Connect with us

Support The NewsHawks


How would Tsvangirai have handled the Tshabangu issue?




I WAS a student in Kenya from 1980 to 1984 at the peak of Daniel Arap Moi’s authoritarian rule, having “crossed over” from Seretse Khama’s “paradise” as a teenage refugee 1979.

Although we were enjoying our freedom as foreign students “escaping” Rhodesian colonial slavery, it was apparent that Kenyans somehow tolerated this corrupt, authoritarian dictatorship.

We read stories on people like Tom Mboya who had lost their lives fighting Jomo Kenyatta; and how, like the present-day Emmerson Mnangagwa rule, members of the ruling Kanu and their henchmen amassed wealth. By then Kenyatta was dead, but his wife, Mama Ngina, was lapping up money like a hungry lioness. Nonetheless, life was enjoyable because Kenyans somehow knew how to separate politics from business. Moi was powerful, very powerful, yet remained a “respectable” citizen after his ouster. In my frequent visits to Kenya several years ago, I used to see him driven around in a single car whenever there was a student conference in his hometown university. The trappings of power can fade away like morning mist!

I could be wrong, but back then during the Kenyatta-Moi governance era, no one or institution was permitted to use the term “president”. The law was as clear as daylight – there could only be one president at any time – the national president. In the United States, Barack Obama will carry the “president” title all his life, but without portfolio. Moreover, “presidents” appear in schools, universities, churches, associations, and companies. I guess no one can be arrested for “bringing the name of the president into disrepute” since “anyone” can be a president at any one time. In Zimbabwe, we now also have many presidents because organisations and individuals use this term generously.

Political parties love the term as well. Anyone who feels capable enough to start a political movement will either call themselves “president” or get members of that party to label him / her “president”.

In marketing, the principle is that when a product is abundant – too abundant – its market value depreciates due to over-supply. In simple terms, we Zimbabweans do not attach much value to the term “president” because “everyone” is a president. But some “presidents” are more important than others, depending on how they ascended to office. Opposition parties are led by presidents – some elected, others self-appointed. Whilst the current political paradox is the extent to which Mnangagwa is “recognised” as president by opposition parties, I have no interest in that subject today.

The issue of presidency in opposition parties has always been contentious. By the time Morgan Tsvangirai died, he occupied presidential positions in the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Movement for Democratic  Change and MDC-T. I bet had he not died early, Tsvangirai would have easily been elected president of the MDC-Alliance. In his political career, he was also prime minister of Zimbabwe between 2009 and 2013. I personally encountered him from the time he was leader of the National Constitutional Assembly in 1998 till about 2005 when Welshman Ncube, Tendai Biti, Job Sikhala and others separated from the main MDC. However, it is the Government of National Unity and its COPAC constitutional reform process that “reunited” me with Tsvangirai’s MDC up to about 2013.

Tsvangirai was what one can term “national presidential material” – mature, articulate, lovable, sociable and with room presence. Once in a while I would “sneak” into his office with a few reports and during campaigns or workshops, hang around with his team. He came across as someone who listened to advice, a team player and reliable. Whatever meeting he was invited to – whether local, regional, or international, his personal assistant would confirm attendance. Like any orator, he never stuck to written speeches, preferring to harangue excitable audiences with spontaneous messaging. In simple terms, Tsvangirai was a “national president” but without official government portfolio. I say so because there is nothing that the ruling party would do in Parliament without his MDC scrutiny. His presidency at political party level was indisputable. I guess as one who had come through the trade union treadmill, there was no room for “structureless strategic ambiguity” when it came to office holding in (his) MDC.

And so, when I read about the happenings in the opposition CCC camp, I always wonder what Tsvangirai would have done confronted with the Sengezo Tshabangu phenomenon. My take is that the Robert Mugabe-led Zanu PF was smarter, albeit oppressive, but committed to legalism. In other words, Mnangagwa’s government is led by lesser statesmen who are highly unorthodox. They have no respect for institutions, are more corrupt and pay little regard to “clean” politics. Mugabe exhibited a certain level of political finesse and knew how to apply the law. His governance would not have accepted Tshabangu’s delusional letters. Put conversely, Tsvangirai was in a better political space to deal with the Tshabangu phenomenon since his presidential status in MDC was indisputable while his structures were clear and Mugabe’s Zanu PF was more conventional.

Nelson Chamisa is more educated than Tsvangirai was, but education is not politics. Arap Moi was a simple schoolteacher, yet it was years before anyone dethroned him. Too much education is a major disadvantage in political games theory because it comes with superficial self-esteem and delusional ego. If you consider all the disputing parties currently grappling with each other for control of CCC, all have college degrees and most run law firms.

Tsvangirai, Gibson Sibanda, Joshua Nkomo and Ian Smith were not in this class, but were better politicians than these political rocket scientists. If I claim to have “worked” with politicians that long, then it only makes sense I know a bit about how to be an effective politician. This is what law school does not teach: five critical points on effective political leadership. One, honesty. This is the foundation for trust, credibility, predictability, consistency, and reliability.

Two, compassion. A leader with empathy and kindness is taken seriously by those he works with. Three, integrity. Wikipedia adds: “Political leaders who possess integrity can be trusted because they never veer from inner (moral) values, even when this might benefit them to do so.” Four, confidence. Confidence is sure-footedness and decisiveness in self and in others. You cannot do everything on your own. Even God, in Genesis on creation says, “Let us….” Five, flexibility. Dogma attracts paranoia and cult mentality. A good leader must be prepared to say “I’m sorry, you were right. Let’s try your way.”

Let me therefore conclude by saying those who remain to “take CCC forward” and those that want to open a new “blue chapter” – if they lack effective leadership styles and remain rooted in old ways – they will remain presidents without national portfolio until the proverbial cows come home.

About the writer: Rejoice Ngwenya is the founder and executive director of the Coalition for Market and Liberal Solutions in Zimbabwe, and a contributing author for the Free Market Foundation.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *