By Tafi Mhaka
Life can be ugly. I have seen the unspeakable rot of unchecked malfeasance light up a dinghy hotel bar with womanly seduction like a fireworks display at the Harare Agricultural Show. Laced up in tight black pants and bright red lipstick and hairdos fashioned to street level perfection, they stand in twos and threes at the Diplomat Hotel that is located near MTN Taxi Rank in downtown Johannesburg.
They sell a no name brand of icy-cold romanticism for a small fee and offer homeboys who speak in their mother tongue indecent discounts. They possibly have no choice but to sell their precious bodies simply to survive. Life in Johannesburg can be demanding and demeaning for unemployed Zimbabweans.
I have seen grown men and women cry uncontrollably over the death of a loved one in a foreign land. I have seen stressed out and broken-hearted relatives cobble together a pittance to send the body of a loved one home for a proper and dignified funeral.
I have cried alone in the darkness and emptiness of enforced estrangement and wondered whether life will ever be the same again whenever sweet memories flood my mind. I have read local papers and seen the names of unclaimed bodies in the local mortuary and they bear an uncanny resemblance to names commonly used back home.
I have seen enormous inequity and feverish desperation for basic needs increasingly overwhelm 72% of Zimbabwean people while First Lady Grace Mugabe has lived the high life with an air of unapologetic nonchalance.
I have noted how her million-dollar diamond ring debacle characterises the colourful perpetuation of false socialist hopes and Africanist ambitions while Zimbabwe matures into the perfect portrayal of a failed African state.
I have seen the unsightly depreciation of an African jewel design humongous hardship and disappointment for young hopefuls. I have seen Menkosini ferry children to school in a ramshackle minibus in Johannesburg every morning and afternoon while the Bachelor of Honours Degree in Mathematics that he obtained at Great Zimbabwe University is rendered useless. I have seen him enquire for help, so he can secure a better job. I have seen the dark despair swell in his reddened eyes.
Which is why the ubiquitous and embarrassing reports about the power and wealth the First Lady commands that I read regularly- she plays real life Monopoly with national properties like Mazoe Dam and small farm holdings occupied by landless peasants, while her children live in the lap of untold luxury in an upmarket Sandton apartment, resplendent with state funded bodyguards – have raised the ire of battle worn Zimbabweans on social media, but drawn no public condemnation from leading political authorities like war veterans association secretary-general Victor Matemadanda and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
I have seen the darkness deepen in calculated moves to retain a repressive state legal framework. Last Tuesday the vice-president celebrated the constitutional amendment that further enhances presidential power and allows the president to choose the Chief Justice without consultation. Perhaps then Mnangagwa remained happily spellbound by the illusion that the powers invested in the presidency would soon be his to exercise.
But the belly of the beast is an inhospitable and untamed natural habitat. Reputations matter not when the barefaced darkness sets its sight on the destruction of a breakable human spirit. Power is deep and loyalty works in peculiar and unpredictable ways.
Big names are made and dismantled in the ghostly shadows of fresh enlightenment and brand-new determination. I have seen how 37 years in power represent a lifetime of political currency and profoundly embedded beneficial relationships for President Robert Mugabe. He sidelines longstanding colleagues who no longer fit his electoral narrative whenever he must. I have seen him do so with emboldened resolve again and again and with flawless ease and mammoth support from senior war veterans like Mnangagwa.
Now, Matemadanda has called upon Zimbabwe to oppose the unfolding Mugabe dynasty. Yet Zimbabwe may have bigger problems to contend with than an internal Zanu-PF squabble: the ZINARA US$54 million scandal comes to mind. So do the US$194 Dema Diesel scandal and US$15 billion Chiadzwa diamond scandal.
And I have seen ZRP officers strike peaceful protesters in the heart of marches for a new and prosperous nation that everyone can reap abundant social and economic benefit from. I have seen ugly pictures of journalists beaten by unruly policeman on the streets of Harare when we all need independent information about the human rights abuses and corruption Zimbabwe remains plagued by.
So, here is how Matemadanda and unhappy war veterans can make a difference in Zimbabwe. War veterans should hold peaceful protests against police brutality and civil sector corruption and anti-democratic laws like the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and unconstitutional bans on non-violent protests by Commissioner Augustine Chihuri. War veterans should let Commissioner Chihuri know that Stalinist era like law enforcement will only hold us back as a nation.
