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Zimbabwe politics: Lineaments of stock characters

22 Apr 2023 at 19:00hrs | Views
What are stock characters?

LET me be basic so I am accessible to many of my readers, whatever level of education, and from whichever discipline they hail.

In literature we have what are termed stock characters.

The more complex terms used for the same, and to varying accuracy, are stereotypes, archetypes of vignettes.

I will let go these other complex terms, for purposes of simplicity.

A stock character in a literary or fictional work represents a distinct type which is readily recognisable and suitable for the role designated for them in that literary work.

Stock characters in Dickensian novels

Charles Dickens, arguably the most adept at drawing up stock characters, used such portraits.

In Bleak House, a character called young man Guppy, obsesses with fashion and dressing. Inside, he has little to redeem him.

He is consistently and persistently made to play a colourful role of a coxcomb in that whole huge novel. You also have Crook, whose role is to collect odds and ends for resale.

Whenever and wherever he appears in the big book's chapter, everything around him is musty miscellany, always in topsy-turvy, as behoves a collector's shop. Ironically, much sought-after legal papers which eventually resolve the otherwise interminable legal conflict called Jarndyice and Jarndyice, which drive the whole plot of that huge book, are eventually recovered from Crook's shop, after so much rummaging.

Dickens uses that to dramatise how the Bench was corrupt, and justice inaccessible.

I could go on and on, including mentioning one retired soldier-character whose only utterances in the life of that novel is: "Discipline must be maintained!", suggesting obsessive, compulsive monomania.

Or move to Hard Times, another of Dickens' masterpiece where one character's refrain is, "People must be amuseth!"

This was the Victorian era where the overriding ethos was deadening scientism, which made the age, mathematically cold and lifeless.

Why stock characters in fiction

Throughout literary history, stock characters are used to dramatise certain tendencies or propensities — often desecrable or reprehensible — in greater society, in order to hold them up to ridicule.

So Mrs Havisham, for whom live stops when her marriage withers on the vine, routinely appears in Dickens' Great Expectations accompanied by a dead or frozen chronometer, and a decaying wedding cake, as abiding props.

She also looks wizened — some actual death incarnate — and very harsh at the tongue, as befits a good-woman-turned harridan by the trauma of marital disappointment.

She is angry with all humanity, with food, itself life's nourishments, and with time, which died together with her marital rebuff. Everything about her, in her, smoulders, petrifies, moulds and decays, irretrievably.

She also extends that blighting fate to everything and everyone around her.

Their place in work-a-day-world

Gentle reader, I went out of my way to unpack and exemplify the literary notion to stock character for its amazing application to our politics as they have evolved over the years, and as they continue to evolve to this day.

I am a firm believer in bringing to bear all disciplines at my command, in dissecting the world about us.

This is why my educational choice was for breadth, and not depth. Instead of reading towards the highest degree in my area of scholastic choice — a doctorate in literature — I elected to sample several disciplines up to Masters level so I see life and phenomena from many dimensions, and in whole.

It has helped me a lot, more so in my current job. But, a bit of laughter first.

Britain's Big Poo Study

The Britts have just released results of a fundamental survey conducted by their ZOE Health Study, itself foremost among an endless pile of organised survey experts.

All told, a whooping 140 000 Britons were covered by this path-breaking Survey whose focus is supremely important — well, to the Britts.

Modestly dubbed Britain's Big Poo Review, this novel research sought to establish the bowel and gut habits of our Mother….oops… now Father Country.

Here are the results, in ascending order of importance. One: most Britons sit on quiet enamel once a day, expressing themselves variously from down under, as they toil a little.

I hope you know that the Britts were quite creative in naming that little room "toil-et"! Many struggles are fought, lost, half-won, to various flatulent outcomes.

Everything set for COP 28

I said the survey established many Britons visit the poo house at least once a day.

But it also found notable statistical exceptions: 1 in every 400 Britts visits the house of little toil to poo only but once a week (rule Britannia rule!).

