Home » Governance » Tsvangirai – History and Homage to Bacchus [column]

My good friend from Zambia once recounted to me a stormy encounter between President Sata and a dismissed senior Patriotic Front party official who proceeded to join the opposition Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) a short while later. The front-loading fifth President of Zambia and leader of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party wasted no time in laying in on his truculent ex-junior: “You, we dismissed you from the party and you joined those MMD people. Up to now they address you as ‘former Secretary-General of the Patriotic Front’.

“You mean you couldn’t be anything else after we chased you from our Party?”

Soon at Chatham House

I am in receipt of a forwarded invite relating to a forthcoming fixture at the British Royal Institute of International Affairs, better known as Chatham House.

The fixture which is set for Friday, 25th July, 2014, between 1300hrs and 1400hrs, is being co-ordinated by one Chris Vandome, Chatham’s administrator and research assistant. It will be chaired by the House’s head of Africa Programme, Alex Vines.

The fixture itself is a public discussion on the topic, “The Future of Opposition Politics in Zimbabwe”, with one Morgan Tsvangirai as the main speaker. So far so good.

Dr Tsvangirai, I presume

The invite is framed as “Chatham event with Dr Morgan Tsvangirai, Former Prime Minister of Zimbabwe”, reinforced by the following synopsis: “The success of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections led to the end of the country’s government of national unity, as the ruling party consolidated political power.

“The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, is now assessing its future direction as issues of party leadership and funding come to the fore.

“Morgan Tsvangirai served as prime minister of Zimbabwe in the former government of national unity. He will reflect on recent developments within MDC-T, the importance of strengthening opposition politics for Zimbabwe’s future and the role that international partners can play in Zimbabwe’s democratic progress”.

So many questions

Just what is being communicated by Chatham House? Electoral success ends “the country’s government of national unity”, all to allow Zanu-PF to “consolidate political power”?

The acronym for Movement for Democratic Change is MDC-T? And that MDC with a silent “T” is homogeneously “Zimbabwe’s main opposition party” after those elections?

The defeated candidate gets privileged to “reflect on the importance of strengthening opposition politics for Zimbabwe’s future, and the role that international partners can play in Zimbabwe’s democratic progress”? And international partners of? Morgan Tsvangirai? MDC-T? Zimbabwe?

Louder mourners of us

Of course back home we know the July 2013 elections to have ended a contested political transition and interregnum for a new electoral, more substantive, and statutorily defined arrangement as becomes the endgame of all electoral politics.

We worry less about the temporary structure the elections ended, concern more about the substantive outcome and certainty it gave the country.

We are not tearful about the so-called “government of national unity”: that cheap attempt at deodorizing an unrepresentative and unworkable coalition of three contesting parties. Why would we have needed the national constitution-making process and the July poll if the outsider vaunted “government of national unity” was just that, a much yearned for panacea?

Here we abhor Dickensian Jellyby-like outsiders who see us as the bereaved, who treat the July polls as slaying “the country’s government of national unity”.

Burying British head in sand

Back home, too, we are aware that MDC-T does not translate to Movement for Democratic Change only rather, it stands for Movement for Democratic Change dash (-) Tsvangirai that the name of the party itself today sums up the conundrum that opposition politics are in, sums up why it is a lie to consider or wish the man who served as prime minister of the logically wound up transitional coalition, wish him as “the leader of Zimbabwe’s main opposition” that to claim so is more to mirror the wishes of the British establishment in respect of our politics than to reflect or describe the true stature of a man who has failed here, and to accurately describe the and turbulent politics of opposition here after July 2013, and about whose final form the jury is still out.

It is to bore and sink deep, to bury Britain’s thinking limb, all to enable and allow a dreamy view of the world above the sand, without the inconvenience of reality’s dunes, bushes and pelting winds.

Backing an unsalted horse

And of course if you consider that the tussle within the opposition has largely been over who best pushes British and western interests in a phase of a resurgent Zanu-PF, over who therefore deserves western donor funding, those bits in the invite to do with “party leadership and funding”, to do with “the role that international partners can play in Zimbabwe’s democratic progress”, begin to stagger pregnant with meaning.

