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Tsvangirai - meeting fate's malignancy

27 Apr 2013 at 06:15hrs | Views
Once upon a time there lived a thoughtful Roman called Boethius. Known for his discourse on Fate's role in the Universe, this Roman scholar is credited with developing the idea of "fortune's wheel", an idea upon which leading writers like Geoffrey Chaucer, Dante, Machiavelli and William Shakespeare built their own writings.

His "The Consolation of Philosophy" became a Medieval must-read, something amply attested to by the pervasive role the notion of "wheel of fortune" plays in most Shakespearian plays.

I will excerpt from The Consolation an indicative piece which lays bare the pith of Boethius' thinking: "With domineering hand she (Fate) moves turning wheel, Like currents in a treacherous bay swept to and fro: Her ruthless will has just deposed once fearful kings While trust-less still, from low she lifts a conquered head; No cries of misery she hears, no tears she heeds, But steely hearted laughs at groans her deeds have wrung. Such is a game she plays, and so she tests her strength; Of mighty power she makes parade when one short hour sees happiness from utter desolation grow."

Boethius explained

This, gentle reader, is a piece on the role fickle Fate plays in the affairs of Man. And Man is imaged as some puny and helpless creature completely at the mercy of this brooding, immanent force Boethius calls Fate: an enveloping force which is horribly unpredictable, cruelly invisible but with its reckless hand forcibly turning a giant Wheel on the margins of which clings this hapless Man. As the giant Wheel turns through Fate's indifferent push, those at the bottom find themselves rotating up, while those at the top of the Wheel find themselves tumbling headlong, off their short-lived pinnacle.

That way life's fateful ebb and flow is governed. Human will becomes impotent while good fortune comes unexpected, deserts unannounced, leaving Man a creature of consuming incertitude. Thus life becomes a battle against Fate's malevolency, according to this world-view.

One Abu Qatada from Jordan
I wonder how many of my readers followed developments exciting the soul of our "mother country", Britain. In that small great island is found a bearded man of Arab stock going by the name Abu Qatada. I understand he is originally from Jordan but now stays in England, in fact has been staying in England long enough to be favoured by English law which now grants him some residence status.

Now, in the white of their eyes, Qatada is a dangerous man, a very dangerous Muslim cleric who is described by European lore founded on xenophobic fear as "Osama bin Laden's right hand man in Europe." Of course Osama is dead, long dead, although his ghost continues to stalk the landscape of Europe and America, Europe and America's cankered mental landscape especially.

Daily the English legal and security system has sought to ensnare and entangle this Qatada guy, which is how just now he is in jail, ostensibly on grounds of breaching his bail conditions. Seeking to establish why the man earned - more accurately, was earned, those bail conditions by the kindly English law - is to dignify a spiteful security system especially designed to incriminate, convict and put away Britons of foreign origins. We shall not seek to do so. Is it not a shame that this is the cast and temperament of a people whose other half has, is, and will always be in the Diaspora?

Will always be in our lands, to eke out a living it is not guaranteed back home? You would think Britannia still rules the waves!

The convention it signed
The dying wish of England is to deport this "radical" Islamic cleric to his native land, Jordan.

Qatada left Jordan because the fangs of his British-supported king were out to maul him. He fled to England, believing the shores of Albion beckon upon those fleeing persecution. Is that not how Britons say about themselves, right back in history?

But how wrong! Today England wants to send him back to the land where democracy falls short, where he faces trial on the basis of information extracted from him through torture.

The European human rights convention, I am told, frowns upon such deportations, forcing all signatory states to provide succour to all persons so unhappily circumstanced.

Britain, our Britain, acceded to the convention way, way back, and has been, since then, domesticating that convention by bringing its precepts to bear on its own national laws. Or relying on litigating citizens to challenge non-complying British laws at the European Human Rights Court in Brussels, to realign its laws so they are in sync with provisions of the Convention.

With the tender care of Grub Street
But this week the British government sought to deport Qatada.  Qatada who has used his stay to know his host, moved a step faster and challenged his deportation in the High Court. Faced with such a blatant breach of human rights by its own Government, the English court, to its credit, ruled against its government, thereby granting relief to the unwanted, bearded Muslim cleric. That left Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, with the option of noting an appeal in the Supreme Court.

