How Succession Rules Were Changed in the new Constitution

How Succession Rules Were Changed in the new Constitution

Alex T. Magaisa

One day, during the constitutional negotiations, the committee in which I participated got a surprise proposition from a superior committee, which consisted of political negotiators who were representing the principals in the long-running political negotiations. It had become a semi-permanent feature of the political landscape for some years, consisting of the same people from the different parties. Usually, if there was a problem in our committee, it was “parked” and referred upstairs for resolution.

The issue we were grappling with was over the rules of succession. The main argument we were proposing was that only an elected and not an appointed person should be able to succeed a departed President which created a vacancy.

There was no clear data on this from the field so its resolution fell to the negotiators and experts. The surprise proposition was not exactly about succession but over the election of the President. It was that Zimbabwe would adopt an American-style system of running-mates, whereby a Presidential candidate would be required to nominate two persons, who would become his or her running mates for the election. The effect of this was that these running mates would subsequently become the First and Second Vice Presidents respectively, upon victory. (This is what s. 101 of the Constitution provides, but as I will explain, this clause was suspended for the first decade).

This would also resolve the succession issue because if, for any reason, a vacancy occurred in the office of the President, he or she would automatically be succeeded by the First Vice President. There would be no legitimacy deficit on the part of such a successor to complete the presidential term because he or she would have been popularly elected alongside the President, unlike a scenario in which the Vice President would have been a mere presidential appointee.

This made practical sense as it meant that the country would be saved from having to go through an election to replace a departed President mid-way through his or her term, as the Zambians are now having to do and have had to do in the recent past after the death of President Mwanawasa. Elections are costly, both in time and resources which could be devoted to development projects. They also cause serious divisions and distractions, as is evident presently in Zambia. A simple and efficient way of succession would be preferable and the proposed method seemed perfect for this reason.

Besides, in taking the running mates approach, we would be following a model already in use in Malawi and had also been adopted in Kenya. It was on that account that Joyce Banda became Malawi President after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

What was interesting was that this proposition did not come from our end in the MDCs, but from Zanu PF. They are the ones, to my understanding, who proposed the running mates clause. We were grateful for it. In fact, we could not believe our good fortune. And I will explain why in a moment. Nevertheless, when the proposition emerged in the draft Constitution and was leaked to the press, it lit a fire of controversy.

It soon became clear that the running mates clause did not have widespread support within Zanu PF itself. I suspect a reconsideration of the full implications and whom it favoured among the Zanu PF factions caused the retreat. It is this internal politics that explain why a few weeks later, while the running mates clause remained in the Constitution, it was effectively symbolic as it was suspended from operation for a decade.

Instead of Vice Presidents being elected as running mates of the Presidential candidate, they would, during the first decade, be appointed directly by the President. This is what s. 14(1) and (2) of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution state. S. 14(4) of the Sixth Schedule goes further and suspends the provisions which would normally apply at succession so that a vacancy in the office of the President is filled not by automatic promotion of the Vice President but by a nominee of the political party which was represented by the departing President when he or she was elected.

This new method, if applied to a hypothetical scenario of the current government would mean that should President Mugabe, for whatever reason vacate office before the end of his term, it is Zanu PF that will nominate a successor in order to fill the void. How Zanu PF makes this selection is its business. The Constitution does not set the rules.

But one could surmise that, since Zanu PF has resolved to amend its Constitution, so that all senior officers, including the Vice Presidents, are appointed by the President, if he, for whatever reason, departs office, Zanu PF may have to resolve the succession question via an Extraordinary Congress, where an election will be held, unless another method of selection is determined in advance. It is for this reason that while the December Congress will give some direction on who is favoured to succeed Mugabe, that on its own, will not be the end of the matter, and those who are ‘dead’ as of now, might find some room for resurrection, although that would be a remote possibility. Still, the point is that whoever is appointed VP after Congress will not be guaranteed for succeeding Mugabe.

But why was the otherwise simple and straightforward running mates clause and attended succession clause suspended for ten years?

First, it is important to understand why we thought it was a useful clause in political terms apart from the legal and legitimacy reasons already given. Strategically, as I pointed out to colleagues at the time, the running mates clause was an important opportunity, because it would force Mugabe to confront a question that he had long postponed, i.e. the matter of succession in his own party and confronting this hot issue so near to an election would have forced him to declare his hand on his favourite in the succession race. In terms of the Constitution, the choice of running mate was the candidate’s and given the implications on hierarchy in the country and the party, it would have revealed his choice of successor.

Politically, this might have caused the controversy, tension and potential break-up that we are now witnessing. It would have produced a seriously disappointed and disgruntled constituency in Zanu PF. Consequently there would have been a good chance of facing a divided and weakened Zanu PF. This, in turn, would have worked in our favour. So the running mates clause was a good clause for us, in a political sense.

It is not surprising therefore, that when they mulled over its implications in Zanu PF, they realised they had made a big mistake and fought hard to exclude it from operation for the first decade of the Constitution. What Mugabe had done was essentially to go into the election with a united party, a fake unity, yes, but one that was necessary for him to retain power. Having achieved his goal, he is now doing what the running mates clause would have forced him to do before the elections but without the risks that accompany such a process.
But why did we, on our side, not insist on the running mates clause given the apparent advantages that it offered? That is something that still eludes me to this day. I don’t know why there was a concession and a compromise on this issue.

But I should point out that we did not have a shortage of challenges on our side. The same question that confronted Zanu PF, as to who would be the running-mates, also confronted our side. Once the implications of the running mates clause and the attendant succession clause became clear, many in the top echelons of the party began to eye the running-mates slots. It became a source of potential jostling.

And here, I must add that there was a distinctly patriarchal dimension to what happened. The major problem was that in both parties, there was already an established hierarchy, and the leaders would naturally have to pay due regard to that in selecting their running mates. This placed two women, Joice Mujuru in Zanu PF and Thokozani Khupe in the MDC-T, on the front foot in their respective parties. As the two VPs in their parties, the greater likelihood was that each would be nominated as the first running mate and therefore, be the first Vice President should their respective leaders win the election. That would place each of them within a whisker of the top office in the land, should anything happen to their leaders while in office.

