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Sibusiso Moyo: A soldier of tyranny

By Tafi Mhaka

The late Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo (SB), a former soldier and bureaucrat widely regarded as intelligent, brave and disciplined by his peers, exemplified the overblown and clearly limited value of higher education qualifications in politics.

The late Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo (SB) (Photo by Alexander ShcherbakTASS via Getty Images)
The late Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo (SB) (Photo by Alexander ShcherbakTASS via Getty Images)

Little known by the wider Zimbabwean community before the November 2017 coup that removed former President Robert Mugabe from office, Moyo marked his arrival on the political stage with a cynical and laughable appraisal of civilian leadership.

Along with former General Constantino Chiwenga, the late Perrance Shiri and General Valerio Sibanda, he willingly nullified the people’s power in pursuit of a partisan objective: to help Emmerson Mnangagwa force his way to the presidency.

Watching Moyo declare his clique’s coup as a just effort to remove the “thugs” around Mugabe could only be described as surreal. Zimbabwe was an economic, social and political mess in 2017 – no different to the terror-filled 2009 and the inflation-hit 2005 – or for that matter, the COVID-plagued 2021.

You had to be extremely privileged or ignorant, or both, or high up the government food chain, to believe a few wealthy and powerful “thugs” had captured Mugabe and the instruments of state power. Anybody that lived through the 1980s and 1990s clearly understood that, ultimately, Mugabe’s failed struggle encompassed more than just a few politically ambitious characters attempting to gain power.

An expansive and ruthless system crushed Zimbabwe’s prospects and reduced it to a regional disaster and international pariah. But during the coup and while in office, Moyo peddled worn out propaganda about political regeneration with outlandish energy and misdirected enthusiasm.

He became the eloquently flawed people’s spokesperson, disingenuously claiming he represented the long-suffering masses. That, undoubtedly, became his Achilles heel: he failed to understand the people’s woes, despite his time spent at war and in the army.

Indeed, throughout his time in office, Moyo never gave the distinct impression that he understood the essence of the people’s struggle, that nobody asked him to plan or participate in a coup – that he had no right to help remove the dictatorial Mugabe administration and help replace it with the dictatorial Mnangagwa administration at the expense of strong, progressive democracy.

He portrayed the characteristics of a man guided and blinded by loyalty to the narrowest of questionable Zanu-PF interests. The inappropriately termed reengagement, under Moyo, led to a hive of futile activity and money wasted on expensive jaunts, obligatory TV interviews and dubious New York-based PR campaigns.

Whether by design or not, the bright and highly educated Moyo became the foreign affairs minister that at every step tried to evade the ominous shadow of his country’s problems. At every turn, Moyo tried to deny that Zimbabweans had the agency to enunciate their problems and express their political preferences – without the army or Zanu-PF’s intimidation or direction.

He lied about the deaths of innocent and unarmed civilians on 1 August 2018, describing a government crackdown as the result of “clashes” between the army and civilians, while promising “those responsible will be held accountable.”

To date, predictably, nobody has been held responsible, and Moyo had no problem with that considerable injustice. He also praised the “work” of the “POLAD International and Re-engagement committee” and the MDC-T, under Thokozani Khupe’s leadership, for “drawing a line in terms of defending the national interest of this country”.

But he displayed no positivity towards Nelson Chamisa’s MDC, clearly the “voice” of the opposition. Indeed, he just had no time for alternative views, and labelled Hopewell Chin’ono a US lackey. Moyo, as usual, found it hard to believe that exposing or fighting corruption and condemning human rights violations are not solely the preserve of Western actors.

To compound this political shiftiness, Moyo journeyed far and wide, unnecessarily, at taxpayer’s expense, insisting that lifting sanctions and increasing international investment would help facilitate a strong human rights culture and promote freedom of expression.

That Moyo made the implementation of constitutionally guaranteed human rights contingent on the lifting of sanctions remains an enigma, and an expressive abrogation of the post-independence struggle. Throughout his time at the helm of foreign affairs Moyo condoned and defended the sadistic arrests of journalists, civil rights activists and opposition politicians.

Whatever happened, unendingly, he just never realised, or accepted, that our problems don’t begin and end with the West. Our problems, and the solutions to normalising relations with world powers, begin and end with Zimbabweans: poor, young, old and ordinary Zimbabweans, people whose pleas, opinions and votes for substantial change Moyo routinely condemned and ignored.

It’s clear that when Moyo triumphantly announced that the army had removed the “thugs”, he had forgot about what led to Zimbabwe’s destruction in the first place: Mugabe, and by extension, Zanu-PF detested liberal democracy, strong opposition and the freedom of thought.

As an ex-ZIPRA cadre that had a front row seat to the murderous thuggery of the Gukurahundi massacres, he should have recognised the dangers of restricting freedom of expression, suppressing political liberties and overextending the influence of state security actors for political ends.

But, regrettably, he didn’t. In just three regressive and anarchic years, the Mnangagwa administration, aided by Moyo’s flowery and wishful talk on the international stage, recreated a government that is frighteningly similar to the 1980s Mugabe regime: slick, loquacious, idealistic and democratic in its outlook, but simply repressive and fairly redundant in practice. Moyo will, and should, be remembered as a man that helped add misery to a previously disastrous situation.

His international “engagements”, in hindsight, came to nothing, as he failed to distinguish himself from the “thugs” that preceded him in government. He might not have realised it, but he evolved into the caricature of a typical government man: long on talk, yet short on reality, strategy and delivery.

Like his predecessors, Moyo conflated Zanu-PF ambitions with national interests at a great and possibly irredeemable cost to our beautiful country. Unfortunately, like many who lie at the Heroes Acre in Warren Park, Moyo could have put his intelligence, education and passion for public office to good use, but he didn’t, and died a failed Zanu-PF leader.

Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2021. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka

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