Zimbabwe – Beware of White Referee [column] (allAfrica.com)

I AM reading a book under the Oppenheimer series, a book on Thomas Leask’s diary entries covering his travels in Botswana and Zimbabwe, travels undertaken between 1865 and 1870.
Like Livingstone, Leask was a Scott, every inch an adventurer and hunter who ventured “up North” from the Cape, hoping for fortunes in the romanticised land of Ophir.
Of course, his hopes rested on the wanton plunder of Zimbabwe’s fauna, and the resultant sale of wildlife trophies, together with some such exotic items traded by natives of the two countries.
And the native workmanship was amazingly advanced, that of the Mashona especially, to a point where the white hunter had to acknowledge unreservedly: “And lastly they (Mashonas) are the neatest-handed people known. In fact, it requires ocular demonstration to make one believe that the knives, spears, sacks, blankets, fishing nets, etc., are not of European manufacture.”
Trade in animal trophies and native artifacts was the roaring business of his time. By the time he embarks on his journeys, Botswana is virtually without any more big game, much of it having been hunted down, or forced to migrate further north by the combined assault of itinerant Boers, and wandering British hunters setting off from the Cape.
The destruction was wanton, merciless, forcing Leask to mournfully record: “Poor animals, what a curse to them (are) their tusks! But for their ivory they would be unmolested in their desert home.”
An ailing but watchful King
Once in Zimbabwe, he, alongside other white hunters, teamed up with Hartley and Hartley’s sons for a hunting expedition which took him beyond Matabeleland into Mashonaland, lasting for two or so months.
The team extorted a hunting concession from an ailing, weak but troubled, wary and reluctant King Mzilikazi who, apart from fending off bodily ailments, had a strong presentiment of white encroachment on his Kingdom, which had to be warded off also.
A group of twelve armed white hunters unnerved him and his people, but the ailing King finally acquiesced to the persistent request, of course taking the precaution to dispatch guides to watch over these solicitous hunters. Mzilikazi tasked a head guide called “Inyoka” — Snake — apparently quite familiar with Mashonaland from previous assignments with Hartley. Apart from the fear of encroachment, Mzilikazi also feared these hunters would sell guns to Mashonas — his supposed vassals — as indeed had done Viljoen, a veteran Boer hunter, early on.
Subterfuges for sovereignty
Faced with such hunting requests, both King and his subjects adopted various subterfuges to keep the white hunters, whom they saw as spies, at bay, or confined within the precincts of the royal kraal where they could be watched and controlled.
Often, guides would take the white hunters round and round in lands empty of wildlife. At the expiry of the hunting period, the guides would then order the hunting party back to the Kraal, distraught and empty-handed.
Or simply lead them to areas infested with the “fly”, where all their tractive animals would succumb to the dreaded tsetse disease, forcing an abortion of the trip. Or ask for hunting taxes that shot past the reasonable and affordable. Such as asking the hunters to pay every Ndebele for universal permission.
That way, both the land and its fauna would be saved, or damage to it minimised. History is still to record these dilatory strategies which our forefathers adopted to save the land, its flora and fauna, and to uphold the sovereignty of the land.
Equally, history is still to record the damage to wildlife wreaked by white hunters on Zimbabwe and other countries of our region. Today they shout hoarse as defenders of animal rights, defenders of our elephants, these scions of wanton destroyers of yesteryears.
Minerals and fauna
So Leask, his party and Hartley, after whom Chegutu was once named, left for a hunting expedition, led by “Inyoka” the guide. They traversed Midlands, crossed “Ingezi” into present-day Mashonaland West. They went as far as “Fura”, now Mt Darwin, even reaching the deeper recesses of present-day Mashonaland Central.
Interestingly, Karl Mauch, the German geologist whose reports on fabulous gold deposits in Zimbabwe ignited the colonisation impulse, was part of the team, albeit repeatedly breaking off to chase geological leads, and even to wonder off tangentially, emerging as the second white man to see the Great Zimbabwe.
Rumble in native territory
The hunting party reached a Mashona village whose residents came to the wagons to exchange corn, meal and rice for beads.
The rice was splendid, in the words of Leask, “far surpassing anything of the sort I ever ate”. This business bespoke of an agricultural civilisation, never the indolent native image developed and circulated widely to justify colonial occupation and forced labour.
A while later, there was some disturbance at the Mashona encampment. Reported Leask: “Upon going to see what the row was about, found Inyoka sitting there, holding his gun and levying a blackmail in the shape of knives, spearheads, skins, etc.
