by Ken Mufuka
MY Supreme Brother Mutumwa Mawere has gracefully elevated the debate surrounding events in Zimbabwe to a most delectable level. Allow me, therefore, to piggy back on his contribution and throw some light on the debate from another angle.
The debate in Zimbabwe surrounds an untimely demise of the octogenarian leader who will be 91 years old in February. As days go by, it can be assumed that whoever is the closest in rank at the appropriate time, will initially assume Elijah’s mantle. That person will have a short span of time to consolidate power, and since he will initially assume all the powers bequeathed by his high office, he has a good chance of prolonging his stay therein.
Joice Mujuru was the most senior cadre next to Mukuru (leader). Didymus Mutasa, as always, did not aspire to the office, but was satisfied to continue his role as chief acolyte to the successor, assuming that that office fell into Mujuru’s lap.
Rugare Gumbo, a patriot, can be credited for putting the interests of Zimbabwe first, as he saw them. My vision is coloured by a singular fact. In 1972, I was a student in Canada, as was Gumbo. When he graduated with his Master’s degree, he qualified for citizenship and was persuaded to stay and enjoy the fleshpots of Egypt. He opted to leave for the struggle in Zambia, thus foregoing even the financial help he could have given his family, if he had stayed. I remember his farewell address with tears in my eyes.
Mutasa, sometimes acting the buffoon, was on Mugabe’s side for close to 40 years. Mujuru regarded Mugabe as her father-mentor figure in politics. She has been on his side since the age of 20, now she is 59. Her loyalty was unquestioned. Gumbo was a different kettle of fish, but nevertheless, his trials and tribulations through the darkness speak well on his behalf.
How is it then that these mountains (Shona English) were easily dislodged by Grace Mugabe, a woman who had no record whatever in the struggle and in the party, so easily?
Mawere gives us some direction. They invested “so much of their lives and effort in serving and glorifying a man of flesh and not in building an institution, as they try to explain the reasons why they have been thrown outside the bus, they naively thought was a people’s project”. These cadres did not realize that the dictatorship they had helped to build could be manipulated by the whim of a single person. Mawere has a third idea; could the tragedy that has visited Mutasa and company be a tale of friends separated by malicious gossip?”
I wish to add more light to the argument. I am a historian, and the study of dictatorships has been my hobby. In the Nuremberg trials, Hitler’s 23 closed henchmen were subjected to psychological scrutiny by a young US medical expert, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley. Kelley shocked the scientific world when he came to the conclusion that the accused were no less sane than ordinary Germans.
They committed crimes in the firm belief that they were advancing their careers and currying Hitler’s favour. Thus, there the adage that even among thieves there is such a thing as loyalty. What they forgot, because of their faith in Hitler’s loyalty to them, was that he could easily instruct any one of them to do what they had done to others. Faith, among thieves, in religious terms is described as worshipping false gods. It does not exist.
Mutasa regarded himself as Mugabe’s closest friend and confidant. That was wishful thinking as anybody who has engaged in Mugabe studies will know. Mugabe, on his return from Malaysia, only two weeks ago described Mutasa as a braying ass and foolish man who cannot be corrected. Here is a man who has been singing Mugabe’s praises for close on 40 years, who assumed that he knew his master.
Let me turn to the argument about building institutions. During the 1980’s, I took a brief stint in Zimbabwe. The constitutional brickwork that has now become to buttress of Mugabe’s dictatorship was being built. On one hand was the brilliant Dr. Edison Zvobgo, a legal expert who had a hand in the writing of the constitution; on the other hand was the wizened Professor Stanlake Samkange.
I knew both of them well. Dr. Zvobgo argued that the powers allocated to Mugabe, though monumental, would not be abused because of Mugabe’s impeccable moral probity. Samkange on the other hand, argued that such a powerful presidency could only be justified, if the presidential term was limited to a six year term.
Both these men were learned in American politics, having spent prolonged periods in the US. What Zimbabweans missed then, and ZANU as well, is what the US founding fathers clearly understood. James Madison explained it this way: using the British as examples, Americans realised that even parliament cannot be trusted, because institutions tend to develop peculiar interests and can become oppressive.
