Saturday, 30 August 2008

Mutambara/Ncube: A wet swab, kind balm, for salty eyes

Mutambara/Ncube: A wet swab, kind balm, for salty eyes

Poor Arthur Mutambara! Poor Welshman Ncube! Well not quite poor just yet. It all depends on what these two men are prepared to do or not to do next, does it not? Facing a political rebellion — which is what MDC-M suffered this week — need not presage disaster. What does is the absence of decisiveness.

You really needed to be mole-blind to have missed the overbearing presentment that Arthur and Welshman were not going to be able to command "their" men in Parliament for the outcome they preferred.

They were set for grief, with the forces against them rich and formidable, they only rich in convictions. As any in Zanu-PF is quick to tell you, this is no era for politics of values and ideals. Hard-headed opportunism is the watchword. Sorry guys, this is not the age of innocence and whoever pays passes!

Last week, I deliberately fell a gram shy of saying so, but still gave copious hints on what the Monday of the vote would yield. I went much further to offer presumptive advice to the two gentlemen on how I thought and still think they should have and should handle rebellion that now threatens their political careers.

The collateral of defeat

But first to Zanu-PF. Let history record the real facts. Zanu-PF did not field a candidate for Speakership. And once it did not, its members voted for the best option in the circumstances. Zanu-PF could not have been defeated therefore, much as it may have collaterally and vicariously felt the pangs of that defeat. But the truth must still be recorded for history. Zanu-PF did not field a candidate principally because it produced none.

It simply did not have a consensual figure, a deficit made worse by clear indications from both MDC-M and Jonathan Moyo they were not going to vote for John Nkomo, the outgoing Zanu-PF speaker. To that add anxieties — irrational in my view — on the future of the 1987 Unity Accord which made the selection of a candidate a little more complicated than searching and finding an acceptable candidate. Until that morning of the vote, few in Zanu-PF knew that the ruling party was not going to field a candidate, let alone that they would be required to embrace a candidate of MDC-M. What is worse, very few knew, let alone understood that the candidate would take the form, shape and name of Paul Themba Nyathi. So Zanu-PF’s support for Paul Themba Nyathi was a case of circumstantial goodwill and choice.

Dalliance with Todd’s shadow

I have a lot against Paul Nyathi, as I am sure also do many in Zanu-PF. That includes quite a few from old PF-Zapu. Apart from his unyielding views on the bloody discord that rocked the Patriotic Front in the early eighties, he is a waterproof vessel for white Rhodesian liberal politics which Judith Todd personifies. His association with those kind of politics is long and historical, making him the Zimbabwean equivalent of Democratic Alliance’s Selemani. Both after the Zimbabwe Project and after the rise of British, American, Australian and New Zealand-sponsored opposition, many know in which direction these politics have morphed and mutated.

After Tsvangirai’s pull-out from the June run-off, many also know that Nyathi’s Adelaide Acres became home to MDC-T’s political and propaganda bedlams who claimed and feigned refuge status to suggest worsening conditions for the notice of Western powers. Nyathi quarrelled with MDC-T. Nyathi differed with Zanu-PF. The former is a matter of nuances, the latter a matter of a bitter, and therefore a defining experience for him.

Nyathi’s differences with Zanu-PF, much like Dabengwa’s (he confessed it), are both historical and unbridgeable. He has a history of organising against Zanu-PF, a course and career too unattended by any modicum of victory to be appeasable. Themba Nyathi’s speakership would have been a stout curse for Zanu-PF, a sturdy embarrassment for the ruling Party. Imagine the embarrassment to Zanu-PF of a Nyathi speakership rising with Zanu-PF benediction, but turning out to be just as, or more hostile, just as, or more ill-intent than that of MDC-T’s Moyo! The defeat would have come double, creating worse complications for Zanu-PF. But as with the March election, a defeat will once again prove and turn out to be a blessing. Back to the Mutambara crew.

Shonalising the MDC?

Nothing new or surprising happened on Monday. Nothing at all. The defiant rebellion which was suffered by the MDC-M leadership only hit an apogee on that fateful day. The faction had lived with a leadership contradiction for a very long time. And this leadership contradiction was shifty, very shifty, never with permanent incarnates.

Often, Mutambara himself epitomised it, triggering charges that he was selling a Ndebelised MDC back to its larger, violent and dictatorial Shonalised equivalent led by Tsvangirai. It got worse. The Mutambara-Makoni-Tsvangirai triumvirate suggested a Manyikalisation of MDC politics. In the eyes of the easy and shallow of course, a good many of them simply reflecting their own worldview, clearly founded on a reverse tribal template!

