UNDER THE EAVES WITH IGOMOMBE
What an incongruous title to use in describing politics of the Savannah! Yet such is the beauty of communication: yoking together things that are violently dissimilar, all to drive home a key point. And what a time to re-connect! You barely think it’s a week later, what with the dramatically changed political landscape. Yet that it is. The about 14-million strong little Zimbabwe has produced 23 presidential aspirants, and more than 128 political parties! An industrial output by any count. Wished that was gross domestic product, GDP. Politically, we are hyper-engaged; economically we are disengaged, or even un-engaged. The national political marketplace is overcrowded; the national business marketplace is deserted, only to be crowded by non-indigenes. That is us, habitually holding the wrong end of the stick, holding on so remarkably.
And you can’t miss the absurdity of it all, part of which is captured in names of these political parties. One is called “hashtag” something, firmly suggesting tirimo musocial media, all for worse! Who says cyberspace is not real, that it is not a material force? Come to Zimbabwe! And then two open palms for political logos, heavily contested until a few days ago. Today harmoniously used, employed, to represent vying fractious tendencies. And the miracle behind the last hour resolution? Simple: emplacement of a grown-up man in an open palm for one; palm-cradling of a child for the other. Palaver finis! Tapedza zvedu! So why all the noise? Did we not have a man who fits into the palm? Did we not have a child for the palm to cradle? And in all this, not even a flicker of humorous irony: for both palm throwaways — the man about to be palm-cast off; the child about to be palm-dumped — both furiously hoping to lead, to govern this great Nation! My congenitally cynical friend put it well: after Tsvangirai, the Movement for Democratic Change has morphed into a child-man! And what a way to agree to the joke that is on you, and then commission and validate it for permanence!
Not without a precedent
I watched Mwonzora a few days ago, as he sought to naturalise and justify what in all fairness has been a setback for his “boss”. And boss appropriately in quotation marks. Just moments before, Mwonzora all of whose Manicaland aides led by one Karenyi had been decapitated, had busily sought to dispel rumours that he had quit the Alliance. I suggest we keep that “stayed” story at the back of our mind for now. It will come back, and come back with added venom. I shut my mouth for now.
Back to his pseudo-act. Mwonzora said the fact of changing party symbols just before critical polls is not without precedent in the country’s electoral history. He cited — correctly too — the case of Zanu in 1979/80. Indeed the late Ndabaningi Sithole forced Zanu to add “PF” in order to distinguish itself from Zanu-Ndonga, after the late Sithole claimed he had copyright to the acronym. The courts found in his favour, hoping to destabilise the white-hated Mugabe’s Zanu. All that and much more happened, and is now a matter of historical record. Mwonzora must be lauded for summoning that to make the Alliance’s predicament both manageable and not without a prevailing precedent. But that is where the accolades end.
So many leads into the future
Except that precedent existed well before nomination eve of June 14, 2018. It has been with us since those heady days of 1979/80. Why would it not instruct the Alliance’s strategy well before eve of nomination? Surely the wish was not to unsettle a voter through last minute logo changes? Of course not. The hope was for victory in the courts, but which did not come to pass, forcing this rather weird fall-back on both shards of the original MDC-T. So, no flimsy rationalisation Mister Lawyer. You dragged a crisis right into the wee hours of nomination. And to say that is not to blame you; it is simply to highlight how intractable the problems besetting your Alliance are, and how you have simply papered over the cracks for now. It is also to raise leading questions for future problems set to dog the party.
Consider this: Mwonzora leads the party legal counsel, and this after Gutu’s angry departure. How does it happen that this precedent is not drawn to the attention of the president of “the party of excellence”, himself a legal graduand still at pupilage stage? To bleed the party sufficiently before it is trounced in the July elections of course. And is it not interesting that Chamisa opts to Jameson Timba as his election agent, and not Mwonzora the lawyer? Not even Welshman Ncube, another professorial lawyer, but one utterly unable to command the loyalty of his former Secretary General, lady Priscilla Misihairabwi, who morphs as the agent for Thokozani Khupe, herself Ncube’s I-can’t-see-you-enemy?
Worry about the “vanguards”
I don’t think the full meaning of decisions and deployments that have been made in the Opposition camp in the last 24 hours have been well digested by those concerned for the common man’s appreciation and understanding. This column warned that the MDC factions would cart their conflicts right onto the doorstep of the nomination courts. That has since come to pass. What the column did not and could not have foreseen was that so, too, would they carry their violent cast and tendencies to the same venue! That is a first for the MDC.