“The poor Mashonas were afraid for their lives, doubtless believing that we would back up Inyoka.
“Soon put the set (sit) on his robberies, however, and made him return everything to its owner.
“He seemed to be much offended at first and said they were his people. Told him, if they were his people, he could go to their villages and take their goods, but so long as they were at our wagons they were under our protection. And, moreover, if he dares to molest them in any way we shall distinctly tell the Mashonas that they may deal with him as they please, without being in any dread of our interfering.
“This, and a threat to inform the chief upon our return of his doings, brought him to his senses.
“He knows well that he was sent with us to show us elephants and not to rob the Kaffirs and frighten them away.
“And he also knows that a small matter will cost a man his life among the Matabele.”
White man as saviour
Leask draws the moral of the whole encounter: “The Mashonas were overjoyed to see us defend them, for whether they are indolent, which I much doubt, they seem a quiet people.
“A small matter serves to exalt a white man greatly in their eyes and, did all traders and hunters stand up against oppression when in their power, a white man would be more respected than he is.
“Especially should the pioneers leave a good impression behind them and, by acting honestly and uprightly, whether with whites or blacks, they will always be respected.”
News as conflict drama
Our drama-craving media have been riveted by the conflict situation within Zanu-PF.
We have the expulsions; we have the bizarre metaphysical realm allegedly implicating the former Vice President; court actions; accusations of harbouring whites on farms, demonstrably in Mashonaland East.
But we also have activities in Dabengwa’s Zapu; activities in the MDC-T and its internal opposite, the so-called grand alliance combining Biti and Ncube, itself a compounded weakness wishfully projected in panegyric proportions.
Subterraneanly, we have little dramas in big bedrooms, conjugal squabbles affecting Tsvangirai and Ncube. There is no shortage of material for news as human conflict. A person of Rushdie’s temperament would celebrate the moment, vaunting it as an outbreak of lustful democracy for Zimbabwe.
In Rushdie’s brittle view, democracy is always a noisy affair, a messy phenomenon set to flourish “in the rough-and-tumble bazaar of disagreement”.
Telling us what to think about
Students of the media have debated, debated inconclusively, on what the media do to society. Do media tell societies what to think, or what to think about? Time was when the media would be given stupendous powers of shaping and moulding the mind of society. Today that fear has long been discarded, amidst a greater realisation that man is not so vulnerable to media messages and effects, which he selectively and expediently absorbs.
But what no one denies is the fact that the media do successfully raise issues for us to think about, do influence the conceptual focus and preoccupation of society. That is what is called agenda setting.
Winner and loser alike
Clearly the agenda which the local media seeks to set is that of intra-party politics which they have upgraded to the status of the shaping dynamic of our national situation. This is given credence by the amazing parallels within distinct main parties.
Whether one is looking at Zanu-PF or the MDCs, the issue of succession is pregnant. Succession readable in manifold ways: within the top echelons of parties; around personalities, age and generations; around performance and term limits; around histories, and thinly around programmes.
And the consequences have been amazingly similar: rancorous expulsions, break-away formations, contestation around party names, recalls, mutually ruinous court actions, charges of external influences, etc, etc.
And fascinatingly, good electoral performance is no insurance, with winners and losers sharing similar fratricidal fates. That way, Zanu-PF — the 2013 elections winner — and MDC-T, the 2013 elections loser, find themselves in the same boat where they have to fight off conspiracies and schisms, indeed where they have to defend or renounce respective founding principles.
Unofficial GNU
And the fallouts result in dramatic criss-crosses, unions and re-unions across political boundaries, all the time re-confirming intersecting fates.
The battles are fought under the banner of authenticity, although lodestar values undergo changes and challenges, often beyond recognition. And fascinating contradictory transpositions: Biti accuses Tsvangirai of enjoying Zanu-PF largesse, while asserting a corrective right to stand grand alliance politics on the shoulders of liberation politics, which are in fact synonymous with the same Zanu-PF he says patronises Tsvangirai.
Didymus Mutasa accuses President Mugabe and his post-December Congress line-up of deserting Zanu-PF’s liberation values, while repudiating land reforms and spouting neo-liberal notions of various freedoms, all this in ways that would turn the MDCs green with envy.
The contrapuntal drift between political tendencies seems to have given way to unexpected reciprocal borrowings and mobile convergences. There is a way in which an unofficial GNU persists, long after its end. This is political Zimbabwe in 2015.