Whilst the three men occasionally found each other, they also lost each other and one another big time. For a man who had spent so much time away from home; for a young man who sought to wade into the choppy waters of politics with the naivety of a robotics professor, it was quite natural, in fact proper, for him to seek unity of the opposition, indeed to give older players in opposition ranks the benefit of the doubt, the same way it made sense for him to make gestures to the liberation struggle and its ethos.

No dire readings needed to have been made against him. Yet the point remains that he precipitated contradictions in leadership which bred the suspicions that on congealed into a humiliating choice.

Fickle seats, illusory victory

Upon realising Makoni was a hard-sell in Matabeleland, the Mutambara faction sought to reorient its politics by dumping Makoni in their campaign messages. But it was fatally too late in Bulawayo where the volatile voter there had been outraged by the baffling decision of the Mutambara faction.

To that voter, Ncube and Mutambara had betrayed the cause by rallying behind a man they saw as a Zanu-PF Trojan Horse. The faction was just able to rescue a fraction of its rural support base in March, which is what largely yielded the ten seats they, until Monday, enjoyed in Parliament. But they were fickle seats held by men who saw and sought leadership in the other MDC. MDC-Mutambara candidates in most constituencies of Bulawayo and the two Matabeleland provinces were heavily compromised by the MDC-T which used all manner and form of inveiglements, not least among them one tremendous money inscribed: "In God we Trust". And a bit of fuel per month. Moyo, the new speaker, played no small part in this well-laced MDC-T offensive.

America’s God wreaks havoc

This dimension became even more apparent during the run-off. America’s Mephistophelian God came back, this time with greater vengeance, as also did drums of fuel. The question was whether or not sitting MPs (from March 29) should campaign for Tsvangirai in the run-off.

All but two MPs and Senators from MDC-M obliged the temptation, which is why MDC-M parliamentarians campaigned for Tsvangirai in Matabeleland, in spite of the position of their party to the contrary. So when Botswana came, there was very little effort needed. The MDC-M parliamentarians had been flown to Botswana by MDC-T; housed by it, fed by it and of course awarded stipends big enough to motivate choices of the Monday we saw. After all they had gone there without the blessing of their "leaders", in flight in fact from their leadership.

All this was known to Zanu-PF, in fact had been debated only the Saturday before the vote at the Party headquarters. To this add David Coltart’s clear unhappiness over the stance of Mutambara and Ncube post-Sandton, and you realise, as did any thinking head in Zanu-PF, that Mutambara and Ncube were pledging what they did not have. They were not in Parliament themselves to enforce their pledges anyway.

Monday and the dialogue

Zanu-PF’s decision to throw its weight behind the Mutambara candidate could not have been about wanting to secure the speakership for whose candidacy Zanu-PF itself could offer no one. It was a calculation and gesture which redounded quite remarkably. Firstly, it underscored Zanu-PF’s readiness and commitment to the principle of ceding and sharing power, the principle of collaborative politics lately in vogue.

And that the power did not go in the Mutambara direction cannot surely be blamed on Zanu-PF. Secondly, the move tested all claims to power, influence and authority, something so important to Zanu-PF as it handles the next decision it faces, that of forming Government. I elect not to elaborate on this one matter.

Thirdly, Monday was just about the face-saving victory Tsvangirai needed to get back to the agreement which many now regard as stale and uninteresting. Indeed so elated was Biti that he loudly declared: "Now we can resume the dialogue". I hope the MDC-T can. As I write, the parties are in South Africa, MDC-T clearly thinking itself re-valued, MDC-M feeling un-mandated and thus devalued, in fact shadowed by MDC-B (Bhebhe).

Whether we like it or not, Monday sealed the unofficial reunion of the hitherto riven MDCs, under Tsvangirai, leaving Mutambara and Ncube not in the cold but facing a cold prospect.

Please save my face

This convoluted, the MDC-T leader thought he could demand to see President Mbeki as he pleased. He was snubbed, painfully snubbed, hopefully to realise that his Monday victory was very much a local affair. Biti who had in fact asked for the meeting of parties did not turn up, rumoured to be seeing a doctor over an equally rumoured cause. No parties meeting took place, only consultations with the facilitator. Nothing new came from MDC, except its wish to find a face-saving pretext for appending its signature to the agreement it long agreed to. Of course it made arguments and demands, all stale and recycled, to interlocutors whose patience is past stretching.

