Talking Baboons, Presidential Insults and More Presidential Candidates – A week in Zimbabwean Politics
Alex T Magaisa
Being a Friday, we take a lighter look at events on the Zimbabwean political landscape …
A “Delegation of Baboons”
The week started with a fascinating story carried by the state weekly, The Sunday Mail of a meeting between a spirit medium, who bears the name Sekuru Katombo Kanyai and a “delegation of baboons”. The brave medium also had a meeting with a pride of lions, we are told. Weeks before, the same Sekuru Katombo Kanyai had been “visited” by a pangolin. And then a Fish Eagle, apparently a mysterious bird, had landed at Sekuru Katombo Kanyai’s homestead. And Sekuru Katombo Kanyai had also talked to a snake.
Clearly, Sekuru Katombo Kanyai is highly favoured and must be a man of great powers – his ability to talk to these wild creatures is unparalleled. The last time we heard animals talking was in fairy tales or in Hollywood movies. But no; right there in Zimbabwe is a man who even managed to have a “tete-a-tete” with a delegation of baboons, according to The Sunday Mail (The last time we checked the dictionary a “tete-a-tete” was a private conversation between two persons – clearly the Sunday Mail has a different definition).
Mbuya Nehanda, the revered spirit medium credited with inspiring the rebellion against the settlers in the 1890s and later sentenced to death and an enduring symbol of resistance and nationalism, was also brought into the frame – Sekuru Katombo Kanyepi’s homestead is her former home, we were told.
But if you were wondering what the alleged “tete-a-tete” between Sekuru Katombo Kanyai and a “delegation of baboons” and his meetings with lions or conversations with a snake or indeed the supposedly rare landing of the Fish Eagle was leading to, these are apparently messages “from the heavens”. You only need to read the last paragraph of Mr Mwase’s story to get the point of all this. Chief Chiweshe is quoted as having declared: “I will be approaching the relevant authorities to deliver this message . . . tikasangwara, nyika inoyenda. (If we are not careful, we will lose this country.)”, reports The Sunday Mail. (“We fought the war and attained independence, but there is a danger that the enemy will reverse the gains we made, so it’s for the good of every Zimbabwean to take heed of what the ancestors are saying.”)
So there we have it – the ancestors have sent a message through the “delegation” of baboons, a snake, a pride of lions, a pangolin and a fish eagle. It’s bad journalism, as one colleague put it, that the reporter failed to get a statement from the baboons. We agree. And we look forward to a follow up story, just in case the reported has been able to get a statement from the baboons.
Diesel from Rocks
But the story reminded us of Rotina Mavhunga, the spirit medium of Chinhoyi who claimed to have discovered diesel from rocks. We had a delegation, not of baboons, but of ministers – many of them quite learned, grinning from ear to ear, having removed their shoes as a sign of respect in the presence of the spirits, sitting there seemingly in awe of Rotina Mavhnga’s powers.
But those were desperate times and we might understand the desperation that drove grown men to such levels of gullibility. The country was facing severe fuel shortages. It was tough and, however stupid, news of miraculous diesel from rocks must have been refreshing, let alone welcome. Were these not the spirits of the land conspiring to defend the country against the machinations of the West? Were they not only showing a crucial lifeline but had decided in their wisdom to actually process the crude oil into diesel? It was all nonsense, of course. When the façade fell, as it was destined to, there was much embarrassment – enough to get Mbuya Rotina Mavhunga into jail but not enough to get the gullible ministers relieved of their duties.
We understand Chief Chiweshe will be delivering the message to the “relevant authorities”. We wish him well. Now we don’t know if Sekuru Katombo Kanyepi will arrange for a delegation of ministers to have a “tete-a-tete” with the “delegation of baboons” let alone with a pride of lions and a snake. If they do, we hope they take a video camera for that rare spectacle. We might well have a rare species of baboons, snakes and lions in our backyard that could draw millions of tourists …
Presidential Insults …
As the week rolled on, we heard news of Energy Minister Elton Mangoma being arrested for insulting President Mugabe. Section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification) Act states that it is an offence to insult or undermine the authority of the President. According to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, which has represented victims of this provision, there have been up to 45 such cases in recent years. We are told the allegation is that Mangoma said at a meeting in Bindura, “Chifa Mugabe Chifa; Chibva Mugabe Chibva!” (Die Mugabe Die; Go Mugabe Go!”
We also read that Swiss tourist, Thomas Fischer was convicted by a court in September when he made reference to President Mugabe in an argument with border officials in Kariba. Apparently, following a delay at the border, Fischer had said Mugabe “knew how to screw people, especially foreigners.” He was arrested, convicted and fined $200.