Now, I suspect there was some shared concern and disquiet among males in both parties about this very strong possibility. No-one among male politicians will admit to it publicly but I very strongly suspect that there was a shared sense of quiet disapproval of this potential circumstance. There were whispers. As it happened, none of the two women had strong representatives in the negotiations. I am not surprised that the running mates and succession clauses were sacrificed by way of suspension for a decade. The effect of this suspension was effectively to take away from the two women, an advantage that they would have had ahead of their rivals. For all the rhetoric over gender equality preached by male politicians during the process, I thought much of it was hot air and that when it really mattered, women always got a raw deal.

From a strategic point of view, I thought that the suspension of the clauses was a setback but you have to acknowledge that tactically, Mugabe and his team had avoided a serious pitfall. We would have had some fall-outs from the selection of the running mates but certainly not as serious as Zanu PF’s as present events demonstrate. Mugabe had avoided the problem of choosing a successor before a critical election and the consequences, including more Bhora Musango that would have haunted him. His internal adversaries failed to read the wind and aided him in claiming a controversial victory and now by choosing his Vice Presidents, he is doing exactly what the running mates clause would have required him to do.

I have been reading an old autobiography written by Didymus Mutasa, called Rhodesian Black Behind Bars, written in 1974, soon after his release from detention. In it he describes a scene with his fellow detainees, who included Mugabe. “Afterwards,” writes Mutasa, “I was escorted back to the cell. Edgar [Tekere] and I played our last game of Tsoro and I lost a set of three games. He was pleased that he won and so was I. We were playing a game with definite rules. Maurice Nyagumbo watched and sometimes took part. He was keen and wanted me to win. There was Enos Nkala, Robert Mugabe, who knew the game better than us, and Morton Malianga.”

It was his additional, albeit brief, characterisation of Mugabe that caught my attention. He says, in that statement that Mugabe, knew the game of Tsoro better than all of them. Tsoro is a traditional game in the same genre with chess and draught. It requires quick thinking, careful calculation and an ability to think ahead of the other player. Mutasa says Mugabe was better at it that all of them. That was 40 years ago. Mugabe will soon be 91 and it seems, he is still better than most in the game of political Tsoro.

wamagaisa@yahoo.co.uk

Removing the Vice-President in Zimbabwe: A Constitutional Interpretation

Removing the Vice-President: A Constitutional Interpretation

Alex T. Magaisa

I have been asked to provide an opinion on the constitutional position regarding the removal of the Vice President. What should be a simple and straight-forward issue is actually mired in some complexity, which requires a resolution.

Two Contrasting Methods

As this opinion demonstrates, by some errors of omission, the Constitution provides for two contrasting methods of removing the Vice President from office – one, under s. 97 of the Constitution, which is more onerous and another, under s. 14(2) of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which is simpler and less onerous. I shall explain each, in turn and explain how the conflict is resolved.

Section 97 Method

The first method of removing the Vice President is contained in s. 97. This provision deals with the removal from office of the President or Vice President. There are four grounds that are mentioned in s. 97, upon which the removal of the Vice President can be based. These are:
• Serious misconduct
• Failure to obey, uphold or defend the Constitution
• Wilful violation of the Constitution
• Inability to perform the function of the office because of physical or mental incapacity.

The procedure for removing the Vice President on these grounds is that an investigation will be launched if at least half of the total membership of the National Assembly and Senate, sitting jointly pass a resolution that the Vice President should be investigated on any of these grounds.

This investigation must be carried out by a nine-member joint committee that is drawn from both Houses and chosen by the Committee of Standing Orders and Rules of Parliament (the Joint Committee).

This joint committee must reflect the political composition of Parliament, meaning all parties in parliament must be represented, presumably on a pro rata basis. If the joint committee makes a recommendation for removal, the matter will be placed before a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the Senate, who must pass a resolution for removal supported by at least a two-thirds majority of the total membership.
The net effect is that this is an onerous procedure, particularly the requirement of the joint resolution which demands a two-thirds majority vote.

As someone who participated in the constitution-making exercise, I am aware that this onerous procedure is based on the constitutional framework in which the Vice Presidents are elected together with the President under s. 92. This is the so-called “running mates” method of electing the President and Vice Presidents, where the presidential candidate is required to nominate two running mates, who will subsequently become his or her Vice Presidents in the event of success. Since they are all popularly elected, provisions for their removal are the same.

The problem is that s. 92, which provides for election by the running mates system was suspended for ten years in terms of s. 14(1) of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. I will side-step the political question of why it was suspended but I should state that in my opinion, its suspension was part of the succession machinations that were already taking place then. The running mates system would have forced President Mugabe to choose his two running mates and in that way, long before July 31, the succession issue would have been settled. Suspending the running mates system was Zanu PF’s way of postponing the succession issue to a later stage. But let me go back to the legal analysis.

The problem is while s. 92, providing for the running mates method was suspended, s. 97 providing for the removal of Vice Presidents, was not. So technically, s. 97 stands as one method by which the Vice President can be removed. It is a hard and onerous method. But let us now look at the other method.

Sixth Schedule Method

Section 14(1) of the Sixth Schedule provides that within a period of 10 years of the new Constitution, the running-mates method of electing the President the Vice Presidents is not operational. This is why presidential candidates in the July 31 election last year did not have to nominate running mates.

Instead, s. 14(2) of the Sixth Schedule provides that the person who is elected as President, “must appoint not more than two Vice Presidents, who hold office at his or her pleasure”. It was in accordance with this provision that President Mugabe appointed Joice Mujuru as Vice President of the country after the July 31 election.