And that by then, the stuff in the bowels will have churned and congealed into hard, solid matter guaranteed to liberally endanger and deplete our ozone layer!

Work for COP ‘28 is already cut out for the world, it seems.

More times, two minutes longer at Westminster

Two and at the zenith of results — by scale of importance and intensity — stands Westminster, the Survey established.

That holy ground on which sits all the pillars of the His Majesty the King's Government and Buckingham Palace itself!

ZOE found out that denizens of Westminster grounds exert themselves more and longer on enamel, than any Briton — living or any who ever lived in human memory — from any part of Holy Albion.

The Survey — Hail Thee Kings of Knowledge — found that Britons on Westminster grounds need six minutes each time they visit that room of small toil, a good TWO MINUTES longer than the national average!

Greater sacrifice hath no man or woman than this, that s/he toils more frequently and a lot longer than his/her average countrymen/women (Shebrew 1, Verse 1010, SuperRevised Version)!

Great lessons in National Sacrifice; I salute you, ooh Lord Oates and Lady Hoey!

Mayhem in citadel of African Civilisation

The flare-up in the Sudan must exercise Africa. It bodes ominous for Africa and her Civilisation.

If truth be told, the Sudan is the seat of African Civilisation and Identity, indeed the essence of larger Africa as its human mass fanned out in different directions, to fill and effectively occupy our Continent.

That includes reaching Egypt and its shores of the Mediterranean.

Egypt was not the source of human Civilisation, which is black and African by the way, although it was on the Land of our Pharaohs that black Civilisation reached its acme.

Egypt was an extension of the Civilisation conceived in the bowels of the Sudan, which is why pyramids in the Sudan, while less majestic, are nevertheless older than those in Egypt.

Kush is the Sudan.

Africans fanned in all directions of our Continent — West, East, North and South — from Kush, making it the foundry of our Civilisation.

Forget about Guruuswa. Or Bantu myth only coined by some German philologist in the early 19th Century.

You can read The Third Eye's latest issue for more.

Why the Sudan is so important

But there is a lot more. In September 1882, eight years before our own occupation, the British occupied Egypt-Sudan, in order to secure their interests which included the Suez Canal, and ostensibly to suppress slavery: always their humanitarian face and pretext to colonial expansionism.

Barely a year later, in 1883, Mahdi from the Sudan, rebelled against this annexation and occupation, proclaiming the Sudan independent of British rule.

In response, the British Egyptian Government despatched an expeditionary force to put down the "rebellion"; that was in November 1883. That force was routed at the Battle of Shaykan, forcing the British Government to deploy the British Army, commanded by Major General Charles Gordon, to redeem mauled British honour and threatened colonial interests.

On 26th January, 1885, the Sudanese Army which called itself Ansar, and which the British called the Dervishes, overcame Gordon's troops, massacring the entire British Garrison, including Gordon himself.

Dishonour piled up in quick succession, making the Sudan a lasting statement on vivid African resistance to colonial annexation.

Kitchener, Cecil Rhodes and Winston Churchill

In 1896, the British Government sent another expedition, this time under Horatio Herbert Kitchener, with the express order to redeem tattered British honour and colonial enterprise.

Two interesting developments for us here in Zimbabwe, a country where history, quite regrettably, is treated rather glibly.

Kitchener was a close buddy of Cecil John Rhodes, and had in fact visited Rhodesia soon after its graduated conquest and occupation.

In Kitchener's force was a 23-year old Lieutenant and journalist/war correspondent who had grown up in India, and had served the British Raj there. He would also cover the Anglo-Boer War next to us in South Africa, and would escape death by a whisker, at the eager hands of Afrikaner Boers.

His name was Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime leader, staunch supporter of British Empire and now hero-in-spirit of Chamisa's Triple C as represented by the cantankerous Makomborero, his current man in Britain. In the Sudan, he commanded a platoon of 25 men.

Makomborero Haruzivishe


Interestingly, Kitchener's Army comprised 8000 British regulars, all armed with modern weapons and supported by several gunboats while plied both Niles, positioning themselves within shooting distance of Khartoum.

