Friday, 14 November 2008

Dabengwa: The dream of a revalorised PF-ZAPU

Dabengwa: The dream of a revalorised PF-ZAPU

I spent this week reading a fascinating book written way back in 1947 by a Cuban scholar, Fernando Ortiz. Titled "Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar", this thoughtful work explores Cuban and Latin American history from the angle of tobacco and sugar: the one a weed, the other a grass; the one born, the other made; the one a delight of the spirit, the other a delight of the flesh; the one poison, the other food; the one as "daring as blasphemy, the other "as humble as prayer".

Your whole frame is thrown back when Ortiz pushes matters to breaking point: "Sugar has always been more of a woman’s sweetmeat than a man’s need. The latter usually looks down upon sweets as a thing below his masculine dignity . . . In tobacco’s spirals of smoke there are fallacious beauties and poetic inspirations. Perhaps old Freud wondered whether sugar was narcissiatic (sic) and tobacco erotic. If life is an ellipsis with its two foci in stomach and loins, sugar is food and nourishment while tobacco is love and reproduction. In their origins, sugar and tobacco were equally pagan, and still are by reason of their sensual appeal . . . Jehovah promised His people a land flowing with milk and honey, not with tobacco and sugar."

Toppling man-mountains

It is very difficult to excerpt from such a finely wrought literary piece. Ortiz maintains this delicate balance and counterpoint, boldly terming tobacco and sugar "the two most important personages in the history of Cuba", the Carribean and Latino world. Your first instinct as a reader is to dismiss this fairly sizeable book as one hack of frivolous intellectual self-indulgence. I mean in all seriousness, how does one topple men-mountains like Simon Bolivar, Augusto Cesar Sandino, Jose Marti, Che Guevara, or Fidel Castro for a noxious weed and for a crystalline grain (however sweet) as vectors of such a tumultuous history, a history which at one point assumed cosmic significance? Remember the Cuban crisis?

Bold and blasphemous

As the book seduces you into the inner depth of its saccharine and wispy boudoir, the tender parts of its fleshy meaning begin to reveal themselves so irresistibly. Ortiz is exploring a very violent encounter between unequal continents, a bloody encounter whose fulcrum was plantation imperial capitalism. Surely this must be a familiar thesis to us as Zimbabweans, although none within our intellectual ranks has sought to explore our history from the standpoint of the Virginia leaf (I can’t afford a malapropic spelling mistake on this one word whose first letter is a "V"), or the white "balls" of cotton or soya. Like Cuba, imperialism took the form of estates in this our great country, Zimbabwe. Ortiz gets bolder and supremely blasphemous in that book He links sinful tobacco to venerated, purple-garmented cardinals of the Holy See.

Which gets me thinking: the white smoke signalling consensus on a long sought-after new Pope, does it owe to burnt incense or to one huge, communal puff from all ranks of Catholic-dom: deacons, friars, priests, bishops, archbishops, gaunt cardinals in one giant momentary renunciation of vows? And what other less smoky misdeeds are condoned by the Politburo of my church in such a happy hour? Perish the thought, for I am really narrowing my chances of wearing a holy diadem!

A sin such as this

Back to Ortiz. Focusing on Sicily, Naples and Milan, Ortiz carefully traces how cardinals joined earthly sailors and soldiers in spreading the scriptural wonders of tobacco to the rest of Italy. He specifically indicts Cardinal Prospero de Santa Croce for taking tobacco to papal Rome before 1585, having explored its wondrous uses during his stay in Portugal. Which is why on papal grounds, tobacco was known as erba Santa Croce.

Ortiz incriminates yet another wearer of the purple — Cardinal Crescensio — for introducing Rome to smoking, and, what is worse, for successfully persuading Pope Urban VII to take snuff on his return to Rome from England in 1590. Which takes me to the point I want to develop and adapt. Once the devil was that so well and firmly ensconced in the vestry, the good pontiff had the temerity to offer his snuffbox to the head of some unnamed religious order, who promptly declined to take a pinch, saying: "Your Holiness, I do not have that vice." To which the Pontifex Maximus replied: "If it were a vice, you would have it."

