The Other Side with Nathaniel Manheru
You cannot help but admire American choreography. At the start of this month they had a hearing on Zimbabwe, itself an opportunity for demonstrating how much they stand in loco parentis to all of us the lesser beings. And then you have more fanfare around a handful of young Zimbabweans set to get into different American universities, thanks to the inherent goodness of the American people through their congenitally well-meaning government. Hardly anyone pauses to think that what America spent son those youngsters is nothing compared to what she keeps by way of Zimbabwe’s receipts withheld in the name of sanctions. Hard on the heels of this loud benevolence, you have a team of Zimbabwean businessmen and an academic beating early morning dew to reach the shores of America. A whole programme is arranged for them, once more to communicate both goodwill and a sense of movement in the Zimbabwe-US relations.
But much more happens. The American Government-funded, Cold-war time institution, National Endowment for Democracy (NED), organises a seminar on Zimbabwe for June 24. It is cleverly titled “The challenges of democratisation and economic recovery in Zimbabwe”. The panel comprises Bruce Wharton, America’s man here, and our very own(s), Ibbo Mandaza and Shingi Munyeza. There is one Imani Countess representing an intrusive arm of NED called Solidarity Centre which works with labour and other civil society groups to build dissent so wonderfully good and needed for our democracies in the Third World! I advisedly used “cleverly titled”, when I referred to the topic for discussion on the day. For who could readily decipher that the title, “The challenges of democratization and economic recovery in Zimbabwe” is in fact a re-issuance of ZDERA, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, itself a key, keen instrument for America’s meddlesome policy against Zimbabwe? And you naturalise, nay, academise and cleanse this sinister legal instrument by making it a mundane topic, a mere talking theme for a seemingly innocuous discussion event! Oh America, thy ways are complex, most complex!
One Imani Countess
Much more sophisticated was the management of the whole event. It was prefaced by a piece of street theatre from an arts NGO launched and funded by the Solidarity Centre, an NGO called Zambezi News. And the theatrical piece was as expected: a barely disguised lampooning of Zimbabwe, one so obvious in sense and style to pass for a piece of creativity. Our situation, our politics, our values, are held up to ridicule, with all that being supposedly a useful start to a discussion on our country! Fortunately the performance falls flat on its face, leaving Imani Countess to grapple with a justification on why such a bald effrontery was a useful precursor to what is supposed to be a serious meeting on a country which Americans admit is oversized by its mineral endowments and sheer human capital. And in the audience are Zimbabweans, almost all of them working for American institutions, typified by the International Republican Institute, who are then given a lead role in the ensuing discussions. Of course alongside other American-funded NGOs like Veritas. America, in typical fatherhood, provides a platform for Zimbabweans to speak about, and to, themselves, well away from their oppressive home environment!
But SAPES is my brother!
The burden of a hard critique in the session is, quite predictably, given to Ibbo Mandaza who is introduced as the head of SAPES Trust and SAPEM, with both institutions announced as partners of NED! And Mandaza himself says enough to validate that partnership. He disclosed the meeting of the day was one in a series that has run for the past four years! Give it to them, Americans harness the human urge for money and proclivity for political bitterness, attributes so evenly blended in Mandaza. After Mavambo, he harbours fiery bitterness. True to temper, he wastes no time in giving his audience hard epithets aimed at Zanu-PF and its government, hard epithets clothed in Cold War type of Marxist claptrap. He talks about “parasitic state”, about comprador bourgeois bureaucracy, about “incorrigible incumbency”, all to the extended joy of his audiences. Much more, he takes on a saviour-poise: on 20 August, he, alongside like-minded Zimbabweans will convene a National Convergence Platform at which Zimbabweans at home and abroad will gather to discuss the future of the country. Of course those in the know will quickly relate to this promised gathering. Quite consistent with the man’s ways of deriving a wherewithal from donors, the convention was long suggested by the West, given to Bishop Bakare to develop, then pilfered by Morgan Tsvangirai, then dropped when Bakare forced hot coal on the pilfering hand, was wrestled back by Bakare, assisted by Shingi Munyeza and his Celebration Centre crew. It now settles sedately in Bakare’s hands, bolstered by the likes of Mandaza, set for consummation in August. Manheru wishes them well.
The day Shingi tried
Give it to Munyeza, together with a welter of facts and figures on the economy, he picked boldness to remind Americans that there were sanctions standing in the way of cooperation, standing between us and success, sanctions which had to go. Typically, he was ambiguous on indigenisation. The policy needed clarification and consistency in application, he said, adding the policy itself was not a problem, but its administration. He made one point I had not reckoned with: namely that a decentralised administration of the indigenisation policy has created sectoral variations in interpretation and application to the point of creating real inconsistencies in application, inconsistencies which investors now complain about. I think it is a fair point to raise, although I am not so sure the venue is the right one. My real beef is with this mantra from business people like Shingi, who keep asking for policy clarity in respect of indigenisation when in fact that has been done. I can’t see what else becomes unclear when the President himself has made it clear the boundaries to that policy only enclose resource industries, with the rest of the tertiary sectors free to proceed without such a policy fetter. What else remains unclear? There is a real danger that indigenisation becomes a bogey, becomes an excuse we give to hostile outsiders at a time when they have no other grievance to hang on to, give them as justification for their continued spiteful hostilities. And Wharton was not slow in seizing on the same.