Nevertheless, institutions should be set up in such a way that they will counter-balance each other’s greed, and become a set of checks and balances. The whole edifice does not rest on institutions or on Congress. None of these can be trusted in the way that the British parliament is allowed unfettered powers. Americans therefore put their trust, not entirely in institutions, but in the constitution.
Went to sleep in the belief Mugabe loved him … Rugare gumbo
Mujuru, Mutasa, and Gumbo allowed themselves to be entranced into hero worship, or simply put into worshipping a human god. Men change and their interests change. As Enos Nkala put it; “We have been caught in a web which we built ourselves.” But how and why did Mugabe’s interests change? It is in Mugabe that all power is rested, and as Zvobgo assumed, and indeed Mutasa himself has explained, in times of crisis, they could trust his resolute and principled leadership to prevail.
Is it then as brother Mawere has intimated, that these stalwart revolutionaries, were separated by malicious gossip? There is a story among the Shona that the Eland is the proudest, most handsome and narcissistic animal in the animal kingdom. As long as the four proud Eland grazed together, the Lion had no means of a quick dinner. So the lion devised a plan. He whispered to one Eland, to the effect that the younger and more handsome Eland had announced to the animal kingdom that, the bull Eland had lost his teeth and was in fact ugly. So each Eland went its way, despising the other three and not caring about their welfare. Within a short time, the Lion had feasted on the youngest and most foolish of the Elands. As hunger returned, he graduated to the largest of the Elands, the bull Eland himself. He was alone.
This is to confirm Mawere’s thesis, but I will add some more evidence. I was never good at writing fiction because I found that human stories were more tantalizing than any fiction written by man. Historians use a time-line to determine what one party could have known, during what period, and what the original reaction was.
I was home in July when all the ZANU Women’s leadership committees were called to Mazoe Farm by the First Lady. If the provincial leadership knew the purpose of the indaba, they did not say. It was an emergency call. In Masvingo, the bus carrying women’s cadres arrived after mid-night. “We have been called by Amai,” was the message.
It was late, after two days of feasting and dancing that the proposition was made that Amai had been proposed for the presidency of the Women’s League as an honour for her efforts on behalf of women and children in general. Earlier on, Oppah Machinguri, who was to relinquish that position, was faced by a fait accompli.
This is a very African situation. If I remember correctly, it was Shuvai Mahofa, a character that has always been able to smell where the wind is blowing who made the proposal. In the African scenario, one waits to see, who among the mice gathered at the Indaba, will stand up in opposition to the proposal. Thus Machinguri was drawn into the maelstrom. However, once she joined the fray, she assumed that she would be well rewarded in future, if she held her patience.
I remember the next episode vividly because it came as a shock to me. It was this same Mahofa who, with bended knee, broke the news to Mugabe, that Mujuru was a traitor. “Ko ndimi makatipa munhu uyu, mukati munoda munhu kadzi,” she said in Shona.
All this was orchestrated. But we have more evidence.
Obviously, the transport arrangements and the feasting was provided for by secret funders, one of whom may have been a British adventurer industrialist, Nicholas Van Hoogstraten (the name means pig). Such events cannot be mounted overnight, and millions of dollars do not grow on trees. That implies some prior planning. Grace Mugabe did not disappoint the women. She accepted this great honour not with humility, but with a feisty promise.
“I might have a small fist but when it comes to fighting, I will put a stone inside to enlarge it, or even put on gloves to make it bigger. Do not doubt my capabilities.” This marked the beginning of her “meet the people” tours. Women assumed that she was fighting for their share of the economic pie.