Denied any sympathies let alone cooperation on the issue of repatriating the so-called Zimbabwean political refugees currently in Britain, so-called refugees who are in reality British-political-fodder-now-gone-bad-or-useless-and-expensive, and stuffed in the face in respect of residual white land ownership in Zimbabwe, the British are collecting raw materials for a second round of conflict with Zimbabwe.

Angrily she thought we had thawed. With obvious panic, she is back to the drawing board, assessing who to prop, who and what to fund, post July 2013. And for want of new and better options, she appears stuck with an old, “unsalted” horse that no longer gallops,stuck with an unsalted horse so susceptible to tsetse bites and rinderpest.

The invite is a definitive statement against Biti and his renewal fellows, a clear warning to ZANU-PF that it is still Alut!

Chatham and naming

In the meantime, what would President Sata say to Morgan, after reading this invite, say on behalf of his friend Mugabe? “Hey you, they haven’t made you anything else since the people rejected and ejected you from that transitional title?”

“Or you cannot be anything else after it? Hee?” And would not Morgan mournfully respond thus: “Nothing new yet Sir. It is these British you know them.

“Let’s see what they call me after Friday 25th.” Chatham, the opposition renaming House.

Entering little by little

Back on September 6, 1879, pioneering Catholic priest Father Depelchin wrote from Ishoshani, Lobengula’s Royal Kraal, to tell his brotherhood how his team was received by the Ndebele King.

For me what is striking about that letter done a good decade before occupation of Mashonaland where his reflections on how to enter “little by little into the minds and hearts” of Africans.

Father Depelchin wrote: “By this you will understand that one of the best means of entering little by little into the minds and hearts of these barbaric tribes, is to teach them, with the utmost devotion, the elements of the most useful crafts.

“These people must be drawn away from their savagery, from laziness, from improvidence, from a complete lack of industry.

“They must be taught in a practical manner to enjoy the fruits of Christian civilisation and of Christianity. They are completely materialistic. So, first of all, their material needs will have to be provided for.

“Then, little by little, they can be raised towards the life of the spirit, towards the sublime virtues of Christian morality.

“We must renew here that most successful attempt by the Benedictines of New Norcia to educate the Australian aborigines at Swan River.”

Teaching trades, capturing souls

He continued: “In order to attain this objective we shall need a number of good lay brothers capable of teaching the principle trades.

“First of all we shall need a good blacksmith, a gunsmith, a carpenter and joiner, a clockmaker . . . these would be indeed useful. In short, we must here try to train people for work, instead of their being soldiers living by rapine and plunder.

Later on, when we are more firmly established, some Sisters may be able to come out to teach the little Kaffir girls how to become good housewives.”

Two months later a letter written by a fellow priest, Father Croonenberghs, from Bulawayo on November 12, 1879 reinforced the same message. It read: “On the previous day, Tuesday, 4 November, Fr Law and three English gentlemen came on horseback to meet us and to bid us welcome on behalf of the king (Lobengula).

“It would seem that I am to be his (Lobengula) gunsmith for his arsenal and also the painter and decorator for his waggons.

“You could not believe how much Lo Bengula and also the White people living here in the heart of Africa, appreciate these small social talents, which, believe me, are most useful in these savage countries. Imitating missionaries of long ago, we shall begin with arts and trades and hope to go on to learning and the works of God”.

When Caesar gets the better

But it was not always that straightforwardly consecutive. Often and quite often, the ways and pursuits of Caesar would get the better of these men of God, as indeed was the case with Protestant missionaries operating between Shoshong, Batswana’s Khama capital and Bulawayo.

At Shoshong, Fr Depelchin ruefully reported: “With my own eyes I saw heaps of skins (of wildlife) in front of the Protestant minister’s door because in Africa the Protestant minister has to attend not only to the progress of the Gospel, but also to the development of English trade.”

