Home » Governance » Ed, Mphoko – Two Men Who Need to Be Homeless [column]

MAYBE I should have been born in America. I love size. I love space. I love huge vistas. Conversely I hate narrowness.

I hate to feel hemmed in, encased or contained. The worst moment for me is when I step past the threshold, into my mother’s sooted roundavel kitchen. I am seized by an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia, in that tiny structure that gave my mother decent femininity, that gave my family a warm heath, a structure whose back wall was always a “womby” stockpile of those pots of chevron necks.

Always we ate there. Always we beat cold there. Always we heard tales there, delightfully breaking into tuneful refrains that divided and connected episodes in the great narratives that constructed our being as a people.

Ndeamuchinjiribanga . . .

Often we would sit in semi-circle, feet stretched out but converging on an imaginary hub like that of a half-trussed conical roof atop a roundavel. And the one sitting in the middle would lazily swing his caroused palm across these dirty and dust-spotted, musasa faggots-like legs, singing, “Maringa-ringa ndeani?NdeamuchinjiribangaNdazomuwana uchakunda mucheche unendoroachiya chiya chidemboMuchinjimuchinyura”.

The leg on which his lazy palms landed at the utterance of the last word in the incantation, would fold back in this game of sequenced elimination. And this would go on and on until the girl or boy with the only remaining stretched out leg would be declared the winner.

There was not much mental challenge in the game, but this deep bonding arising from blending voices in a refrain, touching thighs, trussed shins. Beyond these games, always we slept there in that small roundavel. The roundavel was home, shelter, kitchen, dining hall, makeshift stage for folktaled dramaturgy, a play centre and bedroom. Now it makes me feel hemmed, this lasting crib of small dimensions.

And stepping out of it, into the blazing sun, smoke-wept eyes feeling finally relieved, always gives me a sense of escape, of freedom, nay, liberation.

Rushdie’s fatwa

I am not alone in this fear of things small. I have many companions, famous ones too. Take Salman Rushdie, that controversial and irrepressible Indian writer. Did I say India?

Sorry, I meant that global writer whose birthplace happens to have been India. Like me, he hates narrowness, would most definitely feel slighted to be called Indian, even feeling hemmed in by that small, billion-g subcontinent we call India. The fatwa pronounced against him by the Ayatollah from another subcontinent — Persia — confirmed his expansiveness.

For it told the reach and impact of his vast works, made him persona non grata on this planet, a status whose ultimate consummation would have been his death at the hands of some Moslem fanatic. That would have released him from the narrowness of this planet.

But he survived that liberating verdict, in consequence shrinking in the process. When the fatwa was lifted, Rushdie forfeited his passport to the vast nether, the vast afterworld. Like us, he became a mere man, of this narrow, corporeal earth.

Poor Rushdie became smaller, narrow by surviving the fatwa. The real fall of man was not in the eating of the forbidden fruit that, after all, was nourishing.

The fall subsisted in retreating from a life of un-inhibition, symbolised by man’s unconscious nakedness, indeed subsisted in the nook that hid sinful man, thereby making him surrender the idyllic vastness of Eden.

After that man became a creature bounded by frontiers, a creature always hemmed by boundaries of guilt and sin.

When nation corrupts

One of Rushdie’s many essays addresses the issue of the writer and the nation. Through it he wonders how a writer who fulfils his calling, can possibly serve his nation. Or worse, escape the lure of the Nation, or as he put it, deny “its tides in (the writer’s) blood”.

He admits that nationalism corrupts writers, listing many writers so corrupted, so felled by the tunnelling impulse of love of country. Writers must never live in nations, which corrupt them.

And the corruption does not subsist in adulatory literature, much as that could be a symptom. After all Rushdie knew that “the nation requires anthems, flags”, bonding peans, while a poet “offers discord.”

For him corrupting a writer meant shoving him into “narrow enclosures”, into limiting frontiers that stop him from stepping out, from taking a stroll in a vast world full of multiple vista, many colours, many shapes. In his own words: “Good writing assumes a frontier-less nation. Writers who serve frontiers have become border guards.”

The Lawrence who hated little England

Rushdie is not alone. He is not even blazing a new trail. He has forbears, many. Take David Herbert Lawrence, that British writer well known for his worshipful regard for the cult of dark passion, D.H. Lawrence: that irreligious, sexually irrepressible Briton who preferred giving readers “sermon on the mounting”, to its biblical equivalent. He hated Britain, but loved Eastwood, in his days some small mining village near Nottingham.

He hated Britons he loved the British male, coal mining class, often welded by some dark intimate togetherness wrought in the subterranean world whose entrance and exit was the mouth of the coal pit.