Controls the state media machinery which led anti-Mujuru campaign … Jonathan Moyo
Mugabe is the Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe. It must have come to his attention at about this time that Vice President Joice Mujuru had completed the requirements of her doctoral degree. Grace Mugabe, who at this time had become Mujuru’s nemesis, accelerated her preparations for a similar accomplishment. Two months later, on September 13, she marched, side by side, with Joice Mujuru. The Vice Chancellor, who presented the two ladies, now wearing red gowns, had good reason to be overawed. “Allow me to single out a very special unique graduand (sic), the First Lady…for conferment of a degree.” The presence of two doctoral graduands of such distinction in one ceremony will remain forever etched in history as one of its kind.
Grace Mugabe would have known of Mujuru’s academic achievement through her husband, and because of growing rivalry between the two, Grace would have demanded an accelerated pace for her own degree. Her thesis, “Changing social structures and functions of the family” was now presented with some urgency. In a rare moment of misspeak, Oppah Muchinguri says that Grace got some academic advice and that the president himself helped with “marking” some presentations.
Grace says that she supported Mujuru’s ascendency to the Vice Presidency in 2004. Muchinguri said at first she had felt similar sympathies for Mujuru, but as the Vice Presidency settled on Mujuru, the two women felt disrespected. The nature in which disrespect was shown can only come from feminine minds, howbeit, they assumed the nature of high and aggravated insults to the two women. Put simply, Mujuru felt that she was the senior of the three women, and perhaps more annoying to the other two, that she was not even primus inter pare, but primus uno.
October 24: Addressing War Veterans bused in for “Support the First Lady” rally at her farm, Grace Mugabe revealed her inner thoughts about Mujuru. “There are people who can run this country, not Mujuru. We cannot go back to where we were before independence.”
In “meet the people” on November 18, Grace made a shocking new revelation to a 2,000 cheering strong audience. She, Grace, had “trapped” the Vice President. Mujuru, she revealed, wore above the knee dresses in her house, and was even shockingly dressed. “You will be shocked that this is a person we called vice president for ten years. She must resign forthwith. She was inappropriately dressed.”
The second accusation was that Mujuru was recorded making love to her husband. Apparently, this rose to the level of treason and treachery. But the worst offense was that Mujuru was “trapped” to say that she, Grace, was persuading her husband to cling to power. A general accusation was that there were some people who were waiting for her husband to pass away so they could drag her in the streets and shame her.
The accusations against Mujuru reveal a very insecure political atmosphere in which even the Vice President of the country is surrounded by spies and key hole peeping Johns. The fact that Mujuru’s style of clothing was an issue can only be attributed to feminine rivalry. There is a story that the great US President F.D. Roosevelt was in a conversation with one of his top advisers, Harry Stimson, Secretary for War. The secretary said loudly that the president’s wife was not pretty and Roosevelt defended his wife Eleanor with some vigor. The Secretary did not lose his job, and served his term.
Rivalries, which stem from different dress fashions, can lead to serious animosity among women. It is obvious that there was a peep-hole artist, who whispered some gossip, purported to come from Mujuru’s household. “I trapped her,” was confirmation by Grace Mugabe that somebody had taken the trouble to press Mujuru to repeat the offending words so they could be recorded on tape.
In the story of the four handsome Elands, this go-between is the gossip monger, who whispered in the ear of the Eland what the other animals thought of him. The whisperers are probably more than one. Mutasa is said to have whispered to a sex worker similar offending words about President Mugabe during a moment of weakness. And so the story goes on to encompass Nicholas Goche, another apparatchick.
These minor infractions, in the hands of professional spies, and brainier, ambitious men, could easily have been blown out of proportion. While there is nothing to the suggestion that there was a plot to unseat the president, because the constitution has no provision for that, plotters used Grace’s unhappiness to fan flames of widespread discontent and plots which did not exist. At first, their arrows were aimed at only one lynch-pin, Mujuru. But on finding that Mujuru had wide-spread support in the party structures, the destruction took a path of its own.
Typical of psychophants, Mujuru, Goche, Mutasa and Gumbo did not raise their voices to defend Mujuru in the hope that Mukuru was still in love with them. When Gumbo was expelled, the other targets kept their silence, in the hope that they would keep their seats. This scenario is typical of a tyranny. Tyrannies survive because every apparatchik imagines that he is the best loved by the dictator, and when he is used to destroy his compatriots, he claims loyalty to the leader and the party. Mujuru herself did not raise her voice until 16th November.
