The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Opposition - Rent-a-Black Political Era

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My instalment on fufuro last week drew a sardonic yet supremely directional comment from one of my diligent readers. Manheru, asserted the reader, builds layers and layers of spiderwebs well up to the stratosphere, something quite good for as long as he does not hope or expect to catch an elephant! I must say I was both disarmed and charmed by the sharp, witty observation which correctly reminded me the world gets remade by much more than words and expression. Above all, the writer implied the stupendous size of both the problem of, and persons involved in, the fufuro saga, against whose sheer sizes the jabs of critical comment and analyses appear so hapless, comparably so abortive like pricking an elephant rind with a needle.

Unequal to the UDI bequest

In further conversation, we both agreed that from Independence, the Zimbabwean State has evolved fundamentally as a political creature and structure -- some "zon politikon" if you want to sound eruditely obscure, with most, if not all, of its structures oriented towards meeting and overcoming political challenges. Yet UDI Rhodesia had bequeathed to it several parastatals and state enterprises located in strategic points of the economy, and accounting for well over 40 percent of GDP. Much worse, these enterprises were, are and remain key enablers to the rest of the economy, which means where they falter, all else fails. You thus have a disjuncture between the State's overly political orientation, make-up and competence on the one hand, and the imperatives of its bequest from UDI Rhodesia, which bequest gave the successor State so many fulcrum economic assets for the whole national economy, but without the competence or orientation. Strikingly absent within the structures of the State are core skills to manage that inherited and even expanded part of the economy, without whose smooth functioning all else fails.

Overdeveloped politics, underdeveloped economics

And the recurrence of the political question, especially from structural adjustment era and beyond, was most distracting to the sorely needed adaptation process beyond the political. It gave minders of the State an illusion of correctness, an abiding sense of "seek ye the political kingdom and everything will be added unto you". It also justified the deepening and consolidation of the political ethic as the sole raison d'être of Government. The result was spectacular. You have a Government which can defeat Blair and his British Government, which can take on the EU and America on sanctions and other disputes, while groping in the home boardroom of a small economy valued at a paltry US$16 billion! We are politically overdeveloped, economically underdeveloped, a distortion or imbalance which has disabled us to the point of not just failing to grow the economy, but also failing to respond to the challenges of hostile sanctions through effective economic policy interventions the way the Rhodesians so spectacularly did from 1965 to 1979. Beyond this weakness, our excellent, just and revolutionary policies such as land reforms and indigenisation to this day cry out for business models, for justifications and a defence steeped in business language.

Committing suicide

The problem deepens. Meanwhile the world has been rapidly evolving from an ideological-cum-political construct of Cold War yesteryears, to a vast World Inc., so full of a rich white few, against such a vast pool of poor blacks and other races of colour. Many States and their governments have since adapted to these new economic realities, creating a new business ethic in international relations. Economics have become the politics of the day, both at home and abroad. We thus come short, both at home and abroad, and yes, the economy has become the chink in our armour, and it has got to be plugged. The starting point is to re-invent, albeit belatedly, the Zimbabwean State and its Government, the same way the previously overly political Chinese State has done. New rules, new commandments, new morality is needed to provide a framework to this new State which must come yesterday. I hope this generation, so habituated to the abiding political milieu, can commit suicide in the Marxist sense of the phrase, thereby reinventing itself.

Affection beyond the grave

We have had very interesting political developments on both sides of the Crocodile River, sorry I meant the great Limpopo. Mamphela Ramphele (what a name!) lent herself to the Democratic Alliance (DA), abidingly viewed in South African politics as the softer, deodorized side of apartheid. Arguably DA is a far better adaptation proposition in post-colonial white politics of Southern Africa, compared to our own Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe (CAZ), Rhodesia Front's post-colonial aftermath. Where DA toyi-toyis, CAZ remained a thick-set, expressionless Rhodesian vignette that could never dance to samba, let alone the animal "borrowdale dance". CAZ repelled where DA cajoles, which is why DA has quite some sprinkling of black on its own kind of rainbow. But in spite of that black colouring, DA still felt insufficient for the impending elections. It needed a good South African black look, preferably one carrying some scent of liberation politics. Helen Zille, the boss of DA did not have to look very far. Credited with exposing the death of the black consciousness leader, Steve Biko, during her journalism years, Zille thought of Ramphele, late Biko's partner. The aura would be just right, she reasoned, never mind the right-of -right politics of the World Bank surviving partner. There was also a living tissue in this whole intercourse. When Ramphele found herself vice-chancellor of the elitist University of Cape Town after apartheid, Zille was her head of communications at the same. Need we wonder then that the two found it so easy to kiss?

Deadly punchline

Expectedly the South African white media went wild with delight. A game changer had been found and soon, the ANC would be showing its long delayed rigor mortis. No longer would race matter, now that the DA had a black presidential candidate, in the pretty (by standards of her age) form of Mamphela. The white media went into overdrive. And yes, how could it not, given that finally the politicos had caught up with its own winning formulae of containment, namely that of curtaining its own white editorial windows with black "editors"? Affinities were easy to find and soon, like flew to like. Of course the ANC rubbed its warmed-up campaign palms, all with runaway glee (picture Gwede in grin!). Rent-a-black, ran the ANC punchline, deservedly so, patriotically so, African-ly so. The ANC had an obligation to make the point, to invent the punchline, or else all of us Africans, Manheru included, would have lynched it, nay murdered it, for failing the credentials of a true liberation movement.