I am prayerful the Papal Nuncio who so peacefully resides in Mount Pleasant, will pray for my redemption, passing the temptation to fling my little body into the flaming deep for eternal combustion! People must be amuseth, so said Charles Dickens in the Nineteenth Century, pleading for some relief to humanity so deadened by the debilitating drudgery of industrial England.

Sandton and back

We have been to Sandton and back, carrying the Sadc communiqué in our bags. The section on Zimbabwe is very terse, even numerical. It has four points, all of them exhorting in tone. An inclusive Government must be formed "forthwith in Zimbabwe". The Ministry of Home Affairs must be "co-managed" between Zanu-PF and MDC-T. The efficacy of the arrangement must "be reviewed after six (6) months by the Parties with the assistance of the Facilitator, Sadc and AU". The Parties to the September 15 Global Political Agreement "must, without any further delay, introduce the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Number 19", to give effect to decisions and provisions of the said agreement. You cannot miss the finality of the communiqué’s tone. For a low-level, non-armed political conflict, the communiqué is uncharacteristically peremptory. It implies a Sadc which can bite, a Sadc which indeed barked on the day, to presage a generous bite sure to follow in the event the "must" in its communiqué is not respected.

Whose muscle is bigger?

I am sure Sadc weighed its muscle against those of the signatories to the agreement, and realised its own muscle was the biggest, the most overwhelming. It is important to identify the respective muscles of each party to the agreement. Zanu-PF’s muscle derives from its status as the party in Government and thus a party vicariously signatory to the constitutive Act that founded Sadc, and the subsidiary instruments and structures legitimising Sadc’s entry into the fray in the first place. But that is just one tendon.

Zanu-PF is the party wielding Government and thus the party with all the instruments of governance and enforcement in the country. Zanu-PF is the Government of the day and thus a decisive part of the State and society of Zimbabwe. Another tendon: Zanu-PF is the party of liberation, indeed the shaper of the post-colonial ethos which remains dominant, and against which MDC is ranged. It bears the people’s past struggles and has been battling to convince Zimbabweans that the current difficulties are a continuation of those same struggles for untrammelled say in the affairs of their country.

That pride of place and role, spanning from the past, struggling to evolve into the future, gives two decisive strings to its bow. From that history, Zanu-PF derives a well respected philosophy which resonates throughout Southern Africa, throughout Africa and the Third World.

Secondly, its history in fighting armed colonialism gives it both a reserve force, a template and an experience for defending power, or regaining it once lost.

Zanu-PF is a guerilla army detoured by chores of Government, encamped in the State as the Government of the day. Should the need and day for a march arise, Zanu-PF can and will become the irregular force it has been before, in national politics. Equally, should the need and day arise, the British can once more become Zanu-PF ’s axis.

What is more, the way forces which today pass for Zanu-PF’s odds have been shaping and forming, make it pretty certain Zanu-PF will have a very good rear and very good allies, should the need and day arise. It has this unique advantage of possibly having to mobilise around the same fundamental grievance, that of LAND.

A muscle or a swelling?

MDC-T’s muscle is largely a matter of conjecture. I know the MDC-T people do not like this one. But that is their problem and they can sort it out. Its spectacular performance in March this year owed more to external factors than to its inner constitution and impetus. Given changed circumstances — and much has changed since then — MDC-T cannot repeat the fluke feat of March 29. They know it.

Fundamentally, MDC-T was dealing with a Zanu-PF which simply incompetently mischaracterised its real enemy, a dangerously distracted Zanu-PF. I doubt whether Zanu-PF will ever repeat such a mistake again. MDC-T thrived on a blind-spot and cataract which has since been removed. Today, Zanu-PF sees better and is only too keen to reverse the odious result of March 29. It is just a matter of when and how.