Our benign father who art in America
Wharton appeared very reasonable, disinterested, like the face of a parent-state that America wants to be in global affairs. He paid tribute to Zimbabwe’s amazing human capital, all of it built “after independence”; paid tribute to Zimbabwean ingenuity, particularly in IT, while urging Zimbabweans not to go for industrialisation, but for post-industrialisation characterised by investments in intellectual property assets! Who wouldn’t feel flattered, who wouldn’t bloom under such benign parentage? Who? But like a good, responsible father, Wharton gently censured: Zimbabwe has weak institutions; Zimbabwe’s politics — governing and oppositional — are fragmenting, together with political parties typifying them; Zimbabwean politicians treat politics as a source of livelihood, not a service! Discreetly, he validated Mandaza’s expletives on “parasitic” class, but without Mandaza’s tactlessness. Discreetly, he took a dig at Munyeza’s cry for resources and skills for value-addition, while absurdly suggesting to us America built a solid intellectual property economy outside of developing technologies and formulas for adding value to its industrial processes. We are pampered into aspiring to be gods before we have been able to be Angels!
Welcome a less didactic generation
Then in typical American fashion, he pushed in three key points of American policy strategy: Zimbabwe was being held back by a worn generation which fought for independence but was slowly vanishing through natural attrition, ceding space to a more modern and “less didactic” generation which wants to do business with America and the West. And “didactic” is the American term for our own value systems. Two, Zanu-PF “is not a monolith”, as it has within it “patriotic and decent people” who can be worked with. Third, the way forward is to create conditions for free and fair elections, inculcate respect for private property, especially on land for an agricultural turnaround, clear the way for foreign investments by clarifying the policy on indigenisation and, finally get America to assist business and civil society organisations to play a bigger role given the fragmentation of political parties. The Wharton thesis helps us get back to our core discussion on leadership, and there we must go!
Succession politics and Mzilikazi
The past two weeks saw me focusing on the Mwenemutapa Kingdom and the foibles of its leadership in dealing with Portuguese white encroachment. After its demise, Zimbabwe witnessed the rise of the Nguni kingdom as led by Mzilikazi, and as succeeded by Lobengula whose ill fate pitted him against British colonial encroachment. I come from that school of thought which says leadership is tested, shown or exposed in times of national crises, times of vicissitudes, which is why for me two developments stand out in the examination of the leadership question as it relates to the Ndebele Kingdom: moments of succession, and in its encounter with colonial imperialism. In respect of the former, the Ndebele Kingdom dealt with succession politics twice: first when it crossed into Zimbabwe from Mosega in Transvaal, after clashing and suffering defeat at the hands of the rapacious, trekking Boers. Mzilikazi sought to trek beyond Zimbabwe into Zambia where the Makololo reigned, but left a bigger part of his tired people in the southern part of Zimbabwe, areas around Ntabazinduna. With the king away for so long, and rumours of his death swirling, the remnant kingdom decided to enthrone a new king in the form of a son Mzilikazi himself had named Kurumani, after Kuruman, Robert Moffat’s London Missionary Society headquarters located in Bechuanaland. Mzilikazi and Moffat had struck friendship after a visit to the Ndebele headquarters at Mosega by the missionary. The naming of his son was a tribute to that friendship.
Mysteries of succession
The final return of the king from up north spelt doom for the Indunas who had enthroned the twelve-year old Kulumani, as all of them were executed at Ntabazinduna. What has never been clear was the fate of Kulumani himself, with legend having it that he was sent away to faraway lands, possibly back to Zululand, by his irate father, or smuggled there by his fearful mother. He was thought to have found refuge under chief Faku in Pondoland. Other theories claimed he met his death, alongside the condemned Indunas, although the King would not disclose this to his subjects.
And the key saying to derive from that whole tragic saga was that no new sun rises until the old one has set. It is a precept which is rehearsed among the Ndebeles, and which was deployed quite effectively when the succession war broke out in Zanu-PF. But that is not my area of interest.
There is the chief . . .
