Zimbabwe: A crisis of command
by Nathaniel Manheru
Was it Antonio Gramsci who wrote: “— intellectuals have the function of organising the social hegemony of a group and that group’s domination of the state . . . the function of organising the consent that comes from the prestige attached to the function in the world of production and the apparatus of coercion for those who do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively or for those moments of crisis of command and leadership when spontaneous consent undergoes a crisis”?
If it was Gramsci, as indeed I think it was, then this Italian Marxist social scientist was remarkably prescient. I put particular accent on the last part, namely the part to do with the role of intellectuals fastened onto a movement, particularly in “those moments of crisis of commandant leadership when spontaneous consent undergoes a crisis.”
Only a Repairs party
MDC-T went through the motions of their 13th Anniversary “celebrations”. The venue kept changing until finally the party decided to locate the “celebrations” in Bulawayo, hoping, to quote its organising secretary, to “turn the city red”.
Well, Bulawayo was found dreary grey, was left dreary grey and shall remain so until the good Lord decides to slack its perennial thirst. True, MDC-T proved it had lots of red shirts, redder sins, but hardly any ready means for slacking Bulawayo’s raging thirst. And the party runs the water portfolio, indeed had within it’s subdued leadership ranks one Sipepa Nkomo who not only hails from the dry city, but actually wields the power to get Bulawayo wet, wetter through those vast instruments which Government equips him with.
To date, all he has done is to take a spanner, a nut and a bolt hoping to repair – merely repair – what the Zanu-PF Government did for Bulawayo many, many years ago when the city was still small: small by throat, small by number. Today it’s a massive conurbation, full of people, fuller of sprawling institutions, yet still hoping to drink from boreholes drilled in the Nyamandlovu aquifer, boreholes developed in those years of old drought, but left derelict since the Inclusive Government.
Bulawayo still hopes to pull water from Mtshabezi, again built in those years of drought by the Zanu-PF Government. If this says in miniature – the wielding of bob-jans, nuts, wrenches and bolts – what the MDC-T leadership brings to the party, what the MDC-T leadership is all about, let the good Lord above help us all! A repairs party. One with poor workmanship too! See what it has done to our cities, to our power utilities, what it would have done to the Middle Sabi fuels project, but for a swift cabinet intervention through Arthur Mutambara!
Just how does a party of “excellence” plan its anniversary in the dying Bulawayo and yet still come to the city with no water message, with a message to slack Bulawayo which is having to resort to desperate measures, including bizarre ones, all to quench its burning throat? No wonder Jonathan Moyo calls it the party of sexcellence!
A spokesperson who could not find the message
I have been reading copiously on MDC-T, in the wake of its anniversary. I still look in vain for that spark, that big idea, launched on the day, the big idea unleashed to make the weather of elections which are so upon us. And when I saw Luke Tamborinyoka’s negotiated piece, I yelled “yes”, let’s get the neigh from the herdboy’s – or is it horse boy? – mouth!
The opening “para” was on Tsvangirai’s red apparel; the second on his sexual wassails; the third on damning opinion surveys – more accurately “marks” from his disappointed tutors. I will ignore the next five paragraphs which openly confessed that MDC-T had to buss in, drive in, and even fly in, supporters to a Bulawayo which was largely indifferent, politically frigid even.
Let those interested in that bit make a meal out of such a grand, but ungainly confession. The sixth paragraph was a plea – plaintively put – to understand and embrace Tsvangirai as a mere “mortal” with “own frailties”, but one still hoping to carry the hopes of the country, presumably starting with dry Matabeleland.
I summarise the ideas that followed: rhapsodic rendition of Tsvangirai’s alleged torture, five years ago; the carnival atmosphere in the stadium (I hope that is an idea!), and . . . that is about it! I say “about it” because what followed was some crude attempt at some biography and adulatory carping by an official seeking notice.
All that did not require Bulawayo or the anniversary to be triggered, surely? Which means even the MDC-T leader’s own spokesperson “swoppingly” wears my unhappy shoes: we both don’t know what this damn thing was all about! Or what it said, whether literally or symbolically. And the crowds were far, far less, which is why Luke must never confuse the expected numbers from the attained ones.
