By Lawrence Kamwi
Actress Rachael Harris once said “there comes a time in every person’s life of reaching a crossroads. A chance to choose between two paths. One is unknown, filled with potential and struggles that demand growth and change, but could lead to new beginnings. The other is familiar, grooved with well-worn ruts and established twists, muddy holes and isolation.”
I believe Zimbabwe’s situation replicates the familiar path. And this is not to cast aspersions on the new dispensation. The country’s political and economic crises have made news for decades. Sadly, as the country’s fortunes plummeted, technology was empowering the ordinary citizen.
Not much could be hidden anymore. Indeed, on many occasions the heavy stick came down hard on news outlets which dared to expose that which was not said. Threats of legal action became a prominent feature in trying to silence those who were brave enough to seek the truth.
Tragically, the lessons that could have been received were wasted. The country is paying a heavy price for years of cover-ups. And because government and political party voices remain largely untrustworthy, we have a clear and present danger. Truth must be accorded its place. My previous instalment was summarized as portraying President Mugabe as a man held hostage, a man who was not acting alone. That is a fair comment.
However, I wish to add that my experiences inside government and my contact with ZANU PF revealed desperate attempts to hold a fragmenting or fragmented edifice together. By day, elaborate, subtle and sly efforts to choreograph unity and cohesion in ZANU PF and a singleness of purpose in government seemed to work. Behind the scenes, a different act was playing out.
On more than one occasion, I recall Mugabe denying that Cabinet had taken a decision on an issue, only to be reminded by the vice president that yes, Chef, Cabinet agreed on the exercise when you left to take a call in your office.
When Solomon Mujuru confronted Mugabe on the leadership issue, he did not have an appointment. He asked to see the President for a few minutes. The request was granted. Mugabe’s mood was changed afterwards.
A “rally” was quickly organized using the throngs of people found at the ZANU PF headquarters every time Mugabe was there. In his extemporaneous remarks, as in, composed and shared on the spur of the moment, Mugabe thanked the party for solidly standing by, with, for and behind him.
Among the leaders who were standing behind Mugabe, clapping and nodding in agreement, was Mujuru. The country has lived a lie for far too long.
In 1989, when President Mugabe told the Nyagumbo family that the late minister would be buried at the National Heroes Acre, Nyagumbo’s brother objected to the arrangements. His remarks were captured on camera.
After doing my radio script and submitting it to the News Editor, it quickly went to the Controller: Radio News. Before long it was with the Director of News and Current Affairs, and finally cleared by the Director General. The script took this unusual route because someone had publicly disagreed with Mugabe.
At one time, I would join colleagues in the airport VIP lounge while waiting for either the President’s arrival from or departure for a trip. That was until then CDF Constantino Chiwenga accosted me, and asked me to tell the bosses to leave the farm in Banket, Mashonaland West Province.
I did not know about the farm. On our next encounter, the CDF asked then police commissioner-general, Augustine Chihuri, to brief me on the farm. In short, the story was “the Mugabes must leave the (High Court) Judge to farm in peace; after all he is one of the few who remains loyal to the party.”
My conviction was and still is that while I cannot stand political intrigue, I can serve as an honest adviser. After all, we are counselled not to shoot the messenger! Mugabe’s outburst upon hearing the message was “blunderous Made!
If I had not given him one of my non-constituency seats, I would revoke his ministerial appointment. My wife and I saw the farm and expressed an interest on behalf of a family member. Behind our backs, Made issues an offer letter to the Judge.”
A day after, I received two morning calls. Mrs Mugabe said “be careful, mwanangu (my child), you may be shot. I told Chiwenga that the dreams he shares with his wife (then Jocelyn) of ruling this country will never materialize.” On his part, Chiwenga admonished me to forget about the matter. “I was taken to task yesterday,” he said.
The failure to speak truthfully about the country’s problems, to deal and work honestly, has immensely contributed to the plague of mistrust that is synonymous with Zimbabwe’s politics. This subterranean world greeted delegates at the 2009 Bindura Annual People’s Conference. An SMS service was on offer. On the first day, I received the following messages:
“Welcome to the 5th ZANU PF Congress SMS service brought to VIP delegates FREE as a Youth League trial information project (9 / 12 / 2009, 1:08pm)
JOC (Joint Operations Command) sources say ZDF (Zimbabwe Defence Forces) will never accept VP Mujuru or any woman as C-in-C (Commander-in-Chief) ZPFC SMS (2:14 pm).
Mujuru supporters say their aim for Congress is announcement of new President – younger, dynamic leader needed. ZPFC SMS (4:31 pm)
H.E. (the President) is in excellent health and ready to lift ZANU in his opening address to beat MDC and prepare for victory in new elections. ZPFC SMS (5:48 pm).”
This covert operation (using a network provider not ordinarily favoured by government and ZANU PF) hit much closer before the end of day. The First Lady received an SMS urging her to convince the President to cancel the Conference because of a cholera scare in Bindura. What was of greater concern was that the message was sent to a number rarely used by Mrs Mugabe. Indeed, in discussion, it emerged that only one government Minister knew the number.
On the following day, I received a preliminary verdict on the direction being taken by the party:
“Things don’t look okay ahead of us. They don’t and my fear is that if we are not careful, this could be the last congress for the party. On the ground, things not okay one bit and unfortunately Principal being fed lies chete chete (only) 10 / 12 / 2009 (3:51 am)
I had great hopes for this great country following its heroic liberation and land reform. I never dreamt that I would see the reversal of these gains during my lifetime. Suicidal politically driven decisions are taken without adequate technical input.”
I have abridged the messages. I must conclude by revealing that at 9:24 am, the sender had an apparent change of heart:
“Good morning my young brother. You may ignore all my messages of early morning though I quite honestly feel the way I expressed them. It is no longer a joy going kubasa (work) and that’s the bottom truth.”
Trying to drown out the people’s legitimate grievances will not work; neither will the reckless use of propaganda. This evergreen counsel should prick consciences: “communication should not be a crisis management or reputational repair tool.” Can Zimbabwe’s politicians rise above self-interest, myopia and incompetent behavioural responses?
I pose the question because as I toyed with the idea of a state of the nation address, I came across a number of familiar words and phrases. As the new government continues to find its feet, many voices have revived the chorus of “you can’t rig the economy.”
Doctors were (are) on strike, and I believe nurses and teachers may have given notice of embarking on similar action. In President Mugabe’s meetings, it was once suggested that doctors should get such incentives as cars, furniture and school fees support for their children.
Mnangagwa has quickly taken to social media in order to keep in touch with the nation. Several ministers and officials have followed suit. Mugabe’s perception was “why is they a lull in party activity; it gives confidence to the opposition which wants to take advantage of our economic challenges.
Let’s build on our positives. The Attorney-General has told me that we have adequate legislation to halt the trend of rising prices. We can’t rely on the party’s weekly; let’s print flyers and pamphlets.”
I recall discussions on the fuel situation, the foreign currency crunch, and the loss of Science and Maths teachers.
I fear my state of the nation report has been trammelled by déjà vu.
Lawrence Kamwi is a former broadcast journalist and civil servant.