Also enlisted were 17000 Sudanese and Egyptian askaris. At the Battle of Kerreri, a mere 11km north of Omdurman where the current fighting is taking place, the Mahdist Army was overcome on September 2, 1898.

Intersecting with our own History

You may have noticed that Kitchener is sent against the Mahdist Army about the same time the Ndebeles here are up in arms against Rhodes' occupying force, and that defeat of the Sudanese resistance army coincides with the eventual defeat of Shonas who joined their Ndebele counterparts in resisting Rhodes-led British encroachment and occupation of our Zimbabwe in May/June, as the Ndebele resistance ebbed.

Sudan's history is thus significant for Africa, and closely intersects with our own.

Meddling in the Sudan

Above all, it is a Land which has seen foreign meddling, aided by the 17 000 askaris commanded by the British. Since then, the Sudan has witnessed several instances of foreign meddling and even direct military attacks as was carried out by America under Clinton, using the pretext of hunting down Osama bin Laden. Recently, it was made to pay America over USD200m to get American sanctions against it removed.

The Sudanese Military has meddled in Sudanese politics, successively overthrowing itself in internal putsches, often with Anglo-American connivance and support.

Equally, Civil Society in the Sudan has been penetrated by the West, creating a whole cocktail of anti-nation politics, none of which ever sticks or lasts.

We have huge lessons to draw from all that as Africans.

Illustratively, both Antonies: Antonio Guterres of United Nations and Antony Blinken, have called for peace in the Sudan, all in a charade of tokenism.

Their real hearts are in Ukraine, which is not a problem for me, by the way. They should stay there, fighting their war of pacifying each other.

But they should leave Africa and Africans alone, to handle the mess they have spawned in the Sudan; it is their mess, these Anglo-Saxons.

I am happy the AU and some Arab States are now engaged. They should be, but as Africans and friends of a stable Africa.

Big Dhara's Big Interviews

Before British poo and the Sudan, I broached the notion of stock characters, and left it hanging.

Let me pick up the thread.

There are two interesting interviews, both done by Blessed Mhlanga, Big Dhara, as he fondly calls himself, whether in sobriety or in inebriation.

Blessed Mhlanga

I could see what he was trying to do in both interviews: the first with Ibbo "Mavambo" Mandaza Joseph; the second with Nelson "GodIsInIt Dodo" Chamisa.

While both interviews were meant to ventilate views of the opposition, and in the case of Chamisa, to help him claw back after the tired Al Jazeera Bhaisikopo, overturned by the resoundingly successful 43rd Independence Celebrations held in Mt Pfura, momentum of the unintended appears to have got the better of, and overwhelmed Big Dhara.

Helpfully so, to those of us who watch lineaments of ideas and opinions in our body-politic. I start with the Ibbotson "Mavambo" Mandaza-Joseph interview.

One Ibbo "Mavambo" Mandaza Joseph

Ibbotson Joseph came across as some sour and surly philosopher, one under a giant seizure of bitter helplessness slowly eating him to the core.

He also lied a bit, fully aware it was beyond the ken of Big Dhara to call him out. For instance, he would concoct meetings with late founder President, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, hoping to give some patina of weight and respectability to his secondary, outsider reading of events soon after the 2000 Constitutional Process, and again after 2008 elections.

I can confidently tell the nation that claims of both encounters with the late President, let alone the ideas he ascribed and pasted on RGM, are patently false, indeed a way of upgrading his own reading of events then to primary evidence culled directly from a key actor.

I say it on solid authority, as RGM's last and longest Press Officer as President.

But that isn't that important; ageing scholars are known want to build halos, and to make lofty claims before youthful reporters, all to be listened to!

The only trouble they forget we are still around to set the record straight.

Embittered Ibbo

In that interview, Ibbotson Joseph — and correctly too — confessed to have had a hand in the creation of Mavambo, whose face became Simba Makoni, and whose real authors were late General Mujuru and late Dumiso Dabengwa.

