SINCE December 1987 when President Robert Mugabe masterminded constitutional amendments to create the imperial executive presidency, he has reduced the country to some form of theatre by appointing individuals more suited to the role of stock characters in circuses or tragi-comedies of British playwright William Shakespeare rather than vice-presidents.
While former vice-president Joshua Nkomo, Joice Mujuru and John Nkomo were generally held in high regard, Simon Muzenda was considered a rusticated country bumpkin whose unsophisticated disposition could not be improved even by his high office.
Although this might sound rather harsh, Muzenda was the butt of many jokes for that reason, if no other.
However, none of Mugabe’s past and current vice presidents have come close to Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko who has made Muzenda’s comical deportment look like child’s play.
Since his appointment in December 2014, Mphoko has lurched from one controversy to another, displaying an approach and attitude that not only undermines his stature but also belittles the second highest office of the land.
Hardly a month after controversially storming Avondale Police Station in Harare to demand the release of senior Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) officials who had been arrested on fraud allegations saying there were “his boys”, he was at it again in Bulawayo last week where he berated residents for their “gullible behaviour” in consistently voting for the opposition.
“People of Bulawayo fall prey to anyone who comes here to deceive them. They forget that this is a royal city.
Don’t be gullible to non-traceable parties,” he told his audience at Njube township of Bulawayo last week.
“Any politician who wants to launch his or her political party has a tendency of coming to Bulawayo first. We’ve the likes of Simba Makoni, Tendai Biti, Morgan Tsvangirai, Acie Lumumba and others who have turned this city into their playground because they know you’re easily carried away. In fact, they think you cannot do anything on your own.”
Mphoko made the remarks while donating 2 500-day-old chicks to the entire Njube community — a programme which according to the state media is “anchored on the country’s economic blueprint, ZimAsset, which seeks to empower communities through utilising local resources.”
Needless to say, as observed by one reader, the remarks as well the donation of day-old chicks are not in keeping with the status and office of vice-president.
Last week’s events were the latest in a series of endless controversies involving the vice-president.
Last month, Zinara acting chief executive officer Engineer Moses Juma and non-executive director Davison Norupiri were arrested on allegations of defrauding the parastatal of US$1,3 million.
However, up to now they have not had their day in court thanks to Mphoko who personally drove to the police station to secure their release.
He was prepared for a fight too, menacingly taking off his jacket as he prepared to pounce on police officers who had refused to release the duo.
The combative Mphoko lashed out warning: “I’m not a vice-president of a co-operative or burial society”.
A scuffle ensued and one of his overzealous aides is said to have assaulted a police officer who was defying the order.
Those who know Mphoko say he has not changed a bit since the days of the liberation struggle, despite him being trained in diplomatic etiquette.
While still an ambassador in South Africa, Mphoko reportedly said to have rolled up his shirt sleeves in readiness to pummel a Foreign Affairs senior official over an undisclosed misunderstanding.
The aggrieved official is said to have protested to Mugabe over Mphoko’s indecorous conduct but was told “to get used to the ambassador as he was like that even in Mozambique during the liberation struggle”.
And on the occasions when he is not displaying vanity and crude threats, Mphoko can be a schoolmaster admonishing “wayward” pupils as shown by last week’s attacks on Bulawayo residents.
Bulawayo was also the scene of Mphoko’s first rally in the aftermath of his appointment in December 2014.
At the time the then unknown vice- president whom most Zimbabweans could not have picked out on an identity parade introduced himself to the stunned audience with controversial pronouncements on subjects ranging from disabled people to populist rhetoric bordering on regionalism and secession. Addressing mostly party supporters in January 2015, Mphoko intoned: “I have got my own views regarding vending where you find an able-bodied man seated selling tomatoes. There are better things to do for someone who is fit except for those who are indisposed and physically-challenged.”
As with all other theatrical performances, Mphoko’s address had the perfect backdrop of irony in that he was flanked on the high table by Zanu PF’s secretary for the disabled Joshua Malinga — a man who has fought for many decades against stigma and for the improvement of the welfare of the disabled.
Mphoko further stated: “You should wake up and see what you can do for a living. We cannot tolerate a man who is fit sitting down and selling tomatoes. No, let us do something better.”
He also said control of the roads, water and the power station should be handed to the Bulawayo City Council to stimulate development in the marginalised city.
“Bulawayo Power Station must come back to Bulawayo. It should not be run by Zesa. Zesa was not even there when it was constructed. Zesa must only be there for national programmes, but not in my home. Bulawayo is a standalone city like Harare. And do not give our roads to Zinara; they must be given back to the Bulawayo City Council,” he said.
It is a long list of controversial outbursts, including the February declaration in Chiweshe that Mugabe need not be succeeded by a Karanga — an apparent jab at his counterpart Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The vice-president has also courted controversy over his refusal to vacate the expensive presidential suite at Rainbow Towers Hotel where he has arrogantly claimed his stay is justified on account of his contribution to the independence struggle as well as the mendacious claim that the facility is government-owned. There are several private shareholders in the stock exchange-listed hotel.
Besides, Mphoko is brokering a deal which could see Zesa accessing a costly US$350 million loan from Botswana’s Capital Management Africa (CMA) at a usurious rate of 20% per annum interest rate. Mphoko’s son Siqokoqela is a CMA shareholder.
It remains to be seen what scandal Mphoko will be next involved in. What appears certain is that there has been no one like him next to Mugabe, at least so far.