Moyo's second coming: the implications

WHEN Jonathan Moyo was relieved of his cabinet post and booted out of Zanu PF in 2005, the news was greeted with a cacophony of mirth and political schadenfreude. Understandably, the opposition and civic society were parsimonious with their sympathy.\r\n

The dictator’s most notorious henchman had finally got his comeuppance and Moyo’s detractors savoured their poetic revenge. 

Moyo was the architect of his own downfall. His growing stature within the party imbued him with delusions of grandeur that he started to think of himself as a kingmaker. He was fingered as the convenor of a clandestine rendezvous in his hometown of Tsholotsho where delegates dared to discuss the taboo subject of succession.

If the principles outlined in the Tsholotsho Declaration adopted at that abortive meeting had seen the light of day, Emmerson Mnangagwa would have been elevated to the vice-presidency with a view to eventually taking over the presidential reins from Mugabe unmolested.

Mugabe, whose preferred choice of deputy was Joyce Mujuru, the incumbent, was positively apoplectic. Moyo paid with his Zanu PF career while his ‘core-conspirators’ copped bans deemed commensurate with their indiscretions.

In a bid to prove that those involved had done nothing wrong, Moyo set about demystifying the ‘Tsholotsho revolt’, systematically stripping it of its cloak-and-dagger veneer. The Tsholotsho Declaration was not the spawn of a one-off surreptitious encounter, but a series of meetings by Zanu PF provincial chairmen and other party functionaries, he argued. The meeting were all above board, ergo there was no conspiracy, the erstwhile Information and Publicity Minister said.

Moyo harboured a deep sense of aggrievement and believed that he had unfairly carried the can for the alleged plot to oust Mugabe. As soon as his fate was sealed, and before the ink was even dry on his letter of dismissal, he turned on his former master and the party he used to call home with the fury of a vengeful scorned lover. With a series of articles, Moyo launched a vicious and sustained bare-knuckle attack on the regime, his sharpest tongue reserved for His Excellency.

In one article, making the case for the ‘Third Way’ as a viable option for dragging the country out of the morass it found itself in, Moyo opined that, “that Mugabe must now go is thus no longer a dismissible opposition slogan but a strategic necessity that desperately needs urgent legal and constitutional action…”. He decried the president’s dictatorial propensities, noting that Mugabe was “a rhetorical nationalist who does not want to see democracy anywhere near him”. Another withering appraisal of the president and his minions was prefaced with the question: “Is Robert Mugabe an ethnic bigot masquerading as a nationalist?” Moyo’s answer to that question was, ‘yes’.

Here was a man who was systematically incinerating his bridges. Surely there was no way back for him now, was there? At least that’s what most of us thought.

Back in Zanu PF fold

Five years on Moyo was back in the Zanu PF fold. A little over a year later, late in December 2010, he was restored to the party’s inner sanctum, the politburo. It is a remarkable turnaround in the political fortunes of a man, who while wallowing in his banishment, had lamented that, “Mugabe is now leader of a shelf political party that exists only in name”. Moyo is now back, firmly ensconced in the party he routinely pilloried.

So, what can we glean from Moyo’s political metamorphosis and his return to the big time?

Perhaps the most obvious observation is that Mugabe has taken the pragmatic decision that he would rather have Moyo inside the Zanu PF tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.

However, a vital clue to deciphering Mugabe’s motives for taking Moyo to his bosom again is in the timing of the gesture. Bringing Moyo back in the reckoning is a statement of intent. The Commander-in-Chief is assembling his juggernaut for the battles on the horizon. Combining streetwise pugnacious instincts with the intellectual wherewithal to thrive in a political pressure cauldron, Moyo is the identikit henchman Mugabe needs to champion his bid to reclaim swathes of political turf ceded to the opposition.

Mugabe expunging Moyo’s record is therefore not the unprecedented act of magnanimity it has been simplistically portrayed as in some quarters. Zimbabwe’s Dear Leader did not pluck Moyo from political ignominy out of the goodness of his heart. He is happy to tolerate Moyo’s maverick instincts and fast-track him back into key party structures because he is keenly aware of the special talents the professor brings to the table.

One of Mugabe’s eureka moments as he pondered fight-back strategies in the immediate aftermath of the chastening constitutional referendum defeat in 2000 was the appointment of Moyo as the party’s chief propagandist. Moyo came in, blew the ashes off the dying embers before loading fresh coals into the Zanu PF furnace. Zanu PF dusted itself down and Moyo would go on to preside over the seismic shift in the country’s media landscape, ushering in a repressive regime.

Moyo deserves grudging respect from his detractors for his part in helping Zanu PF reinvent itself, by means fair and foul. The suggestion that either of the MDC factions could have done worse than try to lure him to their ranks while he was out in the cold is not as absurd as it sounds. Notwithstanding his well-documented vices, Moyo is a useful tool. His Zanu PF record speaks for itself. He is loathed for a reason.

What is clear is that Zanu PF and Moyo need each other. By my reckoning the party was poorer for the expulsion of arguably its most effective cadre of the last decade. Moyo’s ruthless streak and his deviously brilliant mind make him a perfect fit for Zanu PF’s preferred modus operandi. Reciprocally, a party of Zanu-PF’s historical stature, although ravaged by the vicissitudes of time and the nefarious propensities of its leaders, is the sort of high profile stage Moyo’s rapacious political ambitions crave.

The MDC will do well to heed the warning signs and start forging strategies to mitigate the inevitable. A cursory survey of the lie of the Zimbabwe political landscape suggests that Moyo is primed to reprise his role as the regime’s enforcer-in-chief, a task he took to with some alacrity and performed with remorseless efficiency from the day he was hired up until the day he was fired. There will be a sense of unfinished business.

We can therefore expect, among other things, the voices of those who have been calling for an early election — and Moyo is one of them — to be amplified and the position to gain purchase within Zanu PF. To that end, we can also reasonably expect that there will be deliberate stirring of the pot, with the likes of Moyo accentuating the fissures in the power-sharing government in a bid to prove that an already uneasy coexistence has become untenable. Talk of renewal of the power-sharing deal when it expires in February is unlikely to gain any traction in the Mugabe camp.

The Greek philosopher Plato, pondering ways of winning the minds of the people (propaganda), wondered “if we could contrive…some magnificent myth that would in itself carry conviction to our whole community".

Plato’s poser above speaks to the challenge facing Moyo and Zanu PF at the minute. I wonder what myth they will contrive, what nationalist agenda they will manufacture this time, around which to rally the masses ahead of the elections.

Ncube is the managing editor of TEAMtalk Media Group SA. This article was originally published in the Mail & Guardian. He writers in his personal capacity