Mandaza's role was marginal of course, but later important in so far as he would publicise it and mobilise the western diplomatic community through his SAPES TRUST, once launched.

Mandaza and late President Mugabe had long lost each other, when the latter refused to appoint him Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, a post he thought was naturally his. And refused to appoint him a Minister representing the coloured community, something Ibbo was owed, after the unfortunate demise of our late national Hero, Joseph Culverwell, and later, Amina Hughes. He became bitter, very bitter.

With late Tekere

Except Mandaza's dabbling in opposition politics had started much earlier when late National Hero, Edgar Zivanai Tekere, had formed his Zimbabwe Unity Movement, ZUM.

In fact, Mandaza became a half-hearted civil servant soon after late Tekere's dismissal from Govt, after his acquittal following the gunning down of a Rhodie by the name of Adams.

Mandaza remained in the Public Service for the career, money and hopes for making it to the apex in the Bureaucracy.

Nearly man of the Struggle

His dalliance with the late Edgar Tekere had begun when the late national hero plucked him from University of Botswana — alongside many other Zimbabwean scholars from different institutions by the way — to work on a blueprint for a free Zimbabwe, an assignment which came under the purview of Edgar Tekere as ZANU's then Secretary General.

That was in 1978-79, during the wee hours of the Struggle for Zimbabwe. Let history record that, so young Zimbabweans, either unborn or too young to know then, are not misled through convoluted self-claims by this nearly and ageing man of Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle.

If you read Ngugi's A Grain of Wheat, you would know such stock characters exist after every Revolution.

Exemplified by a hobbling character in that book, who claimed mortal wounds from Mau-Mau Struggle, when in fact he was a common goat thief, whose luck ran out in one incident in a nearby village!

One Civil Servant Mugabe never trusted

Because of this brief association with the late Nationalist and Zimbabwe's first Manpower Minister, Ibbo Joseph was then appointed that Minister and Ministry's inaugural Permanent Secretary.

Later, he would be moved to different departments – all the time being nudged inexorably further away from the core – once late National Hero Tekere was ejected from Government. His split loyalty to the Mugabe-led Government, on the one hand, and to the person of Edgar Tekere, on the other, did not endear him at all to the powers-that-be. Made worse by his cosy association with western donors, principally from the Nordic.

No one should confuse personal embitterment with principle. But all that is by the by.

When a god loses omniscience

In the hour-plus interview during which Big Dhara is literally mesmerised and reduced to mere audience – understandably so given his age and exposure – Ibbo lashes out at everything and everyone, God and man.

Only he alone is spared – by himself, so he plays all-knowing omniscience in the human drama he himself creates and controls! Ironically this after confessing to failing to inaugurate "Third Force" politics by way of Mavambo, in which case after admitting to fake claims to political omniscience!

There is always a gap in narratives of stock characters which expose them.

Goose versus Gander

His rheum is then directed towards Professor Mthuli Ncube, for ever committing the sin of offering himself to represent Cowdray Park Constituency in Bulawayo.

Ibbotson asserts that by so doing, Professor Ncube has crossed the line which protected him as an unimpeachable technocrat, and as a respectable intellectual whose opinion gets embraced as unsullied by direct politics and involvement!

Haaa!!!! Which is to say what, Mister Mavambo Mandaza? That Professor Ncube forfeits what you yourself still kept and protected after your association with ZANU, then ZUM and then Mavambo, as both a technocrat and a scholar? Not to mention the many foreign political states you hobnobbed with through their envoys, assignments and financial patronage here? Here is a perfect stock character subconsciously playing his designated role in Zimbabwe's political drama! About that, let not more be said. At least for now.

Dead-as-Dodo slur

Dhara did another German Foundation-sponsored interview with Chamisa.

Like I said, I am not focused on what his two interviewees said; my interest is on the unintended in the encounter, indeed on that which Blessed could not and would not see or hear because he was hot on the set. A mildly irritated Chamisa is made to respond to several political charges in the interview, two of which stand out.

