The late VP Nkomo warned us in his 1984 book that there is a Robert Mugabe we don’t know, but we were too consumed by the dummy we had been sold by the dominant liberation war discourses. These warnings have always been coming even before the attainment of independence.
ONE of Zimbabwe’s renowned academics, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatseni in 2009 published a very interesting book with a catchy title; “Do ‘Zimbabweans’ Exist? Trajectories of Nationalism, National Identity Formation and Crisis in a Postcolonial State.”
It’s a very revealing piece of academic work, but the intention here is not to chew much of the beef in that book. The first part of the book’s title, “Do ‘Zimbabweans’ Exist?” is the focus of my attention.
Ndlovu-Gatsheni acknowledges in the book that he borrowed conceptual tools from a number of sources including Immanuel Wallerstein’s article entitled; “Does India Exist?” and Ivo Chipkin’s seminal book; “Do South Africans Exist?”
“Zimbabwe, just like India and South Africa, has no strong primordial foundation that could be taken for granted. There is need to unpack, deconstruct and demystify those historical and political processes that coalesced to create what today stands as Zimbabwe, together with ‘Zimbabwean-ness’ as a national identity,” writes Ndlovu-Gatsheni.
Borrowing from Ndlovu-Gatsheni, I have a genuine question born out of the recent statements attributed to former President Robert Mugabe, his association with the G40 project, National Patriotic Front and shocking revelations about his excesses while still in office. After critically analysing these developments, I wondered: “Do revolutionaries really exist?”
The former President has always been re-presented as a “larger-than-life” African icon. He has been touted as “the last man standing” in terms of Pan-Africanism. And indeed, during his tenure as President, he came up with policies, like the land reform programme, indigenisation and economic empowerment that shook the foundations of capitalism. One was tempted to think that the revolt against capitalism that Karl Marx predicted years ago, was about to explode in Zimbabwe, led by this socialist at heart.
The former President looked like he was different from many former African leaders that prominent Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe calls “A Man of the People.” A “man of the people” who detaches himself from society and seeks to gratify individual interests. But looks like we have just another “man of the people.”
So many of these “man of the people in Africa.” In Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah became a hero after his death. Writing in 1970, in an article entitled; “To Move a Continent: Nkrumah’s Role in African Affairs; 1957-1966”, Robert Moss observed that soon after its independence, Ghana was described as a “British pawn” and that “Ghana had no genuine independence.” Many wondered what Moss was writing about since Ghana was once touted as the “Mecca for Pan-Africanists and revolutionaries.”
In Tanzania, Julius Nyerere was followed to the grave by so many accusations. In the book, “Joshua Nkomo: The Story of My Life,” the late Vice-President had no kind words for Julius Nyerere. “Nyerere lacked confidence in the ability of Africans to rule themselves.
“He had actually requested the British to postpone the date for his own country’s independence, only to find that Britain was determined to shed its responsibilities as fast as possible . . .
“Moreover, Nyerere had a special problem with me personally. He always sought to dominate the policies and the personalities of the liberation movements to which he gave hospitality.
“But my contacts with the outside world were older than his and independent of his patronage. Perhaps he saw me as a threat to the leadership he wished to assert,” wrote the late VP. After hosting so many liberation movements in his country during the liberation struggle, one wonders which “Nyerere” the late VP Nkomo was referring to.
In Libya, that country’s former charismatic leader, Muamar Gaddafi, the man behind the idea of the “United States of Africa” was killed like a rat and not like a revolutionary. Yes, western powers were behind the killing, but surely revolutionaries are never supposed to be killed while trying to hide in some water drainage hole. Revolutionaries put up a fight or if they can’t they make their deaths a mystery.
Closer home, the world calls Nelson Mandela a champion of democracy and human rights, but in 2010, his wife for 38 years, Winnie Mandela got fed up with the lies and told the world that Mandela had “let blacks down.”
Let’s come back home to our beloved country. A country born out of 14 years of a protracted liberation war. Still the revolutionaries remain elusive and fluid.
The late Vice-President Nkomo is referred to as “Father Zimbabwe,” and indeed he played a crucial role in the liberation of the country as the leader of Zapu. In Matabeleland, the late VP is seen like a humanly “god” and consequently in playing its hegemonic politics, Zanu-PF has to always remember the “Big Josh” effect.
But then Fay Chung in her 2006 book, “Re-living the Second Chimurenga: Memories from the Liberation Struggle in Zimbabwe,” exposes the darker side of the late VP.
She writes: “Two decades of political agitation by black nationalists under Joshua Nkomo had failed to bring any substantive gains for blacks. Younger and better-educated leaders now questioned the wisdom of following the traditional strategies and tactics. This unease was brought to a head when Nkomo allegedly accepted a plan for power-sharing between blacks and whites through which blacks were to be given a small proportion of seats in parliament, with a plan for a gradual transfer of more power to blacks as they “proved” themselves to be more capable of assuming greater responsibility.
“The Smith regime had reserved for itself the right and power to determine when blacks would be ‘ready’ for a greater share of political and economic power. This decision had been reached after secret negotiations between Nkomo and Smith, during which many of Nkomo’s colleagues were either not present or were in disagreement.”
Then the sucker punch: “Besides this fundamental disagreement over both principle and process, many within the black-nationalist elite criticised Nkomo’s dependence on white advisors. At the same time he was accused of failing to consult his black colleagues. His advisors included Terence Ranger and John Reed from the university, Leo Baron, a well-known and high respected lawyer in Bulawayo, and Peter MacKay, a British military specialist.”
