EDITORIAL COMMENT: The first among equals

This week, allow us to play the Devil’s advocate.
But before we do that, we would like the nation to appreciate the momentousness of the message that President Emmerson Mnangagwa delivered to all the people of Zimbabwe on Friday at the Extraordinary Congress of Zanu-PF.

He spoke on many issues, all of them of great import to the destiny of our country and all of them well received by progressive Zimbabweans.

In many ways, the President expounded on his vision as presented in his inaugural address when he became Head of State and Government, outlining the economic and foreign policy route his administration is pursuing.

And he also spoke of himself as “primus inter pares” – the first among equals.

The phrase is often used as an honorary title in recognition of someone who is equal to everyone else within a defined group, but is accorded greater respect because of the office that he or she holds.

In the context in which President Mnangagwa spoke, it was primus inter pares in Zimbabwe.

It is something President Mnangagwa referred to when Zanu-PF’s Central Committee nominated him to succeed Cde Robert Mugabe; it is something he spoke of when he was inaugurated as State President; and it is something he returned to in greater detail on Friday at the Extraordinary Congress.

Making reference to Article 2 (Section 14) of Zanu-PF’s Constitution, he said the ruling party’s aims and objectives included “to oppose resolutely tribalism, regionalism, nepotism, corruption, racism, religious fanaticism, xenophobia and related intolerance, discrimination on the grounds of sex and all forms of exploitation of man by man in Zimbabwe”.

He went on: “In line with this instruction, therefore, my ascendance to the helm of the party must never be interpreted as a defeat of one faction and installation of another. My Presidency should not be perceived as a rise in the fortunes of a region, or a tribe or a totem, no. My Presidency is about a united Zanu-PF, a national party with a national outlook.”

President Mnangagwa was not done.

“I stand before you, therefore, as the President of a united, non-racial Zimbabwe, itself home to many tongues, dialects, cultures, colours, age groups.

“I am a President of women and men; the young and the old; the able-bodied and the physically-challenged; the rich and the poor; the well and the sick. I am an emissary of all the veterans and heroes, dead or alive, who through their blood sketched the cause and mission which my Presidency must promote, must actualise and advance.

“I am a President for Ndebeles, Shonas, Zezurus, Ndaus, Karangas, Manyikas, Vendas, the Chewas, Sothos. I am also the President for the Tongas, Tswanas, Xhosas, Khoisans, Shangaans, Kalangas, Nambyans and other races, all who are celebrated in our national Constitution. The role you have given me, and the Office you have inserted me into can never be partitioned to anyone.”

That is exactly how the first among equals should speak and act. President Mnangagwa is a self-assured man. He has been through a lot and even when he had to briefly go into exile to preserve his life, he emerged from it all as Republican President.

This not only speaks to his strength of character but also to his intellectual capacity and political acumen. That is the reason why he is primus inter pares. That is also why he has welcomed constructive and valid criticism as he seeks to steer Zimbabwe onto the path of prosperity on the back of hard, honest work.

His is not a fragile ego.
Which is why we see it fit here to play the Devil’s advocate and ask why State authorities see it fit to arrest three people expelled from Zanu-PF because they posted pictures on social media wearing clothing associated with ruling party supporters.

Ignatius Chombo, Kudzanai Chipanga and Innocent Hamandishe are no longer members of Zanu-PF. The ruling party has the right to expel members who are not in good standing. They did that with the above-mentioned trio.

That trio is already facing criminal charges related to their time in Zanu-PF. This festive season will not be so festive for them. They will try and find any means to ease their discomfort, even if it means hypocritically and belatedly extolling President Mnangagwa after having evidently worked so hard against him when they were in Zanu-PF.

But does that mean they should be arrested for that? The establishment must ask itself how many people have been brought before the courts over the past decade for insulting Cde Mugabe.

How many of those cases resulted in convictions? What good did these prosecutions do for the image and standing of the Office and person of the President?

Is the State not creating victims out of already defeated men? Further to that, is this not an attempt by some people around President Mnangagwa to create the kind of cultism that fuelled factionalism in Cde Mugabe’s last years in office?

Surely, the State has more urgent things to busy itself with than a trio of already-under-the-cosh factionalists. The first among equals does not require politically clumsy individuals to ruin a good thing for him.

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