The thud that shook Table Mountain

And the chorus caught on, to great consternation of the doctor-academic who would not see! I mean, I fail to understand how anyone with foundational matter between ears could possibly have not foreseen this massive lump of stone falling on the fontanelle, more so in a country where race shapes place and prospects. Much worse, consummated atop the Table Mountain, the black horde of A-Gang (read it the way you want), missed what these two "A"-rated she-gangsters were transacting below the table, on top of the Table Mountain. Mamphele had not told her party about this fatal dalliance. Upon reading about it in the celebrating white press, her supporters were first stunned, then outraged by this act of monumental treachery.

They demanded that their leader present herself for an explanation, or else resign. The precocious academic began to see the danger she was in and, with the deft finesse of a raging elephant in a sauce shop, sought to rearrange her politics through a noisy retreat, and then a tumble. Not even the whole table of the Mountain was large enough to carry her. She toppled, tumbled, hitting the ground so far below with a mighty thud.

A great abomination

Meanwhile Zille could not understand why beautiful night spent with so raunchy a partner, had suddenly made way to diffidence and debilitating coyness. It wasn't funny. She slipped into a rage, giving her political paramour, Dr Mamphela Ramaphele, a cold, inflexible ultimatum which stung sharper than the outing of a pretentious, moralising priest. Today the late Biko's partner hangs between stools, with the general elections she can't stall, approaching with a deafening din, tolling bells in hand. Her strange affair with Zille has no parallel in African lore, save for Tutu's gay movement (what's name zviya?).

He can now go

On this side of the Limpopo, Tsvangirai and his MDC-T are locked in mortal combat. From his palace has come a voice, all along unthinkingly loyal, telling him he must now make way, what with the consecutive defeats, what with the so many personal issues pursuing him so relentlessly like some fetid emission from some toilet malfunction. Mangoma's call has resonated, even though his courageous letter has earned him desertion from numerous co-conspirators, both in actual deed and in sentiment and sympathies. My take on the whole saga is that Mangoma, already roughed up by Tsvangirai's sympathisers, need not win this contest, need not live even any longer. All he needed to do was to flutter the dovecot, which is what he has already done so beautifully. It is no longer about Mangoma's call; it is, shall be, about Tsvangirai's attitude and response to it. Finish. And Mangoma's thesis does not need substantiation. It speaks for itself, with overwhelming evidence provided by the butt of his letter. The marvel is not that Tsvangirai's leadership has been challenged.

The marvel is that the challenge has finally come, and that it did not come from persons within his party who should have spearheaded it. Of course we know that one, always an impeccable coward, rushed pell-mell to pledge renewed loyalty to the great leader he scorns in private, once the affair became public. That way Mangoma was left in the lurch. But all that is of no interest to me.

Donor money all over

What is of real interest to me are two dimensions which continue to obtrude through the soaring dust of this thick saga. Donors are whispered to have been behind this assault on Tsvangirai leadership. We all know the colour of MDC-T's donors. We know too, that the same donors nearly left Tsvangirai hanging in airy glory at the MDC-T's last Congress held in Bulawayo. They supported his rivals to gain control of all the provinces, leaving him a leader without any feet on terra firma.

That was meant to be a penultimate detour to his final fate. They nearly succeeded. More intriguing is the report that Tsvangirai would have been bought out of leadership with a cool US$5m, quite a handsome figure given his predicament and political prospects. The donors, we are told, only regret that the Mangoma side was not discreet about it. The donors, we are further told, have upped the offer to US$7m. Could that indicate that the haggle is over the price of his exit? Also that the white donors have no scruples over the fact of buying out an African political leader? Which of course means buying in an African political leader? Or is "renting" the right verb?

People's project, donor lifeline

Secondly, this whole saga about MDC-T's top leadership has brought into sharp relief that party's white Rhodesian component. We have Bennett. We have Ian Kay. We have Eddie Cross. All these powerful white men are the fluttering flags that measure the mood and direction of the white political gale in the country. You can almost tell which way the numerically insignificant white vote will go, just by what these political model white men say, do and demand. And that what they say, do and demand precipitates such a ruckus in the MDC-T, suggests the extent of their influence in what has always been reactively packaged as black, trade union and democratisation politics.

And when you put one and two points together, you wind up with the issue of money: where it comes from, where it goes, who uses it, who abuses it. Mangoma alleges the leader abused donor funds. The leader alleges Mangoma withheld those funds from the overall campaign, thereby precipitating the demise of the MDC-T. But both complain about the use and abuse of money which belonged elsewhere, which belonged to people and interests outside their party, outside their country. In anger, we are told, Bennett had to send in his personal accountant to audit those missing funds. And Mangoma makes it plain: Tsvangirai can retake the purse, reinvent the rules, but there won't be any more money coming from donors. And the more reason the leadership must change if "the people's project" is to subsist and continue into the future. The "people's project"?

Truth from a brawl

Down South, A-gang was broke, could not even pay its workforce. Up here the MDC-T is broke, cannot pay its workforce, sponsor even any show of unity. It has the salarygate to thank for a distracted media. Ramphele has decided to fornicate with the DA. Tsvangirai has consistently denied being funded by local whites and westerners, until of course helped by the candid inadvertence of this leadership tiff. Oh brawl, thou soothsayer! And of course on both sides of the Limpopo, the target are two liberation movements thought to have overstayed their welcome, thought to be upsetting the neo-colonial applecart, however slightly. Does this tell us a thing or two about white interests on the continent; how they pursue their interests? African consumer, beware.

Icho!

nathaniel.manheru@zimpapers.co.zw

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