The outbound traffic after the anniversary was tellingly huge, all to show that we might have seen all that the MDC-T is capable of nationally. Welshman’s guys had done a lot to dangle the bushy tail of the civet cat, and all all who came by sniffed the pestilential airs. Tellingly, even the secretary-general of the party only showed up a good four hours later – unimpressed, unimpressive; what is more most unwelcome!
He had to be accommodated through makeshift adjustments. He may have been expected; certainly he was not wanted.
Forcing the hand of the leader
Of course Gorden Moyo had had his own violent rejection, which could have easily become a violent ejection had it not been for timely intervention. Hlalo’s boys would not nap as the enemy pranced on the stage, pretending to be a leader of their fiefdom!
A subtext of violent divisions, later to flare up at Shangaani, against unconcerned makorokozas. Then you had WOZA and their antics, themselves a mortal propaganda ricochet. Women had been abused, and he who abuses women kills sleep, WOZA booed! WOZA became an alternative message, one that threatened the preferred narrative of cohesion.
Now Luke, who was that one the WOZA women so vociferously denounced? Was Tsvangirai’s apology to women unsolicited? Was it not forced on him by what was happening from the floor? Let’s talk about it and see how far we go in respect of the rating of this man you dare say “carries the best interests of this country in his heart”, this man you call “humble” when you mean “deficient”.
How does a man who aspires to rule survive on the poor diction of his “mouth”, to put it metonymically? Many ugly things happened during that anniversary and from a communication point of view, the rule is to let the ugly and unwanted fade out and past quickly; you do not make them linger on by picking or provoking a fight over them. Luke!
Wench in The ethnographic zoo
As a setting of and for the launch of big ideas, Bulawayo was a damp squib. The MDC-T knows it. I hope it knows enough to worry. Even symbolism failed them. We all know that the recourse of a message-free speaker is empty drama, empty symbolism. But it has to work; it has to move the masses, mesmerise them even, to create an illusion of substance, of an event.
Not what happened on Bulawayo. You do not re-issue a tired catch, a tired woman called Tracy Mutinhiri, hoping for some political reverberation (mutinhimira). The name is never the message! Here is an ex-Zanu-PF member of the Hera clan – vaChihera chaivo – who is dismissed from the party Zanu-PF, promptly enlists with the MDC-T, in the process validating the charges she faced as a turncoat.
That happened a few years ago, after which the poor lady is taken around the country, all to be humiliatingly paraded and introduced, much like a latter-day political Saartjie Baartman, the so-called Hottentot Venus, in an ethnographic zoo. That happened over and over again, across the country, until Tracy the woman symbol exhausted her expressive powers, if such powers she ever wielded.
Now a good many months later, you “unveil” her in Bulawayo as a political novelty! Matopos could have been newer, I tell you! There was a lot of emptiness at the anniversary, and so anything that could fill the void was thrown in.
Why was there no message? Well, because there is none. Today the MDC-T resembles a cornered beast with little room for manoeuvre. If Chamisa thought that his party was sharing power in order “to take it”, as he once told a researcher, today he faces the horror of a party on whom power was tried and found a complete misfit.
Now does authority hang loose upon the MDC-T like a giant’s robes on a dwarfish thief, Shakespeare would have said! Apart from apologising for his women, Tsvangirai had to apologise for the by-now-dominant image of the MDC-T party as a party of dwarfish thieves, as an institution of vapid corruption, materialism and sheer self-aggrandisement.
Here we are, facing a collection of man and women who limped into Government on the back of a lame, anaemic political arrangement, but who today waft leisurely between destinations, emitting the filling scent of ill-gotten riches, cheeks drooping and doubly chubby, all their persona now shorn of the coarseness of yore, for something remarkably urbane!
The man who got distant
I fully understood the Prime Minister when last year he castigated a British journalist who picked up this transformative contrast, and had the temerity to remind him where they were people that he was no longer the revolutionary he had been a few years back, before joining Government. Was I ever one, shot back our coxcombical Prime Minister.