His father had been part of this overworked, underpaid, self-immolating class. Most of all, D.H. Lawrence condemned Britons for remaining in their homes, romanticised as a castle, and yet a vast world beckoned. In line with Victorian imperial expansiveness, he implored England to evolve beyond the rustic, the village, the cottage, impatiently waited for the English to embrace vast social foci like towns and cities, impatiently waited for them to immerse themselves into vibrant urban settings, so they would grow broader, become “citizens” the way other westerners had.

“The English character has failed to develop the real urban side of man, the civic side”, he complained, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the English character he foregrounded while at the same time complaining about, was itself narrower than the British character he never visualised, thanks to his ethnic English chauvinism.

Home as a castle?

“The Englishman”, he continued, “is stupidly undeveloped, as a citizen.” And he blamed it partly on “his little home stunt”.

“That silly individualism of ‘the Englishman’s home is his castle’ and ‘my own little home’ is out of date. It would work almost up to 1800, when every Englishman was still a villager, and a cottager. But the industrial system has brought a great change. The Englishman still likes to think of himself as a “cottager” — “my home, my garden”.

“But it is puerile.” Consequently, argued D.H. Lawrence, the Englishmen did not know “how to build a city, how to think of one, or how to live in one.” Contrasting England with America, Italy and even Scotland, where in his view outlooks had grown vast and urban, Lawrence added: “England is a mean and petty scrabble of paltry dwellings called “homes”.

And his remedy was clear and emphatic: “What we want is a bigger gesture, a greater scope, a certain splendour, a certain grandeur, and beauty, big beauty. The American does far better than we, in this”. He exhorted: “Do away with it all (the cottage), then. At no matter what cost, start to alter it . . . Turn the attention elsewhere.

“Pull down my native village to the last brick. Plan a nucleus.

“Fix the focus. Make a handsome gesture of radiation from the focus. And then put up big buildings, handsome, that sweep to a civic centre. And furnish them with beauty. And make an absolute clean start. Do it place by place. Make a new England.

“Away with little homes! Away with scrabbling pettiness and paltriness. Look at the contours of the land, and build up from these, with a sufficient nobility.

“The English may be mentally or spiritually developed. But as citizens of splendid cities they are more ignominious than rabbits. And they nag, nag, nag all the time about politics and wages and all that, like mean narrow housewives.”

The enigma of home

I could come home, and draw from Charles Mungoshi and his Lucifer Mandengu, a character in Waiting for the Rain. He hated home and its vaunted simple routines, its inescapable, debilitating and wrapping idiocy.

He felt entrapped, suffocated, and was most grateful when a priest — a personification of intrusive vastness, outside of the village — plucked him from the cruel clutches of home. Home, he concluded, is where one came back to die, after spending a good, rewarding life elsewhere.

Across generations, the home has been something of an enigmatic symbol. Clearly, it is where one gets born, possibly bred. But clearly it is one place one perforce leaves to grow, to mature, and in the case of our leaders, to govern.

I hope you are beginning to get it, where my drift is.

When King Lear left home

Or I could retreat in time, recall King Lear and his household. Craving for flattery, the aging Lear decides to apportion his kingdom to his three daughters, apportion it on the basis of fervency of love protestations from each of his daughters. For Shakespeare, age craved for adulation, for flattery.

Lear’s conditional offer to his daughters is an invitation to fatal fawning, and two of his daughters, greedy as ever, mobilise their eloquence for a fawning show. They end up inheriting the whole kingdom, at the expense of the one who genuinely loves and cares for doting Lear, but is too honest, too modest and too reticent to flatter.

Not long after, the cruel daughters haunt their father out of home and kingdom, into the wilderness where harsh winds, rains and blizzards lash and lacerate him into total madness. But not before gorging his eyes.

That out-of-home situation creates a real epiphany that wins him deep self-awareness.

He needed to be blind to see the world and himself better. The key thing to remember is that this harsh yet revelatory odyssey does not take him home rather, it takes him from home, into the howling wilderness, relying on a court jester for the way.

And of course on Kent, his loyal servant he had harshly evicted and banished from his kingdom, for being brutally truthful. We all grow away from home, often in harsh circumstances which cosy homes cannot conjure up. Often grow in the company we don’t like, company which pelts us with harsh truths we don’t want told or retold, but which we badly need for the way.

The men who transformed

Soon after the swearing in of out two new Vice Presidents, events continued to unfold, often at a hurtling pace. I was not there to witness the ceremonies, but followed every segment of them with consummate interest, yes with deep palpitations of the heart.

Zimbabwe had been tense for almost two-three months, and badly needed to loosen up, sorely needed some catharsis. Was this it, I asked? That got me sucked in, following to the detail events after. I watched the demeanour of Vice President Mnangagwa, ED as he is fondly called.

He speedily rose to the occasion, rapidly measured up, by mien, deportment and by thought. I was impressed. I watched Vice President Mphoko. I saw him transform almost overnight, to become every inch a Vice President, this very tall, light-skinned guerrilla fighter.

