THE personal conduct, including manner of speech, wisdom and intellectual capacity, as well as leadership style of political leaders, in particular public figures, are always subject to scrutiny.
It is thus is not surprising public figures are always subject to criticism. As a result, they should pay serious attention to criticism for introspection instead of being defensive and unresponsive.
In national politics leaders in new leadership positions like the current President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputies, and opposition MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa and his senior colleagues in the MDC-T should accept public criticism with higher levels of tolerance.
Since Chamisa is the youngest and fairly popular, as well as charismatic presidential aspirant, he should watch out for the Rehoboamian syndrome. This refers to discarding wise counsel from senior and experienced people in preference to exclusive advice from one’s own young comrades and novices.
King Solomon of ancient Israel was a man of exceptional wisdom coupled with a mixture of providential affluence and, regrettably, abuse of office. Solomon’s great throne was made of ivory and it was overlaid “with the best of gold”.
Where resources permit, there is nothing wrong with being surrounded by splendour. Solomon was exceedingly rich and wise to the extent that none of the kings of the world compared with him. However, Solomon had his personal and leadership weaknesses. The volume of his kingdom’s imports was ridiculous and his international transactions led to a very huge national debt. Solomon could not part with all the gold of Israel and so he gave Hiram the King of Tyre “20 cities in the land of Galilee” and topped up the land cession with “six score talents of gold”.
Among some of Solomon’s imports were such creatures as apes, peacocks, horses and mules. The national indebtedness of Israel and Solomon’s extravagance resulted in the over-taxation of his subjects and the imposition of forced labour. Israel’s national burden led to widespread public discontentment. In addition to his extravagance, impropriety and lack of financial probity, Solomon was a womaniser to the extent he transgressed against the laws of the God of Israel. The biblical account clearly informs us that Solomon “loved many strange women” and that all in all “he had 700 wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart”.
Solomon’s idolatry heralded the division of Israel into two separate kingdoms as prophesied by Ahijah the Shelonite.
In view of the above, it can be safely argued that the end of Solomon’s reign in Israel was an unprecedented anticlimax in the history of Israel as a nation. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, took over the kingship of Israel at the age of 41 years, almost the same age as Chamisa who is 40, but the young man inherited a battered legacy.
Rehoboam reigned over a disgruntled people and, subsequently, a factional kingdom for 17 years, meaning that his reign in Jerusalem ended when he was aged 58 years. Although foretold, the division of Israel into two kingdoms was Rehoboam’s problem.
To juxtapose the above with the MDC-T scenario, it should be noted that founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai was the only president of the mainstream opposition party MDC, later MDC-T, from its inception in 1999 until his death in February 2018. The difference between Solomon and Tsvangirai is that whereas the former was predominantly wise and rich, in control of national affairs for 40 years, and both a religious and political apostate, Tsvangirai was not as rich though he had a fair semblance of political wisdom and charisma. Despite his charisma and political clout, Tsvangirai had his own weaknesses.
Tsvangirai had a brief stint in national governance when he joined the ill-fated Government of National Unity (GNU) in 2009 until its demise in 2013. He was a Prime Minister in the short-lived GNU. Perhaps, prompted by the loss of his wife, Susan Nyaradzo, in a 2009 car crash, Tsvangirai reportedly became a womaniser before marrying Elizabeth Macheka.
The former MDC-T leader rested on the laurels of his personal charm, courage and mass support. Thus, foreseeing his impending incapacitation or death, he used his political clout to manipulate a complex succession configuration to Chamisa and Engineer Elias Mudzuri to the positions of co-vice-presidents of the MDC-T. This appointment was made on July 15 2016 to ostensibly relieve the ailing Tsvangirai and help Thokozani Khupe in her duties. Khupe was Tsvangirai’s substantive vice-president since the year 2006. Despite sharp criticisms over this, Tsvangirai, backed by some party constituents, stuck to his guns.
Chamisa, who has huge public appeal, was one of Tsvangirai’s youngest lieutenants. When Tsvangirai passed away on February 14 2018, the MDC-T’s National Executive Council (NEC), the party’s supreme decision-making organ between congresses, endorsed Chamisa as substantive party president in March 2018. The MDC-T congress is expected to be held in 2019 and this means that Chamisa is the party’s current presidential candidate for the July 2018 general elections. Since the NEC further endorsed the MDC Alliance, a coalition formed before Tsvangirai’s death, Chamisa also effectively becomes the alliance’s presidential candidate for the July 30 general elections.
However, Chamisa inherited a fractured party and the divisions within the MDC-T were further aggravated by disagreements over his appointment as the party’s president ahead of Khupe. Disgruntled MDC-T members argue that the appointment of Chamisa was both unconstitutional and unprocedural. They resultantly formed a splinter movement led by Khupe, who had been Tsvangirai’s deputy since 2006 after the MDC’s first split in 2005. The late Gibson Sibanda, Tsvangirai’s old-time right-hand man, and other party senior members dumped Tsvangirai in 2005. Further, following the MDC-T (Alliance) primary elections, it would appear that the party is facing another crisis of internal political cohesion.