But it was clear the British Government stood little if not no prospect on the matter. Then a series of extraordinary moves happened. May sought to cobble an extradition treaty with Jordan, which would include guarantees for fair trial by autocratic Jordan, all in a bid to make Qatada's deportation palatable in the eyes of the Convention and English law. It was a bold move, one hardly needing any thoughtfulness to see that it was all a giant conspiracy against Qatada, so shamelessly draped in veneer legalism. And since this could not fly, May escalated matters to No. 10 Downing Street.

Never has so important a matter been handled with the gingerly care of Grub Street! An irate Cameron, all in a judicious leak, suggested Britain was considering temporarily withdrawing from the European Human Rights Convention, to allow the deportation to go through! And given the speed of British abductions in such situations, the speed of British planes in rendering such abductees, materially this meant Britain would withdraw from the Convention merely  for hours, only to rejoin a little while later! So much about human rights! Just imagine the Zimbabwe Government pulling out of any of Sadc myriad protocols, for whatever reason.

The hue, the cry! Heartfelt epitaphs
Lately there has been lots of media opinions on why Tsvangirai and his MDC-T aren't doing too well. And all this frenzied discussion and theorising as been triggered by predictions of an electoral disaster that awaits the ill-fated man and his organization. And these predictions have been coming thick and fast, all from forces and establishments affiliated to, or politically and materially backing, Tsvangirai and his MDC-T.

The tone of the pieces has not been one of debating Tsvangirai's electoral prospects; the tone has been one of seeking to understand why such a fate - unanimously judged as ineluctable - has visited him well before it actually does. And the reading of his fate as foregone is not done readily, willingly, dispassionately, with equanimity.

Rather, it is done with much regret, done ruefully. In the main, such pieces amount to heart-rending obituaries, heart-felt epitaphs deserved by one so dearly loved yet so tragically lost.

A bleat from wounded hearts. One ringing evidence for such gratuitous sympathies comes through in how these same weeping souls find it so easy to name Tsvangirai and his MDC-T as the losing side, but without, in the same vein, accepting or acknowledging Zanu-PF as the winner.

Such would be an abomination. It is as if Tsvangirai and his MDC-T lose to no one; or the obverse, that Zanu (PF) wins against no one. It is a stance of gratuitous support for the MDC, but of grieving acceptance of the inevitable fate that awaits it.

And this is what lends depth to the prediction, the fact that it is coming from those who wish the loser up and beyond.

A sumptuous home for PM
But there is another level even more crushing. This level comes from Tsvangirai and his MDC-T itself. It is a baffling level. Tsvangirai and his MDC-T shall go down in the annals of political history as an outfit that wrought and wrote its own epitaph. And this is how. I shall confine myself to two simple and immediate instances of political self-burial. The Prime Minister has asked for leeway to buy the official home he resides in presently.

There has been lots of inaccuracies on that matter. Let me attempt to straighten the record.

Quite early on in the life of the Inclusive Government, a decision was taken to buy a property for the PM's use. This followed a complaint, genuine in my view, from the PM who wanted Government to paddy his new status in the Inclusive Government so that  his own supporters would begin to believe in the new, power-sharing arrangement.

How would my supporters, he argued, believe I am in this thing for real when they see me materially being the same Mabelreign resident I ever was? It was then that a decision - quasi-fiscal one at that - was taken to secure him a property that would serve as his official residence. That decision was implemented, but not without some modicum of controversies. I leave that to those interested in raking muck. Suffice to say the property was renovated, furnished and modernised at State expense till it became comfortably habitable, sumptuous in fact. Today it is a screaming home for our Prime Minister and his beloved woman, Mama Elizabeth.

A valid purchase agreement that obtains
Now, an agreement was drawn up with the parent Ministry of Public Works. I will ignore the fact that the Ministry was under an MDC-T minister, just as it still is to this day. Whatever relational considerations, the fact is an agreement was drawn up, and it binds Government.

That agreement allowed the Prime Minister to exercise a purchase option in respect of that property at the end of his tenure. Strictly speaking, the Prime Minister's home is not part of State Residences the way State House and some such properties are. But until the Prime Minister exercises his right of purchase, it remains a State property. This is the simple story lost in Luke Tamborinyoka's defensive fury when the matter arose.