How and why was this revolutionary wining and dining with the enemy at such a precarious time of the struggle? There are so many worrying stories out there about the late VP that will be told in a future that is soon to come. As Ndlovu-Gatsheni asserts, there is need “to unpack, deconstruct and demystify” the country’s liberation war narrative.
From the late VP, one can focus on the founding leader of Zanu, the late Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole one can zoom on other leaders like Abel Muzorewa, James Chikerema, Herbert Chitepo, Josiah Tongogara, Dumiso Dabengwa, Edgar Tekere and many others. The story is still the same. There is some disappointment somewhere along the liberation way, leaving one wondering whether revolutionaries really exist or that all along we have been sold a liberation war dummy.
It’s very possible that all along we could have been believing the dummy considering that soon after independence, these nationalists who were stationed in Lusaka and Maputo, seized the liberation war discourse, silencing the real fighting forces. As a result, the liberation war account has so far been constructed as if this was a war without the fighting comrades.
According to Ndlovu-Gatsheni, the situation was made worse by historians who wrote seminal works on nationalism soon after the attainment of independence. These historians includes the likes of Terence Ranger, David Martin and Phyllis Johnson, David Lun and Ngwabi Bhebe, whom Ndlovu-Gatsheni said ‘too close’ to the cause of nationalism to the extent that they produced what “Steven Robins termed ‘praise-texts’ in service of official nationalism.”
Former President Mugabe must have gotten so used to this liberation war dummy and must have gotten drunk sipping in these “praise-texts” for 37 years that he started believing that there can’t be Zimbabwe without him, but that is a story for another day.
For now, the story is – “Do revolutionaries really exist?”
First, the former President insulted the country’s soldiers. “They (soldiers) said to me people have marched, they want you to go. They said they have filled the stadium demanding that I should go. I said ‘which people, MDC people?’ What about those in Kadoma, what about those in Mutare, did you go and ask them?
“People were beaten, the soldiers were beating up our intelligence guys saying you are paid higher than us. You wear good suits, hence you are protecting Mugabe. Ahh, they didn’t know that you do not need to be educated to be a soldier, normally soldiers are recruited from Grade 7 or Form Two while the intelligence team is recruited from those who are educated.
“It should follow that when one is educated with a degree or A Level, you should be paid higher than those who are just recruited as long as they are trained,” the former President was quoted saying.
Ordinary Zimbabweans were disgusted by the insult while many soldiers were clearly angered by this reckless statement. Do revolutionaries behave like spiteful little kids when things are not going their way?
Some quickly forgave the former President attributing the unfortunate statement to a number of excuses that include old age, anger and a nagging influential wife.
And then the stunning revelations – the former President turned his Blue Roof Mansion into a rendezvous to plot the formation of the G40’s National Patriotic Front.
As if that was not bad enough, news started filtering that the former President had met Joice Mujuru and Thokozani Khupe in a bid to mobilise opposition political parties against Zanu-PF.
Zimbabweans were still digesting what exactly the former President was up to when a Government source revealed to The Herald that former President Mugabe has 21 farms some of which he has been leasing to white farmers. This couldn’t be true. 21 farms? Wasn’t this the Mugabe who at each and every turn preached about one-person, one-farm?
But then the stunning news kept coming. “Former President Robert Mugabe for years received his salary in cash, and has demanded that the same arrangement apply to his pension lump sum of nearly half a million dollars and monthly pension payments of over $13 000,” revealed The Sunday Mail.
The paper revealed that the former President wanted his pension lump sum of $467 200 and monthly pension of $13 333 in cash. During his tenure, the former President was getting monthly cash payments of $20 000.
The skeletons now coming out of the cupboards are shocking. It looks like at 94, a new Robert Mugabe is being born. Who exactly was Robert Mugabe for the past 38 years? Was Robert Mugabe that humble leader who fought for the rights of his people? Was Robert Mugabe that principled Pan-Africanist leader who stood by the ideology of the revolution? Was Robert Mugabe the uncaring leader who got his $20 000 salary in cash when the ordinary people were failing to get $20 a day? Was Robert Mugabe the leader who spoke vehemently against multi farm ownership when he owned 21 farms that he leased to his white friends? Was Robert Mugabe ever a revolutionary?
The late VP Nkomo warned us in his 1984 book that there is a Robert Mugabe we don’t know, but we were too consumed by the dummy we had been sold by the dominant liberation war discourses. These warnings have always been coming even before the attainment of independence. On December 3, 1976, the late Ndabaningi Sithole wrote a letter addressed to Zimbabweans saying; “No man today is more dangerous to ZANU than Mugabe. The enemy has seized on Mugabe’s unscrupulous leadership ambition to divide and weaken ZANU and hence the armed struggle.” We can repeat this same statement today as it aptly captures the unfortunate machinations by the former President.
Political scientist and historian, Benedict Anderson in his famous book; “Imagined Communities” defines a nation as an imagined political community.
Drawing from Anderson’s definition, one can justifiable conclude that revolutionaries are imagined persons – imagined because we have been made, through one-sided liberation war narratives, to believe they exist and we are convinced that they exist.
No wonder why after all he has done in recent weeks and more that he is likely to do in future, former President Mugabe in the eyes of many remains a revolutionary and still commands a lot of respect. These revolutionaries exist in our minds. Out there, capitalism and coloniality are on a relentless recruitment drive.
Another troubling question as I sign off – if former President Mugabe were to die today (not that I wish him dead. I still respect him a lot no wonder why this disappointment), does he still qualify to be buried at the National Heroes Acre since nationalists like Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema among others were disqualified on the grounds that “vakanga varasa gwara remusangano?” Former President Mugabe havasati varasa gwara remusangano here?
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