Equal and opposite?

Both the March 2007 encounter and the June presidential elections showed MDC-T cannot withstand concerted pressure from a resolute Zanu-PF. MDC’s power does not derive from an equal and opposite force to Zanu-PF; rather it derives from its victim status, itself not quite the profile of a principal political actor. The reckless arrogance it has shown lately, coupled with the growing realisation on the part of the fair world that MDC-T is itself violent and even toying with the idea of armed insurrection, will increasingly make it less of an object of pity and more of a vanquished opponent in a contest in which it has misleadingly proclaimed equal capacity and status.

Significantly, Zanu-PF has been playing the placatory card of a party in a corner, a party running out of options and thus deserving of a rescue package. There is an in interesting reverse psychology.

Mass action or mass despondency?

Thirdly, with the way mass action as an instrument of bidding for power has so repeatedly and so spectacularly failed, MDC-T can no longer bank on that plank, however exacerbated the larger social conditions may be. It is a false thesis that harsh social conditions translate into a generalised rebellion. Much rests on who the people blame for the deterioration.

It would be a grand self-illusion for MDC-T to think the Zimbabwean public acquits it on this one matter. The one strangely positive outcome the present challenges present for Zanu-PF, is the growing awareness that indeed MDC-spawned sanctions are generalised and very hurtful, indeed that they have destroyed the capacity of a benevolent State which has always stood by the people in times of hunger and hardships. Which is why none of the previous years of drought in this country ever turned into years of hunger and famine. Far from alienating the people, the threatened famine has clearly shown the people that their real insurance against adversity is a strong, not weakened, State and Zanu-PF.

Collapsing Khama

To this, add the glaring fact that MDC-T’s attempted military adventure with the Khama military regime is coming to a screeching, undignified stop. It is plain poor thinking to ever imagine anyone can launch an armed resistance from bare Botswana, however politically well disposed that country’s leadership may be. Or that Sadc will condone it, more so given the involvement of Americans and British trainers (including some Zimbabweans attested to the British army) in the whole quixotic venture.

Attempts to use Mozambican soil for similar ends have not only been futile; they have resurrected the spectre of a second RENAMO which has worked wonderfully well for Zanu-PF.

You do not meet with the bandit Dhlakama and still hope to cultivate Mozambique’s goodwill or neutrality in what pretends to be an internal Zimbabwean political question. MDC did a perfect job in raising Frelimo’s angst. So, unconstitutional routes are closed to MDC, and that also includes their hope for a putsch inside the country which can only ensure their speedy end.

The muscle of Albion

The real muscle of MDC-T is that of Britain, America and Europe, as its combined handlers. You only needed to be in Sandton to see how the so-called MDC-T leaders were reduced to grovelling and wagging puppies before McGee and Dell. It was disgusting to see Mukonoweshuro stoop and kowtow. The deployment of the two Americans to South Africa does bear out my point, does it not? That means the power of MDC-T is the willingness of the Western world to intervene politically and militarily in Zimbabwe.

But such an intervention would need a fig-leaf from Sadc and the AU, which is why Sandton has been such a wonderful development. We may not need to repel a Western invasion here any longer. Or if we do, we will have to do it with a full sense of fighting a just war, an African war at that, all against a recolonisation attempt. It would be such a wonderful war and I, for one, would not hesitate to draw blood in those circumstances.

And now the economy

The MDC muscle is the West’s willingness to complete the closing of shop here, by way of an economic shutdown. Given the way things stand, this can only amount to a completion of a process already in terminal phase, never a new low presaging a cataclysmic end.

We have hit the bottom; we cannot fall.

Alternative "people economies" have been evolving as interim safety nets while a new, quite national economy, is emerging on the ruins of the dying or dead British South Africa Company one.

So, this is a very weak muscle, one made weaker by a very strange response from Corporate South Africa. There is a growing recognition in South Africa that the endgame in Zimbabwe is nigh, and that the fattest worm goes to the one best placed for its immediate aftermath. We are seeing a breaking of ranks in erstwhile allies.

