Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Maynard Manyowa: Japajapa vs Biti sentence variance shows days of Zanu leniency are over

By Maynard Manyowa

So, I have not written anything in a very long while. Forgive the lack of coherence, I typed this while taking the MTR back home. Its somewhere in between an analysis and some small bites on inside information.

Maynard Manyowa
Maynard Manyowa

Let’s do this.

If you remember, after Sikhala was thrown under the bus, I spoke of three significant things.

I mentioned that Sikhala’s speech was taken as the last straw by even the soft-liners at the top. There was real movement the night after his speech and the MDC found out.

They quickly mobilized and realized it was in their best interests to throw Sikhala under the bus. His words were difficult to defend and a full crackdown on the many misdemeanors committed in the name of gist and banter was coming.

Now the MDC isn’t in a position to see through a crackdown. The Ministry of Finance has not given parties money yet. They are basically broke. Also a crackdown would not really benefit them right now. The world is not watching. The attention is not really on Zimbabwe. At that time Sudan was a hotter topic than Zimbabwe.

From a strategic point of view, the crackdown did not have any silver linings.

Any opposition knows that a crackdown especially when you have some hands in jars (actual legal transgressions) should only be sustained if it brings other benefits, like attention and a cause.

So the MDC issued a statement, distanced themselves from Sikhala’s comments.

The other issue i mentioned was that “authority” spoke through its two strongest arms.

Since ED came to power, there is a distinction between party and government. For the purpose of this analysis please note distinction between party and govt is not the same as separation of power lest you start a whole different debate about conflation of party and state.

Whilst all these (party & govt) are obviously under ED’s watch, command and serve to perpetuate the existence of the powers that be – it is critical to draw this distinction so that you can understand the power bases operating right now in Zimbabwe. (Will also touch on this another time – or watch episode 2 of on the couch with Maynard, touched briefly on the different power bases.)

Back to the issue, the government, through its information secretary Nick Mangwana, issued a stern warning. They essentially reminded MDC that treason is a serious crime, it would be tolerated, and that government has an unlimited and unrestrained monopoly on legal violence and that they would not hesitate to unleash the security apparatus to protect the “constitutional integrity” of Zimbabwe.

This was the state speaking, authoritatively and with seriousness. The statement was received with chills within the MDC Alliance and played a huge role in the climb down. (Till today the number of people spending the night manning Harvest House inside and out has reduced significantly – the fear is real).

The party, which is controlled by totally different people, with a different mindset then issued their own statement. (In case you are confused, Nick Mangwana is very senior in government, he is both influential and powerful though at party level he is very junior to people like SK Moyo and co, who are equally powerful in that regard – hope you understand this soft difference).

As usual the party statement was rich with revolutionary talk but was sharper. It had raw chilling reminders of lives and limbs lost and a tacit promise that those who want overthrow the party would have to match that sacrifice.

In my post I think I loosely summarized Zanu PF’s statement to say, “Maakufarisa”.

The important lesson I drew people’s attention to then was that it was clear that authority (Party and Government) were now “incensed and the kid gloves approach was surely over”.

Of course, the soft approach towards the opposition was always resisted especially by hardliners at party level. They had taken turns to remind the younger and more progressive fellows from government that “big tails were growing, and the opposition would soon resort to something drastic”.

The progressives had always argued that petty things done by MDC leadership should be excused for the greater good, given efforts to re-brand the country.

But then August happened, then January, then one after the other MDC Youth leaders all the way to Sikhala made directs threats towards the President.

It was not just Twitter or Facebook. It was real calls for action. To the party and government as a collective, the MDC had “crossed the line from nuisance to outright menace”.

And for that the ‘kid glove approach’ was ended.

Anyway, back to the kid gloves approach issue. If you recall, Tendai Biti committed nearly similar offenses (Though Biti’s was about election results and Japajapa incitement) at pretty much the same time.

Biti was arrested movie style and eventually convicted and ordered to pay $200 fine or go to prison for a week. He was also handed a jail term of six months, which was suspended for five years. A basic slap on the wrist.

Now, Japajapa got a cool 2 years today.

If ever you needed proof that minor transgressions that were getting clemency will be called in there it is.

In reality, all politics is a game. How the MDC plays this one will be interesting. The centers of power have demonstrated that their patience has worn thin. They have played their card. What happens next?

Well that is for you to analyze and weigh. I have done my bit.

  • Maynard Manyowa is a journalist, MA student in documentary filmmaking. Views expressed in his articles are his own and not necessarily those of his clients, partners, school or employers.