A first which must worry the law enforcement agents. The fact of daring elements of the so-called “vanguards” visiting violence on opponents — both inside and outside the Alliance — right through to doorsteps of courts of law, portents a given-ness to violence which must worry all of us. What will early August be like, when defeat is served the MDC? We have been pushing for the security forces to make assurances that the results of free and fair elections will be allowed to obtain. Haven’t we been placing our worries into the wrong basket? I suggest we have been, which is why we must brace for this other one
No fattest cow for prodigals
Secondly, this column intimated that for the MDC-T, one key take-away from the successive opinion polls was the sheer numerical insignificance of the other “parties” in the “Alliance”. The column went further: it warned that the MDC-T would grab all the seats for its own aspirants, themselves already industrially more than available seats anyway! To do otherwise, the column added, would amount to giving away those seats to Zanu-PF without a fight. And all that on a good day. On a bad day, such a decision would have run contrary to the MDC-T’s original strategy, namely ensuring it rounded up all those little parties into one “alliance” all for propaganda purposes, but without ceding one fraction of ground to the same.
That was MT’s strategy from the very beginning; that became NC’s inherited strategy ever since MT’s demise. It just does not make sense for a party to slaughter the fattest cow for the return of its prodigals. That only happens in the Bible. Or to leave 99 sheep in order to look for one that has strayed, again only possible in the Bible. So both the prodigals and the anorexic parties are crying foul, feeling hard done by all the way to defeat. Except Kumbula should have done a Ndabaningi on Chamisa, thereby forcing Chamisa to drop the new name! Slow thinking politicians!
What’s in a name?
Of course what this column did not foresee was that the MDC-C would go a little further by grabbing the word “Alliance” to append it to itself, in the wake of the intractable legal imbroglio involving the doughty Khupe. So MDC Alliance is now the full name of a political party led by one Nelson Chamisa, which means the word “alliance” is no longer a compositional epithet! It now is the fully registered name of HIS party! Give it to the young politician, it is stroke of immediate political genius, but of course one set to bleed him in the long run. I said a stroke of political genius. Here is how. Firstly, Chamisa has been able to create a “new” party without being trammelled by issues of history. And for the MDC, history is Morgan Tsvangirai: his person and his controversial decisions that won’t die with him. Chamisa used little parties as tactical building blocs to stave off questions of history arising from the party which Tsvangirai founded, (mis)led and finally left unattended.
Skilfully, he used the Khupe legal challenge to create a sense of crisis in the party so as to whip everyone into line in the wake of his pre-conceived, unilateral decisions for a well-calculated endgame, post Tsvangirai. Without a resolution to the contested name of the party one short day before nomination, who in his party would begrudge the young man for rescuing the party by re-naming it for nomination purposes? And renaming it without going through the legitimising levers and processes of the party? And to query that renaming without suggesting you are aiding and abetting Zanu-PF through securing a disqualification for the “party of excellence”? In which case the “vanguards” would have paid you a visit! What’s in a name? They shall soon see! In any event, Chamisa detonated the naming crisis at the most opportune hour, when everyone was engrossed with sorting out the nomination and registration mess nursed from deliberately unresolved party primaries. Who cared about renaming the party? There is never a better time to suspend expensive consultations and consensus-building than to engineer or let flow a crisis until near-judgment day! That was deft.
With the way so open
Here are the implications for the original MDC political Nimrods (Ncube, Khupe and Biti), and of course poor Mudzuri and Mwonzora who chose to stay on. The issue of Tsvangirai’s MDC no longer arises. There is now a new party, a new leader and, who knows, a new way of doing political things! Including new organs, new procedures, new mores and most likely new names! Mudzuri cannot batten on late Tsvangirai’s surprise appointment last year. It no longer holds. The Nimrods can no longer use their nominal status as leaders of parties, however dead, as some leverage to lay claims on shared leadership from Chamisa and his MDC Alliance (without quotation marks!).
The “Alliance” which was useful for campaigning, which required seat and power sharing, died just before nomination day when MDC Alliance sprouted from the “crisis” which Thokozoni Khupe brought about, and from which Chamisa, braving hot tongs, pulled it! That makes pre-election MDC another country! That leaves the young man firmly in the saddle, a whole future open for his cutting like the proverbial oyster. Forget about the December congress and with it, all the hopes the likes of Mwonzora and Biti nursed. I wonder how many in the defunct MDC-T a.k.a. MDC “Alliance” saw that and still see this. The way is clear for a Chamisa to survive an ED defeat, and still to offer himself yet again in 2023 for another defeat. But of course 2023 is a long way off, which is why immediate gains might not pass for prudence in the long run. After all we are all dead in the long run, is that not so?