We are seeing an unusual interest in Zimbabwe, especially from Afrikaner capital. This well before we talk of the Russians and Chinese. MDC-T may have misread the political demeanour of a post-Mbeki South Africa. The shock to MDC-T will hit home when a conference of liberation movements of Southern Africa convenes before year-end.

When no muscle is one muscle

MDC-M has no muscle, which is precisely its muscle. At some point I thought Mutambara was about to squander that paradoxical resource, by playing spokesman to Tsvangirai. He seems to have hesitated right on the brink. There is little to be gained by an MDC-M seeking to ingratiate itself with MDC-T or Zanu-PF. There is much to be gained by an MDC-M which plays compliant arbiter between two charging bulls.

A Mutambara who honestly tells the media the only outstanding matter between the contesting parties is that of Home Affairs; who honestly tells the media MDC-T is set for a dead-end by opposing a Sadc verdict, is a Mutambara successfully ducking the damaging charge of partisanship. Which is why I assert that MDC-M’s muscle is its skill in compensating for its powerlessness through a firm, middle-of-the-road position at once pleasing and upsetting both parties in equal measure.

A pinch from the snuffbox

Against all these muscles, the Sadc muscle is a moral one deriving from its coveted status as the AU’s political referral. It is correct the AU derives its position from the sub-region, which is why MDC’s investment in Kikwete may never pass for much. But there are internal factors. I hear fatigue is setting in within MDC. Some within MDC are itching for a showdown. They will get it if they are carving for some salt. Others want to come into Government, hoping to fight and subvert Zanu-PF better from within. They think they are better intellect in Cabinet; they think they will be better able to reorganise their MDC, to overcome the June and post-June debility. Their funds are running out, or are being withheld by Strive Masiyiwa. So they hope to prey on the State.

I went to CMED the other day and saw a row of brand new Mercs I was told are waiting for MDC ministers. My heart sank for I remembered many families who daily "sleep with it", or whose breath reek of hacha. I heard that the Speaker is already driving his and will not hear anybody who speaks ill of the inclusive Government. Is this as subversive as MDC will be, once in Government? "Your Holiness, I do not have that vice." If it were a vice, you would have it! Tell me, who in MDC does not want the snuffbox passed on to him?

When 15 may be the number

I notice there is a false debate in the media on whether or not President Mugabe will form an inclusive Government. Well, it depends on what passes for "forming" an inclusive Government. The President should invite all the parties to forward nominations for appointment to Cabinet. I hope he does this publicly so that he is seen to be implementing the Sadc resolution.

On the basis of forwarded nominations, the President will proceed to appoint and swear in a new Cabinet. It may not matter how many parties respond positively to the invitation; not matter how many members constitute that Cabinet. He only needs a nucleus of a Cabinet which could very well turn out to be 15. Those 15 men and women will proceed to run Government, including running in an acting capacity all those other ministries assigned to other parties.

I doubt whether Cabinet has a quorum; I know that Cabinet decisions are by consensus. True, the Cabinet will be incomplete, but that cannot make it illegitimate for as long as the invitation for other parties to join Government is not rescinded. And he can run the affairs of the State until the next poll with only 15 ministers, and a standing hope for others to join "later".

The baby and the bathwater

Where will the resources come from? From spending approvals by Parliament! It will not matter what stance a bitter MDC will take in Parliament. All Zanu-PF needs is to craft a budget with goals firmly coupled to the burning challenges confronting the people: around food, agriculture, employment creation, etc, etc. This is the budget it must take to Parliament and dare MDC to throw it out.