What is crucial in this provision is that it deals with more than just the appointment of a Vice President. It also deals with the aspect of removal. The salient detail is in the following words, which I must quote again, “who hold office at his or her pleasure” (added emphasis). These words suggest a power to dismiss the person from office whenever the appointing authority wishes to do so. If you hold office at the pleasure of another person, it means that person can dismiss you from that position, if he or so wishes to do so and no longer wants you in that position. In other words, there is no clear and set limit to the time that the person occupies that particular office.

Under this interpretation, it means that the President can dismiss the Vice President if he no longer has confidence in him or her. In other words, in this case, VP Mujuru holds office at President Mugabe’s pleasure.

Resolving the Conflict

The overall effect of all this is that there are, at present, two methods of removing the Vice President, one that is onerous (s. 97) and another that is very simple (s. 14(2) of the Sixth Schedule).

The problem is that while s. 92 which suspends the running-mates method of electing the President and his deputies is specifically suspended for 10 years, s. 97 which deals with the removal of the President and the Vice President is not specifically suspended. It seems to me that the onerous character of the removal procedure under s. 97 was based on the notion that the Vice President was an elected person under s. 92. Therefore, since s. 92 was suspended for 10 years, then so should have been s. 97 in respect of Vice President. I believe the failure to suspend the operation of s. 97 in respect of Vice President was a drafting omission.

Nevertheless, the fact is we have two contrasting methods of dealing with the removal of the Vice President, the onerous method under s. 97 and the less onerous one under s. 14(2) of the Sixth Schedule. The question is: Which of these two prevails? Normally, where there is a conflict between a substantive provision of the Constitution, such as s. 97 and a provision in a schedule, then the substantive provision should prevail. However, the matter is easily resolved in the current situation.

This is because of s. 2 of the Sixth Schedule which provides as follows: “This Schedule prevails, to the extent of any inconsistency, over all other provisions of this Constitution”. The effect of this clause is to elevate the provisions of the Sixth Schedule above all other clauses of the Constitution. This means since there is an inconsistency between s. 97 of the Constitution and s. 14(2) of the Sixth Schedule, it is the latter that prevails in this situation. In other words, between the onerous method of removal under s. 97 and the less onerous provision of removal under s. 14(2) of the Sixth Schedule, it is the less onerous method that is applicable in the current circumstances.

Politically, the question is, since President Mugabe has this power, why has he failed, refused, or neglected to use it to dismiss VP Mujuru, who allegedly plotted to assassinate him? Why has he resorted instead, to using his spouse to batter and bash his Vice President so mercilessly, undermining and bringing disrepute to the highest office in the process, when he has the power to dismiss her and put her out of her misery, if he really thinks she is no longer fit and proper, as alleged by his wife, to carry on as Vice President? The answer probably lies in the existence or absence of political courage.

Or that Mugabe wants to manage events in his favour, wants Mujuru to fall on her own sword thereby coming out with clean hands, as if he did not effectively fire her. He wants to say it was the decision of the people and that he did not fire her. Yet it is plain that by failing, refusing or neglecting to back his VP in the face of an unprecedented assault, he has, by his conduct as good as stabbed her and is now twisting the dagger, causing a slow and painful political death. That hardly qualifies as good, firm and honest leadership – ruling by the human sword in the form of the wife, instead of deploying the law.

wamagaisa@yahoo.co.uk

A Survival Manual in the Zimbabwean Political Jungle for Mujuru’s Supporters

A Survival Manual for Mujuru’s Supporters

Alex T. Magaisa

Looking at the political landscape, it must be hard being Zanu PF and a supporter of Vice President Joice Mujuru. Attacked relentlessly and ruthlessly and made to feel like lepers in their own political home, they must be struggling to adapt in the Siberia of politics to which they have been banished.

It’s the political equivalent of being thrown into the jungle where you’re exposed to the elements and wild monsters. So we figured out they might do with a survival kit. They are new to this terrain, which has long been home to those of us who dared to differ from and to challenge Zanu PF. So here are a few tips that they might find useful:

1. How to deal with the State-media

• Now that you are where you are, you’ve got to get used to the State media bashing you and your leaders every day of the week. Non-stop. All the headlines will be about the ills and transgressions of your leader. Do not expect the State media to give your side of the story, no. There is no other side. They are not your friends, anymore.

• There is a gang of political analysts which is quoted day in, day out, for no other purpose than to give some flimsy intellectual cover to the position advanced by The Herald or The Sunday Mail. Don’t mind them. They need their supper and they must sing in tune. They just waited to see where the wind was blowing and when they saw that you were on the weaker side they chose to go with the wind. But really, they are harmless creatures. If you had been winning, they would have gone with you, too.

• There will be a lot of conspiracy theories about things that you have done and they will all emerge from ‘close sources that cannot be named’. They are all imaginary, of course, but allegations are presented as facts. You will have to get used to the ridiculous.

• You can choose either to ignore The Herald and not read it at all or to read it and at least know what they think of you. The latter is advisable. Besides, opposition supporters say the big papers are handy for other purposes, too. Besides, if you fancy a reminder of how stupid and vindictive your rivals are, those papers are a useful guide.

• When you read The Herald or its sister papers, you have to learn the art of reading between the lines, or better still, to use the ‘law of opposites’. The law of opposites in newspaper reading is that whatever is said in the paper, often they mean the opposite. So when they say the economy is booming, usually they mean it is imploding. When they say you were a violent mob that beat up rivals, the real story is that your supporters were beaten senseless by their rivals.

• Don’t be hard on the journalists who work for the State-media. Yes, they all look vile and despicable, but actually most are good men and women who are just trying to eke out a living in a rotten system. Don’t take it out on them, please. Given a better and more professional environment, they could actually do a decent job. But they have virtually no control over what is presented in their names. Still, they are expected to take responsibility and to declare to the world that they are in charge, when even their cats know they are not. Granted, there are a few obnoxious ones who can’t be redeemed, but they are in the minority – most are decent boys and girls who have families to feed. Believe you me, a lot of them in run-up to 31 July last year were, privately being very nice to the opposition, because they too were not sure.

