Usurping people’s power – curse of two cities

By Bill Saidi

WITNESS Mangwende was once the foreign minister of Zimbabwe. The post was first held by the late Simon Muzenda, when Zanu PF set great store by foreign affairs. This was before it decided to te

ll most nations which found its policies a little difficult to swallow to “go to hell”.


Today we know that Zanu PF’s concept of relations with other nations is anchored in the Stone Age conviction that its policies are the best in the world: it is the other nations whose policies are unholy, anti-people and generally wrong.


Of course, it doesn’t help when such countries as the United States and Britain get embroiled in an ungodly war in Iraq, and then have their soldiers abuse Iraqi prisoners so cruelly and senselessly. In the past two weeks ZBC’s Newsnet has run wild with footage of the humiliation of the prisoners.

For a full 20 minutes on Monday last week, they went at the story hammer and tongs, spicing it, inevitably, with a commentary by their 24-carat cheerleader, Tafataona Mahoso.


He is the government chief media hatchet man as head of the Media and Information Commission.


How anybody can conceivably believe he is capable of any objective analysis of any situation in Zimbabwe is as hard to take as accepting Mangwende’s bona fides as executive mayor of the great city of Harare.

Today Mangwende is the virtual executive mayor of Harare, much as Cain Mathema is the de facto executive mayor of Bulawayo. Both men have become regulars on the TV screen, bouncing from one function to the next, spreading the falsehood that Zanu PF is the most ideal party to run the two cities.


Mangwende has been in President Robert Mugabe’s government since Independence. As foreign minister, he accompanied Mugabe to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in New Delhi in 1983. I covered that summit for Zimpapers and got to interact with him quite well. I interacted with him again when he became Minister of Information. But there was no such opportunity for us to interact when he landed an obscure post as the man in charge of war veterans affairs in the President’s Office. Many people have been anxious to confirm personally with Mangwende that, at this stage in his political career, he had hit rock bottom. That post, by all accounts, was tailored especially for him – because there was nothing else going.


People would probably want him to confirm as well that his new job as governor of Harare province is a step up the ladder. He may not himself see it that way: if his ambition is to become president of Zanu PF and the republic, being Mr Big in the capital can hardly be considered a stepping stone to the ultimate political prize.


Of course, he could cite examples in the United States where state governors such as Bill Clinton have clinched the presidency. He could even cite the fine example of Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, who became a one-term president in 1976. Speaking of which one is reminded of Carter’s walk-out from an official reception in Harare during which Mangwende said something pretty nasty about US policies in Africa.


The trouble with that comparison is that Zimbabwe is not the United States. In fact, the last thing Mugabe wants today is for his country to be compared with the US – in any sphere of human endeavour. Incidentally, Cain Mathema was once a big noise in foreign affairs too. So, do these two people possess the inherent talent which Mugabe believes qualifies them to take over the executive mayorship of the two largest cities in the land?


It is more than a coincidence that Harare and Bulawayo happen to be officially and democratically controlled by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).


What Zanu PF has done – which MDC has amazingly been unable to counter – is to nakedly scheme against the democratic process. The law enabling them to do this was never disguised as anything other than an attempt to neutralise the authority of the executive mayors of the two cities.

The agent provocateur was the Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo, who was in political diapers when Mangwende was foreign minister. Today Chombo is Mangwende’s boss. This is something I know many people, including myself, would like to ask Mangwende about: doesn’t he feel just a teeny-weeny bit humiliated at this turn of events?


It comes nowhere near the humiliation endured by the Iraqi prisoners, but politically, it can hardly be a walk in the rose garden. Looking at the bigger picture, this scandal signals, perhaps more than the violence of the 2000 election campaign and the controversial result of the 2002 presidential election, that Zanu PF is determined not to be dislodged from power constitutionally.


One man of undoubted political erudition must be Eddison Zvobgo, now ailing but apparently still possessed of the acutely sharp perception that made his initial rebuttal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill so memorable. “The function of the party is to stay in power,” he is heard pronouncing in a documentary made a few years ago. To that end, he says, it would do everything and anything.


Political parties throughout the democratic spectrum strive to remain in power – that is the core of politics. Some do this legitimately, others are likely to use methods that might not be so kosher. Zanu PF has no recognised history of playing by the rules. Its stock-in-trade is bluff, double bluff, chicanery, subterfuge, downright violence and good old fashioned cheating.


Many African political analysts continue to this day to ask the question: why is it so difficult to get rid of your government, which is so manifestly obnoxious it wouldn’t last for a day in, for instance, politically volatile Nigeria?


Someone said recently that, unlike Ian Smith during UDI, Mugabe could truthfully say that “my people are the happiest in the world”. If they were not happy, they would act, wouldn’t they?


Bill Saidi is editor of the Daily News on Sunday, currently banned.