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ED’s biography coffee-table book, nothing serious

Opinion & Analysis
True, the book is basically an abridgement of what is already in the public domain. Nothing new!

DEAR President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Your Excellency, your recently published biography: A Life Of Sacrifice is only a coffee-table book to browse through leisurely.

The genre of coffee-table books is the type of publications visitors glance through or just look at in the lounge or reception area.

Your  book does not give a panoramic view of your personal life and political work. In your own words, the book is an “extremely brief window” into your life.

True, the book is basically an abridgement of what is already in the public domain. Nothing new!

Coffee-table books by their nature, are endowed with colourful pictures used generously and printed on gloss paper as did the biography successfully.

Your Excellency, the pictures in the biography are a good mix from the successive stages in your political life dating back to the colonial era, independence and post-independence.

And then my serious problems with the book begin.

Except for your foreword, excerpts from speeches and your famous quotations, Your Excellency’s voice, in verbatim, is missing throughout and that does not help illuminate the presidential biography.

The author, Eddie Cross (a former Member of Parliament for the Movement for Democratic Change) basically compiled most of the book from archival information and rephrased it. But can one rephrase archival information written by other people and call oneself a writer?

Cross did not see the wisdom of refreshing the book with up-to-date interviews, verbatim, with you based on topical issues that bedevil your leadership.

Interviews are the heart and soul of a biography without which a book is lifeless.

Your Excellency, the biggest question is why you settled for a coffee-table book, not a full-length biography.

Here is a man with so much to share from his diverse experiences.

Here is a man whose political leadership has earned him the admiration of some.

Here is a man, who is so many good things to his followers and so many bad things to his adversaries.

Here is a man whose life, we are told, has been threatened several times by assassins.

And here is a shrewd strategist who pulled the greatest feat and dethroned the despot and long-standing ruler, the late former President Robert Mugabe in 2017 he had chaperoned for over 50 years as his personal assistant.

Your Excellency, you are a former guerrilla, politician, former State Security minister, longest-serving former Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister, ex-Defence minister and once Rural Housing and Social Amenities minister, but on paper only, former Speaker of the House of Assembly, former chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), successful farmer, lawyer and family man. You wore many hats too numerous to mention.

For that matter, you should have used a full-length biography to tell your complete story. You have a colossal history that can fill several substantial books, but you chose not to do justice to that history.

Your Excellency, I went through the 153-page book and 273 pictures in a record one hour. The book left me with more questions than answers.

Because it is a commissioned biography, obviously it did not attempt to lay bare your secrets. And you were not compelled, anyway, to volunteer information about the blemishes in your personal and political lives. But for a leader, the biography should have demonstrated a semblance of balance and comprehension of the essence of self-criticism that inspires restrained conduct.

Everything waxed lyrical about you and portrayed you as a man beyond reproach both as a person and as a leader. Really, Your Excellency?

Honest biographies are a time for serious introspection and confession.

In the 1980s, I met many influential politicians and musicians and wrote their short biographies (profiles) in Parade Magazine followed by two editions of a full-length book in recent years.

Among the politicians were Ruth Chinamano (Parade Magazine, November 1986) and former President Canaan Banana (Parade Magazine, September 1989). The artistes included Brenda Fassie (Parade Magazine, June 1985), Lucky Dube (Parade Magazine, February 1989), John Chibadura (Parade Magazine, August 1988), Paul Matavire (Parade Magazine, February 1988) and Oliver Mtukudzi (Tuku Backstage book — 2015, 2018 editions).

Most of these personalities were deeply immersed in denial of their human flaws for fear of undoing past glory.

Your Excellency, tragically, the culture of denial is embedded in most people we look to for inspiration and leadership.

To err is human but our leaders and icons should learn from their inadequacies and assist human development. But musician Hugh Masekela in his autobiography (Still Grazing, 2004) confessed to drug addiction, alcoholism and multiple sex partners and being rehabilitated. He said by publicly admitting his failures he wanted to apologise to the youngsters who had emulated his bad ways. Now, that is a man of virtue.

Your Excellency, family life is a central theme in biographies even in coffee-table books. But the book said absolutely nothing about the First Family as if it does not exist.

None of your children is mentioned even in passing.

The First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa is featured in the book only in pictures with you. She is not mentioned anywhere else other than in captions.

Yet, your struggles are her struggles. She was there when Mnangagwa was being publicly humiliated by former First Lady Grace Mugabe during the episodes of the fierce infighting in the governing Zanu PF party. Auxillia endured all the abuse that you endured.

She cooks for you. She washes your clothes including the legendary scarf. She comforts you. The right thing to do would have been to pay tribute to her; after all she is a hardworking philanthropic mother of the nation.

The First Lady and the children are the first people Your Excellency see when you rise in the morning. They are the last people you see when you retire for the night.

These are the people who surround you daily and are closer than all your bootlicking political associates could ever be. The First Family deserved a page or two in the biography even just a family photo to celebrate familyhood.

You may not share information that compromises the security and privacy of the First Family, but you can always share the harmless bits.

Family life is listed on the contents page, but the topic is not covered in the book. Very embarrassing!

Your Excellency, the book incorrectly states that Mugabe sent troops to the Congo-Zaire in 1998 to support the campaign by Laurent Kabila to take power from Mobutu Sese Seko.

In fact, in 1998 Mobutu had already been deposed and dead.

He was removed from power in May 1997 and died in exile in Rabat, Morocco, in September 1997.

It is incorrect again to say Mugabe sent troops to the Congo in 1998 to support Kabila to seize power from Mobutu. Mugabe intervened in the Congo in 1998, alongside Angola and Namibia, to defend Kabila against Congolese army rebels that were backed by Rwanda and Uganda forces that had invaded the Congo.

I am clear about the dates and reasonably informed about the endless Congo conflicts.

I went to the Congo to cover the war on August 25, 1998 and travelled in a chartered flight, from Manyame Air Force Base, in Harare, with 300 crack Special Air Service (SAS) troops deployed to fight. I encamped with the forces at the military side of N’Djili International Airport, outside Kinshasa. The rest is history.

I will not even talk about the editorial and production errors. As a published author of three books myself, I know mistakes will occur in publishing, but the idea is to minimise them.

President Mnangagwa trusted the author and surrendered the responsibility of writing to the man who is his economic advisor.

But I have difficulty in understanding why the President did not verify the manuscript to avoid embarrassing errors.

Mr President, next time trust but verify.

  •  Shepherd Mutamba is an award-winning journalist and author of two editions of TUKU BACKSTAGE, a tell-all biography of Zimbabwe’s late international music star Oliver Mtukudzi