By Nick Mangwana
Hubris is defined as excessive pride or over-confidence. It is epitomised by arrogance. It often indicates a disconnection with reality and overestimating one’s own competence. It is a disease that afflicts those in positions of power. It is one of the most tragic flaws of most heroes and leads to self-destruction.
For years this writer and many who write or contribute to this paper fought and defended Robert Mugabe as one of the African heroes of contemporary African politics. And he was, until hubris overwhelmed him, he thought he could rule into the grave. But he did not start like that. This affliction infected him following a prolonged stay in office. So probably his greatest mistake was overstaying and believing in his own myth. Of course, seeking a five-year term at 94 cannot be explained by anything but either grandiosity or hubris or, at best, both.
As Robert Mugabe left the political scene, in the opposite corner enters a young man who is Mr Hubris personified. We said that a protracted stay was one of the causes of the hubris in the former president but in this young man it’s not clear where this exaggerated opinion of himself emanates from. Like Friedrich Nietzsche said, whenever some climb, they are followed by a dog called “Ego”. Now imagine one is in this condition but besides the dog called Ego following him as his political career climbs, they are being directed or is being held hostage by Mr Conceit, Tendai Biti. This is a strange duet in which Nelson sings and Tendai claps. Nelson lies, Tendai alibis him.
Let’s take the two to Bedford, England, and illustrate hubris in motion. Someone stands on a dangerously makeshift podium and brazenly announces that if the incumbent wins 5 percent of the vote, he would give his 18-year-old sister to marry. Oh! he torches a storm but the raucous chagrin is not about the arrogance, it is about misogyny and rightly so. Enough has been said about the sexism. Let’s talk a bit more about the arrogance of the infamous claim. It might have come across as confidence or political banter, but what it was actually betraying was serious effrontery and political impudence.
This was not confidence. One can only make such haughty claims if they control all the variables. But nobody controls the choice of the Zimbabwean people. They have a mind of their own. This is not an exam where everything depends on your intellect and preparation. In an election you have to respect the voters who have to trust you with their votes. This is why President Mnangagwa asked Zanu-PF members to go and politely ask for the votes of Zimbabweans. One cannot stand before people and say all of you bar 5 percent are going to vote for me. Why? Because you are who?
The question which many cannot find an answer to is how one explains the timing of the trip just when Zanu-PF had launched its campaign. What was the point of going to the UK when clearly there was no transnational voting in these elections? Was it the right time to go and appear at Chatham House or at Oxford Union in what was mainly a private visit? His main rival has not even bothered to make these trips and stayed at home focusing on the economy and if he takes forays outside these are very short stints with economic outcomes as the target.
More importantly, Chamisa has fought Thokozani Khupe for leadership of the opposition in Parliament. Now the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is before Parliament and if there was a time when his presence would have been needed in Parliament it was this. It made sense to be there and lead the charge in articulating the party position and steer the narrative. But he failed to show leadership by leaving the country for a vanity trip which backfired.
He grabbed the headlines from those doing the actual work for all the wrong reasons. This is why some think he was sabotaged by Tendai Biti who had always been senior to the younger man until that Renewal rebellion. We are informed that even during that rebellion the younger man was supposed to be part of it. He is alleged to have sneakily encouraged and strung Mangoma and Biti along knowing that the moment they left they would create a gap for him. And true to form, the moment Tendai Biti left, Nelson Chamisa jumped to contest for the now vacant secretary-general post which Biti had left. The move was complete, except he lost to Douglas Mwonzora.
Many know Biti’s intellectual arrogance though some prefer to call it pseudo-intellectual snobbery. He goes on national radio and calls interlocutors “fools”. He is vulgar and threatens to sue anybody who dares to sneeze in his direction. He is very cocky and pompous. He insults everyone who opposes him as an intellectual inferior that there is always a temptation to ask him “yako law yawakaverenga yakamboita sei, isina kuverengwa nevana vevamwe?” (Have you studied a unique genre of law which is not available to other mortals?)
Whenever Nelson Chamisa tells a lie about some foreign adventure he looks to Tendai Biti for affirmation and he nods and plays along. Is he complicit with these lies or is setting Chamisa up? As he told the trumped-up Donald Trump conversation he said that the figure of $15 billion came from “other members”.
Naturally one would have expected Tendai to tell his comrade to tone down on the lies. Maybe he did but his new found boss is too arrogant to listen. But that is very unlikely because Biti is the kind of guy who is quite condescending himself and says unprintable stuff to journalists and anyone who dares to question him. He has been recorded spitting such unprintable vulgarities not fit for an industry let alone for a minister or wannabe occupant of a high office.
So probably to expect him to rein in his younger friend is expecting too much. His own moral compass doesn’t tell him it’s wrong. He is probably not best placed to realise that to insult President Mnangagwa whenever he takes to the podium might get him some laughs and adulations but does little to raise Chamisa’s status from that of an exuberant gaffe-prone schoolboy to a statesman.
When you ride such a high horse, grace is not one of your default virtues. The lofty height of the horse is what makes it very tough to climb down and issue an apology. That’s why he always tries to wriggle out of tight situations instead of just apologising and climbing down. That’s why you hear words like, “I didn’t say I saw Trump, I said the Trump Administration” or “I didn’t say I would expel the Chinese but I said that I would review their contracts”. No you did not. But probably he does actually remember saying these things because he might say all these out of excitement and he doesn’t bother to listen to himself. But Biti is on the sidelines waiting to pounce when it all falls apart because he knows that it will.
Morgan Tsvangirai is immortalised in the MDC-T. But you see how Chamisa treated Tsvangirai’s memory in Bedford? He might call it a joke but there was serious derision and contempt behind that joke. The encounter with German Chancellor Angela Merkel was one of the late Tsvangirai’s most unrefined and embarrassing moments. You can’t watch that video clip without cringing.
But the man is now rested with his ancestors. What does Chamisa do? In trying to tell his audience that he is preparing for power or rather impatient for power, he invokes that which everyone who cares about Tsvangirai would rather bury. Surely, he learnt nothing from Tsvangirai for, where the teacher is not pleasing to the pupil there is no learning. Just give Chamisa a mic and audience and he will lose his guard. Soon he will express his true feelings.
In Nelson Chamisa did Tsvangirai create another Alcibiades, who was a haughty, arrogant and pompous man pumped with volumes of ego and vanity? Is their mutual contempt for Morgan Tsvangirai the point of intersection between the two? Tendai Biti considered Tsvangirai an intellectual minion. Nelson Chamisa in Bedford let slip his true disdain for the man. What are we dealing with here? Just like the people of Athens put up with Alcibiades because of his oratorical skilsl but one day said enough of your vain nonsense, those who strangely see some oratory power in Chamisa will see its absence or interpret it for what it is; demagoguery.