“I deny any and all the allegations of treason, corruption, incompetence, and misuse of public office..” Mujuru also referred to unconstitutional calls for her resignation on the grounds that she was irredeemably corrupt, a gossiper, demonic, jealous and divisive, inept and that (I am) unfit for consumption by flies and dogs.” The dateline is important. This was three weeks before the General Party Conference was to convene. Soon after this, her nomination papers were rejected by her provincial party officials. Veterans were organized to disgrace her, should she, “the Witch of Mt. Darwin” ever show her face at the conference.
In my time-line calendar, it is about this time that Mutasa sought an audience with the president. “I tried to discuss it with him personally but he was determined to go ahead, and he said: “This is none of my business. This is a matter…being done by women’s league and I have no hand in it.” A simple explanation is the easiest.
The other principal accused, witnessing the turn of events, dared not attend the conference. What happened between the comrades in arms, who had born each other’s burdens for close on forty years? The answer seems to me, very simple. Philosophers look for complicated answers. There is nothing complicated in this at all. When an older man marries a very younger beau, he is by nature bound to want to please her.
History is replete with examples. Peron was the supreme quardillo of Argnetina, feared and respected even by his enemies. But in the hands of Eva Peron, a street beauty he had plucked from poverty, he was like clay. His proposition that she be nominated Vice President shocked party stalwarts. So it is with older men. History is replete with examples, but one will suffice.
The name and presence of Chairman Mao instilled fear among his comrades. Yet, the 80 year old dictator was clay in the hands of his younger secretary, Madam Ching, a woman raised in the arts of prostitution by her mother. President Mugabe intimated as much at the Conference itself. His wife wrote a little note, to say that he was talking too much and that he must shut up. He said, and this is a revelation for scholars; “Even at home, this is how I am treated.” So, the issue is that comrades in arms were separated by a woman. President Mugabe had to choose between his wife and his friends.
There is a Shona idiom that a wife does not shut the door on a husband’s friend without first consulting the husband. The dateline illustrates clearly that the events were choreographed; the spokes in the wheel pointed in one direction, Grace Mugabe was that hub which united the spokes. Her elevation to leadership in ZANU, the mobilization of the Veterans, followed by attacks on seven ZANU provincial chairmanships and their dismissal, simultaneous attacks on Gumbo, Mutasa, Basikiti and Khaya Moyo on that order could not have been accomplished without the quardillo’s express permission.
These attacks were choreographed by the state media. A woman fighter professed to have been the one who shot down a Rhodesian helicopter and not Joice Mujuru, thus discrediting her war record. The state media is controlled by Jonathan Moyo. Without the choreography, accusations would have remained accusations. Therefore, we must assume that the choreographer was either the brains behind the attacks, or he was part of the machinery. The monumental task that was accomplished could draw upon the actors very serious consequences, including death by other means. They were therefore assured of their own safety and advancement by the highest authority. In a dictatorship, there is only one authority.
Mawere asks a difficult question. “Why would it have been necessary to adopt a vicious attack on persons who idolize and worship his style of leadership?” The answer to that is not direct. Many years ago, my wife filed a complaint against the hospital where she worked. Our attorney was the mayor of the city. His wife also worked there. The wise man, and I remember the advice very clearly, said the following words:
“Women are unforgiving. They remember the most-minute details, which any man would have discarded as worse than useless. A young woman was hounded out of her job because she wore a loud red lipstick. They remember insults, and can wait for years to satisfy their vengeful instincts. It is a woman’s thing. If you want to live in this town, forget about the suit. Get a job somewhere else.”
There was an incident where President Mugabe was traveling, and on boarding the plane, Grace Mugabe refused to board unless one of the bodyguards was removed. There is another incident, recently, when the presidential family was returning from Malaysia, and Mujuru was in the coterie of welcoming guests. She by-passed Mujuru as she shook everybody’s hands.
