By Jacob Nkiwane
A lot has been written and said about the person of Morgan Tsvangirai. The media and other sections of society have sought to create their own image of him. Of late, there have been efforts and attempts to portray him as an extravagant leader who loves luxury and a man who lacks the concern for his fellow citizens.
But is that the true picture? Who is Morgan Tsvangirai?
These questions take me back to the conversation I had some time back with a friend of mine in the United States. We had a Sunday lunch together at a restaurant on the Marina bay near San Francisco. I had previously met him for the first time at Yoshi’s bar and restaurant in Oakland, California.
Every time Tuku toured the United States and in particular San Francisco, he made sure he played at the Yoshi’s restaurant. Oakland is part of the San Francisco metro located on the other side of the Pacific peninsula which is approachable from San Francisco via the spectacular Oakland Bridge.
A number of Zimbabweans in the area came to support and enjoy the music by Tuku. Among them was Danny (not real name) who I estimated to be in his late thirties at the time. I greeted him and he returned greetings with an inviting smile which made me realise he needed to make friendship.
I was alone too, so we danced the night away, exchanged numbers and parted for the night. Danny was working as a Finance manager for a global consultancy firm headquartered in San Francisco.
The restaurant was located on the bay, with half its structure above water. The day was cloudy but warm. We met on the car park and after exchanging friendly greetings, we made a short walk to the restaurant. We announced our presence to the waiter’s desk and were told to wait whilst a table was prepared for us.
We sat on maroon chairs on the waiting area. Some decorative art composed mainly of marine life was perfectly and strategically placed to create a feel of sea cuisine. Before long, a short and smiling lady came and signalled us to follow her. She sat us on a table on the far right of the restaurant.
There were nuts on the table. She left and came back with two baskets of bread and told us to take our time to decide our orders. We each went through a booklet of menus, mostly with menus we never heard before. When the waitress came back, Danny ordered mussels and crab and I had prawns and lobster.
We both ordered Budweiser for beer and waited for our orders. When the waitress was out of sight, we giggled at the fact that Zimbabweans can adjust to any food considering that our country is landlocked with little access to sea food.
San Francisco city was clearly visible over water and appeared beautifully close. Clouds flew past tall sky scrapers creating a dark grey blanket over the city. We could see through a glass wall which enclosed us in. Pigeons were perched on a wooden deck stretching into the ocean from the side of our restaurant.
The ocean looked peaceful. I looked far into the ocean and started to think of home. I decided to steer my mind back to our table.
“It’s a beautiful place here”, I said. “Yeah it is”, Danny replied. “No wonder Jonathan Moyo chose to run to this place when he deserted his colleagues during the liberation struggle. It must have been a safe sanctuary from the headaches of war.
Probably he was sipping tea on this very table when his colleagues were dodging bullets in the bush”. We laughed for a full minute like kids in a toy shop. “He is one of the most uneducated professors I have come to know”, he continued.
“When you hear him talk about patriotism and the liberation struggle, you will be forgiven to think the guy was the war commander. I think it is a cry for relevance”. We laughed again, a bit hard this time and patrons at the next table seemed to notice.
Fortunately, there was Sunday music playing over our heads to make sure patrons would not disturb others.
“Have you been to Alcatraz? That little island in the middle of the ocean over there? I have been there once when I first came to San Francisco. The tour was great, but reminded me of the cruelty to man by man”.
I told him I had been there too and can imagine what prisoners felt for being kept isolated from rest of humanity by a raging treacherous stretch of ocean. Back in the day, Alcatraz was the ‘Robin island’ equivalent of the United States.
Our drinks and meals came and we continued with all sorts of conversations until finally Tsvangirai became the subject of our conversation.
“Last time you said you worked with Tsvangirai before right?” I asked him. “Oh yes for six years”, he replied. “He signed every one of my pay checks and was my boss. I was the Finance officer and he was the Secretary General at ZCTU”.
He took a long sip of beer and continued a careful chore of chewing and opening his mussels. So this man really knows the Prime Minister up close, I imagined to myself. If you want to know somebody’s financial habits, ask his bank manager or accountant.
I squeezed some lemon juice onto my lobster and decided to ask him further in between bites.
“So what’s your take about him? Is the man in politics genuinely or just there to enrich himself? Does he really care about people?” I asked him. He put his fork and knife down and paused for a while before answering my questions.
He swallowed his food and took another big sip of his beer before giving me a long account of the man I never met in person. He sat calmly like a convert confessing the deeper side of his life before a pastor. His account came without effort, something only possible from a colleague with first-hand information.