Two tales, two morals
And for his (Luke's) education I might add that the President took a completely different route in respect of his Borrowdale home. That property sits on land bought for the President by his Party, Zanu-PF, way way back in the late eighties or early nineties. It has nothing to do with Government, but everything to do with Zanu-PF gesturing honour and goodwill to its leader. Thereafter the President started building the property, small by small, to use Shona parlance. This is not classified information, having been put in the public domain by the President himself. Apart from donations from friendly companies and Malaysia's ex-President Mahathir Mohammed, the President put up the structure from his meagre savings. For a sitting President, I find it staggering that this took him well over a decade to get to where the structure is. And I understand it is not yet completed, even though it is now habitable. Not a single dime came from the State.

Not even a bond, for all the years Robert Mugabe has put into the life of this Nation. Surely Luke does not want to trigger a debate on these two contrasting tales, both with two distinct morals?

Huge savings from the impecunious
Back to the Prime Minister. He has now asked Government to allow him to exercise his right to purchase the property. It has to be evaluated before he can exercise that right. That process is now completed, with a value of about US$3m pasted on it. I will not raise issues about who did the evaluation.

Or whether there was an independent valuer in respect of a property set to be purchased by a leading figure of the same Government disposing of the property. That is a matter for another day. But the Prime Minister is set to exercise his right, which is why I cannot understand why his spokesperson is already creating and deferring another round of controversy on the matter by futilely denying that his principal intends to exercise his legitimate right. Of course the Prime Minister's supporters and many citizens are right to wonder how an impecunious inclusive Government pays him well enough to save such a massive purchasing sum. But I would rather his spokesperson trims down controversy to this issue of money and savings than having to drag the poor man all the way down that path so fraught with controversy, the buying part of it completely needless in my view.

When it is inopportune

Now here is the interesting part about the whole saga. Why has the PM decided to exercise his right of purchase NOW, a mere two or so months before harmonised elections which will decide his tenure both as PM and in Government? Don't ask me when it is opportune for him to exercise that right.

I don't know. I don't need to know. He needs to himself. But I know when it is inopportune, and that time is now. Picture a leader of a competing party, packing all in his Office, carting and offloading this into his matrimonial home.

Such an action is bound to be heavily foreboding, is that not so? It suggests the close of a chapter, of a career even. The expiry of a prospect, of a term and tenure. Now broaden such a small action to the purchase of a massive asset like a home, an asset which at law is theoretically his for asking. Why is he buying it now? What terminally threatens him? Where is the endnote? Why can't he see through the transaction after the elections his party brags will win? Why not after the elections when he will be the new president by landslide, a president with all the powers to make the weather, including the pricing of real estate? In other words what message is he sending to his supporters who are bound to view this as a ringing act in capitulation? Much worse, his supporters who will view this as the height of self-keeping, well against the well marketed poise of selfless leadership? Is he padding his ground ahead of an electoral fall? This gesture passes a more complete judgment on the prospects of Tsvangirai and his MDC-T than does all the pieces I have referred to above.

Abuse of Sipepa Nkomo
Second example. As I write I am looking at a piercing headline proclaiming that Tsvangirai is set to be granted freedom of the City of Bulawayo this year.

Together with Thokozani Khupe, his deputy in the party. This gesture, we are told, may not be accessed by one Sipepa Nkomo on grounds that he is "too junior" in the MDC-T party. Apparently the City Fathers would have wanted to honour Sipepa, but for spirited opposition from Mai Khupe. I hope MDC-T knows its members that well. Sipepa cannot be junior by any measure. Even if he was in Zanu-PF, he would have been ranking high up as a senior nationalist and detainee. He is among the oldest surviving nationalists and detainees we have in the country.

Wherever he is, he must feel gravely insulted that young politicians like Khupe who may have been in their mothers' napes when the Rhodesians sent him to Gonakudzingwa, dare call him "junior". But that is not my point.

After all I am Zanu-PF, and should thus rejoice as does a wild cat happily watching two cockerels in mortal combat.

The cat might not have to labour for its lunch! My real point is what do such conferment and ceremonies portent when they come at this juncture in our electoral calendar? As with the house, I ask why now? Is this valedictory? Who can wrought and write a better epitaph for these guys, who?

Futile divinations

Let's put all this in perspective. It is completely wrong to seek to divine Tsvangirai and his MDC-T's plummeting fortunes from esoteric causes. I saw one writer blaming it on these Pentecostal preachers he says are diverting people from politics and political commitments. He does not answer why this need be a tragedy for Tsvangirai and his party alone. Or the argument that his latitudinarian cast is causing disenchantment with his politics.