A politically skilful party will effortlessly turn such a development into a huge political dividend. It will be a concrete phase of exposing MDC and its false heart for the people. As for Amendment 19, aa-ah that is a Morgan Tsvangirai/Arthur Mutambara Bill. They are the ones who need that amendment. Not Zanu-PF which can still govern by the laws it passed during its zenith. And hey, why not craft it for a round rejection by MDC so we are back to a situation comparable to February 2000, where the fools throw out the baby together with the bathwater? After all, we can always tell Sadc who is not complying with its communiqué. That is an exciting prospect. And who will charge Zanu-PF for rejecting an inclusive Government?

Dabengwa and the MDC factor

What is Dabengwa up to? How does what he is up to connect with the British politics driven through MDC-T? This is the one important connection the media has been failing to make. It is not fortuitous that the revival of "Zapu" has as its precursor the launch of the second part of the Gukurahundi report. It is not fortuitous that the re-launch of "Zapu" was preceded by attempts to politicise liberation shrines in Zambia, with a view to making them degraded and rivalled symbols claimed by a party, a region, a tribe. Government had to intervene to stop this abuse of the dead who are really national heroes. Equally, Dabengwa’s "resignation" from Mavambo was part of a grand scheme and this column made the point at the time. The one important interview Dabengwa made after declaring his membership to Mavambo did not affiliate him to Mavambo. It disaffiliated him from the Unity Accord and the united Zanu-PF. It hinted at the revival of Zapu, with his stint in Mavambo as a mere resource mobilisation detour. Now that both Makoni and Mandaza gave the man no chance for reaching the coffers which now stand empty, Dabengwa has had to plod on, with the few miserable vehicles he impounded.

But Dabengwa has been venturing into treacherous waters. He has been trying to cultivate some tribal supremacists within a regional liberation movement; he has been trying to reconnect with old members of Zipra who left for South Africa for different reasons. He has been cultivating some figures in Botswana. He is stoking fires within some elements of the war veterans, hoping the new breakaway structure he hopes to launch will have its Zanla equivalent by way of the so-called Mwana Wevhu. The political format attempts to ape ANC’s breakaway politics. He thinks Zanu-PF is at its weakest; that he can try his luck. He can try and use the acronym Zapu, but he cannot hide the military basis of what he is seeking to form and launch. I am sure he knows what response he is courting. I posit that as the first linkage with the British and their MDC-T.

The second linkage is much more subtle. With the proclamation of a Zapu withdrawal from the Unity Accord made, the British are hoping that MDC-T can be freed from the preamble of the Global Political Agreement which gives the 1987 Unity Accord a pride of place. As long as that paragraph exists, the British cannot mobilise the Southern region whose interests in the present political agreement appear to have been championed and guaranteed by Zanu-PF. It is the 1987 Unity Accord argument which put the second rung of Vice-Presidency beyond the claim and reach of MDC-T in the negotiations. Equally, it is the same agreement which is making the Home Affairs Ministry unreachable to MDC-T’s exclusive control, if ever there is anything like that in any government. But with the Unity Accord proclaimed dead, it means an important premise of the Global Political Agreement will have collapsed, thereby justifying a call for a reopening of the negotiations. It should never be forgotten that the discussions between Mavambo and MDC-T centred on ensuring Dabengwa would come in as either Vice-President or Speaker of a Tsvangirai-led MDC government. It should never be forgotten that Dabengwa played a big role in wrestling seats from MDC-M for MDC-T in the March harmonised poll. These are very important dynamics which the media should not obfuscate in the name of Zapu properties or indigence of Zipra fighters. Ironically, Dabengwa stands accused of abusing Nitram assets after these were returned to Zipra cadres, the same way the story of the missing resources for MZWP drags him right in. I mean if you want to see real indigence in ex-fighters, just go to Mashonaland Central or Chipinge where it all started. Which takes me to my point. It will be most unfortunate if forces of the then Patriotic Front’s response to current phase of the struggle for total independence is one based on a nostalgic revalorisation of old structures, whether of Zanu or Zapu, Zipra or Zanla. That is one dynamic which will bring armed chaos to Zimbabwe, and one with far-reaching consequences for the region. God forbid.


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