that blood contract and shared guilt, he can be trusted. Otherwise he too is not, in justice, the successor that the Robert Mugabe phenomenon can sit pretty with. And the small but powerful Mugabe family does not want to entrust its massive fortune, its future welfare and security with anyone except itself, in itself.
The way Robert Mugabe has been manipulating history and power he does not love competition. For that reason, he will not have a successor that will claim even part ownership of the legacy of the liberation struggle, another Father Zimbabwe. All the men and women that can claim to have been in the thickness of the war and the struggle for liberation, with personal narratives of the struggle that can compete with Mugabe’s are not wanted in this elusive vacancy.
Robert Mugabe will have a youthful man or a woman that will rule Zimbabwe as a proud heir to the gallant legacy of Robert Mugabe; not one who fought alongside him and can claim some personal exploits and heroism. Robert Mugabe wants to lie in his grave one day and be missed as the owner of a history that is irreplaceable. Robert Mugabe’s present contempt for foes and friends that flag liberation credentials as a political qualifier is based on exactly that, he is the war of liberation and no one else should be again. Youths and women who are innocent of the war of liberation are what the new game will be made of in the scheme of the Robert Mugabe political and historical phenomenon.
Importantly, Robert Mugabe also does not want a successor who cannot legitimately claim to know nothing about the Gukurahundi genocide, who cannot convincingly blame the genocide on history and ask the country to peacefully move on to the future; even better if the young or female successor can try to clean Mugabe’s name and even distribute blame for the genocide elsewhere, to other people. As I write, some of Robert Mugabe’s close war time comrades and prospective successors are endangered human beings politically and in many other ways, lingathi angishongo. As for the political opposition inside and outside ZANU-PF, this is the time to think tragically and with a pagan ethos, the dinner of the long spoons.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Zimbabwean Political Scientist and Semiotician, he writes from Pretoria in South Africa: email@example.com.