• Your one option is to join the opposition in using the private media. Space there is limited so please do not squash us. But at least your voice will be heard. See now, why we were always calling for media reforms? You know, last year, we asked the ZBC to cover our manifesto launch rally, just like they had done two days before when Zanu PF launched its own. They quoted us $165,000! We complained and you guys thought we were mad. This is why were calling for media reforms, not for us, but because we thought it was the right thing to do.

2. You’re now a ‘sell-out’ and a ‘regime-change agent’

• This might come as surprise to you but that’s what you are now, at least according to the State-media and those behind the propaganda. According to them, your aim is to remove Mugabe from power and that is considered treasonous. You are a puppet because you are supposedly sponsored by Britain and America. You also want to reverse the gains of the liberation struggle, never mind that you were a critical part of it. You have simply become counter-revolutionary. You’ve now firmly anchored yourself among all those opposition supporters and leaders whom you used to refer to as sell-outs and regime-change agents. Perhaps that is what they meant when they said what goes around, comes around. It has for you. Not yet for your erstwhile friends who are now tormenting you but it will come around, too.

Being called a sell-out is not a very nice thing, as you know. It can get you thrashed. It can even get you killed. Many in the war and after it never lived to tell their tales. So now that you’re a sell-out and a regime change agent, do be careful.

3. Be very cautious

• Now that you’re a sell-out and a regime-change agent, you need to watch your every step. You used to see people looking briskly from side to side and turning their heads swiftly as they walked in the street? They weren’t mad, no. They weren’t paranoid, too. They were just doing what was necessary to be on guard. Survival instinct. Fir the same reason, do not leave your beer unattended at the bar when you go to the loo. Or your tea. Or your coke. Avoid room service in hotels – go and eat with the others from the big pot at the buffet table. If somebody has something specially prepared for you, be very suspicious – ask them to eat it with you! Be careful with that vehicle from the Government pool; if you sent it for repairs, get your mechanic to check it over before you drive it! That bottled water in the hotel room or your usual seat at the workshop round-table is not to be trusted. And that car that you saw 20 minutes ago along Lomagundi Road in Avondale is still behind you along Enterprise Road? Uuum, stop or turn around. If you see it again, be very worried! Don’t leave that vehicle unattended. And check the tyres before you depart.

4. You need a lawyer

• Keep your lawyer’s number on speed dial. Ever heard that group called the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)? Yes, the same one you were bashing just last year. They are really a nice bunch of men and women who have dedicated themselves to serve the interests of human rights and justice. They do fantastic work, often at great expense to their health and safety. One of them, Kennedy Masiye was brutally assaulted just two weeks ago, when he was trying to assist his client, Itai Dzamara, who had been arrested and beaten, also brutally, for exercising his freedom of expression, which the Constitution is supposed to protect. They might be your new best friends now. Get their number. You might need them.

5. If you have been a victim of political violence, weigh your options before you run to the police. This is because when you report that you have been assaulted by Zanu PF people, the police can arrest you instead. Going to report political violence can be a big risk.

6. “Free and Fair Elections”

• Start practising these words, “Free and fair elections! The elections were not free and fair!”, because from now onwards, you will be singing them. Elections are not free and fair in Zimbabwe. They never have and it is unlikely they will be, anytime soon. You thought the opposition were mad all these years when they sang this song. You said they were cowards. And you said they were puppets. No, they actually had legitimate complaints about this rotten system. The same rot that you are now seeing. They felt the same pain that you are now feeling. Now you will appreciate better, why they were calling for electoral reforms all these years.

But since you have a better knowledge of the system and how Zanu PF rigs elections, we are sure your input will be most welcome. The opposition are still struggling to know what happened in 2013, although they know something dodgy happened. Since you were part of it, it would be nice if you told the world what happened because whether or not you do, they are after you and they will haunt you. Come on, spill it out. Maybe when it’s all out there, that system can be reformed.

7. If you benefited from any ‘empowerment’ schemes, please remember that it was only because you were on the right side of Zanu PF. It was not because you were great or anything similar. They will now come and take it away, any time they want. Even though you were all stealing together, they will come after you and you alone. They are shameless and very vindictive. And they have the evidence, since you were all in it together. That is the biggest weapon the have against you. Those farms that you have, they will come and take them. They will just send a mob masquerading as war veterans.

8. The law is not what it is supposed to be but what Zanu PF thinks it is. The judges and magistrates, like journalists are generally good people but sometimes they have got no choice. They have to do what they have to do for the sake of survival. If given a fresh, professional environment in which to operate, they will do an excellent job and they will even begin to write more excellent judgments. But as long as this system is in place, political cases will drag on for years. If you are unlucky, like Tsvangirai whose 2002 election judgment is yet to be delivered, it could go on for years. If you are given bail, the prosecuting authorities can always invoke section 121 of the criminal procedures law, to keep you in the filthy Matapi cells for another week. Just because they can.

9. You’re a second-class citizen. It’s the Orwellian Animal Farm. Some animals are more equal than others. Those on the right side of Zanu PF are more equal than others. When it comes to agricultural inputs, welcome to the world of opposition supporters. Ditto when it comes to food-aid and funds from projects. If you have rural relatives, and you have never had to buy inputs because the party was always there, now you must begin to save and look after their needs. Because they will be at the back of the queue or out of the queue altogether.

10. Skip the Border. More than 2 million Zimbabweans are said to be living outside the country. Most are economic refugees and a significant number are also political refugees. They were assaulted, tortured and faced threats to their lives. They were lucky to escape and claim asylum in other countries. Of course, there are some who took advantage of the facility but there are really genuine cases of men and women who escaped in order to survive politically-motivated violence. You might have to do the same, at some point. You will need to make new friends out there and they can help you how to navigate the terrain of asylum-seeking, which is a terrible pain but oft-times there is no other choice.

11. You will soon have to get used to the fact that you are the primary cause of all the ills of the country. You’re responsible for economic ruin and everything bad that’s happening. In time, you will also be accused of calling for sanctions.