I don't know whether people know that virtually all ministers and deputy prime ministers from the MDC formations have in fact been beseeching Government for terminal benefits? Or that MDC minister-politicians have been grabbing properties in Harare's leafy suburbs? Or even to blame it all on the PM's modest intellect. Where is Venezuela's Maduro now? In State House. Societies do look deeper than one's intellect when seeking leadership.

Frailties that could have been overlooked
What commentators have been shying away from which is so key to understanding the fate of Tsvangirai and his MDC-T is the fact that from before 1999 when the MDC-T was launched, his fate and that of the MDC-T have always been circumscribed by the overriding interests and calculations of the West, itself the founder of political Tsvangirai and his MDC-T. His political longevity and the prospects of his MDC-T would subsist for as long as that cohered with the broader calculations and elaboration of Western interests in Zimbabwe.

And let's face it, these entrenched interests for a long time saw comfort in Zanu-PF and its leadership, until 1998 and beyond when Zanu-PF decided it had become strong enough to resume its wartime goal of transforming property relations as given it under the received colonial political economy.

It was this discomfort on the part of the West by this shift in Zanu-PF policies which created conditions for the founding of the MDC, for the launch of Tsvangirai as a political leader beyond his trade union leadership status. His politics were never founded on his push for the voting African interests, a push that could have seen his limited intellect so easily overlooked.

Dual hand-holding

And the original agenda was to make Zanu-PF uncomfortable enough to drop its radical agenda, never to seek an installation of Tsvangirai as leader, or his MDC-T as a governing party. I recall an encounter I had then with a white commercial farmer whose group played beachhead to the same sponsoring western interests.

"I don't seek the removal of Mugabe. He is well-educated and a good leader for this country. I just want to create discomfort for him so he drops this land thing." The white farmer is still in the country, farming close to Chivhu, but now much subdued. He spoke for his kind.

This is why to this day MDC-T struggles to outgrow its founding oppositional cast designed for it by the white world. Only much later, and especially after 2006 was a decision taken in the West to seek the installation of Tsvangirai, albeit with "massive handholding", a part of which, it was hoped, would come from a much anticipated fusion between him and certain "moderate" elements from Zanu-PF chosen by the West.

The greater part of the handholding would come from the West itself. A perception had gone into the West that Zanu-PF was writhing its last, thereby creating an opening for MDC formations. Of course this was a fallacy given the depth Zanu-PF showed, even under conditions of a clear national crisis.

Hand-led, handheld away from the West
Of course the Inclusive settlement created new conditions for the West, but not quite out of line with the methodology of dual handholding of the MDC formations.

The slight but lethal variation lay in that instead of the dissident element in Zanu-PF handholding Tsvangirai, the West had to face a new situation in which Tsvangirai ended up held by a hand they never expected, a hand that wrestled him away from his masters towards a more nationalistic agenda which ended up subverting Western interests here in a devastating way. Slowly Tsvangirai, after being so ably hand-led away from the West, and then hand-held towards a nationalist agenda, began to undermine the West in four critical areas: land, indigenisation, Look East policy, and sanctions. Beyond these key areas, everything else paled into insignificance.

And after the man compromised on these key areas, the West saw no value in propping him politically. It jettisoned him. And with these key areas lost, the West saw greater sense in normalising relations with the hand that held their man, which turned out to be the hand that shapes Zimbabwe. That hand belongs to Robert Mugabe: old hand, for sure, but one with a youthful grip on the politics of the country.

The fate of Mbato or the Tong
In sum, it is clear the hand of Fate has always been Tsvangirai's god. Too puny to mind events, too enveloped to pick a more auspicious wave for a different destination, Tsvangirai has to ride the wave to a destination he cannot tell. As things stand, he is right to seek to batten on the wheel of fortune, rather loosen his grip for a harsher throw.

His time is up, given Fate's domineering hand on the turning wheel. Shona has a word for all that: Mbato or the tong that handles hot things, including meat. In the end it does not join in the joy of a sumptuous meal, for all its scalded wounds.

And together with a well known Shakespearian tragic actor Tsvangirai, against Fate's malignancy, cries thus: "What fates impose, that men must needs abide;/ It boots not to resist both wind and tide."


Nathanie Manheru can be contacted at

Source - zimapers
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