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Tafi Mhaka: ‘The Chiwengas are a political disaster’

By Tafi Mhaka

In 2011, Wikileaks revealed that Major-General Fidelis Satuku and Brigadier-General Herbert Chingono had described then-Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantino Chiwenga as a “political general” with little practical military experience or expertise”.

Constantino Chiwenga and estranged wife Marry Chiwenga
Constantino Chiwenga and estranged wife Marry Chiwenga

Backed by former president Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF, Chiwenga had risen through the ranks of the ZDF driven by political ambition but clearly lacking the necessary skills and respect from subordinates which a top general should boast.

These astounding revelations were followed by a messy divorce in 2014 that, more than anything, revealed Chiwenga’s questionable riches and generated a plethora of sensational stories about his wife’s deeply disturbing behaviour.

To be clear, almost a decade ago, it was not only a lack of productive leadership that made Chiwenga unfit for public office. It was not only an undefined accumulation of wealth and an unruly spouse that repeatedly raised red flags about his professional conduct.

It was not only that he led an organisation that had been implicated in the multibillion-dollar plunder of diamonds in faraway Democratic Republic of Congo and Marange Diamonds Fields. It was his tendency to play politics at the expense of Zimbabwe’s stability.   

Yet, to Zimbabwe’s presently festering political and economic disadvantage, nobody took steps to infuse the ZDF with focused and forward-thinking leadership. It might have been because Chiwenga’s deplorable situation resembled Mugabe’s personal failings and sat well with Zanu-PF’s hierarchy.

It might have been that Chiwenga’s undyingly unscrupulous devotion to Zanu-PF’s political survival, as witnessed by the murderous violence unleashed on MDC supporters by the ZDF after Mugabe lost to Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of the 2008 presidential elections, endeared him with Zanu-PF’s warmongering anti-democrats. Or it just might have been because Zanu-PF actually has no moral compass to adhere to.

Today Chiwenga’s unresolved litany of startling personal and professional shortcomings have returned to haunt Zimbabwe again. His ridiculously aggressive stance towards striking doctors last year marked him out as an irrevocably selfish, hasty and inept man: a loud and delinquent political midget overwhelmed by the intellectual and humanitarian demands of strong leadership.

Yet, it’s the revolving circus surrounding his latest divorce that is cause for concern. The man ostensibly set to become president should President Emmerson Mnangagwa resign, retire or die in office tomorrow is simply a walking disaster.

His estranged spouse has aptly filled by the void left by his former wife. Marry Mubaiwa’s attempted murder trial, dubious financial dealings and violent public conduct exemplify the festering rot swirling in Zimbabwe’s presidium. Assaulting her children’s maid in public, as widely reported, is no small matter.

It’s similar to former First Lady Grace Mugabe striking a hapless South African woman. It’s reminiscent of First Lady Auxilia Mnangagwa harassing an army officer over the phone. It’s akin to an axe-wielding Vice President Kembo Mohadi breaking down three doors, threatening to shoot his ex-wife and grabbing three vehicles after a contentious divorce settlement.

And it’s wholly indicative of a normalised culture of rampant violence and impunity among Zanu-PF elites and youths. That Mubaiwa also reportedly gained access to a court order before it had been publicly granted smacks of unbelievable contempt for the rule of law at the highest levels.

Plus, it symbolises the undeniably long dysfunctional and biased nature of Zimbabwe’s courts; and it brings to question many fiercely disputed judgements that have against all odds favoured Zanu-PF and stymied the MDC Alliance’s political agenda in the recent past.

No doubt many ordinary law-abiding and morality-bound Zimbabweans are embarrassed and angered by Chiwenga’s abrasive, amoral and protrusive ‘leadership’ style and seemingly invisible acumen. Besides doling out publicly funded agricultural inputs in Zanu-PF strongholds and regurgitating party propaganda unendingly, Chiwenga has done nothing to advance Zimbabwe’s prosperity since assuming office.

Are Zimbabwe’s youths truly expected to admire, emulate or pay heed to Chiwenga’s public rantings and adverse actions? That may just be Zimbabwe’s major problem: the Chiwengas are a constitutional representation of Zimbabwe’s best leadership. Yet in practice, they are a smothering political calamity that embodies ‘us’ at domestic and international platforms. 

Because for the most part Zimbabwe’s leadership is supposedly a just symbol of the people’s most noble aspirations and the country’s national character: our culture. But, how can a young girl of high-school going age look up to Mubaiwa for motivation? What part about the second lady engaging in dodgy financial transactions, physically attacking another woman in public and spending weeks locked away at Harare Remand Prison is commendable?

Can any unemployed young man truthfully look up to Chiwenga as a fountain of wisdom, support and magnanimity? What part of using ZDF soldiers for personal agendas is distinctly acceptable in a democratic society? It’s no small wonder Zimbabwe has become an openly violent and corruption riddled country.

The youth and elderly who have been schooled in Zanu-PF’s violently profitable failings have truly come of age. Many have found subsistence in perpetrating crimes and unashamedly using Zanu-PF influence as a springboard to obtaining suspicious riches. Many support Mrs Chiwenga, and idolise her. They find no tangible blame, immorality or illegalities in her countless transgressions.

Sadly, no magic wand will reverse the damage this Zanu-PF lot has caused to Zimbabwe’s present and progressively miserable future, especially should Chiwenga become president.

It’s no longer a secret that Chiwenga’s overriding focus as the second-in-charge is himself, his immediate family and his Zanu-PF party, all in that order, and not Zimbabwe. And it’s obvious that Zimbabwe under Chiwenga’s Zanu-PF will only work for the economic and political elites.

Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka

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