Old optics, new politics
Predictably, interpreters are in sixes and sevens, with the media making matters simpler for themselves by dwelling on conflictual binaries, presenting these as total reality.
Maybe the old mould is getting smaller for politics nowadays.
Maybe the integument is now broken and a new political being is emerging. Maybe the pupa, all along obtected, is now breaking free to adulthood.
Yet our optics as interpreters remain obtected, bound by old frameworks, by a dwindling mould within which a larger, new reality can no longer fit, can no longer be encompassed. Is it old bottles, is it old wine? Or wine at all? What is the container, what is the contents?
Let me be a bit subversive and ask: is all this about runaway politics in respective parties, or about transcendental national politics bearing down evenly on all parties?
A seismically shifting national body politic heralding the close of one epoch, the emergence of another? That the bicker and clashing personalities we see in parties registers larger national politics which parties are having to adjust to, willy-nilly?
When you have parallel processes across different parties, when you have political “commons”, then clearly a new principle and organising ethic beyond the respective parties is emerging and is underway, is it not so? A transformation of our politics as we have known them from 1980, as we have known them till now, to which parties are having to adjust, often awkwardly and shabbily through nasty in-fights?
I mean when a question in one party echoes a question in another – and the two usually pursue dissimilar values and visions – are we not looking at an emerging national political question, an emerging national political concern, value and ethos? Some zeitgeist which has not been acknowledged, but which still arrives nevertheless, arrives with the inescapability of some immanent fate? Ridiculing artificial divisions around which our politics have been organized up till now? Kicking what we have seen as lodestar values, kicking these about to clear the way for the new, unknown? What the hell is going on?
Zimbabwe’s Fukuyama moment
If we agree something immanent, something larger and overbearing is emerging, or has emerged, what is it? What name do we give this thing, whatever it is, slouching towards Bethlehem, to be born? The nationalist/liberation ideology, all along hegemonic, today stands severely tested, strained or even split, as some would say. Equally, the neo-liberal democratization movement stands severely strained, badly split as is apparent to all. The reigning political indifference of the citizenry maybe points to an ensuing vacuum?
What ideas fill and animate this interregnum? What is the hegemonic direction? What is losing, what is gaining? Or is this Zimbabwe’s Fukuyama moment, marking the end of “history”? But even that post-Cold war moment, which Fukuyama stupidly called the end of history, had a clear winner who stood triumphant for quite some while, until of course challenged by the financial meltdown, and by the rise of radical political Islam, to the utter shock of the neo-liberal acolytes personified by Fukuyama.
There was no ambiguity about history’s strumpet. Much different here where the winner appears to split victory, to admire the loser, while the loser does not seek to take advantage, but digs deeper to confirm defeat. And both face worsening social conditions, with neither gaining or profiting from it.
What era cometh?
MDC fears another contest against a Zanu-PF with Mugabe at the helm; it prays for Mugabe’s retirement, hoping to meet in the contest a beatable successor. A bidding faction within Zanu-PF, much like the MDC, prefers a Zanu-PF without Mugabe, a man so freshly victorious, so perennially feared by the only other power bidder, MDC. How so? Like the defeated Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s leadership gets contested, apparently for winning resoundingly, thereby staying a fresh mandate.
Equally, one notices the absence of a wall between MDC-T and the grand alliance. More spectacularly, one is struck by how the schism in Zanu-PF has birthed a still nameless political creature lineamentally coincident with Zapu, Grand Coalition and MDC-T, coincident with all that is opposed to Zanu-PF. An unofficial, even enlarged GNU. To a point where Didymus Mutasa, the face of this nameless breakaway outfit has the temerity to say: “Yes, we are working with Mai Mujuru. We are working with those that were expelled from the congress, that were kept out of the Politburo and even those who left Zanu-PF a long time ago.
People like Dabengwa, Simba Makoni and even Movement of Democratic Change people… . We have not all met yet. But we are working with all those people and on their behalf.” I get confused, I who have always believed that party politics are always based on key breaches and differential lines in the body-politic. Or on the illusion of them. Courtship seems to abound in the air, and very soon a season of love, closing out differences that define political choices. Is this the end of ideology? And, what era cometh?
Pats and blows
But for all the drama, serious analysts will tell you all these layers of conflict and conjugation do not mean much, might never shape Zimbabwe’s politics beyond pleasing composers of day-long headlines.