Croonenberghs was even more damning in his assessment of Protestant ministers he met in Bulawayo, or their legacy from the days of Robert Moffat whose first visit to the country was as far back as 1855. He wrote: “English missionaries have been living among the Matabele since that time (1857-9).

“It was they who opened the way for Boer hunters and English traders. But in so far as the conversion of these people to Christianity is concerned, the Protestant envoy’s have been unable to win over the hearts and minds of these savage tribes.

“They themselves have realized this fact. They admit the failure of their Protestant preaching and attribute it to the character and social organisation of the Matabele . . . I would not wish to criticise the Protestant ministers of the London Missionary Society.

“But these gentlemen themselves agree that their activities among the natives have been diplomatic and commercial rather than moral and religious.

“That may well be the reason why Lo Bengula did not worry much about allowing new missionaries and religious ministers into his country.”

The great lamentation

And he broke into a real lamentation: “How mysterious is the conversion and civilising of a people! For twenty years now, traders and learned men have lived among these hills.

“Yet among the natives, there is not a single genuine Christian, not one man who has emerged from barbarism, not one Black who has adopted the use of the spade, the shovel or the plough, or built a cottage of bricks.

“Three years ago, the White people built for the king a stone house, not unlike our farmhouses in Limbourg. Yet the prince prefers to remain in his hut of dung and reeds right next to his new European style palace.

“Who will regenerate these savages? Only the Crucifixwhich, for eighteen centuries, has subdued pagan barbarism throughout the world.”

Harsher than the Maxim

Entering little by little into the hearts and minds of Africans, that is my subject for the week.

I have belaboured extracts from pages of history to get you, gentle reader, to move away from the mistaken notion that colonialism and its more lasting godfather, imperialism, always shoots, maim or kill to subdue, that it leaves wounds and scars all the time.

True it invented the Maxim gun with which to shoot, and did actually shoot at us. But that was just one weapon in a vast arsenal, even then not a weapon of choice.

They were many weapons deployed, a good many of them so friendly, so helpful, so well-meaning, so enjoyable vis-a-vis natives and their lives, that they hardly passed as instruments and forms of assault against a people.

Our former Prime Minister misses Rhodesian beer! It never hurt, or so with think, only happily inebriated!

Just a rondavel?

From the foregoing, it is very easy to skip the first such weapon, namely the person of the missionary himself, and of course his sisterly version, personified in our case by Mother Patrick, the founder of the Dominican Convent school to which we proudly sent our young girls for schooling nowadays.

Equally, it is very easy to attach innocence to the development of manipular or psychomotor skills among the natives, without realising their role in the overall subdual of our forebears. Seemingly innocent skills for trades like carpentry, joinery, black-smithery and even domestic science, were at the heart of seeking and selling imperialism. Much worse, just the use of brick, just the adoption of corners in the architecture of your bedroom, as distinct from the round structures of your tradition, said a lot about your ripeness for conquest. The converse — stubbornly hanging on to pole-and-dagga round huts — meant resistance to the multi pronged colonisation thrust.

A mere garden?

A more seemingly innocuous yet deadly symbol of colonisation was a garden, an orchard or any kempt grounds.

That represented the salvaging of savagery, its tempering and taming through the darning hand of a superior civilisation. Orchard trees in a row, vegetables in a neat bed, these symbolised a beneficent intervention by the outsider into a rude, unruly world of savagery.

Significantly, any land allocation to missionaries, traders and hunters would be quickly followed by development of symmetrical gardens and plantations, and of course rectangular structures which stood in sharp contrast to roundavels of the land.

The garden, the rectangular home are key symbols in colonial myth-making. Deadly ones, too, to the extent that they look so innocuous.

When the African was not always a victim

The lamentations of Fr Croonenberghs wrongly suggest the African was an irrational actor in his interaction with a superior civilisation which sought to better him. In the absence of a proper context, it is very easy for you as an African to curse your forbears for being unreasonable to a kinder, benign civilization that sought to profit them, spit on their grave, these ingrates. Wait a little.