Toil took its toll on Mzilikazi such that by the early sixties, he was both old and ailing. Finally he died creating a difficult interregnum. John Moffat, son of Robert Moffat who claims to have been in Matabeleland during this difficult time claims the Ndebele kingdom was badly divided over the succession issue. He claims a chief whose name is given as ‘Mbiho insisted to the hereditary regent given by Matebili Thompson as ‘Mthlabi, that Nkulumani be found to succeed his father. Moffat (Jnr) claimed ‘Mbiho was a relation of Nkulumani’s mother. Moffat records that Monumbate, the man he names as regent, put together a search team to look for Kulumani, with Thompson claiming the team was led by Lotjie, the chief induna. The team scoured the whole of Natal for the lost son, with the Kingdom remaining in “a condition of quiet suspense” for the duration of the search. But the search was in vain, and included a trip to some Shepstones who was rumoured to have employed Kulumani. I will let John Moffat pick up the narrative: “On the return of the messengers a great meeting was called, and Monumbate was appealed to as the man who all the while had known the truth. He had quietly bided his time, and now his opportunity had come. He pointed to Lobengula and said, “There is the chief.” To the great majority of the people his decision was final; but not to ‘Mbiho, who with his party retired in high dungeon and stood sullenly aloof. Lobengula was duly installed. After waiting about three months, he sent message to the rebellious party: “If you are not satisfied you can leave the country; but you cannot take the cattle with you. They are mine.” To this a contemptuous refusal was given, so Lobengula mustered his forces. He found the rebels gathered and strongly fortified at Zwongentaba, but after a grim and bloody battle they were practically annihilated.” Interestingly, Moffat claims Mzilikazi had intimated to him and Sykes, the other missionary as Inyathi: “Nang’umtwana”, which he translated as “that is the son”.
Baboon with the smell of a white man
Thompson’s narrative is more or less the same, although the names of actors differ from that of Moffat. Both capture the situation of conflict between royalists who wanted Kurumani found and the rest of the citizens who supported Lobengula and who just wanted a new king so they could get on with their lives. Thompson records that the obduracy of royalists was met with a rejection conveyed figuratively: “Why bring him back [Nkulumani]? Will a baboon reared in the domesticity of the white man ever be rid of the smell of the white man?” As we have seen, the Shonas under Mwenemutapa, faced a similar challenge when the Portuguese King wanted Gatsi Rusere to appoint Dom Diogo, his son who had been brought up by Portuguese Dominicans, as his heir apparent. It meant sidestepping the cultural norms of succession to appease the white man. Dom Diogo ended up betraying his father’s kingdom, before running back to the good care of the Portuguese in Tete, never to be seen again. Similarly, Kurumani or his pretender was no longer at ease with the Ndebele kingdom, having acquired “the smell of the white man”. In fact the Ndebele Kingdom faced so many pretenders who came back to claim the throne, often after having been instigated by interested whites from South Africa.
Gifts and hearts
Even after Lobengula was well established in the regal saddle, and especially around 1888, the year of the signing of the fateful Rudd Concession, Thompson still reported opposition to his rule, much of it finding expression in “a renegade Xosa named William Mziszi” who was supported and instigated by a group of whites resident in Bulawayo who did not support Rhodes’ bid for control of the Kingdom. Interestingly, Thompson confesses to dishing gifts and bribes to Lotjie who acted like the prime minister of the Kingdom, and Sekombo, one Induna who would survive the fall of the Kingdom to negotiate with Rhodes at the Matopos. “I promised them gifts if they assisted us”, wrote Thompson, referring to his team which included Charles Rudd and Maguire, with Father Helm as facilitator. After a very hostile meeting with the Ndebele councillors, and the Thompson group is about to give up or settle for half-measures, it is Lotjie who catches Thompson by the little finger to say: “Sit down, Tomoson . . . I thought you were a man when you began to speak . . . but truly I see you are only a child.” After conferencing with the King for more than an hour, records Thompson, Lotjie came out and called: “Tomoson, come in here. The king wishes to speak to you alone.”
Epoch of our lives
Again, I let Thompson pick up the narrative: “I stepped inside, and Lotjie asked me to sit down and relate to the king all I had said outside to the Council. This I did, emphasizing what I had said about the sadness of Matebili hearts when we left; and how absurd it was to think we did not mean to do what was right. “Who gives a man an assegai’, I said, ‘if he expects to be attacked by him afterwards?’ [referring to the payment of guns in return for mining concession]. This was my answer to the fear that in giving the Concession the Matebili would open the door to white aggression, for rifles would then be the best defence they could have. This made an obvious impression on the king, and after pondering it for a few moments he exclaimed, ‘Give me the fly-blown paper and I will sign it . . . We seated ourselves in a semicircle, with the king in the centre. The Concession was placed before him, and he took the pen in his hand to affix his mark, which was his signature. The place on which he was to make his mark was pointed out, and he made it. As he did so Maguire, in a half-drawling, yawning tone of voice, without the ghost of a smile said to me, ‘Thompson, this is the epoch of our lives.’”
Lotjie and Mziszi
The fateful date was 30th October, 1888, and the signed document was the infamous Rudd Concession. The country was Zimbabwe, the people, you, me, all of us, our children. When Wharton warns us against an old generation with outworn ideas, one too didactic, we must grasp this in history. When he says his country must support business and CSO to provide opposition and vibrancy to our otherwise ailing politics, we know from history how white interests created Lotjie for governors, William Mziszi, for opposers, all to make sure whichever side the ball falls, they are there to bat. And of course when he says the policy on indigenisation must be clarified, he is no different from the Portuguese King who tells Mwenemutapa that he is not after his lands, cattle and goats, only after gold and silver which Mwenemutapa has no use for. A partitioned sense of leadership and sovereignty, the bane of African leadership.