Finally, we know the anguish you are going through at this time. Chiripamuri chitsveru chacho. But hopefully the above manual will be handy. We know you are now suspicious of your friends, not very sure what to do or say to them. Do you visit them? If you have a party do you invite them? If they call, what do you say? It’s a hard time, when friend is now suspicious of fellow friend.

We know also, that you are quite embarrassed, especially if you used to shout and scream that Mugabe was the greatest and that Zanu PF was the most democratic organisation the world has ever seen. You don’t know how to talk to the erstwhile opposition people that you used to bash at will. It is tough, we know. But we also recall the wisdom of our ancestors. They said, in reference to puppies, that they do not all open their eyes on the same day. Some are quicker but others take a bit of time. It has taken some years, we know, but now you can see for yourselves.

wamagaisa@yahoo.co.uk

Zimbabwe through Achebe’s Eyes

Zimbabwe through Achebe’s Eyes

Alex T. Magaisa

The political drama in Zimbabwe evokes memories of some of the greatest works of literature. One is reminded of Shakespearean tragedies – Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Hamlet and many more. In First Lady, Grace Mugabe for example, one finds some interesting parallels with the character of Lady Macbeth, the ambitious woman who encourages her husband, whose nature she thinks is “too full of the milk of human kindness” to assassinate the king in order to take the throne. And Julius Caeser, with the words of Caesar, “Et tu Brut?”, (Newewo futi, Brutus?), signifying the gravity of the betrayal. Contestation over leadership and the grim acts that accompany such contests are as old as history itself.

But it is the story captured by one of Africa’s great authors, Chinua Achebe, which is closer to home, closer in time, space and poignancy. When people hear of Achebe, their immediate thoughts go to Okonkwo, the flawed hero of Things Fall Apart, itself one of the greatest novels. But it is to Ezeulu, another of Achebe’s tragic heroes, in his novel, Arrow of God, that we turn today. It is the story of how an old, stubborn and head-strong man led his community to ruin, all because of pride, power and refusal to adapt. There is a part that, for our purposes, demands summarisation.

Ezeulu was the chief priest of his clan in a community called Umuaro, at a momentous period in its history when the Europeans were just beginning to settle in their territory. Chief among his responsibilities was the announcement of a traditional ceremony, called the Feast of the New Yam, which announced the beginning of the harvest. They made their offerings at that festival and thanked the gods for the harvest, while asking for favours in the new season.

Ezeulu had power. It was upon his word that the community relied to settle on a date for this important festival. It was he who counted the months by the appearance of the moon. He kept 13 yams and each time a new moon appeared he consumed a yam. With one yam remaining, he would announce the day of the festival. It was taboo to start harvesting before the festival. So Ezeulu had immense power, because he controlled time and the harvest and therefore, the health and well-being of the community.

But then on one occasion, he tried to use this power against his people, as punishment for their omissions. Ezeulu was not amused when he was detained by the European officials. He thought his people had let him down. He thought as their chief priest, they should have defended him. When he was released he vowed to punish them.

Since he been detained for two months, he had not been able to consume two yams that he would otherwise have eaten had been a free man when the new moons appeared. When he returned, he simply continued from where he had left before his detention. It was as if time had frozen during the period that he was in detention. And by so doing, his actions had the effect of not only extending the year by two months but it also affected the timing of the festival and the harvest, since it was taboo to perform the harvest before the festival.

The community panicked when he did not announce the festival, as they had expected he would do. They feared the crop would begin to rot in the ground. There was a fear of hunger and famine. All this because Ezeulu, the man with power to declare the date of the festival after which the harvest could commence, was refusing to do the right thing. Naturally, the people became exasperated and desperate because of the mounting crisis.

Delegations of elders went to plead with Ezeulu, asking him to eat the two yams and declare the day of the important festival. But Ezeulu was adamant and stubbornly refused to oblige, saying that he was sticking to tradition. “You are asking me to eat death”, he said in response to the pleas.

But they continued to plead for reason to prevail. “A man must dance the dance prevailing in his time”, they said, exhorting him to be flexible and that they would take responsibility for his actions if he did as requested. “You will be free because we have set you to do it, and the person who sets a child to catch a shrew should also find him water to wash the odour from his hand”, they said, promising to take responsibility if he broke the rules in order to save the community from ruin. Still Ezeulu refused.

The community suffered and began to hate Ezeulu. But the community’s hostility spread to his family – his wives and his children, too. They became the targets of attacks. Others said Ezeulu did not care because he did not suffer the consequences of his actions since as chief priest, he would receive a yam from every family when they made their offerings. But they also thought that he was such a stubborn character who was prepared to let pride ruin a whole community. “… My friend,” said one man, “when a man as proud as this wants to fight he does not care if his own head rolls as well in the conflict”. So Ezeulu’s obstinacy led the community to ruin.

Yet this also presented an opportunity to a new religion which, at the time, was only very slowly finding its way into the community. John Jaja Goodcountry, was the man who was leading the charge and when he saw that the people of Umuaro were desperate because of their chief priest’s stubbornness, he took full advantage of it.

Word spread that if the traditional god, Ulu, was not ready to receive the yam offering, the new god of the Christians was more than ready to receive them and deliver them from the suffering caused by Ulu’s stubbornness. Therefore, instead of waiting for Ulu, and having their crop wasted, they could make their offering to God in the Church and start their harvest. They did not have to fear the wrath of Ulu, as the god of the Christians had the power to protect them. For a people who were desperate, this became an avenue out of the crisis they were facing. Rather than face famine occasioned by Ezeulu’s stubbornness, they chose the new path. Thus in his stubbornness, Ezeulu had expedited the rise of the new rival religion and turned supporters into converts of the new religion.

And worse was to come as Ezeulu himself eventually lost his mind in the aftermath of the tragic death of his son, Obika. As Achebe puts it, after this sad event that broke him, it also allowed him “to live in the haughty splendour of a demented high priest and spared him knowledge of the final outcome”. In other words, in the end, the stubborn Ezeulu had lost his mind and control.

