NATHANIEL MANHERU: MOUs: When curiosity bended the porcupine’s spikes
The Other Side Nathaniel Manheru—
For me the important thing about the so-called memoranda of understanding signed between Morgan Tsvangirai on the one hand, and separately Joice Mujuru and Welshman Ncube on the other, was the cast in the set. I caught sight of Timba, himself a rare sight after so long. He is alive after all, at the very least well enough to be in attendance, and pinioned behind Nelson Chamisa, now his vice-president and senior. He was a bit too far for me to assess his disposition vis-a-vis his erstwhile peer’s elevation and new-found role.
All the same welcome back Timba, the little one! Outside that, I am not so sure what else happened that was worthy of notice in the scenes captured in those consecutive days, much as there is a lot worthy of commentary. There is no mistaking that the intended political effect was conjectured as incremental, indeed calculated to conjure fear in the ruling Zanu-PF. I hope that was achieved.
Behold the Prince of Cumberland!
Regarding the first cast, which was the Tsvangirai-Mujuru scene, one noticed a disinterested Chamisa who seemed more concerned about preening himself for an impeccable television demeanour and appearance than about the charade that went on beneath his sights.
He was shifty, very near to contemptuous laughter by way of sneaking disposition. Still he possessed himself admirably well, thus putting on an act of rehearsed diligence. A key attribute in the drama of politics where the dress matters more than the being inside it.
In reality he saw a wider audience, envisioned faraway goals, than the childish, even stultifying drama that irritated his sense of bourne and ambition. Had he read Elizabethan literature, he would have retorted: “The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step/On which I must fall down or else o’erleap/For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires/Let not light see my black and deep desires.”
Who the Prince of Cumberland is need no guessing, knowing as we do that King Duncan is dead — well, almost — politically dead. The young vice only glowed when Tsvangirai mentioned the youth, in the process betraying a glint of proprietorship that said, yea, I own and command them; I am the future. What the hell are you still doing here, when I have since become bearded, and old enough to take over . . ? I chuckled.
Onward non-believer, onward!
Tsvangirai rumbled on, but picking his written words most carefully. And when it comes to political communication, reading a tightly worded text is significant: you want to be accurate; to be proper, to stay meticulously within the set line.
You cannot afford to be spontaneous, expressive, effusive and unguarded. This was an MOU after all, itself a precursor to a possible agreement. It had to be got right. So give it to him, he was proper, accurate. But take it away from him in that he accentuated — not allayed — doubts on the future or feasibility of the whole thing. A non-believer’s journey, as Stanley Nyamufukudza would say.
If only it was a dress
As for Joice, aah, I don’t know where to begin and what to say really. At a very elementary level, she must tell her minions — Mavhaire and Mvundura — tell them what appearing in front of cameras entail by way of dress code.
The camera is about colours, and there are rules to be obeyed when in front of it. Kwete kungoti mvoto, ndiye kwindi nemakwapamakwapa kunge mbizi kudaro. But then, why am I being irreverent to the zebra, that majestic creature? Pardon me, Manjenjenje, ganda revasikana; it is these bipeds who seek to ape your bi-coloured refulgence; they fire my anger, these miserable beings who end up mere clownish parodies of your grand majesty! Mavhaire, did you see him.
Dropping a chameleon on his crocheted garment would have been fatal to the chameleon, itself a highly adaptable creature; it would not know which colour to take after, and would most certainly collapse into an indefinite swoon in the face of a multi-coloured puzzle! Was it a political identity statement? But back to the lady.
Calculation versus spontaneity
She spoke off-the-cuff, which is to be commended. But a gallant failure it was. The queen’s language presents a stiff challenge to her, indefatigable though her efforts to bridle it may be. But she came across as sincere, as spontaneous and thus as more real, if not naive.
What she did not have was a grip on expression, much worse on truth, the more so in respect of a step of such obvious legal import, in respect of an act in a discipline of such convoluted showmanship. From her, one could not tell whether what had just been signed was an MOU or an agreement.
She used both terms interchangeably, in the process either betraying desperation, or little understanding of concepts to capture what had just happened. Not both, hopefully! That made her doubly vulnerable to the equally simple Tsvangirai, only better surrounded and driven by a set of wily advisors.
I would not have taken the trouble to make all these observations had there not been further communication after the signing scene. Further developments, too.