We also recall that a Mutare fellow was arrested during Mugabe’s birthday celebrations in February when during a bar argument he is alleged to have questioned whether Mugabe still had the strength to blow up all balloons at his 88th birthday. Mugabe turned 88 in February and balloons had been blown as part of the celebrations.
We also read recently that Jeritha Nkomo, a 36-year-old Nyamandhlovu woman was arrested for insulting a local ZANU PF official using President Robert Mugabe’s name. Apparently, Ms Nkomo is alleged to shouted at the ZANU PF gentleman insulting him in the local Ndebele language and in doing so, made reference to his party leader Mugabe. The ZANU PF official went straight to the police to report the offence – saying it was an insult against the President.
We also remember that sometime in 2011, the MDC-T spokesperson, Douglas Mwonzora was charged with insulting the President. He was already in police custody at the time and while at the magistrates courts for a remand hearing Mr Mwonzora was alleged to have looked at a portrait of President Mugabe (every public building must have a portrait of the President) and addressed it saying “Makadii Baba? Irisei muviri? Riri sei ziso?” (“How are you father? How is your health and how is your eye?”] At the time the media was awash with stories of President Mugabe being unwell and having travelled to the Far East for an eye operation. Mwonzora said that he was in fact asking after the health of a fellow elderly prisoner whose health was failing and had also lost his spectacles during an incident of political violence.
So Mangoma joins a growing list of alleged offenders. Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, Zimbabwe is not the only country with such odious laws and in due course we shall favour you with a complete list of countries that are similarly minded, even though they do not enforce them with same levels of keenness and vigour. But the common denominator in all such countries is that the charges of insulting or undermining the President usually rise exponentially towards or during election times, especially where the President is also a candidate in those elections – which in fact makes this law a key part of the electoral landscape.
The question that one has to grapple with is how to separate the person in his capacity as President and in his other capacity as a party leader and election contestant. Certainly he has the freedom to insult, denigrate and verbally assault his fellow candidates but as soon as the others try to do the same, they could well find themselves facing arrest for insulting the President! And they say the electoral ground is even and level … Our observation is that numerous arrests, which always receive negative coverage across the world and are therefore embarrassing, have actually done more to ridicule, insult and undermine the authority of the office of the President. They feed more into the stereotype of a repressive dictatorial regime that prohibits criticism. So could it well be that those instigating these arrests actually have a bone to chew with the President?
And oh, yes we forgot to mention that Mr Mangoma belongs to the MDC-T led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai – Mugabe’s main challenger in the Presidential election.
Baard throws his hat into the Ring
And speaking of Presidential elections, the week is ending on a resoundingly hilarious note. Moses Matenga, at NewsDay reports that a man called Mark Baard has thrown his hat into the ring that is the Presidential election in 2013.
The 53-year old Baard has told Matenga that he is responding to a “prophecy”. His party is called the Zimbabwe Republican Front. “We are going full swing …” he is quoted as having stated. “It’s a vision God has given me. God calls it a revival” he adds, stating that the earthly messenger of this prophecy is Cindy Jacobs, who is based in America. We suspect the retort to that one will be very easy – “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again”. Not even a heavenly disguise will work! Mr Baard might be best advised to recruit an “indigenous” prophet to “indigenise” the prophecy.
“God has prepared me for this” says Mr Baard. He better be, because a Zimbabwean election is no child’s play; one will need all the divine protection one can get.
“The party has been in action …”, Mr Baard adds, although, we have to say, this is the first time we are hearing of the Zimbabwe Republican Front. Readers may wish to favour us with details of any “action” of the ZRF they have witnessed in recent years.
Zimbabwe has its fair share of a mixed variety candidates in Presidential elections – as do most countries. They come, to use a tired cliché, in all shapes and sizes – and indeed backgrounds. We do not forget Mr Langton Towungana who stepped onto the starting line in the 2008 elections. According the NewsDay, there were 14 503 Zimbabweans who shared his vision. But our favourite remains Egypt Dzinemunhenzva – the Wedza-based gentleman who runs a grinding mill at the township. He spares no election. He loses every time but he always comes back for the next. Ngaapihwe sando dzake, as they say in Zimbabwe.
So what a week it has been – starting with a spirit medium receiving a message from the heavens through a delegation of baboons, a fish eagle, a snake, a pride of lions and a pangolin, to a man receiving a divine prophecy to lead, through an American based prophet. And in between, a cabinet minister arrested and later released on charges of insulting President Mugabe. There is never a dull moment on the Zimbabwean political landscape …