This was interpreted by the elders of Umuaro as a victory against an obstinate chief priest who had refused to listen to the people and thought he was bigger than them. In their minds, “their god had taken sides with them against his headstrong and ambitious priest and thus upheld the wisdom of their ancestors – that no man however great was greater than his people; that no one ever won judgment against his clan”.

Achebe’s Umuaro is a world away from today’s Zimbabwe but one cannot help but notice some striking thematic similarities. Like Achebe’s Umuaro, it seems Zimbabwe has its own Ezeulu. Ezeulu was stubborn and head-strong. He believed he was right and that everyone else was wrong. He refused to adapt, even when doing so was disastrous to the community. In any event, Ezeulu would never go hungry, as every citizen would still be required to offer a single yam to Ulu, the god that he represented.

And even though people pleaded with him, that it was necessary to make changes for the good of the whole community, Ezeulu refused to listen. Instead, he turned his wrath upon those who opposed him. He thought he was misunderstood and undervalued. His family suffered hostility, too, on account of his conduct. But, in the end, not only did his behaviour cause ruin for everyone, it also opened the way for the rival religion represented by John Goodcountry who took full advantage of the disgruntlement that Ezeulu’s conduct had caused among the people. And rather cruelly, Ezeulu lived his last days without control of his faculties.

wamagaisa@yahoo.co.uk

“Events, dear boy, events …”

“Events, dear boy, events …”

Alex T. Magaisa

There must be someone out there, who cares deeply for the First Lady, Grace Mugabe and to whom she pays attention. They are probably timid at this point, not sure what to do, or say, although they do know that this is not looking good and requires correction. They probably need to summon some courage to go and “whisper together” with her, as the great Achebe would put it.

They need to whisper into her ear, that this isn’t looking too pleasant, not for her target of attacks but for herself – her reputation and her dignity. For this, in the fullness of time, cannot end well. The short term looks rosy. It looks comfortable. But that is no guarantee of a long term of comfort and power.

Okonkwo is the tragic hero of Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart. Through hard work, he became successful and powerful in a short space of  time, perhaps, too soon. But despite his success and power, pride was always one of the great fault-lines in his constitution and character.

On one occasion, Achebe wrote, at a meeting of men of Umuofia village, Okonkwo responded rather harshly, to a man who had contradicted him. “This is a meeting for men”, Okonkwo had said to the poor fellow. In the deeply patriarchal society that Achebe describes, this was one of the greatest insults that a man could throw at another, especially as in that case, where the man who had contradicted him had no titles. Titles were given to men who had achieved. “Okonkwo knew how to kill a man’s spirit”, writes Achebe.

The reaction of the other men was not to applaud Okonkwo. Instead, they took sides with Osugo, the man who had been called a woman. “Those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble”, counselled the oldest man at the meeting, in a stern manner, referring, of course, to the fact that, although Okonkwo was a highly successful man, he should be more humble in his manner and respectful in his treatment of other men, even if they were less favoured.

We are a long way from Okonkwo’s world in Things Fall Apart, although some might suggest that things are indeed, falling apart. Being a woman is no longer to be seen as the standard of weakness, no. But to read Achebe’s text in the literal sense here is to miss the point. Emanating from this capsule of knowledge is the notion that even if what you have to say is correct, there is a manner by which one is expected to conduct himself or herself and one’s approach can so easily obfuscate their message, and indeed, detract from their main point.

Grace Mugabe probably has some very strong points against her nemesis, Vice President Joice Mujuru, but she may not realise that she, not Mujuru is now becoming the caricature – the caricature of an arrogant, haughty and reckless First Lady. The trouble is that she does not seem to realise that people are no longer laughing at what she is saying but at her; that it is she, not the subject of her torment, who has become the joke. People are gasping, not at the gravity of the allegations that she is dishing out but at the manner in which she is conducting herself on the public stage.

It is not that people do not believe that what she says may be true, but that her conduct has shown her to be a vindictive individual who has a personal score to settle with her adversary. Instead of being a serious national issue over succession, it now looks like a petty, gossip-fuelled tiff between two women, or in this case a public tirade by one woman against another, township-style. The big irony is that it was her husband, President Mugabe who, last year, characterised South African diplomat, Lindiwe Zulu, as a “street woman” to express his unhappiness at her conduct. It was harsh. Later, they made up and she might even have received a presidential peck on the cheek. But Zulu had hardly exhibited characteristics of a “street woman”.

It is evident that Mujuru’s political fortunes are in serious jeopardy; that she has been on the ropes for some time and if it were a boxing match, the referee might, by now, have stopped the punishment. But as Harold Wilson said, a week is a long time in politics. And asked what could possibly derail his political progress, another former British Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan is said to have responded, tongue-in-cheek, “Events, dear boy, events”, referring to the fact that in politics, nothing is obvious and predictable, and that the course of politics is often dictated by unforeseen events. There is no way of telling what could happen tomorrow and how that can change the course of politics.

I have heard many declaring emphatically that it’s all over for Mujuru. That may appear to be the case, but to use Macmillan’s words you can never tell how events will shape up. A few years ago, in Malawi, Joice Banda seemed to have been cast aside and was wallowing on the sidelines, probably to be dumped at the next election. But that was until the unexpected demise of Bingu wa Mutharika, the then President and she, as Vice President, was the natural successor in terms of the Constitution.  Suddenly, everything had changed. They tried to stop it but it was impossible. She went on to finish the term and those who had stood in her way suffered the consequences. Then she went on to lose in the election earlier this year when most things seemed to be going her way.

But in respect of her earlier rise, no-one could have imagined the death of Bingu waMutharika. That is the kind of ‘event’ that MacMillan would have been referring to. This is not to be read literally in regard to Zimbabwe but in the sense that you can never foretell the occurrence of events.

And even if Mujuru loses out on this occasion, as seems likely given the way things have transpired lately, it would by no means be the end of history for her or for the victors. Grace Mugabe would have won this particular battle, which has turned out to be quite personal, but she would have lost a great deal of her dignity in the process. Not that she will care, probably, as long as she has power or is on the side of those who have power. That, after all is the main objective in this case. But ancient wisdom does remind us that the higher the monkey climbs the tall tree, the more it exposes its nether regions. The trouble is we are seeing too much and there is nowhere to look, anymore.