The world in grains of sand
So why glacial when in fact we seem to be dealing with the hot and fast? I have been re-reading Eric Hobsbawn’s “The Age of Capital.” I recommend it, as indeed I also recommend his other “Ages”: of Revolution, of Empire and of Extremes. The Age of Capital marks off the period 1848 up to about 1873 when the first Great Depression set in. Hobsbawn sets that period against that from about 1789 to about 1848, which he termed the age of revolution. All that is quite basic to any historian. What is not basic is his key observation that preceding the age of capital was a two-track revolution: one which was political and was represented by the French Revolution, including its cataclysmic reverberations throughout Europe; the other was industrial, led by Britain and marked by great scientific and organizational breakthroughs which laid a foundation for the age of capital, also known as the age of “progress”.
Hobsbawn pushes the argument a critical stage further: by 1848 the political side of this dual revolution had greatly lessened, to give a more preponderant play to the revolution of capitalism which dramatically restructured the whole world to what it is today. Capitalism knew how to trigger planetary changes; it also knew how to buy off social revolutions thereby ensuring the western world would never know any more political upheavals until about 1914. All these are very broad points enabled by hindsight, which is why Hobsbawn is not such a great genius, much as he is a good read. For me his greatness as an historian lies in how he was able — using the benefit of hindsight of course — to re-interpret mundane occurrences of that period to which historians had not given sufficient attention and accent, all to show a gathering age when it was too early to recognise or read it. He thus trains all of to see the world in a grain of sand, so to speak.
The new glacial movement
Between November last year and now, Zimbabwe has witnessed a number of developments whose full import and significance I very much doubt are fully grasped. The “grains” of this six-months period are the following: time itself; the military operation dubbed “restore legacy”; the resignation of a founder leader; the rise of ED Mnagagwa; the death of a “founder” post-independence opposition leader; and the July 30 2018 harmonized elections on the back of the so-called “new dispensation”. These are the many “grains” from which to read “the world”.
Yet many are happy to see the grains only, without seeing an epoch that has just set in, and which we are fated to live for quite some time to come. The outcome is likely to be a whole new world, one quite different from what we have seen, lived, or witnessed before, a world far different from one which we begun on 18th April, 1980. But its advent is quiet, imperceptible, its movement no less quiet and invisible. Hence the glacial metaphor I have invoked to mark off what precedes it, and to mischaracterise the long, uneventful movement which has already begun, and which is set to continue for decades to come.
Let us make this analysis easier to digest: in history, Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai will — as they should — be treated as one dialectical unity comprising a thesis/antithesis. From the resolution of this dialectic has emerged a new, higher state of being which we now need to grasp and understand, if we are to “live” it and in it better. What most Zimbabweans did not see or detect was that both characters personified an inexorable but parallel set of crises: one in the ruling Party; the other in the Opposition, but both united in perplexities of aiding and abetting nationalism, or resisting and opposing it in the age of intrusive western neo-liberalism of Blair and Bush.
Both perplexities resolved themselves through the retirement of both men: one in this life, the other from this life. It is not so much their lives, as it is the roles they played when they lived. And interestingly both laid claim to politics of national liberation, with Tsvangirai claiming them through a new-liberal, pro-western agenda; while Mugabe owned them by example, land agenda and anti-western rhetoric. Both appeared formidable in their respective spheres, with incidental successes belying growing crises that would “eat” them in the end: successful 2008 for Tsvangirai which spelt disaster in 2013; successful 2013 for Mugabe which sealed his fate in 2017. The amazing thing is why both bowed out when both seemed at their strongest (in the case of Mugabe), or appeared to be recovering (in the case of Tsvangirai). That warns us against seeing “grains”, and not “the world”.
Gains and griefs in equal measure
Interestingly, both faced challenges from within their respective parties at a time when their leadership was ripe for succession, but which both would not acknowledge. While many may think they handled succession differently, in reality they (mis)handled it in very similar ways. Both believed they owned their respective parties, which is why they failed to see gathering storms for leadership changes. Both rejected their natural successors, while whimsically seeking to impose their preferences on both their parties and on a society tired of them. In the end, both lost the capacity and legitimacy to manage processes of succession and with it, the worlds they would have secured.
