As out of place as a clown at a funeral

Conway Tutani

SUSPENDED Zanu PF senior official Amos Midzi’s suspected suicide this week is a direct result of the brutal faction wars in the ruling party.


There is not a shred of doubt that Midzi would still be alive as we speak had he not been caught on the “wrong side”. Or had his camp — led by former Vice-President Joice Mujuru — prevailed in the succession wars in the ruling party, which they could have easily done because they had the numbers on their side.

But numbers don’t count as far as Zanu PF is concerned. Force is their biggest weapon — and it has worked so far, most scandalously so in the 2008 general election when they turned certain defeat into shameless victory. So why bother with numbers at all?

I first knew Midzi when we were fresh-faced students at the then University of Rhodesia (now University of Zimbabwe) in the 1970s. He was a student activist of note, but I found him somewhat too serious-minded. He appeared not to be one for games whereas some of us, brimful with expected youthful enthusiasm — or at times over-enthusiasm — now and then were happy-go-luck despite the prevalence of oppressive racism even on the campus.

With the wisdom of hindsight from those 40 years ago, that was a red flag in view of Midzi’s strongly suspected suicide this week. But I did not doubt his intelligence, commitment and courage.

Midzi left university midway in 1975 with the intention of joining the liberation struggle in Mozambique, but was arrested before he crossed the border and detained by the Rhodesian regime as a political prisoner. His zeal and commitment to the freedom cause was not in doubt. That makes it all the sadder — for me personally — that he has had to die having fallen out of favour with the very party he sacrificed so much for.

But perish the day you join the “wrong basket”! All your sins of commission and omission will be pulled out. The State and party machinery will be unleashed against you, as in 2005 when President Robert Mugabe openly, contemptuously, unreservedly, menacingly and unlawfully warned Information minister Jonathan Moyo against ditching Zanu PF despite Moyo having the right to associate and disassociate as stipulated in the Constitution. And now Moyo is threatening to unleash that State and party machinery on Mujuru for her alleged previous crimes if she dares make a political comeback to challenge Mugabe. Talk of learning bad habits faster and better than your teacher!

But then, no other leader in the region in an elective post has such an iron grip on the State and party like Mugabe. No other regional leader has such a fearsome reputation. Mugabe is the archetypal strongman. He exercises far more power and influence over the State than the Constitution allows, and over Zanu PF than the party’s constitution permits him.

His greatest weapon is to instil fear and he has openly said so and done that countless times. Midzi, having fallen foul of Mugabe, was not spared. This has nothing to do with ideology, but about the exercise of naked power — power for the sake of it. That is why there is no rigorous application of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

But did Midzi have to commit suicide at all? In 1989, Cabinet minister Maurice Nyagumbo foolishly and needlessly drank poison and died after being fingered in corruption only for the other ministers involved to be fully pardoned by Mugabe shortly afterwards.
That Nyagumbo was buried at the National Heroes’ Acre did not make it any less tragic. It’s almost certain that Midzi will not be accorded such national hero status extended to his fellow students at the University of Rhodesia — Zororo Duri and John Mayowe — because this time the beef is highly personal.

That said, Midzi, as far as I know, was an introvert; a largely, if not intensely, private person, a common trait between him and Nyagumbo. Those who hurt too easily cannot survive in politics. Introverts are not very open to telling others their feelings. Now if you keep to yourself in your darkest moments, you are, sad to say, a perfect candidate for suicide.

When such people are feeling down, chances are they won’t go to anyone for help or advice. They somehow feel they shouldn’t bother anyone with their problems. Introverts keep their thoughts and emotions to themselves as opposed to extroverts who share their feelings with the world. Extroverts re-energise by socialising with lots of people, making them easily recover from personal crisis.

In contrast to Midzi, extroverts like Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo are less likely to take their own lives because they don’t bottle things up. You need to get things off your chest — and this unflappable pair does that by airing their views daily in the media. They are not too easily hurt.

But, as those close to Midzi candidly spoke — off record, of course — this week, he had fallen from those lofty heights of the commitment and integrity of his activism days.

It’s sad and tragic that it had come to that. As Zanu PF Harare provincial chairperson for a long time before he was deposed last year in faction fights, Midzi had got entangled in a web of corruption and racketeering and was at the epicentre of it all.
It’s an open secret that extortion reigns in Zanu PF. And the extortion has all the elements of organised crime. The stakes are too high. There is a lot to gain — which gains Midzi made and would have continued to make, but for his abrupt removal from the feeding trough after he was politically ostracised for belonging to the Mujuru camp. You can commit and get away with whatever crime as long as you are on the right side of those who call the shots.

Said a close family member this week: “As you know, for long Cde Midzi was more than a political godfather of Harare, he was a revered person. He used to control most of the land deals and housing co-operatives, in the process pocketing good money, but after being kicked out of the party, that became impossible.”

This is what Midzi let himself in for — much to his reputational damage. This can’t be swept under the carpet. It’s common knowledge.

Indeed, Midzi was running a parallel “administration” with people paying dues to him instead of the city council coffers, much to the detriment of Harare residents as the council’s revenue base shrank and service delivery sank. Now Harare has been reduced to a teeming vending jungle. It is the same story all over the country as Zanu PF, whether directly or indirectly, has grabbed all the revenue cash cows — including diamond mines, conservancies and tollgates — as infrastructure crumbles.

Without sound public finances, there is no economic security for the people. There won’t be prosperity without responsibility. Those guilty of misconduct remain untouched instead of being dealt with as the criminals they are. They would rather make taxpayers pay for these high-flying criminals through, for instance, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (Debt Assumption) Bill when the list of debtors owing $1,5 billion to the Reserve Bank advanced for “farming operations” — mainly themselves — is there.

As if that is not enough, there was factionalism at the Midzi home this week as the Zanu PF camp that engineered his fall and suspension — Weevils — demanded the right to organise the funeral proceedings — like a killer demanding to give his victim a decent burial.

It doesn’t matter that they were not dressed as clowns, but they gave real meaning to the saying: “As out of place as a clown at a funeral wake.”

Rest in peace, Amos.