The day Brown smiled

Fourthly and lastly, the MDC-T victory in Parliament, further sweetened by the rowdiness that followed, resonated in London and Washington. Once more the MDC had made another inch towards power, so the reasoning goes in the hallways of these citadels of manipulative politics. That means power can shift within existing structures under the auspices of Mugabe, right? The same way it shifted in March, right?

Indeed the same way it shifted yet again in June, right? You cannot agree to one and deny the other, surely? So there is that ebb and flow of power, arguably itself the litmus test of democracy, is that not so? Britain loved Monday. America loved Monday. Let us move on then.

Cabinet is coming

A small one. President Mugabe does not need the say-so of Sadc to constitute his Government. He needs the go-ahead from no one. I say this because I see the media trying to take the fatuous MDC line that the President will have torn the MOU if he were to appoint his Cabinet. If that is their view of things, let their paper baskets be on hand for the shards. Cabinet will be announced, quite soon too. Tsvangirai will do nothing about it. And when Tsvangirai refuses to sign what he has agreed to, what Sadc has endorsed, does that reinforce the paper on which the agreement is written? Grow up guys.

Often the argument gets quite silly. One writer says Sadc gave President Mugabe the nod to open Parliament but not to make Government. Is Parliament not a part of Government? And is not Parliament the source of Cabinet, in terms of our supreme law? And if Parliament is opened, it will oversee who and what?

How does a person who is anything but ignorant suggest a partitioning of processes so intertwined and mutually implying? If the President delayed opening Parliament or announcing Cabinet, it was out of sheer politeness and for the sheer expedience of ensuring he would not have to reshuffle his Government upon swearing. He was obeying no law, obeying no protocol. The MoU only holds in circumstances of good faith that binds all parties to the talks.

Who needs order in Parliament?

Another small one. Those who read and are relishing much out of MDC control of speakership, think the ruling party is in for a bad patch. Really? In their wanton delight, they start with the Tuesday heckling by those kindergartens. How thoughtless can one become? By heckling the President, MDC-T has set a precedent which it is going to rue. The man in the chair is its speaker and the people in opposition are Zanu-PF.

The last time I saw these men and women from Zanu-PF, they had enough bile, enough mouths for wild yells. Yes, they had enough songs for derisive contributions. How about that from October until the next recess. Zanu-PF could make things quite nasty for the MDC Speaker, really nasty. And it will lose nothing. So who needs O-OO-ORDER!!!?

Throwing from a glass house

I notice the new Speaker has already realised how fatal what happened on Tuesday is to his tenure. He is pleading helplessness; he is pleading mutual restraint in the House. I wish him well. But he has a point, albeit spoilt by the cynicism underpinning it. The moment the President ascends to the seat for his delivery, the Speaker ceases to be in control of the House.

Yet in terms of present arrangements, it is not clear who takes charge and thus can order the sergeant-at-arms to bash a few nutty heads in that supposedly august House. If for instance the man in the chair is the man in charge, then the President faces no hurdles at all.

Judging by the welling fury in the service chiefs, it should not be very difficult to bring in a few Military Police musculars to reign in those hooligans who are set to suggest and try pushing bad laws for my country.

There is a real lacuna in the rules and practices, a lacuna arising from the complacency I have always criticised Zanu-PF for. A few changes are sure to come in that august House. Willy-nilly for the MDC. It is about the security and dignity of the Office of the President, and there will not be inter-party palaver for that I can assure you.

Who blinks first?

I have deliberately deferred my thoughts on what Mutambara and Ncube must do to stave off a looming political tundra. My sources tell me there is fury in the camp. Sure, there should be. Who stomachs such contumely? But what is at stake calls for much more than fury. It requires decisiveness. As leaders of their faction, Ncube and Mutambara need to declare the rebel MPs outlaws.

They need to disown them through processes that should resonate in Parliament. Such as formally notifying the new Speaker about whom they have very little love, that the ten MPs crossed the floor that Monday. That immediately wipes out MDC-T’s newfound dominance by bribery.

That immediately precipitates a series of by-elections which the rebel MPs are sure to lose. Get it from me, neither MDC-T nor the rebel MPs have a stomach for by-elections just now. And of course such a development will create a new dynamic within MDC-T itself.

Can Ncube and Mutambara do it? I wonder. Or will they be pre-empted by an approach to the courts by the rebels, as is being mooted? Again, I wonder. Whichever way, speed and decisiveness is what is needed. And if the two men lack both, they might as well kiss kwaheri to politics. Or join Zanu-PF.



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