Beyond all this, both are markers of a certain type of politics which while different and diametrically opposed, stemmed from the common sensibility of liberation and nationalism. Which means their respective departures were bound to trigger or presage epochal changes in the country. Which means, too, their disappearance from the scene was bound to trigger or presage realignment of forces, whether local or international, to yield new dynamics. And the gains or grief from that realignment would be borne, enjoyed or suffered by their reviled and un-anointed successors. Illustratively, Mugabe retired with his anti-western rhetoric and hostilities; Tsvangirai died with his pro-western sponsorship and alliances. Gentle reader, I leave you to apportion gains and griefs on the two men’s successors.
When the difference is the same
The two men’s different departures not just ended a certain era of peculiar conflicts and adversarial politics which each personified; their departure left everyone — at home and abroad — scrambling for new templates, new relationships and new visions. November 17 buried the abrasive, anti-western, nationally polarising nationalism. February 14 ended pro-western, pro-sanctions, anti-liberation, anti-nation politics which had driven Tsvangirai formally from 1999. What to replace both with was the great question which Mugabe and Tsvangirai’s successors faced.
As it turned out, to the elder successor fell much of the burden, with young Chamisa only following, only rephrasing ED’s path-breaking vision. Check and compare ZANU-PF and MDC-Alliance manifestos and tell me what you see beyond sheer stylistic differences. We are in an era of converged politics, which is why terms, slogans and nomenclatures are being used interchangeably. Which is not to suggest both parties are now the same. Far from it. What ZANU-PF has authored, MDC Alliance has since pilfered. What Zanu-PF bled for and passed on as a legacy, MDC Alliance now seeks to embrace and better. For ED it is to embrace while redefining the national liberation project, but of course without being held hostage by proclivities of his predecessor.
He has to engage and re-engage the world anew, but springing from ZANU-PF’s tradition as a liberation movement. Here at home he has to open the democratic space, but without risking drowning the liberation Project which he inherited. Here at home, too, he has to restate the national question towards economic recovery and growth, but without putting his back on the ethos of nationalism which reared him. Above all, here at home, he has to reunite a broken Nation, but without compromising on the ideals of the struggle. To re-engage, re-unite, recover and reopen the democratic space: that is his agenda.
A referendum, not an election
In all this, young Chamisa can only follow and ape. He cannot initiate anything, except to cleanse the MDC he inherited of the quisling status he inherited from Tsvangirai. He can’t even keep the western alliance which funded Tsvangirai, for it now has been bracketed in by ED’s “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra which was invented before Chamisa came onto the scene. Which means Chamisa can only be a good aide and son to what ED has initiated.
Which is why he cannot be elected just now. And as the three results from as many opinion polls have correctly shown, the key question facing Zimbabwe as it goes to the polls is not which party to elect to govern; rather, this is a referendum on whether or not Zimbabwe is now going in the right direction. And on that one, the poll results show Inter-party dichotomies don’t matter anymore. Chamisa who carries below 30 percent of the vote, suffers a pro-ED sentiment from his own party on the-country-is-going-in-the-right-direction question. That, potentially is a swing vote, which is why a Chamisa whitewash is most probable.
Death of party politics
All of which is to say? Well, that while the notion of “a new dispensation” is good for electoral marketing and electoral politics, it is quite inept as a conceptual or analytical construct which historians and social scientists can use or rely on for serious analyses. After all, it hardly differentiates the two main competitors for office. Chamisa could very well claim and use it. Of course ED needed it to free himself from Mugabe’s mixed legacy. To reposition himself against his predecessor, in other words. But the reality is that ED’s time has ushered in Zimbabwe’s Second Republic, something broader than ED the person, or ZANU-PF the party. After all, nearly four decades is long enough a time for an epoch or its closure.
In that sense time, too, is a grain of sand from which to see the world. Looking in the crystal ball, Zimbabwe after July 30 will pass for a highly de-politicized Nation. There is likely to be a net swing to wealth-creation and the founding of a technocratic ethos which it needs to underpin that swing. Many things will be converged, with old dichotomies of politics melting or giving way to new fusions . Whether this means the death of MDC Alliance as a party, I can’t quite say. But one thing for certain is that we will not have the 128-plus parties in 2023. Not even 23 presidential aspirants. The current extravagant numbers belie the looming death of party politics as we have had them before. Such is the slow glacial drift beneath the quick sand of current political hullabaloo.