Tichaona Zindoga Acting Editor
On Saturday, President Mnangagwa gave pre-Independence interviews to media corps at State House in Harare and the engagement was significant in not only affording the President an opportunity to pronounce himself — as Head of State — on some topical issues of the day.
It also afforded us a glimpse into his character and motivations that colour his worldview; his meticulous attention to detail, his very organised thought process and his humane side.
Plus his humorous side, too.
At the end of the day, there are valuable lessons to be learnt about President Mnangagwa’s leadership style and these lessons are key to realising that he is the man Zimbabwe needs beyond the next election — in 2023 — for him to complete the reform agenda for Zimbabwe.
There are five contemporaneous issues that President Mnangagwa addressed that are to be taken home from his interviews, underlining a new and pragmatic way the face of the Second Republic is approaching national leadership.
a) Gukurahundi — Beyond the taboo
For a long time, it seemed that Zimbabwe would not be able to open up and address the issue of Gukurahundi, the code-word for disturbances that took place during the early years of Zimbabwe’s independence that resulted in deaths and tribal and regional tensions. Former president Robert Mugabe, who oversaw the dark period, shied from addressing the issue, the closest he came being to declare the period as a “moment of madness”. Many aggrieved parties felt that was not good enough.
Nor did the former leader own up and make amends till he left office in 2017.
It has taken President Mnangagwa only two years to find a formula to address the issue and the key has been meeting the community and coming up with an implementation matrix that involves a number of processes.
“The question of Gukurahundi, personally I don’t see anything wrong in debating it on television and in newspapers,” he told us. “Let us debate it. It was so open a debate and at the end of the day, we feared nothing. There was nothing to fear about that debate. Actually, it’s critical that we have that debate and as a result of that conversation we have created a matrix of implementation of ideas to deal with issues that were raised. Some of the issues could have been resolved a long time back. In my view, there is not a single issue that cannot be discussed and a way forward crafted.”
There! President Mnangagwa has just challenged the nation to face its ugly past.
From here, the resolution of the matter will take place — and not conceivably without problems — but it could only take a lot of courage and pragmatism to address it.
b) Compensation of white former commercial farmers
There is probably not a more divisive issue in Zimbabwe now than the debate around the compensation of white farmers. The position of the Government — and President Mnangagwa emphasised this on Saturday — is that Government is only paying for improvements on the land. It is what the Constitution enjoins the State to do.
But there is a rider, on that clause, President Mnangagwa said. We can only pay when the resources are there. Even then there is criteria of paying out old pensionable farmers. Government is also in talks with Britain — the former coloniser — for it to fund the process.
Amid the criticism, including from individuals in the President’s party, the position is practical and represents a man who ready to clean yet another blot of history and move the country forward. As we will shortly demonstrate, this is something that rises above cheap populism and archaic notions of leadership to face the reality. It is reality that the country was not bold enough to face, two decades after the land reform programme.
c) Relationship with Mugabe
Does Emmerson Mnangagwa recognise the hurt that former president Mugabe caused him? Yes. Does he carry bitterness? No. Students of history will be fascinated to know the sort of relationship between the two men — which lasted some half century — and how it unraveled especially in the later years. For many of us, President Mnangagwa was wronged: humiliated, maligned and almost killed. That would be a perfect cause for bitterness. But it is different with Zimbabwe’s President.
“To some extent I enjoyed the lies,” he related. “Here was the person attacking you on issues that are false and you cannot get angry when you know that if you can be given a chance to speak, you can destroy every single allegation that is being made, so you can’t get angry because the premises of attack were all false and crafted by individuals who wanted to cause me to be removed.”
It’s called sangfroid. Somehow, President Mnangagwa recognised the futility of fighting a man (and people) with a lower purpose in life. His magnanimity afterwards lends to pragmatism and a rare quality that makes ED, as he is also known, the man to unite the people and reform the whole architecture of Zimbabwe.
d) Politics of compassion
The phenomenon goes further. Many people would be forgiven for thinking that President Mnangagwa has done more than his predecessor deserved, by not punishing the former leader for sins of commission and omission. However, President Mnangagwa has shown that he is the bigger man, and is not a prisoner of the past. “The former president is the founding father of Zimbabwe,” said President Mnangagwa.
“He was our leader, the revolutionary leader during the armed struggle and led to the creation of Independence in Zimbabwe. With that regard, I think history should put his name in its proper place.
“We in the Second Republic recognise that he was our former commander and that cannot be taken away from him.”
With this in mind, President Mnangagwa has done incredibly well to show compassion for the older politician who is now stricken in his old age. The compassion has extended to Mrs Mugabe, who was at the centre of denigrating and humiliating President Mnangagwa at the height of the stand-off. To repay her, President Mnagagwa has taken care of the First Family, left them unmolested and even chartered a plane for Mrs Mugabe to mourn her mother who had passed on.
On Saturday, the President revealed that he was also now taking care of the widow of the first President of Zimbabwe Canaan Banana, after she appealed to him recently.
We cannot deny that she is our former First Lady — President Mnangagwa said — and she is now receiving her dues which had been denied her in the previous era.
It will also be recalled that President Mnangagwa in 2017 took a similar compassionate stand regarding former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, securing his pension and house, among other entitlements.
Taken globally, President Mnangagwa’s politics of compassion bears the tidings of goodwill that is critical for the ongoing national healing that he, too, is championing in Zimbabwe. And one cannot miss the systematic way in which the man is approaching these issues, in all their delicateness.
Lessons about ED’s leadership
A number of key pointers begin to emerge regarding President Mnangagwa’s leadership style.
First, Emmerson Mnangagwa is his own man. Many of the decisions that he is taking — from confronting the beast of Gukurahundi to being a compassionate leader — represent a man who has a natural gift to solve problems rather than parking them. He is not one to bury his head in the sand.
Secondly, and connected to the above, President Mnangagwa has refused to be “boxed” by convention and prejudice. Even significantly in this regard, he has refused to act out a script prepared for him. There are many people who wanted him to be a little Mugabe — the student of 50 years. He has refused to take the bait and is actually the opposite of Mugabe in significant ways. Take Gukurahundi for example. Ditto compensation. Mugabe would not be this compassionate for people that wronged him.
Thirdly, the lawyer in the President is shining through. He likes to keep to the letter of the Constitution and this is particularly so regarding the issue of land. It doesn’t quite matter what people will think but he will stick to the Constitution and what it enjoins him to do. The same applies to the entitlements of former office holders such as Mugabe himself, Tsvangirai and Mrs Banana who are entitled to pensions. There is absolutely no room for personal feelings in that. Contrast that with the incident where we are told that Mugabe withdrew security details the moment he fired his deputy that bad day in November 2017, thus exposing him to danger. Mugabe was responsible for withholding honours to people he did not agree with. ED represents a complete departure.
Fourthly, and lastly, sabre-rattling policy is over. Part of the disappointment some people feel about President Mnangagwa is that he is not combative enough, whether to the local opposition or to external enemy. He has showed that he is not willing to pick unnecessary fights and is not one to play to the international gallery like his predecessor.
Only that former character did not achieve anything.
It is time to change — and President Mnangagwa is the refreshing change, thanks to his pragmatism.