There must be someone out there who loves and cares for Grace Mugabe. Go and “whisper together” with her.  As for those who are cheering and egging her on, one has to doubt their sincerity. Because, we are sure they see what everybody else is seeing, and that this does not look good on her, whatever the strengths of her averments. But we guess they are not concerned about that, the pursuit of power being the primary goal, and so far she has been a willing and convenient tool.

These things tend to end up in tears. Ask Simone Ehivet Gbagbo, at one point the most powerful woman in Ivory Coast when she was First Lady. In the end, when she and her husband were cornered by a mob in a hotel room, she looked very pitiful. It did not look good at all. Power is transient. It comes and goes. When you have it, exercise it responsibly because when it is gone, as it has a tendency to do in one’s lifetime, it will never be good.

She needs to know that those who are sympathising with Mujuru are doing so not because they think she is innocent, no. They are doing so probably because at most, because they abhor the abuse of power. As for opposition supporters, it is probably because mostly, they see a replication of exactly the same methods that have been used against their own parties. People dislike arrogance. They dislike the abuse of power. And the treatment of Mujuru, while she is no angel, is familiar to them, which might explain the identification.

Observing all this, I’m reminded of the classic Karanga novel, China Manenji Hachifambisi, by Mordecai Hamutyinei, in which he portrayed many unforgettable characters. There was Morris Makura, the boy who had left the village for the city and done well. And Sabina, the beautiful vixen that he found in the city and with whom he fell in love. Then there was Chemedzai, the rural woman to whom Morris had been married by arranged marriage, in the customary manner. There was also vaMakura, the dignified old man who was Morris father and loved Chemedzai dearly and could not understand why his son was rejecting her and their custom.

Then there was Morris’ mother, who disliked Chemedzai with great intensity. Her name was vaPfocho. Those who read that book will know why those in the village called her by that name. But I know many have not. VaPfocho was one woman who spoke provocatively, without respect and without care for the consequences of her words.

waMagaisa@yahoo.co.uk

Pressure at the HQ

Pressure at the HQ

Alex T. Magaisa

So finally, the lady has spoken. Yesterday, Vice President Joice Mujuru issued a statement in response to the co-ordinated, systematic and sustained assault upon her reputation carried out by her opponents through the agency of the State media. The Sunday Mail’s scurrilous report which alleged that she was linked to an assassination plot against her boss proved to be the last straw.

The story itself was a shoddy job which could not even be admitted in a kangaroo court. After reading the story and reading it again, it was hard to see how it could have been claimed that Mujuru plotted to assassinate the President. It is hard to understand how President Mugabe, as astute a politician that he is reputed to be, could fall for such badly constructed dossiers as represented by that story. If he believes that, then those behind such a story might as well convince him that he is now 50 years old again.

It’s a very loose story and even that is being too kind. The story presents no evidence whatsoever of what Mujuru actually did or said to warrant the headline that she is linked to an assassination plot. And yet the paper quotes all manner of ‘experts’ claiming excitedly and affirmatively, that she should be charged with treason. But does it matter whether or not there is a strong case? No, actually, it does not matter.

In fact, Mujuru would not be the first of Mugabe’s opponents to suffer that charge. In facing a treason accusation, she would be following a much travelled path. When Joshua Nkomo was dismissed from Government in 1982, Mugabe accused him of plotting a coup against his Government. He uttered the infamous words referring to Nkomo and PF Zapu as a cobra that enters the house, whose head needs to be crushed. Two of Nkomo’s lieutenants, Dumiso Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku were charged with treason. They were kept in detention for long periods and eventually Masuku lost his life.

In the 1990s, after Ndabaningi Sithole returned from the United States and challenged Mugabe in the 1996 Presidential elections, he too was charged with treason for an alleged attempt to kill Mugabe. Sithole was convicted but insisted that the evidence against him was forged and obtained from witnesses through torture.

Post-2000, Mugabe’s main challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai went through a long treason trial, before charges were thrown out by the court. In 2008, Tendai Biti, then Secretary-General of the MDC-T, also faced treason charges on the basis of statements that he had allegedly made.

So that the treason accusation is being thrown in Mujuru’s direction is hardly a new tactic. It is all very predictable. It doesn’t matter if it is spurious and ridiculous. The idea is that if she is charged, it will keep her occupied and very busy for a very long time. The courts may eventually throw it out but she would have been distracted and taken out of the way of vaulting ambition.

But these newspaper accusations are designed to hit another target, which is believed to be one of Mujuru’s pillars. This accusation puts a huge amount of pressure on the law enforcement authorities and in particular, Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri. We have noted before that the police were forced a few weeks ago to refute claims that they were backing the Mujuru faction. Last week, we noted in our piece entitled “Trouble at the HQ?”, that a report in the State media seemed to be targeting Chihuri and that this signalled disquiet over his role.

As the week passed, Chihuri’s war-time ally, Rugare Gumbo, who one of Mujuru’s staunchiest defenders was fired at the Politburo meeting and we read that he had been called in by the police for questioning over the Baba Jukwa saga. We suspect these new allegations of treason will mean more trips to the police department.

The pressure is now on Chihuri. If there is no action, we might see some demonstrations this week or next – by the usual group of youths, women and war veterans – pressurising Chihuri to take action against Mujuru and her allies on the basis of these newspaper reports. This is the tactic of mobilising the mob that we referred to in our article, “How to ‘Kill’ a Political Opponent in Zimbabwe”. Similarly, we predicted that there would grand accusations made against Mujuru and her allies and this is coming to fruition with the corruption, Baba Jukwa and treason accusations all being put into use.