Saved, but not serving Tsvangirai
Presumably after some epiphany, Mai Mujuru quickly organised a phoner with ZimEye. It was elaborate, a very elaborate interchange. In that interview, she made it clear she was not ready to serve under Tsvangirai, let alone serve Zimbabwe in the capacity of a minister of a hypothetical government arising from an equally hypothetically victorious opposition, come 2018. She stressed she would rather retire to “her” farm, and resume a quiet, private life, if that is what Zimbabweans wanted her to do.
It did not make sense, she emphasised soon after emitting a contemptuous chuckle, for her to become a minister after she had been a whole vice president of the country; it did not make sense to crowd out first-time ministers in their maiden aspirations. Quite a fair point, defensible even. I know no god who aspires to be mere man. Better still a goddess who aspires to be mere woman.
When spikes don’t save a porcupine
She made another point. She would not be rushed into “agreements” before her party, the National People’s Party, has structures that would put it at par with MDC-T which has been around for seventeen years. She needed to be taken seriously. Hear that? Add to that an indication from Tsvangirai that the MOU is the beginning of more work towards greater unity, more work with other parties, more work towards preparing ground for a post-election GNU!
I don’t know how you reckon political distance in your own estimate. Whether you do it in ounces, in miles or in horse rides — as did Rhodesians as they parcelled our land to each and one another. But I challenge you to work out for yourself the import and distance of what happened in that room when those two elders met.
How far apart they were in that show of closeness. One had a prepared text, which meant a better grip on the pseudo-event of the day. The other formulated her thoughts as she delivered them, which meant a bit of an upstaged surprise. And a perturbation, when read against the ZimEye interview that followed soon after. And of course a greater perturbation given the other MOU that would come a day later, featuring Welshman Ncube, Tsvangirai’s old pal.
You can imagine how well played the encirclement game was. The spiked porcupine is vulnerable after all, when pitted against the beguiling python. For much more lethal to it is curiosity, not the bite.
Guilt so evenly distributed
The MOU with Welshman is what Tsvangirai’s wily advisors needed to manage Mujuru’s ebullience. From the joy of none-suchness, Mujuru today is a holder of a signed MOU, quite mundane, one of the two so far, one of the many most likely. That removes the novelty, and with it, the value. I need to dispose of Welshman Ncube, the other actor in the scene that followed.
He came alone; might as well have! Politically, I have not seen him since 2013, even though there were rumours, not signs, of his existence when he fell out with that other guy who went tribal politically. What’s his name? Welshman even tried to run a column in the newspapers, all to contrive a whisper from the political graveyard.
That, too, vanished, for he soon burned out. Like law, politics seems to have a limited vocabulary. And being a law professor, his appearance in such a threadbare cast added to my amusement. He knows the emptiness of the document he signed, except as a pretext for going into the atrium for an impassioned confession.
Mea culpa, mea culpa: we divided the opposition in 2005, when we should not have. We, too, are sorry, came a matching confession from Tsvangirai, a concurrent development that ensured guilt was evenly distributed, and thus much easier to bear. We know who the stronger party in the whole equation is; we know, too, who needed to come from the wilderness, executing the forlorn gaiety of a prodigal son.
That suited Welshman and, hopefully, serves him well going politically forward. From the point of view of his ego, the MOU made him an equivalent of Joice Mujuru, his whole Vice President in the GNU days. As for Save, an induced master-stroke: a contrite Welshman won back at little ego-cost; a haughty Mujuru reined in, and cleverly offset! Both in one stroke, sorry, both in two signatures, two MOUs, in two days. So what? Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow, so opined the falling Macbeth, when the passage of time measured insipid, uneventfully tasteless.
Where small planets orbited
Gentle reader, you notice I spoke of scenes, not acts. I was being exact. For what we saw in the intervening two activities, and in as many days, were mere scenes around one actor: Morgan Tsvangirai. First, with Joice, Chamisa and company in attendance.
Second, with Ncube, Chamisa and company still in attendance. It was only Komichi who had improved his appalling dress code, somewhat. Role-wise, Joice and Welshman were stampeded by the MDC-T for accommodation, somewhat. Joice got there first, victory, nay, history of sorts. Maybe second, third, or fourth, well after Evan Mawarire, Biti and Dead-moss Mutasa.
