JIM Kunaka comfortably sits on a reclining chair that looks as if it is about to swallow him because of his small frame.
Feeling at home in his opulent and flashy office in Harare’s central business district, Kunaka — a former Harare City Council security guard — is one of many others in the ruling ZANU-PF party who rose to fame because of their political connections.
Adjusting the temperature of the air conditioner using a remote control, Kunaka exalts his party ZANU-PF for giving him a second chance after he was chucked out in 2014 for hobnobbing with former vice president Joice Mujuru and plotting to topple President Robert Mugabe from power.
“I am a product of ZANU PF. The ruling party made me who I am,” he said.
Kunaka’s return to ZANU-PF surprised many.
On being dismissed from the party, he had labelled ZANU-PF a cult, and pleaded with Zimbabweans to forgive him for his part in terrorising residents of Mbare as leader of the notorious gang called Chipangano.
“I was the political violence master when I was in ZANU-PF, but what I want people to know today is that when you join a cult, you behave like the people in that cult. People understand and forgive me,” he was quoted saying back then.
“There was Saul in the Bible, he was a serious murderer, but at the end he changed and became Paul and started preaching the gospel. So I was Saul and I am now Paul, I am preaching the gospel of peace in Zimbabwe”.
As Italian Renaissance era historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer Niccolo Machiavelli once put it, “politics have no relation to morals”.
Politicians are only loyal to their interests hence they have no permanent friends or enemies.
Today’s friend may become a foe the next day and vice-versa.
Former Russian president, Vladimir Lenin, expressed it even better when he said: “There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience. A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.”
Across the political divide in Zimbabwe, there have been political turncoats who have changed their loyalty without a grain of shame.
The late Nathan Shamuyarira was a classic political turncoat.
Shamuyarira, whose remains are interred at the national Heroes Acre shrine, dumped ZANU, teamed up with other disgruntled ZAPU cadres to form the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (FROLIZI) in 1971.
He was made secretary for research and finance.
In the book Turmoil and Tenacity, he revealed that FROLIZI was formed because of the revolutionary inadequacies of ZANU and ZAPU.
After failing to attract donors and sympathisers, Shamuyarira crossed back to ZANU where he was appointed director of education in 1977.
Another yesteryear political turncoat was the late Edgar Tekere.
Frustrated by President Robert Mugabe’s bid to turn Zimbabwe into a one party State, he formed the Zimbabwe Unity Movement and ran for presidency in the 1990 general elections.
Tekere failed to dislodge the incumbent and found himself in the political wilderness.
After being frozen out for many years, he bounced back into ZANU-PF, earning himself a place at the National Heroes Acre for his role during the liberation struggle.
Modern day political chameleons include Tertiary and Higher Education Minister, Jonathan Moyo.
Once referred to by some as a serial flip-flopper, Moyo has lived a life of political flip flopping since the 1990s.
From being a sharp-tongued critic of President Mugabe and his party, he somersaulted at the turn of the millennium to become the ruling party’s chief propagandist.
But his flirtation with the ruling party ended in 2005 after he defied the party which had instructed him not stand as an independent candidate in Tsholotsho, a constituency that had been reserved for a woman candidate.
Two years later, the Professor, as he is affectionately known, bounced back into ZANU-PF’s scheme of things in 2007 just before the country’s 2008 harmonised elections.
Moyo’s famous admission that “it was cold out there”, while outside ZANU-PF, probably explains the country’s high number of political turncoats whose list is mighty long.
Political flip-flopping is not only endemic in ZANU-PF, but it has affected opposition political parties as well.
One of the founding members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and former Member of Parliament for St Mary’s, Job Sikhala, is a character that immediately comes to mind.
Social anthropologist, Abel Kapodogo, who wrote a dissertation on the goings on in MDC, made the observation that Sikhala was loved in his constituency, so having seen the political shortcomings of MDC and frustrated by organisational structures, he thought his popularity in his constituency would transform into a national vote, so he formed his own party, MDC 99.
However, now missing the benefits of Parliament and being in MDC, Sikhala found it tough outside these institutions.
“With no companies to employ him and (running) no viable businesses, he realised that he was reaching a dead end. For him to resuscitate his career he had to reach out to his former party. (Morgan) Tsvangirai needed him more because the MDC-T had its own share of problems,” added Kapodogo.
For nine years, Sikhala was in a political wilderness and reduced to a social media politician.
In 2014, he rejoined Tsvangirai’s MDC-T.
Paul Madzore is another politician from the opposition camp who has had his damascene moment.
Together with over a dozen other MDC-T legislators, who had left the party after a crushing defeat of their party by ZANU-PF in the 2013 general elections, Madzore has made his way back to the MDC-T, a party they had accused of dictatorship.
“Indeed I have gone back home (MDC-T). We all make mistakes. I have never been a rich man in all my life. I live a straight life. Yes I struggle like any other normal Zimbabwean, but it is nothing to make a story out of. I resigned and bid farewell to the People’s Democratic Party family. I am a member in the MDC T now. And I am happy to be back home,” said Madzore on his return.
But what exactly motivates politicians to change their shades like a chameleon at the blink of an eye.
Social commentator, Pardon Taodzera, said most of the political turncoats were spurred by institutional frustration.
“If you have noticed these people would have genuine grievances that their institution fails to address. If you take the likes of Shamuyarira and Tekere, they had genuine concerns and when the political party failed to address them, they became rebellious,” he said.
“However, they later found out institutions are always bigger than individuals. That is why some have resolved to make change from within because outside it is cold for them.”
Political analyst, Pedzisai Ruhanya, said the country’s new breed of politicians was being spurred by personal interests rather than national interests, hence the surge in political turncoats.
“Politics is about interests. When politicians leave or join parties, they are putting their individual interests ahead of any national interests. Politicians are very selfish individuals. Contemporary politics is politics of the stomach,” said Ruhanya.
He added that current politicians have no love for their institutions, but they just use them to line their pockets.
“During the war of liberation, we had people who put national interests first ahead of their personal needs such as Herbert Chitepo, Simon Mazorodze and even Robert Mugabe. They were middle class, but they left the comforts of their lives to lead the liberation struggle and in the process putting their lives in danger,” he said.
Ruhanya, however, said that there is a likely possibility that some of the individuals are being sent by the ruling party to infiltrate the opposition.
“In authoritarian rule like that of Zimbabwe, one cannot rule out infiltration. Some individuals are not political turncoats, but spies employed by the ruling party,” he added.
Media Centre director, Ernest Mudzengi, said political turncoats were opportunists, but they were in a good profession because politics is about self aggrandisement.
“Politicians are motivated by individual interests which change from time to time. They may serve people, but only when their egos are serviced. Flip flopping is the art of politics, that is why people who were in ZAPU are now in ZANU PF,” said Mudzengi.
“There are, however, different reasons for political flip flopping between the ruling party and the opposition. In the ruling party, they tend to come back because it means being nearer to the national cake, while in opposition, the individuals would have realised that they can do more with a big opposition party than alone.”