By Nick Mangwana
There are reports concerning a development in our polity where our former leader Cde Robert Mugabe is said to be attempting to play the joker. He is not so subtly trying to use whatever clout he believes he has to endorse a candidate for the next harmonised elections.
Unfortunately for that candidate, this is a kiss of political death.
As for the former leader this could be very ill-advised, he needs to acknowledge and reciprocate the respect the new administration has accorded him.
African presidents who retire normally fade into the background and enjoy an honorific existence.
Some are appointed “eminent persons” for this or the other cause. One remembers when Canaan Banana was “OAU Eminent Person for Liberia”.
His stature and experience in helping to shape and build the nation of Zimbabwe was equitably deployed in the then hotspot of West Africa.
This was a way of transferring skills and makes someone believe that they have not expired.
Some of the former presidents focus on writing memoirs to preserve their own legacy in their own words.
They take the opportunity to tell their own stories and give their own philosophies and explain why they did what they did as well as what informed those decisions.
They know that this is a priceless inheritance to give to the next generation so that when history judges them, it will also have their own affirmation or defence as the case may be.
Some of the most sought after memoirs are those of former President Mugabe.
He has so much to tell the world.
Here is a best-seller we all await for longingly.
It doesn’t matter whether it has his iconic speeches, his rants or even legendary political manipulations of both comrades and foes.
It is without doubt that a majority of Zimbabweans hope he would just fade in the background and write, allowing new leaders to shape the country and give the space to recover from some of his legacy.
There are mistakes to be corrected, and of course successes to be built on.
One may ask why this columnist is going against his own President’s declarations that the former President made no mistakes.
Everyone knows that President Mnangagwa is fond of his former boss and remains loyal to him up to a fault. It should not surprise many that he remains magnanimous and gracious to him.
In fact he continues to make efforts to restore his legacy despite a bitter last episode. But that does not change the fact that the former President, like anybody else, made mistakes. Why the new dispensation is being told this is because it’s trying to undo some of those mistakes. But let’s look at the loyalty that is reportedly being abused going by reports of a so-called New Patriotic Front.
President Mnangagwa’s loyalty to former President Mugabe frustrated many members of the party who felt that he was supposed to take on his leader. The country was stagnating and the party was haemorrhaging.
He was giving loyalty, but was being paid back with treachery. In fact he was way too sentimental for his own good and his own health, but he remained loyal all the same.
He got poisoned and missed death by a whisker.
He recovered and loyally as ever probably blamed all others and still tried to exonerate his boss and his family.
He even brought his own doctor to his boss. It would appear his boss distorted the substance of their conversation the next time he grabbed a microphone.
Despite the seriousness of this case of an attempted assassination of his deputy, he pocked fun at him at the next so-called Interface Rally. As fate would have it, this was in Gweru in his deputy’s home province.
There he still trivialised the issue by talking about banality including stuff about eating broccoli. Regardless of some of the nature of these speeches, which leaned on satire, he remained loyal.
After being fired and the interventions of Operation Restore Legacy happened, loyalty still abound in that he preserved the dignity of his former boss.
While some flagship policies are being revisited in the interests of turning the fortunes of this country, one thing that has been avoided is direct criticism of the former boss.
But loyalty has to be a two-way street. This has been one directional for way too long. One day the fox has to break out of the snare (nerimwe zuva gava richadimbura musungo).
Recent events in which naive and easily deceived (anobhilivhiswa) Joice Mujuru was courted and easily charmed into turning into an attack dog against President Mnangagwa, just as Grace Mugabe was, shows the man doesn’t believe that one good turn deserves another.
He needs to fade into the background as an elder statesman and not play any manipulative games. Gloves will come off. The immunity to serious criticism and censure within Zanu-PF he has enjoyed will be revoked.
Former President Mugabe’s political prominence should be as a liberator and nation builder. He should rest in that dignified fashion. He had the opportunity to manage Zanu-PF’s succession issues when he was in charge. But he ended up being manipulated by a criminal cabal for political expediency.
And poor Joice (Mujuru) is still none the wiser. Surely the gullible have an immutable trait of being credulous to their own peril. We will leave them to it.
There are countries in which after reluctantly acceding to the will of the people former leaders have had no choice but to leave the country. The biggest concern is always their political activities and manipulation of old loyalties within the system, which would have been retained intact or semi intact.
In Zambia former president Kaunda lives today a dignified existence, but those with slightly longer memories can remember how he was persecuted, made stateless and at some point hounded out of the country, denied his pension and other forms of ill-treatment.
In our own Zimbabwe, Abel Muzorewa spent a substantial period in prison in the early ’80s because of his political activities, which were regarded with great suspicion. But in our case the transfer of power, though acrimonious, has happened within the party and the new leadership has shown goodwill and solidarity with the old. But that should not be abused.
That veil of protection is from nothing else but goodwill.
It learns from looking at the treatment of former statesmen like the now late Ketumule Masire who used his former status to assist international diplomacy and Festus Mogae who retired young enough to focus on business.
Zanu-PF has deliberately generated some mystique around former President Mugabe as a founding father of the nation.
That is part of the reason the new administration is not explicitly blaming the state of the economy on his leadership and the decisions he made or reversed.
It will be a sad day if someone who still thinks he holds enough clout to endorse or censure future leaders of our country, including electoral outcomes, abuses that deliberately cultivated “divine entitlement” now. The decent advice is to let go. First generation former leaders who nurtured independence like Robert Mugabe, Sam Nujoma and Kenneth Kaunda deserve to be honoured once out of office. But it is a mistake to send surrogates, proxies and puppets in that ring because some punches will be aimed directly at the puppet master.
Former President Mugabe accumulated a massive international stature within the continent over the years. In Zanu-PF he has been accorded the honorific stature of “our Icon”. Nationally, Robert Mugabe Day was gazetted after he left office.
The airport, which he had just named after himself before he was forced to retire, has retained his name. The dozens of roads and streets within the country that had his name are still called by his name. He is not publicly maligned within Zanu-PF. But any continued involvement in active political projects might see him treated the way he treated those who fell out with him over the years like Enos Nkala and Edgar Tekere. It is absolutely unnecessary because some of these icons deserve their names in some of the biggest streets in their hometowns. Edgar Tekere and Maurice Nyagumbo deserve to have streets named after them in Mutare at the very least. If the goodwill is lost, it is those Robert Mugabe streets and avenues, which will be named after these icons.
Then those who falsely claim that former President Mugabe has been humiliated will have a proper case for humiliation if he were to experience half of what Kenneth Kaunda experienced. The unwritten code in Africa is that former presidents should stay out of party politics so as to avoid the obliteration of their image and the denigration of their policies.
They should not continue to play the puppet masters otherwise they will suffer a humiliating affront to their stature and have contemptuous songs replace praise songs once sung in their honour.
Zimbabwe eagerly awaits those memoirs that Nathan Shamuyarira could not complete.