If you think I will go back to the streets, he raged on in remarkable elegance, to throw stones, forget it. Many more than this British journalist have had “to forget it”. The man is now distant. His party has forgotten its original message for a new one whose shorthands are “GNU” and “Prime Minister”.
The party has not been able to make a mark in Government, which is why Mangoma, its worst salesman, bombards the country repeatedly with what he intends to do with the Tswanas, the South Africans, the Chinese, on energy when all we see is what he is busily damaging at Middle Sabi through sheer spite. Chakabuda hapana muGNU!
Taming the Bull Eland
The party has not been able even to keep the trust and faith of its sponsors. I notice Bull Eland wants to parade rumours. Well, we give information and intelligence in mint condition. Let him get this one. Britain is angry; America is distraught; Germany and the Nordics are now cynical, very cynical about the party and its leadership.
Bennett rages, as does Ben Freeth, both personifying white Rhodesian bitterness after another great betrayal, after so much was spent on the “project”. No wonder the whole of last week, the entire MDC-T hierarchy had to answer to a roll call – one by one – called by the supreme lady at the British Embassy. Who did not answer, “Present Ma’am!”, tail suitably tacked in? I dare the Bull Elephant to contradict this one.
The shareholder is extremely unhappy and hard choices may have to be made. Let’s watch and see whether we will not see dramatic changes in the coming week or weeks. Hoping the Bull Eland will be spared. There is no greater peril than living next to power doubtful of its grip.
When you don’t see the earth has moved
I opened my piece with a quote from Gramsci. Gentle reader, if you read a piece on New Zimbabwe.com, titled “Tsvangirai, Mugabe plan to sink Copac”, a piece subsequently garbled in the Independent, then you have seen the eye of a gathering storm.
I saw it in 2007/8. I recognise it, instantly! Zanu-PF had won at least three polls on the back of land reforms. This one issue had fired up the country, grabbed the national imagination and sentiment. It could only deliver, deliver resoundingly.
In any event, a real revolution had taken place, consigning the Rhodesian political economy to the dustbin. The aftermath is still being felt in white-dom, to this day. People got their land, worked on it, largely on the dual impetus of the novelty and joy of new acquisitions and the residual momentum from white farming. Soon reality set in and the excitement of ownership gave way to the daunting fact of a hard, empty earth that needed money, tools, skills, ardour and application.
This sea-change was lost to Zanu-PF, still wrapt in fumes of a glorious land revolution, not realising it had already gone by. The people had moved on, more accurately moved under. And the party went to elections thinking the momentum was still there.
But you ate last night?
Meanwhile, the people’s stomachs were not just empty; they were being gnawed by fierce hunger, with politically aligned NGOs bringing in some modicum of relief, itself a wrapper and pickle to MDC politics. They ate gratefully, sitting on newly acquired empty lands, leaving the hidden politics for the night’s cud.
At nightfall, they began to chew, chew and chew delightfully, while the Zanu-PF heavyweights rested calmly, satisfied not by the day’s work, satisfied by the delectable memory of work once rendered in a distant, receding past. No one reminded these politicians that memory spices new deeds, new frontiers in the service of the people.
It never substitutes it. Much worse, it never feeds the hungry. After all we say: Matakadyakare haanyaradzi mwana. (Esakudla kudala akuthulis’mntwana) Which closely translated says: You-ate-yesterday is no lullaby; it never quietens a child whose hungry belly emits a cry. It takes a brave and mature party to read exhaustion to its previous electoral plank.
Last grab, last run
It is that exhaustion which Gramsci says breeds “moments of crisis of command”, creates that unsavoury situation when “spontaneous consent
undergoes a crisis”. Those in MDC-T who listened to the terraces, not to themselves, will understand what I am saying. The mood was subdued, the conviction in enervating doubt. But the leadership is in denial, although its actions shows it knows the fate that awaits it, come March 2013.
