Echoes: WikiLeaks explosion: Courting flattery is fatal

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Politics is a dirty game.
The WikiLeaks explosion could implode major political parties in Zimbabwe. Yes, a thunderbolt moment could erupt at any moment further muddying, or clearing, the troubled political waters in this long-suffering nation.

Taken together, from the reported remarks by the “self-important” and “excitable” Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono (as described former United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Johnny Sullivan) to those by now Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere (“a youngish businessman with strong party ties”, urging leadership renewal, as observed by another ex-US ambassador Tom McDonald as far back as in 2000), these disclosures show a party in freefall, gripped, or even crippled, by fear, suspicion and distrust.

There is an air of abandoning a sinking ship. These people clearly want to be on the right side of change, taking out political insurance before the inevitable happens.

Yes, we all talk about other people behind their backs, but what’s shocking in the leaked diplomatic cables is the detail, accuracy, duplicity and, in some cases, the bitterness and venom behind it all.

Talk of dysfunction! Said Julius Caesar: “Et tu, Brute? (Even you, Brutus?)”, in total shock at the ultimate betrayal of a closest friend as Brutus thrust in the final dagger.

Caesar had the arrogance of a ruler who sought, within a republic, to become a monarch, comparing himself to the gods. Brutus, a friend of Caesar and yet a man who loved Rome (and freedom) more, had joined the conspirators in the assassination.

One of the most telling but sober revelations was that from Cephas Msipa. It captured the essence of what has led us to this state of perennial crisis where the country is always in a campaign mode whether elections are five days or five years away.

Msipa, a stalwart of the struggle who has seen it all, is reported in 2000 to have said Zanu PF was planning to use war veterans to intimidate voters in the 2000 presidential election.

Msipa is one of the most level-headed politicians in Zimbabwe and is not a publicity hound.

Read the cable about this man who was in and out of detention during the oppressive colonial era:

“Former Minister of State in the President’s Office responsible for Indigenisation Cephas Msipa told Ambassador MacDonald (on) June 1 that Zanu PF’s parliamentary strategy is to use the war veterans to intimidate the public into supporting the ruling party candidate. A ‘special committee’ of Cabinet ministers exists to orchestrate the war vets’ commercial farm occupations (so these were not spontaneous political demonstrations as the lies we were continuously fed at that time!), which includes the ministries of Justice and State Security. The Zanu PF-organised political violence could result in a protest vote for the MDC, according to Msipa.”

As it is, Zanu PF faces electoral wipeout.

Since then, all elections have gone according to this script, with Jabulani Sibanda, a bogus war veteran, terrorising Masvingo villagers for over a year now.

The rampage this week by suspected Zanu PF youths at Machipisa shopping centre could well have been calculated to scare people from attending the MDC-T 10th anniversary rally at Gwanzura Stadium, a mere stone’s throw away, by building up tension in Highfield.

That this mayhem happened in Highfield three days before the event was not mere coincidence. These are known methods of Zanu PF. So what Msipa said then still obtains today.

What could have brought about this situation?

It’s indisputable that there is political suffocation in this country even within the effective ruling party (Zanu PF).

One of the downsides of enforcing conformity is that people end up outdoing each to be seen to be the most loyal and extreme, thereby
landing the party on the rocks, where Zanu PF is mired today, whereas behind your back they will be acting exactly opposite.

“Those with closed minds never have to worry about their brains gathering dust.” They will let “obedient sons” tell them what they want to hear rather than the frank, honest truth. The late Herbert Ushewokunze described this as “Animal Farm-like politics”.

Like the proverbial cheated husband, the man at the very top is always the last to know about his deep unpopularity and when he eventually gets wind of it, it’s often too late to reverse his fortunes.

The political freedoms taken for granted in other countries in the region are simply non-existent here. Everywhere we turn these days, the State is encroaching and individual initiative is discouraged and denigrated.

In 2007, Jonathan Moyo was threatened by President Robert Mugabe himself that the whole party machinery would descend on him were he to ditch Zanu PF and stand for parliamentary elections as an independent.

The result is that you drive the best brains out of the party or force them to find alternative outlets to air their views, such as at foreign embassies.

This is the only way they could express themselves freely since official channels such as the State media are off limits for anything which smacks of opposition to the political establishment.

There is no leeway for independent thinking. That is why many of the news sources in the private media are top people within the ruling class itself.

So people pouring out their views in “user-friendly” circles should be taken in that context instead of suggesting political naivety of “importing other people’s revolutions” on their part.

That’s why Zimbabwe has been on the Sadc and other international agendas for the past 11 years. So let’s not draw wrong parallels.

As Britain’s first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher quickly earned the nickname “Iron Lady” for her obstinacy, dictatorial politics and imperial style of rule after her election in 1979. Polls consistently showed that she was less popular than her party.

“Lady Thatcher’s unique contribution was an abrasive, sometimes arbitrary, leadership style that constrained the choices that might have been made. She believed seeking consensus showed weakness and appeared to think consultation an indulgence. She dismissed appeals from professionals across the public services as special pleading. Ironically for a politician of such a proud conviction, it was in her reign that cynicism began to poison political discourse. It was Lady Thatcher, not Tony Blair, who first defied widespread public protest . . . innuendo and smears seeped from her officials against ministers, sometimes in Press briefings that were economical with the facts,” observed a political commentator.

Eventually even her most loyal party colleagues were forced to turn on her and effectively oust her in a palace coup in 1990. It signified the end of the reign of one of Britain’s most divisive Prime Ministers.

Mugabe is supposed to be the embodiment of the spirit of Zanu PF, but when his calls for an end to violence have twice this week been disregarded like that, one has to ask: Is he still in charge?

Or is he now virtually on his own? Has he, like Thatcher, lost authority through his own making with daggers out for him from all angles as shown in the WikiLeaks cables?

Et tu, Brute?

ctutani@newsday.co.zw