“Politics gives guys so much power that they tend to behave badly around women. And I hope I never get into that,” portendingly said Bill Clinton to a woman friend while he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England, as he did exactly that about 25 years later when he became President of the United States in 1993.
Could this be said of our own Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who seems to have caught the bug, having been linked with several women, the latest being Locadia Karimatsenga Tembo?
For over a week, there were denials and counter-denials over whether he had married her until this Wednesday, when he broke his silence and said something to the effect that he had commenced marriage proceedings, but had decided to stop the process in its tracks, citing political dirty play which had rendered their relationship “irretrievable”. Yes, these things do happen.
Honeytraps are set in the dirty world of politics for those inclined to “inappropriate” relationships with the opposite sex or even same sex.
Before that, there were mixed responses from the Office of the Prime Minister. Denial was mixed with reticence.
Was the marriage a seven-day wonder?
The prelude to all this debacle was given last Saturday by a Herald columnist who writes under the fictitious name “Nathaniel Manheru”.
There was indeed a knowing and gloating tone in the article. The pseudonymous Manheru — the quintessential insider, the insider of insiders — has the run of the place or space in the State media as seen in his page-long, labyrinthine, meandering, tortuous articles which no other columnist is allowed except him.
No editor would dare question this because they would their job.
So, Manheru pseudonymously weighed in with a more damaging transfusion about the marriage saga – and it went according to script as Locadia arrived at
Tsvangirai’s rural home with a State media crew in tow.
Going back to the failed Ari-Ben Menashe sting operation of 2002, this culture of concocting lurid and offensive stories intended to smear political rivals has taken root within the ruling class.
Now some senior civil servants write unchallenged in the State media hiding behind anonymity, attacking perceived opponents within and outside the party (read “Zanu PF”) as and when they wish, some of it based on complete fabrications.
A few years ago, Zimpapers couldn’t produce Manheru in court to answer for one of his many defamatory cases because he is legally non-existent, but, of course, his true identity is one of the worst kept secrets in Zimbabwe.
This spin doctor has become much more powerful than ministers and does not shy away from standing toe-to-toe with them. It appears the ruling class has unleashed forces it cannot control.
While there has been undoubted ineptitude in the PM’s Office, it’s clear there is abuse of State institutions involving senior civil servants who have openly sided with Zanu PF whose stance and stunts are aimed at destabilising the MDC-T, as the biggest political threat to the ruling class of the past 31 years.
They make both substantiated and unsubstantiated claims about the personal and family lives of politicians. Character assassination is in the DNA of these spin doctors.
In Britain, the government has strengthened the code of conduct requiring all these “special advisers” to sign an undertaking that they understand that they will be sacked automatically if they are found “disseminating inappropriate material”. Why should unelected civil servants lord it over the nation?
The Information ministry has become subservient to spin doctors with utter contempt for the impartiality of the civil service which, as funded by the taxpayer and there to serve the public, should be politically blind.
This blatant politicisation of the government’s information service is totally unacceptable. There is no doubt there is need for expert political advice at the heart of government, but this has gone too far.
There is need to change this culture, to end the reliance on spin and character assassination. We don’t need “spoilt-brat politics”.
Having said that, this does not lessen the fact that
Tsvangirai mishandled the issue big time from the word go. There were conflicting messages about the “marriage” from those around him. It seems Tsvangirai was being pulled from all sides.
It’s clear he was dithering and floundering for an answer — and so were his close aides. What’s their background and training in view of their amateurish, bungling response?
Having been targeted in the Menashe sting operation, Tsvangirai should have anticipated that each and every move he made from then on would be watched, but it seems he was caught totally unprepared when the marriage story broke.
As he readily admits in his denial of the marriage and apology to the nation, he was reduced to a mere spectator as the story erupted and burst.
For a week or so, he was totally silent when the situation called for his unambiguous voice, not spin-doctoring. It seems he chose to withdraw from the situation unravelling around.
“Sometimes when people are under stress, they hate to think, and it’s the time when they most need to think,” said Clinton, who had to contend with scandalous sex issues of his own which took place in the White House, the equivalent of State House here, under the same roof with his own family, at a time he was under scrutiny for alleged sexual misconduct.
Tsvangirai, don’t hate to think — otherwise this issue could drag too long, cost too much, and hurt too many innocent people — and Locadia could be among them.
Mr Prime Minister, be your own man.