That nothing was signed on that day NERA paraded itself miserably; on that day that Tsvangirai was endorsed; or that something then got signed when Joice and Welshman finally came in, makes no difference at all, except of course in the degree of scorn and laughter which both events trigger. The winner within the overall loss was of course Tsvangirai.
For electorally, both events count for nothing. Tsvangirai knows it. It did not matter that Joice later retracted the letter and spirit of the MOU; that Mutasa did the same through Rugare Gumbo (it’s another emerging story!); that Biti did it by shouting the politically impersonal “Amandla” at the NERA meeting.
The issue is Tsvangirai became the dim moon, the firmament, around which the rest of the small planets orbited. Maybe big enough trophy for some yodelling. That is what he probably needed before he slouches to the graveyard, politically, that is. He can now rest with a clear conscience: that the opposition he once divided, he has since stitched together again, reunited once more, well before bowing out.
To what end, well, that is rather too much to ask. He has done his bit. Let’s rest him, which is what Mugabe and his Zanu-PF will soon do in 2018. And when Zanu-PF hands him defeat in 2018, followed by his bowing out of active politics to spend more time listening to his aching bones, he can always say, I left everyone in the opposition united, with those still hopeful evenly placed on the start-off line. That far, he must be praised, honoured even.
Already chewing before penning
In between those thin scenes detailed above rang rumblings of dissent and derision from within the opposition, from within Tsvangirai’s party especially. And for me that is how non-events of the past two days should be measured: namely to what extent those two MOUs have damaged the unity and cohesion in the MDC-T firstly, damaged unity and cohesion in opposition ranks secondly.
We already know what they, or the sheer prospect of them, did to NPP. We now have a whole lawyer
huddled in a wheelchair, kneecap dangling loose. We now have the other Mawarire out, and in the cold, hoping for a second coming through the political NGO sector. In respect of MDC-T, the game is just beginning to unravel, depending of course on how far organisationally Tsvangirai means to take the two MOUs, and a couple more set to come.
There will be a dogfight for positions. It is like succession in chieftainship. When that time comes, the whole village gets to know what sooted eaves have always hid from view. The village will get to know who the true scion is, who the fawning bastard has been. You don’t sit in the chair of chieftainship, dangle the metallic half-moon, unless you belong: uri vohwo!
If you are the proverbial shaft of grass the calves came chewing into the kraal, then, not only will the throne be denied you; you will also get to know your true totem. Whichever way, we are unlikely to have a single opposition candidate for presidency; that is highly unlikely, whatever opaqueness and unpredictability is being contrived.
The best we can hope for is for other parties not to field presidential candidates, which is not quite the same as fielding one presidential candidate. We had a bit of that in 2013, when Makoni receded to a constituency, while being indifferent to the fate of Tsvangirai in the latter’s lopsided tussle with one Robert Mugabe.
Fielding one candidate is much more than not putting yourself forward as one; it is making a commitment to one. Of course the hope for the opposition lies in a Zanu-PF which splits its vote. Or which fails to rouse its vote thus giving rise to the need for a re-run.
Were that to happen — and it won’t — the elusive grand coalition will come of its own. A necessity, not a contrivance. But as I said, we won’t go that far.
Belonging subconsciously ventilated
Let’s exhaust the significance of what happened a few days ago, exhaust what might happen again in the few days to come. Inescapable is the fact of self-created dilemmas which the opposition continues to throw up itself at every stage. I mean is it not ridiculous that Joice Mujuru pitches for a higher-than-vice presidency post in the grand coalition by citing what she was in Zanu-PF under President Robert Mugabe? Does that not imply the validity of her tenure, indeed imply her culpability in what she claims were “slavery” years spanning a whole 36 years under President Mugabe? Surely the more than three decades you say Zimbabwe must quickly forget about, you say Zimbabweans must mobilise to supersede, must overwrite and be redeemed from now, could not have yielded the sum total of sumptuous experience on the strength of which you justify your claim to the highest sphere of leadership? How do selfsame lost decades yield and win you valid leadership credentials on the strength of which you stake a leadership claim, whether now and into the future? And those years envelop the year 2008 in which your political partner claims pilfered victory? How did your leadership credentials escape the blight? How do you mark a fresh marriage when your monologues are filled with the joys of your ex? It is called a sustained sense of belonging, only subconsciously ventilated. After all who ever leaves Zanu-PF? Ini mwii zvangu.