In addition, war veterans must march for the enactment of postal ballots for all economic exiles who live in the diaspora, and demand a free and fair and peaceful electoral process; from registration through to the actual day people will vote in 2018. War veterans should demand the privatisation of ZBC and Zimpapers and call for freedom of the press. War veterans should indeed hold anti-Mugabe marches in Bulawayo, Gweru, Harare and Mutare if they feel enormously emasculated by their long-time leader.
And lastly, war veterans should hold huge demonstrations in support of Itai Dzamara, because the missing activist expressed roughly the same complaints about Mugabe that Matemadanda aired last week. Until all of the above mentioned protests have happened, war veterans should probably fight their Zanu-PF battles by themselves, and leave peace-loving Zimbabweans alone.
An abysmal and bothersome case of acute amnesia could be troubling Matemadanda: war veterans did not complain when The 7th Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (Act 23 of 1987) provided for an Executive Presidency in 1987. Mugabe is so powerful he makes all the important state appointments without consultation and reportedly has immense sway over legal issues.
Everyone around him is highly vulnerable and dispensable and compromised by financial shenanigans and inexplicable fortunes and profligate lifestyles and wholly depends on the chief representative in the land for a job and protection from forensic investigations into corruption and breaches of fiduciary responsibilities.
General Chiwenga can thank Mugabe for an extended and fully unproductive stay at the helm of the army. So can Commissioner Chihuri and Air Marshal Perrance Shiri. Plus remember how Mnangagwa resembled a deflated political force after he had lost two parliamentary polls to Blessing Chebundo of the MDC in 2000 and 2008? President Mugabe prolonged Mnangagwa’s political shelf life through two non-constituency Member of Parliament appointments.
Nevertheless, his sell-by date could be nigh this time around, and Mnangagwa may yet realise how replaceable he is as a party boss, especially now that Mrs Mugabe is poised for higher office, and her husband does not need him any more. Mnangagwa could conceivably be seated on a cold and abandoned spatial throne in proverbial Siberia in the near future, wearily singing his version of The way it is by Bruce Hornsby: “that’s just the way it is, some things will never change”.
Should Mnangagwa make his way to Siberian isolation and find a desolate home alongside other party pariahs who have been reduced to unexceptional sideshows – faded superstars like Joice Mujuru and Didymus Mutasa – nobody will miss his tough guy ways. Allegations that he forced former ZBC journalist Godfrey Majonga over a balcony hound him and bring into question his suitability for the top job in the land.
Allegations that he played an important role in the Gukurahundi atrocities hardly make him a consensus candidate on the national arena and his reportedly close association with General Chiwenga, a soldier whose problematic public pronouncements on economic and political matters do not inspire 21st century confidence in civilian structures and participatory democracy, make Mnangagwa a man of yesterday, and depict him as an enforcer from an undesirable and repressive Mugabe era.
But his internal rival who heads the ZANU-PF Women’s League is certainly not the woman of tomorrow who is required to fix the social and economic problems Zimbabwe is beleaguered by. Outstanding women should have equal opportunity to lead Zimbabwe and solve the economic and humanitarian affairs that have disproportionately serious impacts on the lives of women and girls.
UN Women Africa reports that one in three girls in Zimbabwe is sexually assaulted before she turns 18. While 47% of all women have experienced physical or sexual violence at some stage in their lives. And equally disturbing are reports that rural families cannot afford to purchase sanitary pads for their daughters. This worrisome scenario is not surprising when women hold only 25% of all public service institution jobs. The belly of the beast is a harsh and bitter landscape for the girl child.
Our political system seemingly places too much stock in popularity contests and patronage networks and not solid abilities when appointing leaders. We unendingly want to believe men and women who are notoriously rich and powerful will work very hard for the desperately poor and long-suffering people of Zimbabwe. We are fascinated by ‘Sir’ Wicknell Chivayo and appalled and amused by independent presidential candidate Nkosana Moyo for his laudable attempt to put forward alternative political plans.
That is why everyone must show Mnangagwa the real Zimbabwe. Show him why the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that 56% of children between the ages of 6 and 59 months suffer from anaemia. Show him why 4.1 million people are believed to be food-insecure. Show him pictures of the children who flood the banks of Limpopo River, purely so they can cross into South Africa and find economic lifelines. Show him raw pictures of murdered activists like Tichaona Chiminya and Talent Mabika. Show Mnangagwa the Zimbabwe that he and Mugabe have ruined. Show him that he is not the political Messiah he claims to be. Show him.