I knew him before this latest rise, knew his demeanour away from stately pretenses. He sloughed off his loquacious, even playful side, to give us the deportment of the face of a profound and dignified State.

When you measure the conduct of both men against the rough and tumble that had characterised Zanu-PF politics only a week before, more accurately, a mere few days before, the transformation was truly remarkable.

I loved it.

Unfair yet inescapable

So it became less themselves, more their circumambient universe, the character and behaviour of that whole web and tangle of relationships that exists around them, some consanguineous, a lot social, economic and political. Would their sympathy universes comport to the new dignity and responsibilities now required of them? The political world is always a setting for unsympathetic watchers, for critics who see empathy as a weakness. Politicians are judged harshly, always harshly.

On a good day, these clever, do-no-wrong critics can lend you fame you least deserve, fame least traceable to you intrinsically. On a bad day — and bad days always outnumber good ones in politics — they judge you by actions of those they link you to, those situations they attribute to you, validly or not. So you then get judged by your habitat, with all its human throng, with all its dynamics.

And your character is the sum total of all behaviours linked to you by association, for better and for worse. You inherit goodness, you receive foibles, all by dint of those near and around you, by dint of even those claiming proximity.

The politician is presumed to be an all-powerful god who creates personas and circumstances, made to look like an all-powerful persona in a game, ironically enough, where too much power is an undemocratic curse. The parameters for judging a politician are very harsh, very unfair, contradictory, yet inescapable. Welcome Cde Vice Presidents! Welcome to this harsh, judgmental world.

Between two harsh fates

Much worse something else adds to the misery of positions of politicians. They are watched closely by foe and friend, foe wishing them many missteps that bring total damnation, friend wanting validation of proximity, fearing indifference and conceit born out of a new rise. He is not deserving, says foe. We made him, he is not grateful, says friend. Foes seek to disown him, friends seek to own him. Both levy a cost on the politician, who becomes a universal taxpayer. I don’t know which fate is kind or kinder to the politician: that of a roundly watched enemy, or that of a profoundly monitored hostage of an “unsettle-ble” debt.

This unerring mass personality

A few days after his appointment, Vice President Mnangagwa found himself in the middle of a party to celebrate that development. The setting was Zvishavane, at his home. He did not organise it. Some people did. He did not draw up a guest list. Some people did. He was not the doorman determining who attended, who could not attend. Some people were. Above all, he did not call himself “son of Man”. Someone called him that. I know all these things because I am more nuanced and exposed in my knowledge of what happens or is done to persons when power arrives. But I am just one mind, one vote, one citizen. I cannot make a summer, let alone a Vice President however generous my goodwill is. How does the rest of the country view all these developments? Sorry, in ways that indict poor ED. And the cruel public does not care to be accurate, to be right. It has no conscience and does not need it. It has no regrets and does no corrections. It is a mass: a bundle of irrational yet determining behaviour, a mass-actor so given to preconceptions and prejudices, yet privileged by the notion of democracy to be right and infallible always.This is why this personality called the mass ruins good politicians, but without answering to any charges. Often, democracy means a mass mistake. Too bad for mankind!

Dabengwa’s naughty points

Soon after his appointment, Vice President Mphoko issued a hard-hitting statement in which he castigated Dabengwa’s Zapu for spurning national unity. How right! How accurate, as indeed was validated by Zapu’s written response to that call. But that initial action by the new Vice President triggered a backlash with far-reaching consequences for him and even for Zimbabwe. His wartime credentials were challenged.

His post-independence employment came under spotlight. He had no role in the Hwange campaign, Dabengwa asserted. He deserted his home contingent when Zipa collapsed and the late Mangena pulled Zipra out. And Dabengwa’s conclusion went beyond Mphoko: Mphoko joined Zanu way back during struggle days. Thus Mugabe had not fulfilled the dictates of the Unity Accord, but had only appointed a long-time Zanu official. And in aggravation, Mphoko joined the Central Intelligence Organisation at Independence, a development which Dabengwa deploys in the public domain to trigger deep questions about Mphoko’s credentials. All that was the import of Dabengwa’s statement, thanks to the new Vice President’s statement, undoubtedly well-meant, but triggering all these consequences.

False dipstick

Ever since the two appointments, congratulatory messages have been pouring in, many of these from corporates, and expected. The corporate messages help create an acceptance and even popularity illusion, itself turnable into a popularity fact depending on what follows. But these should never be taken as dip-sticking public opinion. For that we have had to rely on news and newsmen as they go about soliciting for responses from the public. For both men, the feedback has been broad and varied. My concern is in respect of one feedback type, hitting both men differently. For Vice President Mnangagwa, this feedback has sought to bring him back home, to Mapanzure, and tie him there as both a son of Mnangagwa, and as a Karanga. It has been about home and ethnicity. Compounded by factional thinking: ndewedu uyu. That feedback treats his appointment as a fulfillment of a Karanga moment, whatever that means. It treats his appointment as a fulfillment of a factional moment. Much worse, it treats his appointment as a new era, which is fatal, very fatal. And so pervasive is this multiple-layered view that it even cuts across parties, as the pull of home, ethnicity and faction, proves ger, buffets.