The current mad run on party assets, party resources, is telling. Such is the behaviour of party members when they smell defeat. You want to walk away with something. Still that is not my main point. Let someone else pick it up. Parties can always be re-formed, assets re-acquired. It is when there is a made rush to get Government to give houses, to issue out residential stands before year end, that you get a clearer message.
And there is lots of that. The message is clear: eating time is coming to an end. Was it Oliver who sang: “Vachakunonokera kufa baba vawamirira kudai”? (Uzakuphuzela ukufa umdala omlindele kangaka) Which means the father of one who hopes for a deceased’s estate takes too long to die! The other day I quipped, the parties in the GNU are seeking to destroy Government, all in order to save it! How true.
Nguva yemharadza. (ISikhathi sokubhidliza)
Still that is not my link with Gramsci. Or with the article I cited above. Why would a loyal MDC-T cadre say this of his leader: “There are many reasons why Tsvangirai finds himself in agreement with Mugabe and Mutambara. The trouble with him is that he has a very limited concentration span and appreciation of things. He looks for easy solutions out of difficult problems to just get away from it.
“Secondly, anything he can do that takes Biti out of the equation he will latch onto it. Biti is a member of the management committee which superintends over Copac. Tsvangirai wants to be the decision maker, he is easily seduced by the idea of him and Mugabe being the number one people in the country and making all decisions even where his party has delegated ministers and officials.”?
Not quite the rotund image of an I-am-in-charge type our Luke would want us to believe. And the article is framed from thoughtful informants, I daresay from the very brains that should be playing “organic intellectuals” to the MDC-T cause. The voices in that article are no fools, whether these are housed in MDC-N or MDC-T.
That means the party has reached those “moments of crisis of command” where authority sags or even fails. Moments where “spontaneous consent” is no longer forthcoming. In politics we call that moment “chimharadza” (Imbhidlizi), nguva yewaziva kwake aziva kwake, (isikhathi sokuthi owazi kwakhe wazi kwakhe) the moment of dispersal. When such a moment visits a political party, what remains is a shell, with the real party living outside of itself.
Alienating your own
Tsvangirai knows, as does Manheru, that most of the things in the Copac draft where put in there to curb him, in the unlikely event that he takes over power. Such is the fear of his own people, fear of him even though they know he will not win power. Including the idea of a running mate, which was introduced both to eliminate, as well as to draw closer, certain elements.
He has more reason to fight against the draft than the winning Mugabe ever needs to. Which is why I find this man called Alex Magaisa, who is inflicted upon our reading eyes as a “constitutional law expert”, frankly quite unread. What is imperial about the powers suggested by Zanu-PF in the draft? What is new about them? At what point did he find a name for them, given that Zimbabwe has been under the same from day one?
And how do they compare with powers of the British prime minister? The American presidency? Much worse, and the dutiful Zimbabwe Independent comes in, if you are so sure and confident that “Mugabe remains still unelectable”, why ever suggest he seeks powers he will not even wield, powers he will merely pass on, so he gets governed imperially by the other?
How much governing space and time will there be between referendum, the dissolution of Parliament and the general elections which, as Magaisa and the Independent conspiratorially agree, Mugabe will lose? It makes Mugabe a real selfless, humanitarian player, hardly a calculating politician, does it not? He swots to carve good powers he is set to lose? Or is this a grudging acceptance of the inevitable? But that is to take the two viewpoints too seriously.
What should be read and read correctly is that which impels both Magaisa and the Independent to volunteer a defence for the MDC-T, that which impels them to help serve and save the party against a phalanx of its own intellectuals who should defend it. Have these failed to organise ” the social hegemony”, as Gramsci says they should?
Or have they withdrawn their services, fully convinced it is far better for MDC-T to lose this time around, so it can use the resulting crisis to rid itself of a dead-man-come-to-life leadership? Kana kuti yave aziva kwake aziva kwake, nguva yemharadza? Hameno (Kumbe sokuyikuthi owazi kwakhe wazi kwakhe. Asazi). But these small eyes of mine have seen a lot. It is very easy to alienate your own leader into the arms of his opposite.