By Chido Makunike
IT is old news now that President Mugabe grasps on to his position with an inexplicable tenacity despite numerous problems spiralling out of his control. How do we expl
ain the way he has managed to single-handedly dominate it so effectively despite the country’s steady decline over the years?
One obvious answer is that he is cold and ruthless enough to do whatever it takes to suppress any challenge. It is not a big deal to him when Zimbabweans are beaten up, raped and tortured in the cause of perpetuating his rule.
His regime’s response to the murder of Zimbabweans who oppose him has at best been a chilling casualness. There is also incontrovertible evidence going back years to suggest that many times the brutality is committed at the state’s instigation. It has all been done in an age of relative enlightenment and powerful communication technology, so the bloody legacy of Mugabe has been stored for posterity – even if a lot of it will only be revealed after he is deposed or dead.
Mugabe has no solutions to the mounting problems, but give him an excuse to unleash his praetorian guard on opponents, and he couldn’t be happier or more effective. He has done nothing about the fuel problem except worsen it, he has nothing to offer about the shortage of Zimbabwean currency. Yet when Morgan Tsvangirai did the unforgivable by calling for a peaceful, devastatingly effective stayaway that showed the whole world Mugabe and the people are poles apart, he not only quickly threw the opposition leader into jail, he went to commandeer a rural crowd outside Harare to crow about it. Mugabe was beside himself with delight and triumphalism at showing dominance in this crude, medieval way.
“I can still punch,” he boasted on TV, missing the point that “punching” ability alone has little to do with the success of nations today. So a shocking bloodthirstiness, deceivingly overlayed with a veneer of sophistication in rhetoric, mannerisms and clothing, is certainly a big part of why an equally seemingly sophisticated people are so brutally and primitively cowed and oppressed.
Perhaps the brutal, despotic incarnation of Mugabe that we see today is caused by a sado-masochist need in the Zimbabwean social and cultural psyche to be dominated. Perhaps it “hurts so good” to be abused and deprived as is being done to us.
Look at the absolute delight and enthusiasm with which members of the police and army, poor and deprived as any other Zimbabwean, beat up their fellow citizens, as graphically shown on the front pages of this newspaper for a long time now. They are not just doing a job, they are going beyond that to unleash an inexplicable brutality on fellow citizens doing no more than making a statement, usually peacefully, on how they are being misruled.
How do you explain this behaviour on the part of someone who will then take off his uniform to go back to the same misery and deprivation being faced by the people he beat up so enthusiastically? What hold does Mugabe have on a soldier or policeman to go beyond mere crowd control to delight in brutality? Why is serving the oppressive whims of one man a more satisfying day’s work than protecting the public?
Edgar Tekere’s short-lived Zimbabwe Unity Movement failed to make any significant dent in Mugabe’s hegemony over Zimbabwean life, but he earned much respect for his efforts at challenging his desire to make Zimbabwe a de jure one-party state. But recently Tekere made a stunning reversal, bleating about wanting to get back in Mugabe’s good books! Mugabe is on his way out and many of his close associates are wisely, craftily trying to figure out how to maintain the benefits of patronage while keeping some distance from his disastrous legacy. How on earth does one account for Tekere’s bizarre behaviour?
Eddison Zvobgo, a rebel within the ruling party, has been sidelined but not expelled for his independence, not yet anyway. He has admirably refused to treat Mugabe like a tin-pot god as everyone else in Zanu PF does. He is also one of the few in the ruling party to openly declare his interest in the presidency, but on the proviso that he would not contest against Mugabe.
Why on earth not? What is so special about Mugabe that he cannot be challenged? Someone interested in being president obviously feels he has something unique to contribute. Why should that potential contribution to the nation, and Zvobgo’s quite legitimate personal and political ambition, be hostage to what Mugabe does? If Zvobgo is trying to show a humble loyalty to his party leader, I am most unimpressed. Zvobgo’s position suggests a greater loyalty to/fear of Mugabe than loyalty to the nation.
Whether or not Zvobgo would make a good president is not the issue here.
I am merely pointing out attitudes from a broad cross section of Zimbabweans that have moulded Mugabe into what he is, a do-nothing president, but one who cannot be challenged.
Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC have shown a sudden willingness to cooperate with Zanu PF. This is stunning because the opposition party has not won any concessions at all from the ruling party and government on the many issues that have divided the two sides.
MDC members have suffered harassment, torture and imprisonment for doing no more than exercise their constitutional right to say “Mugabe you are utterly hopeless”. The about-turn in their attitude towards their tormentors does not therefore appear like a principled opposition party putting the interests of the country above all else, but like plain old capitulation. The MDC may be beginning to go the way of other opposition parties like Zapu, ZUM and others: killed or bought off into political oblivion, just the latest wreck in the wake of Hurricane Robert.
These are just examples of how individuals and groups in Zimbabwe have astonishingly volunteered to roll over and play dead whenever Mugabe so much as says “boo” rather than challenge him as men and women who believe themselves to be born free and entitled to a truly democratic government.
Zimbabweans may have the imported surface trappings of “sophistication” but maybe we are backward and not ready for enlightened, representative, accountable government after all. Perhaps we are still in the very rudimentary stages of political evolution, and Mugabe is just about right for us as a ruler, until we reach a stage where we have earned something better.
Chido Makunike is a Harare-based writer.