One is from Ibbotson "Mavambo" Mandaza who correctly gives Chamisa no chance in the impending Harmonised Elections – by the way, Mandaza has a weird, insupportable theory on why Zimbabwe embraced harmonised elections in the 2013 Constitution – in spite of Chamisa's fulsome optimism.

Mandaza just falls short of accusing Chamisa of thoughtless idiocy, a view already daringly expressed by Hopewell Chin'ono, to stupendous backlash from Chamisa-instigated supporters.

It would have made sense to repeat the same directly; he had stepped in to put out the internecine bloodletting in Chamisa's camp after Hopewell and Makomborero were at each other's throats, following the dead-as-a-dodo slur on Triple C by Hopewell. Mandaza thus had to be circumspect, but without hiding his disenchantment with young Chamisa's fulsome optimism, and unstructured leadership.

Putting Trevor Ncube in his place

What for me was interesting is how Chamisa reacted to the charge. While retaining a poise of noble anger, he made it clear he had no business waiting for and getting advice from persons who had had a dog in the electoral fight before, and may still have one now! Injudiciously, Big Dhara threw in his publisher and Boss, Trevor Ncube, for passing exactly the same uncharitable assessment on Chamisa.

To which Chamisa reacted by reminding Trevor Ncube, through his employee Blessed, that he was behind Nkosana Moyo in the past, and is now behind Chapman in the present electoral fight!

He had no advise to give to a rival, added Chamisa, not so gently.

Much worse, like Mandaza, Ncube had also served under President ED Mnangagwa as his adviser, stressing Trevor Ncube was closer to Zanu-PF than he himself can ever hope to be, even if he wanted! How then would he listen to advice from his opponents, charged Chamisa.

Why not nail your colours on Party Mast?

It got me to wonder why Zimbabwe's politics seems to have so many stock characters who, as pretentious commentators, conveniently forget they have made political choices and played political in the past, and continue to make more in the present!

All that makes their claim to dispassionate commentary rather lame and cankered, but typical in league with stock characters.

I see and meet lots of that – in ever swelling, sickening numbers – in social media where qualifications are flaunted to intimidate us, while ideas, thoughts and analyses given simply reveal depthless, partisan illiteracy associated with those sworn to party-line conformism, and never to independence of thought and analyses as befits non-partisan sages or the literati they feign themselves to be! Why not just nail your colours on a chosen Party mast, so you don't overburden yourself unduly with claims to impartiality no one expects or welcomes?

Betraying Job Sikhala

The second charge which Dhara made, to considerable irritation of Chamisa, related to Job Sikhala who is in remand and whose cases are currently before the Courts.

That point on Job Sikhala is worth stressing, given falsehoods peddled by many, including several shedding crocodile tears. Dhara reminded Chamisa of the reading which widely held in political society and market, namely that Chamisa and his Triple C have left Sikhala in the lurch for fear of a Sikhala-led Biti challenge for Presidency of Triple C, ahead of 2023 Harmonised Elections.

It is a reading which Job himself appears to like to feed from behind bars, through periodic railleries smuggled out of remand through his acolytes.

Some many stock characters killed with one blow

As with everything else, Chamisa's response was telling.

How could one, he roared, be ousted by a man he salvaged from his dodo-dead MDC-99 into mainstream opposition politics out of sheer love?

Well, I am not sure how Thokozani Khupe reacts to this.

Or Tendai Biti.

Or Welshman Ncube, Komichi and several others Chamisa rightly claims to have salvaged from the nadir out of selfsame loving care!

Which takes me to my point: through Ibbo Joseph, Trevor Ncube and, most important, through Job Sikhala, Chamisa has summarily "killed" all the political stock characters irritating the yellow movement to which he demands total loyalty and devotion as its CREATOR!

All these characters no longer need to ask for a fresh charge sheet; or the very likely verdict.

They are each other's damning precedence!

We have no such notions in our donkey world. Each donkey mates, kicks or is kicked its own way! 

Source - The Herald
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