Stale 2008, GNU
For Tsvangirai, the logic is even more despairing. He keeps adverting to 2008, while presenting and priding himself as the country’s prime minister during the GNU era. For him, the GNU was a rare interregnum of sound stewardship and economic recovery under him. Proof that he can take this country forward. Fair enough. Today, he argues, things have regressed to the nadir, all because Zanu-PF has squandered the gains made under GNU. Biti argues the same, in his case seeking, Rambo-like, to ascribe that alleged transfiguration to himself as Finance minister. The best there ever was, on the whole continent! Here then comes the paradox. Does this whole argument not render 2008 stale and nugatory as a political marker, assuming we are generous enough to grand Tsvangirai and his crew this self-serving interpretation of GNU?
And if GNU was such a salutary development which owed to MDC goodness, and for which Zimbabweans are truly grateful, even hunger after, why did 2013 happen? I know the opposition refrain: another stolen poll! Well, if so, why did it not trigger the same or similar intervention from MDC supporters, from SADC, and from the West? MDC supporters were enervated; SADC endorsed the elections; EU endorsed the outcome by being divided, and subsequently by lifting most of the sanctions. Only America stuck hard and immovable, which is what made its position peculiarly spiteful, ideological and thus discredited. Even America shifted somewhat.
Beholden to its peers
I mean if there is anything to learn from 2008, it is that the opposition strength cannot be ignored; that it will always show itself where there is good grounds for it. And that Zanu-PF is not beyond compromise especially where it’s claims to legitimacy is put in doubt by its reviewing peers. Zanu-PF incurably seeks to be in the good graces of its Sadc partners, especially ex-liberation movements. They are the ones who shifted it in 2008, indeed the ones who could have shifted it in 2013, if there was cause for it. In the event, there was none. So to have to knead an argument that skips a whole political phase we call the GNU and its aftermath, during which MDC-T not only disastrously squandered and shed the political benefit of the doubt, a development subsequently confirmed through a massive poor electoral showing in 2013, is not just a poor political argument; it is utter self-deceit not very different from suckling dreams in adulthood.
Licking the salt-pan or own urine?
Or the other variant argument where MDC-T supporters opposed to the unravelling Mujuru pact use her Bikita West by-election loss to dismiss her as politically valueless, while at the same time licking the convenient saccharine lump and bogey of 2008. I mean how does a villainous Zanu-PF which stole your victory in 2008, then righteously beat for your edification and for your forward-argument an unwanted, solicitous partner to the grand alliance, beat her in a by-election held under the same circumstances as in 2017?
The hand that traditionally steals morphs into a useful cudgel for battering your opposition cousin-opponent, one umbilically co-joined to you under NERA? And for you how does the righteous beater of Mujuru in Bikita West become an out-and-out electoral cheat in futuristic 2018 which is still to happen, simply because you have decided to drop your NERA-induced boycott? And why drop NERA through resumed participation and contest against the same foe against whom you had raised NERA in the first place? And drop the boycott after securing not an iota of changes you desire?
Indeed such was the argument raised by an MDC-T’s high profile official from Matabeleland when he asked how adding another layer of contradictions packaged as “grand coalition”, cures Zanu-PF’s alleged electoral malfeasances. More damning, the devastating argument implied in the joint guilt-stock of Tsvangirai and Welshman which by their own confession cost them opposition victory in the past. Which is why the grand-alliance, not the ductile NERA, seems the sure panacea to another abysmal performance in 2018!
Clearly 2008 is a salt-pan for the opposition — gokoro rine gowa — to which a whole herd troops back to drink and delightfully lick to revalorise declining appetite, but while caking and soiling the anterior of the salt-pan. What is not clear is whether what is being joyfully licked is the natural salt or own urine. My robust metaphor or analogy must make sense to you if you have been a herdsman before, indeed must trigger nostalgic feelings of home if you are in the diaspora. And I raise these key arguments because they will not go away.
If anything, the political charade of a few days that’s gone by only served to put them into sharper relief. And we will raise them with greater insistence as 2018 nears. I can’t just repose my trust in politicians whose thinking is so muddled up, surely?