By Tafi Mhaka
Nelson Chamisa’s spirited defence of former president Robert Mugabe during an interview with South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) foreign editor Sophie Mokoena beggared belief. This after Zanu-PF leaders blasted Mugabe for condemning President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s heavy-handed response to January’s fuel hike protests and promptly questioned his brutish human rights record.
Chamisa, though – surprisingly, needlessly and, it must be said, foolishly – supported the man who sensationally vowed to vote for him a day before last year’s July 30 presidential poll. “He (Mugabe) is our old man … it is African to always acknowledge an elder, even if you differ with him … you cannot have a future without the past,” said Chamisa.
“It’s actually unAfrican to humiliate an elderly African Statesman. He (Mugabe) is a Statesman … we have issues … but you can’t repair your past by mourning over it. You can’t restore the losses of yesteryear on account of vindictiveness”, added Chamisa.
Pigs must fly in Harare. I had never imagined the day an MDC president might sit up and defend Mugabe from rightful denunciations by Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF allies. Sure, Mugabe, like all elderly men and women, deserves our traditional respect. But politics and culture don’t mix.
Besides, is subjecting Mugabe’s long, combative, murderous and financially disastrous rule to robust scrutiny a form of public disgrace and disrespect? And political agendas aside, is it pure ‘vindictiveness’ to demand, suggest or start a conversation on seeking political accountability and substantial repercussions for 37 to 39 years of unsettled injustices? Hardly.
Mugabe’s advanced age and African culture are irrelevant to distressed Zimbabweans yearning for justice and sheer clarity around systemic abuses, enforced disappearances and illegal deaths. As Zimbabwe’s founding prime minister, a middle-aged Mugabe trampled on the democratic rights of defenceless villagers, young and old, male and female, pregnant and not, weak and strong.
Yes, an articulate 57-year-old Mugabe displayed no respect for human life in Matabeleland and Midlands. Nevertheless, Chamisa believes the best way to confront our shamelessly unsympathetic and mostly unrepentant “leaders” who oversaw human rights abuses committed between April 1980 and November 2017, as well as between August 2018 and March 2019, is to downplay Mugabe and Zanu-PF’s dismal human rights record, revise our difficult history and introduce a mysterious, previously unheard-of ‘African culture’ in Zimbabwe’s political discourse.
The MDC leader selfishly asserted that, “Yes, there were issues that were done wrongly and what we want is a reparative and restorative path so that we are able to repair and restore things where there were some challenges.” Is Chamisa really reducing our widespread, untold suffering under Mugabe to “some challenges”?
This reckless statement is immensely naïve, gravely disappointing and a massive affront to victims of gross human rights abuses. As MDC leader, Chamisa must display an astute understanding of the political elites ruling Zimbabwe. They are cunning, smart and ruthless. And they have done everything within their power to avoid legal and political accountability since 1980. That’s why a misguided statement on respecting Mugabe demonstrates Chamisa doesn’t appreciate that promoting a strong human rights culture is unassailably divorced from anything vaguely recognisable as ‘African culture’.
Is murdering innocent men and women, and dumping their bodies in unmarked mass graves, an “African” tradition? Is accumulating enormous wealth and property, while 70% of Zimbabwe’s population live below the international poverty line, standard African cultural practice? Not at all. So, why should I respect Mugabe, or Zanu-PF, for repeatedly executing such inhumanity?
That’s why I refuse to believe that Mnangagwa, another self-important elder, deserves a lavish pension and a lovely retirement (as Chamisa wrongly suggested, at a campaign rally, in Gokwe last June) ahead of millions of ordinary, hard pressed, elderly mothers and fathers who have no credible savings to bank on in these hard economic times.
Also, I don’t believe the 76-year-old Mnangagwa deserves our respect, certainly not for deploying a terror-wielding army in MDC strongholds in January and definitely not for flying about aimlessly in a luxury jet at a time when austerity must be an indiscriminate imperative. I also refuse to believe that 62-year-old Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga deserves our respect for seeking medical care in South Africa and India while the average, critically ill Zimbabwean patient must ordinarily grapple with the overwhelming possibility of dying in hospital, only for a lack of essential medication and specialist staff.
So, no, I don’t, and won’t, respect Mugabe, Mnangagwa and Chiwenga out of cultural submissiveness or tribal affiliation. I never will. What’s more, I don’t think it is possible to look beyond a critical examination of Mugabe’s legacy, all because he’s old and ‘retired’. Despite Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) secretary-general and overzealous Mnangagwa hype man Victor Matemadanda’s predictable ranting, Zanu-PF’s still-moving, murderous trajectory, remains so conjoined with Mugabe’s despotic influence and illiberal governance style, it’s hard to understand how the MDC’s supposedly democratic Chamisa fits into the mould of a freshly made ‘Gushungo’ fanboy.
If the organisations that perpetrated violence on Mugabe’s behalf in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, that is the Zanu-PF youth league and ZNLWVA, want to criticise and possibly ‘punish’ Mugabe, why should Chamisa, on the flimsy, dubious basis of a manufactured, thieving, bloody ‘African culture’ that facilitated Itai Dzamara’s disappearance and Kelvin Tinashe Choto’s murder, claim they are wrong? If the ruling party decides to rename the nearly one million monuments, roads and places named after Mugabe, who is Chamisa to claim Zanu-PF is running afoul of ‘African culture’? Maybe Chamisa wants us to ‘respect’ him, like people feared and worshipped Mugabe in his prime, too? He, and Mugabe, can forget it.