Mugabe was in the know, as they say, or at least was in general agreement. There is a Hebrew story of Queen Jezebel and King Ahab. Ahab was denied a vineyard by a lowly Hebrew. Jezebel worked out a crowd. The lowly Hebrew was stoned. His offense, he had insulted the King. The issue here is; did the King know what Jezebel was up to? It really does not matter. The prophet Elijah thought so. Ahab was responsible because when Jezebel said to the king: “Now, you can have your vineyard,” Ahab did not protest. When Mahofa brought Mujuru’s name in a basket to Mugabe, the leader did not protest.
Brother Mawere gives Mugabe too much benefit of the doubt. “He (Mugabe) is unaware of the constructive efforts by the coalition of the willing to ensure that the door to the Central Committee was closed which effectively meant that Mujuru and Company would have attended the gathering as ordinary members.” It was in the newspapers that the veterans and youths were preparing to manhandle the disgraced Supreme Sister Mujuru and Brother Mutasa. In their world, the price of failure is death, nothing therefore happens by chance. Mugabe knew.
How then do we explain his assumed anger at missing Mujuru and Mutasa at the Conference. Mutasa telephoned Mugabe from South Africa. Mugabe referred to the telephone conversation with scorn. Later, he referred to Mutasa as “deranged, insane and a stray braying ass that cannot be corrected.” Mugabe obviously expects his victims to shout: BAYETE! Mujuru’s nomination papers were shredded. Surely, an apparatchik who shreds the Supreme Sister’s nomination papers has orders direct from on high.
The plan to dislodge Mujuru was timed for a period when the shadow of her husband, General Solomon Mujuru, who died in an inexplicable fire, was no longer sufficient to protect the wife. In an earlier contribution, I suggested that it would have been wiser to remove her from the Vice Presidency quietly rather than through disgrace. By disgracing her, Mujuru gathered sympathy from the general populace, as well as roused a silent majority within the party itself. The choreographers were unaware of the support she enjoyed. They also brought into the light the fact that ZANU belongs to Mugabe and his family.
The longevity of the dictatorship can be attributed to the fact that, in many ways, Zimbabweans were sympathetic to some of his revolutionary fire, land distribution for instance. As Ugandan political scientist, Mahmoud Hamdani found out in a research trip, those interviewed said they disagreed with the way it was done, but not the principle. As Aristotle put it, the tyrant kept his sway over the people because he claimed to redress the grievances of the majority.
The removal of 250 families from Mazoe farm in order to make room for Grace’s animal park is a small issue in the scheme of things. Greater injustices have been done before. But, coming as it does, on the conflict within the party, it may be a symbolic issue that illustrates that ZANU is now a family party. This undermines the illusion of a revolutionary party. We also do not know how much the publicity of Mugabe’s Malaysia holiday bash will further erode the impression of a revolutionary leader. Photographs of the president and his family’s splashy life in their private Malaysian resort went viral. They serve to show how the dictator has lost touch with the poor.
Governments and parties do not collapse by themselves. One never knows when the final straw comes. It may be that the support Mujuru has among the military, partly because she is personable, and partly because of the long association of the military with her late husband, may, if that support is challenged, be another straw on the camel’s back. Any legal prosecution of Mujuru is likely to have contrary results; it will serve to draw more sympathy in her direction. What we know for certain is that nothing lasts forever. ZANU is definitely at its weakest.
In the French revolution, the weakness of Robespierre was that on his last day in the House of Deputies, he made wild accusations against a number of them. “He is accusing all of us of treason,” one deputy shouted. The Grace Mugabe saga has traces of those kinds of accusations. No one is safe. As Mutasa recalled, they could always rely on Mugabe’s resolute leadership to come through in the end. Mugabe is no longer the final arbiter. Grace Mugabe is. The centre cannot hold, things fall apart. This is not the end of ZANU, but there are signs that the beginning of the end is near.
Ken Mufuka is a veteran scholar and contributor to African newspapers. He is based in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org