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Editor’s Memo

Out of control

ON September 17 I opined in this column on the shelf-life of a spin-doctor.

There was nothing prophetic about the piece

which was inspired by my visit to the United Kingdom and the fate of Alastair Campbell but on reflection I thought our own spinner of information and minds should have heeded the message.

Instead, the article was met with corrosive retribution from officialdom which let fly choice salvos to not only demean the pointed message but also attack me personally for attending the seminar in the UK.

I quoted in the article British public policy scholar Dr Martyn Bond who said spin-doctors did not have a very long shelf-life owing to the nature of their trade.

“The value of the spokesman is being constantly eroded as he sometimes has to carry the blame on behalf of the boss,” he said. “The spokesman lasts as long as the boss lasts but he usually falls first.”

I then concluded: “When the spinner becomes the story it is time to stop spinning.”

I also said “there is an excoriated spinner who has become the news closer to home. Will he beat his boss in the fall from grace? It’s a close race.”

Judging by recent political developments, our master of spin has won the race by a country mile. There is unfortunately no trophy for winning the run towards the precipice. He is on the brink of falling into the hole reserved for all political scrap. Mugabe last Friday thought Ephraim Masawi would do the job better than the deposed Jonathan Moyo. Moyo is being joined in the scrapyard by Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa whose exuberant pronouncements in parliament in support of the establishment failed to win Mugabe’s favour last Friday.

The spin-doctor was spinning out of control and despite a glamorous record in building the profile of his master into that of a semi-deity, plotting a crude but effective electoral strategy and fashioning repressive media legislation to silence dissent from the media, he was not spared.

His view of democracy was neatly set out in February 2002 when he said: “Thomas Jefferson said it was better to have newspapers without government. He was very, very wrong. It is far better to have government without newspapers.”

He was the president’s favourite until only recently when he decided to test the democracy in his party by trying to think differently from Mugabe and become a kingmaker.

That is not the role of a spin-doctor. When a spin-doctor becomes news, it is time to stop spinning. He had to be stopped because this breed rarely know when to stop until the boom drops in front of them.

In fact the spinner had been news since 1999 when he employed a mix of charm, intelligence and supreme confidence to morph from a gadfly academic into one of the most powerful people in a government he once said “belongs to the dustbin of national history”.

As a former columnist of this paper, we look back on his adroit commentary with reverence. This is but one of his contributions: “Because of Mugabe’s ineffectual leadership, his cabinet of like-minded grateful people has become so inept in the face of worsening economic and political problems that it is now producing a paralysing anti-synergy, where the whole is less than the sum of its parts.”

When he started dancing with the wolves he never disowned past opinion but defended it as being right at the time.

“An article is not a bible where you have written the truth once and for all time, and the environment is frozen,” Moyo said in an interview with AP in 1999. “One has to look at the context.”

We await his new context.

His mistake though in the process of his spin-mastery was having the bravado to relegate the master’s sentiments and those of other senior functionaries to footnotes in the state media.

With all facets under his ambit — or perhaps armpit — there were instances when his seniors in the party could only find space in the party paper, The Voice or in the private press to air the views. Columnists in the state media were bold enough to attack VP Joseph Msika and party chair John Nkomo.

On radio and television he wanted to be the solo chorister, composer and judge of his own effort. The electronic media and state papers reflected his autocratic tones.

But as a musician of note he should take heart from sentiments in rock star Hoobastank’s track Out of control.

I feel like I’m spinning out of control

Try to focus but everything’s twisted

And all alone I thought you would be there

(Thought you would be there)

To let me know I’m not alone

But in fact that’s exactly what I was

I’m spinning out of control

Out of control

I’m spinning out of control

Out of control

Merry Christmas Prof.

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