As earlier indicated, Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, took over the kingship of Israel when he was 41. The age difference between Rehoboam and Chamisa is just about a year. However, when Rehoboam sat on his father’s throne, there were on the one hand elderly and experienced people who worked together with Solomon. On the other hand, there were also young men and novices who grew up together with Rehoboam. The biblical account informs us that Solomon obtained wisdom directly from God and got it because that is what he initially preferred above everything else.
Since Rehoboam inherited a kingdom rocked by mass discontent due to heavy taxation and forced labour, he needed good advice on how he should handle the situation and lead his subjects. The official inauguration of Rehoboam as Israel’s king took place in Shechem where the people gathered to witness the royal inauguration ceremony.
At that time self-exiled Jereboham, the son of Nebat, had returned from Egypt where he took refuge for fear of assassination by Solomon. Jereboam knew that according to prophecy, he would be king of 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel. It should be noted that Jereboam was more popular in Israel than Rehoboam because he was a “man of valour: and Solomon seeing the young man that he was industrious, he made him ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph. It was after Solomon had knowledge that Jereboam was promised kingship over 10 tribes that Solomon sought to kill him.
However, after Rehoboam’s inauguration as king people required a bold man to lead them in confronting Rehoboam with their grievances. So they teamed up with Jereboam. In these circumstances, the biblical account says Rehoboam accepted the advice of his young comrades and rejected the old men’s counsel.
That began a mass protest that led to the division of Israel into two kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom with 10 tribes under Jereboam and the Southern Kingdom with two tribes under Rehoboam; referred to as the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah respectively. This division infuriated Rehoboam so much that he mobilised a national army, a crack unit of 140 000 warriors, to fight against the Kingdom of Israel. It was only divine counsel that forestalled the impending civil war.
Moral of the story
In view of the above, it was not necessarily wrong for Rehoboam to seek advice from both the old men who worked with his father and the young men who grew up with him. What was wrong with Rehoboam was the lack of wisdom to judiciously weigh the value of advice from two different age groups.
Rehoboam was so foolish to only accept advice that would make him unpopular with the people. Generally speaking, there is naturally a temptation to want to please fellow comrades at the expense of commonsense and the general will of the people.
At this moment in time, it cannot be said Chamisa has done anything wrong yet, but leaders should avoid the danger of doing things without consultation. Rehoboam was prejudicially cynical towards the counsel of old men simply because he did not understand the basic principles of good leadership. He was a monarch in a theocracy where neither democracy nor autocracy took precedence over divine counsel. However, in essence Rehoboam simply lacked wisdom.
Learning is a long and continuous process, and what matters is that every step in the long journey which should be subjected to critical evaluation. It has been said that small beginnings make great endings; in the same vein little bad things may lead to greater evil.
In the MDC-T (Alliance) case, it is important to take a cue from what prevailed in the primary elections. It has been reported that a decision was made to allot 20% of the contested constituencies to the youth and 50% to women. That leaves 30% for senior male members of the party. Whether this is true or false and whether it is practical or impractical is neither here nor there. In arithmetic, assuming Chamisa’s party successfully fields aspiring party candidates in all the 210 constituencies, 42 seats should go to the youth, 105 seats to the women and 63 seats to old men.
The challenge in the formulation and implementation of affirmative action strategies in democratic politics is balancing the action without causing significant personal, national, and institutional damage. The key balancing factors are not only gender/sex and age, but also ethnography, race and disability, among other factors. This means that the balancing act requires a broad-based integrated approach, especially with respect to wide consultation.
It is, however, safe to argue that Chamisa assumed responsibilities as party president at a very critical moment that would have required someone with special skills in crisis management. Credit should be given to Chamisa for having managed to handle the delicate post-Tsvangirai transition with political skill and shrewdness. Nevertheless, as he travels the rough terrain of politics Chamisa should have the flexibility to engage in order to build a formidable and internally coherent movement.
The Jessie Majome and Joana Mamombe affair in the Harare West constituency primary elections is a noteworthy presage. Majome, a veteran lawyer, has been MDC-T MP for the constituency for 10 years and a cabinet minister in the 2009 to 2013 GNU.
Her experience and loyalty to the party are undisputable.
Mamombe, a microbiologist and a former student leader, is reported to have only become an active MDC-T cadre in 2015. However, purportedly disparaging remarks against senior party members that reportedly came from the MDC-T youth wing cannot go unchallenged. It is not prudent to relegate senior party members to the rural areas for subsistence farming when everyone would have been comfortable with Tsvangirai contesting as the party’s presidential candidate.
The “anointing” of Chamisa as Tsvangirai’s successor should not be construed as the beginning of an entirely new revolution as admitted by Chamisa in his eulogy during Tsvangirai’s funeral.
Chamisa told MDC-T mourners that they were burying Tsvangirai in Buhera, but bringing back his ideas to continue with the democratic struggle. While there may be need for a paradigm shift in the party’s modus operandi, that does not mean a betrayal of the party’s founding principles. Above all, that does not mean retiring the party’s veterans when they are still fit to soldier on. The MDC-T must be wise enough to ensure that it has a mixture of young and experience in leadership and structures to avoid Rehoboam’s mistakes and fate.
Chinhara is a local writer.