The treason accusations may read like a piece of fiction to most people. They are never intended to be serious. They are just a tactic to frustrate and to distract attention. They are designed to rouse the mob and increase pressure not only on Mujuru but on the police authorities. It is no wonder that this was the last straw and she had no choice but to make a statement. But now that she has spoken, and although she has spoken well, it has also opened the floodgates of attack from the gang that was waiting for her to say something. Congress is near but at this rate, the post Congress period may be just as dramatic.

wamagaisa@yahoo.co.uk

‘Prophets’ have flourished due to a failure of political leadership, Mr President

‘Prophets’ have flourished due to a failure of political leadership, Mr President

Alex T. Magaisa

Away from the political succession drama, in today’s Sunday Mail, President Mugabe takes on another challenge, warning people against what he calls ‘false prophets’.

There is no doubt whom he is referring to here – Zimbabwe has had its fair share of men plying their trade under the label of ‘prophets’. They attract huge gatherings and have a massive following. And they make a lot of money from it.

With congregations of up to 30,000 people on average, they can make up to $30,000 per session with each congregant paying a dollar in offerings. Of course, some of the wealthier congregants pay more. That’s a lot of money in a country where commercial businesses are closing down because of liquidity and cash-flow challenges.

Just recently papers reported that one of them – he is called Prophet Magaya – had a crowd of 350,000 at an All-night Prayer – itself a ridiculous and outlandish figure, which exposes the hyperbolic tendencies of our boys and girls in the media, but is nevertheless generally indicative of his pulling power. The ‘prophets’ have become very wealthy, following in the tradition of their West African brothers who feature regularly in the Forbes list of the richest on the otherwise beleaguered continent.

These circumstances have attracted criticism from various quarters. But there are also strong and passionate defenders. And now, for the first time, Mugabe has waded in. While Mugabe expresses sentiments held by those who are critical of these men and their churches, and his sentiments will no doubt be used as validation of their viewpoint, there is also a political purpose here, which requires scrutiny.

These churches are powerful and a potential threat to the political elite, unless they are onside. Those with a sense of history will know that the relationship between the Church and the State has not always been one of a smooth-sailing character.

There was a time, in Medieval Europe, when the Church was extremely powerful since authority to rule was deemed to derive directly from God and the Church was the intermediary. Monarchies therefore depended for their legitimacy partly on the Church’s validation of their right to rule. However, these notions began to change with the growth of liberalism and the liberal democratic state.

This new challenge spurred by the era of The Enlightenment, provided a new dimension to power and politics of the State, namely that authority to rule was no longer seen to be derived directly from God but from the people (even though the definition of ‘people’ was very narrow in that it referred to white men with property and excluded poor men, all women and other races). The distinction between the Church and the State was drawn with the dominance of the notion of the secular (not circular!) State.

But the politician has always been wary of the power derived from religion and have sought to keep the men of religion as far away as possible from the levers of power unless they are facilitating their acquisition and hold on power. In Mao’s China religion was banned, leading to the destruction of many religious monuments. It was said that he swum across the mighty Yangtze River 17 times at a point that was considered very difficult, in order to show that he could conquer nature – the Yangtze was and is still worshiped in China.

Because the Church knows of the hostility that its power can attract from the politician, it tries to pacify the politician and to show that it is not a threat. This may explain the recruitment in recent months of a Zanu PF spokesperson as a spokesperson for Makandiwa’s church, much to the surprise and probably, dismay of some of his congregants. What the man whose followers refer to as Prophet Makandiwa was doing was simply a matter of diplomacy and self-preservation by building a relationship with the ruling party and showing that he was an ally and not a threat.

This may also explain some of the so-called prophecies which seemed to forewarn Zimbabweans against demonstrations and were generous about President Mugabe. The aim may have been to pacify Zanu PF and the State. Indeed, it may have come to the ‘prophets’ attention that Mugabe was not particularly amused by their conduct snd power, hence the pre-emptive moves. Many people condemned the ‘prophets’ oblivious of the possibility that the ‘prophets’ were acting on the spur of the instinct of self-preservation and survival.

But at another level and more importantly, perhaps, President Mugabe should ask why thousands upon thousands of the people that he leads flock to these ‘prophets’ and their churches, parting with their hard-earned cash as they do so.

We think it’s largely because of desperation and loss of faith in politics and political leadership generally. The people are desperate. People have lost hope in the State and secular institutions and in politicians and they are looking for divine intervention. That is what leads many of the poor to these prophets and churches, apart of course, from the matter of faith.

These churches preach the gospel of miracles. They have promised miracle money, miracle gold and all sorts of grand benefits. Poor people with little hope look to these new spaces as spaces of hope. The prophets give poor people hope where politicians and politics have let them down.

They have been cheated and abused in politics but the church is seen as a safe space. There is no Zanu PF or MDC in the church; there is no factionalism in the church. They are not forced to go to these churches compared to the force used for them to attend political rallies. They are not forced to pay tithes in the same way they are forced to buy party cards. They do not have to apply to the police to go have their religious gatherings snd if thry do, the police do not prevent them, like they do in politics.

In other words, Mr President, these churches have become spaces in which people are able to exercise their freedoms, which they can’t do elsewhere, especially in the political arena.

They have made claims of miracle healing and changing people’s fortunes. With a public health system in tatters and a private health system that is unaffordable, most people find solace and hope in these prophets and their churches.

In other words, Mr President, the people have lost hope and confidence in the State over which you preside and are now falling victim to the so-called prophets that you are condemning.

The solution to this problem lies in lifting people out of poverty. The solution lies in making the political arena into a decent and civilised space. Right now, the succession drama is exposing more and more of the darker side of politics. People do not like to see the abuse of power. Perhaps President Mugabe must ask why his party’s spokesperson also doubles up as a spokesperson for one of these churches.

As long as politicians fail to deliver, and as long as the State fails to to provide solutions, people will flock to these men and women who promise miracles. In other words, the phenomenon over which he is warning people against is a problem created by poor politics and failure of development. Poor and vulnerable people are always at the mercy of the next great ‘saviour’ and in our case it’s largely because our people have been condemned to a life of penury, indeed, a desperate life.