The Mutasa group knows it’s headed for a dead-end, with Didymus’ fate coming much sooner. He will not survive the by-election; he need not raise the gorgon of assassination, a fate which he is unworthy of. Who wants his little, failing heart? The conflict within the MDCs only underlines their whimper and soft tread into oblivion. But there is a real dynamic stronger than all this bicker, a dynamic to which all this drama plays red herring. And that is what real analysts must seek to discover, encompass and unpack.
The week was particularly important in showing us glimpses of this dynamic, slowly but inexorably inching towards the centre stage. But largely still inchoate, yet indicative. We have the EU, clearing a significant disbursement, promising more. We have the French making a tantalizing offer. We have the British dispatching their minister, himself anticipated by a high-ranking DFID officer. They are making some debt-solving suggestions. You have the IMF straddling the middle-ground between charm and animosity. Zimbabwe, it tells us, is right on course regarding its staff monitored programme. But, nay, no new funding facility before clearing of debt. A pat plus a blow.
Of course on the other end of the spectrum you have the Americans and their hateful ZDERA, still characterising Zimbabwe as a continuing threat to US foreign policy, but saying so in a revised text. Some movement in continuing negativity. All these factors constitute a scenario to watch, well beyond the distracting din of party bicker.
Indebtedness defeats
Not that the bicker is unimportant. Very important, in fact a crucial signal to the West to now move in to claim a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. And because the West has realised pitching flags and tents in any one territory guarantees a zero-sum game and outcome, today a wiser West opts to stand between Inyoka and the villagers, all the time knowing both have to crowd around the hunter’s wagons.
Does it really matter whether among the natives one is a guide or a vendor? Indeed it does provide opportunities that there is a situation of conflict between natives, thereby allowing the white man to step in and broker peace, and demonstrate a just impartiality. An opportunity to silence the bullying Inyoka, while winning the hearts and minds of Inyoka’s “people”. Raising his estimate in native eyes, pioneering possibilities. And so grateful that the white man has put down Inyoka, which native remembers the white man has come to steal ivory, then gold, and finally land? Indebtedness defeats.
Out of touch Didymus
Poor Didymus, he thinks the future is defined by Nyafaru crossings into Mozambique. By Cold Comfort. By a few cold nights in jail. By blacks behind bars. Sorry Sir, it shall be Birmingham which you left to go to war. The question has been reframed, the times changed. We will soon realize that the emerging key question is not raised in the courts, between parties, between ideologies or values.
The key question shall be one to do with the relationship between a Zimbabwe governed by whomsoever, and the West governed by its permanent interests. Mugabe has made this new question possible. He has solved the land question, removed it from the table in other words.
He has allowed succession conflict but without letting it go out of hand. I shudder to imagine the consequences if the succession wars in Zanu-PF had exploded after his time. Who would have turned the fangled dogs in? But that is a story for another day.
Rendering Mujuru superfluous
I said the issue is now about Zimbabwe and the West. Yes, the West’s interests were badly hurt in the last thirteen years; but the West thinks they are recoverable given the state of political and socio-economic affairs in the country. Zimbabwe has psyched itself for a package, which is why the Finance Ministry, not Zanu-PF headquarters, is where reality is being coined. From the party HQ, the West needs a strong leader who keeps the centre holding, as reengagement takes place.
That leader can only be Mugabe and whoever he anoints in future. That leader will not emerge from the rubble of regime change politics. The West has accepted that, which is why it is reengaging.
Mugabe’s legacy was never threatened by succession wars. It is threatened by this emerging reengagement with the West, namely how to manage it in such a way that liberation values remain an informing background in an ideology-free era about to begin. How to manage it in such a way that our allies – the Chinese, Russians, Iranians – are not fatally discarded, the same way Gaddafi discarded Africa, thinking Europe had become a friend. Viewed that way, the Zanu-PF/MDC binary is superfluous.
Equally, the Mujuru factor is a non-issue. By adopting a neo-liberal stance, Zanu-PF has rendered Mujuru superfluous, she who would have thrived in an environment of shrill nationalism. But the succession drama has allowed a latter-day Leask to step in and bring peace, perfect peace, in the natives’ cacophonous corner. And then to remark: “A small matter serves to exalt a white man greatly in their eyes and, did all traders and hunters stand up against oppression when in their power, a white man would be more respected than he is.
Especially should the pioneers leave a good impression behind them and, by acting honestly and uprightly, whether with whites or blacks, they will always be respected.” Enter a white referee.
Source: Politics