“You know Jacob, a lot has been written about Tsvangirai and the majority of what is said about him is not true. If there are two words I can use to describe the reasons why Morgan is in politics, I can use ‘service and sacrifice’. Money is the last thing that attracts Morgan to politics.
When I joined ZCTU in 1994, I was earning Z$1600 and Morgan salary was Z$2200 inclusive of all allowances. That translated to around US$300 at that time. I think the exchange rate was around 1 to 7 if not mistaken.
ZCTU was and still is a membership based organisation and therefore relies on subscriptions from members who are workers in industry. Members through their various trade unions were paying five cents each per month to ZCTU as subscriptions.
Our salaries came from those union dues”. His facial expression was becoming sad and sad. I felt bad that I asked but before I said a word, he continued.
“Our lowest paid staff were a messenger and an office orderly. They both earned around Z$850 each. When pay day came, sometimes we did not have money to pay for salaries. We had to wait for unions to pay their dues. That is the most traumatic experience of any accountant.
We had no specific pay day because we had no guaranteed revenues. So our pay day was around month end but not on a specific day. When little money trickled into our account, we paid our messenger and office orderly first followed by departmental secretaries and other junior officers then rest of us.
Morgan was always last. When everyone else was paid, I would then take Morgan’s pay check to him. Sometimes it was a week or two after month end. I honestly don’t know how his wife Susan coped with that and how they managed their budgets.
If you are somebody who is looking for money, then trade union is not the right place. You can only be in trade union business if you have a calling to serve your fellow citizens especially the disadvantaged workers”.
He pushed his plate aside and it was obvious he had given up on food. He reached for the water glass and I could see the muscles of his throat as he painfully swallowed water until the glass was empty. He then continued with his story.
“His company car was a Nissan Sentra which was always at the garage because of mechanical problems. There was a time he had no car and he was using public transport just like everybody else. He had allocated some project vehicles to junior officers but he never demanded their cars when his was at the garage.
The junior officers would volunteer to take him home out of courtesy. Would you describe such a person as money driven?” He did no wait for me to answer.
“There are lots of accounts I can tell you about the man. One day me and him went to facilitate at one of our affiliate union’s congress in Bulawayo. I think it was a congress for General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union if I am not mistaken. The union had chosen a very cheap venue for obvious financial reasons.
Morgan decided that there was no need for us to book a different hotel for ourselves. So long there were beds, we will sleep where farm workers were also sleeping. There was only one room left since we arrived a bit late. There were two single beds which looked like hospital beds.
I looked at Morgan expecting him to change his mind and let us check into a better place. He didn’t see anything wrong with the place, so I settled into the idea that the room was gonna be my home for the night.”
The waitress came to pick up dishes and we ordered what came to be our last beers before he continued with his account.
“You see when you share a room with your boss, you don’t expect much but Morgan was always open to talking. We touched on many subjects to wear away the night. The one story I remember him telling me was his experience in prison when he was arrested for opposing ESAP.
It was in the early 90s when government was embarking on ESAP and Morgan warned them of the likely consequences especially regarding job losses and company closures. He was arrested and locked up at Goromonzi. He told me that they kept him in solitary confinement.
Luckily, there was a sympathetic prison guard who took him outside next to his cell so he could see sunshine whenever his bosses were away. In every struggle there are always sympathisers from the other camp. After all he was right but incarcerated for telling the truth.
So you see, Morgan has always been there for the people. Do you want me to tell you more?” He lightened a bit like someone who had offloaded a heavy load off his chest.
It was getting a bit dark and raining. We decided to meet again soon and call it a day since the following day was work day. We signalled the waitress to bring our check, paid our bill and headed for the exit.
We had a brief stop by the waiting room to exchange good byes since it was raining and so could not do so in the car park. “Hey Jacob thanks for the day buddy, next time less politics please. It spoils our meeting”. We both laughed and parted. He ran towards his Jeep and I ran to my Toyota Camry.
I drove behind him out of the car park but immediately went different directions. He was staying in San Pablo and so he took Interstate 80 towards Sacramento. I lived in Hayward so I drove south and connected into highway 580 towards Freemont. I was listening to Tuku song ‘Dzoka Uyamwe’.
When I hear and read about Tsvangirai today, I ask myself ‘Do these people really know Tsvangirai up close? I have no doubt that there are concerted efforts to portray his image in the negative light. The Tsvangirai my friend knows is not the Tsvangirai ZANU PF and the state media are trying to define.
Jacob Nkiwane can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org