When ZPRA seems bigger than Zimbabwe

For Vice President Mphoko, it is much worse. His appointment is not a Zapu moment, a ZPRA moment, much as it may be a Ndebele moment. It is a conning of both Zapu and ZPRA by a man who joined Zanu a long time ago, who betrayed or even victimized Zapu by joining the CIO. This is the script Dabengwa is busy writing and reading in public.

So he has no home to be pulled to, if Dabengwa’s sentiments are anything to go by. Ominously, Dabengwa’s statement was said to have been co-signed by ZPRA veterans. Was that so? To a region like Matabeleland, that could turn out to be a powerful opinion, one to which the masses may be susceptible. Yet, as in Vice President Mnangagwa’s case, it is woefully false and self-serving. Firstly, the collapse of ZIPA and the subsequent pullout of ZPRA should not be elevated to some standard by which a cadre’s commitment to the struggle then should be measured. As a young student at Makumbe Mission in early 1977, a pioneering group led by the late Chihombe Madhala, real name Jonah Chimuka, came to the school. Within that group was a very quiet comrade called Elmond Wangu.

As students we grew very close to that group and got to know a few things about some of the comrades, Elmond Wangu included. I later realized his quietness owed to the fact that he was part of the ZPRA contingent originally, but stayed put when others were pulled out. His Shona was halting, and that restrained his participation at pungwes. He fought for this country, served the Zimbabwe revolution, only from a ZANLA side. I know many others like him still serving in the Army. Much more, General Mujuru came to Zanla from ZPRA. That did not diminish his patriotic credentials, or put off Dabengwa who proceeded to do many things with the late veteran. The late Joshua Dube came the same way, as did many who rose in Zanu. What is Dabengwa’s point against Mphoko? Good question. His point is to put allegiance to Zapu, ZPRA, above allegiance to Zimbabwe and its revolution which was a composite of actions of ZanuZanla, ZapuZipra.

The Dabengwa who worked with all

Further, Dabengwa was part of the Demobilisation and Integration process soon after the war. He worked with Rhodesians, the British and Zanla. He knows many ZPRA fighters who were integrated into the army. He knows many more who were absorbed into the Police. Above all, he knows and personally recommended many more to attest into the Central Intelligence Organisation. Why is he suggesting that VP Mphoko did the unusual, the unpatriotic? Is CIO supposed to be a test of national unworthiness? Is it not a national institution? Why did Dabengwa himself serve under a Mugabe Government, indeed agree to be secured by the same CIO as a minister?

Yet this is the thinking, the way some people view the office of Vice Presidency. Answering these questions takes me to my key point for the week. The two men who have just risen have little to worry from MDC formations. They have still less to worry about the renegades whom they replaced.

I mean, how do you worry about a group whose collective genius tells them they must petition SADC and AU, both inter-governmental bodies, about the goings-on of a political party, itself a voluntary union? If they have ever made a case against their own unfitness to govern, this is it.

Please don’t go home

Both man have a lot to worry about those who love them, who support them, who want to own them. They have to worry about those who want to take them home: out of love in the case of ED through contrived and calculated guilt in the case of Mphoko. Both men are being asked to step past the threshold, into mummy’s warm kitchen roundavel. They are being asked to play “border guards” on frontiers or tribe and ethnicity. To be villagers, not citizens. Yet a vast vista, a vast world, beckons.

Like Lear, they must learn to scoff at flattery, or its opposite equivalent, false excoriation, to embrace a larger world they are now being called upon to serve. Above all, they must retain a sense of proportion: they have been appointed to serve a Party and Government led by President Robert Mugabe.

They cannot themselves and in their own right constitute a new era. Not even portent one. It is that sense of renewal in continuity which made them eligible replacements of their predecessors.

Most of all, they must know what their predecessors were guilty of, and the list is very simple. Serving imperialism, disloyalty, divisive factional narrowness, tribalism and corruption.

It cannot be about Zvishavane or Nkayi, just as it could not be about Dotito. It cannot be about factions. It cannot be about white interests, about Americans or British. It has to be about three Cardinal things: Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe. That big, impregnable cosmos, far bigger than home, than that little cottage. ED, Mphoko, the time has come to be homeless. Please don’t go home, go for big beauty, for big grandeur. Go to Zimbabwe. Icho!


Source : The Herald