On the last day of December 1879, Fr Depelchin wrote on race relations in Matabeleland, interdenominational relations included. He said: “The White people continue to be kindly disposed towards us (Catholic missionaries), but the Blacks are not more opposed to us than they are to any other White people. As a general rule, one has to recognise the principle that the Kaffirs, like many other people besides, seek only what is aantageous to themselves.

They are only looking after their own interests when they tolerate the Whites and pay them attention. Their policy does not go beyond purely utilitarian morals and, in this regard, they could be perfect disciples of the economist Bentham”. In case you are still not convinced, here is Lobengula after Fr Prestage had told the Ndebele king of his plans to teach the people Religion, Agriculture, Carpentry and Smith’s work at the newly established Empandeni mission: “Carpentry and Smith, yes that would be useful in the time of war to make guns and assegais.”

Quartering power

This is how our forefathers interacted with other civilizations: strictly on the basis of discriminatory self-interest. They knew that no art, no skill was innocent, but a thin end of the wedge, a tool for inveiglement. The same missionaries recount a chore which entailed repainting King Lobengula’s royal chariot, adorning it with a coat-of-arms and adding a canvas to complete the resplendence.

When the King saw the shining result, he, we are told by the missionaries, “could not refrain from uttering a cry of admiration. Regis ad exemplar (following the King’s example), everybody went into ecstasies about this marvel of Belgian art. Decidedly, we are becoming the King’s favourites.” Clearly technology was being deployed to capture power, quarter it in a captive milieu.

Another priest, Bro. Nigg, gave a winning demonstration of a sewing-machine in the King’s court, and before a multitude of natives who included Kwalila the Queen. Bro. Nigg sewed together three big leather bags for keeping gunpowder, did so in a matter of minutes. Presented with three finished products of direct use to this fighting King, Lobengula reportedly cried out in utter admiration: “Ah! these English! These English . . . How clever and intelligent they are. Yet they too must die like everybody else.”

Overcoming temptations

Here is an instance of deployment of superior technology in power politics, a real effective use of technological blandishments for awe, endearment, subdual and eventual conquest. But note, Lobengula acknowledges the technological superiority, but while resisting the intended subdual: in spite of these aances, whites still die like all of us blacks! That dethrones the technologically superior white man, thereby restoring the balance of power in ways that preserved the Kingdom and its power matrix in times of external encroachment. He correctly knew the blandishments were meant to conquer him.

Medicine diplomacy and conquest

Another potentially lethal weapon of conquest came through medical diplomacy. Both Mzilikazi and Lobengula came under the spell of this weapon, a weapon far more potent than gunpowder. Both had different but related bodily ailments and turned to missionaries for treatment.

Robert Moffat gained Mzilikazi’s good graces because of his medical chest. Similarly, Lobengula’s gout craved the attention of missionaries, as too did his senior officers and all his people. Baniai, the King’s eldest daughter was cured of ophthalmia Lotshe, Lobengula’s Prime Minister also took medicines prescribed by missionaries.

To a point where Fr Croonenberghs bragged: “A large number of these savages, whom we treated successfully, went off cured. If only we had a hospital and some Sisters, trade and schools, etc, etc, we would soon win over all the Black people. While curing bodily ailments, we would begin also to cure their souls.”

Precedent to America’s medical sanctions

Just in case, gentle reader, you had an innocent view of the medicines and the medical field, fooled by the notion of “doctors without borders”! Medicine and doctors do carve borders, frontiers in the game of conquest.

Hark, did I hear that Zimbabwe has received another executive order from Barak Obama — the black American President — banning medicines and food to this land? So much for your innocence, dear compatriot. Lobengula, our part-patriarch, will tell you these little acts of “goodness”, acts started by missionaries, hunters and traders, had the slow, cumulative effect of sapping the energy of collective resistance such that when the assault against his people finally came in 1893, the King could not mobilise for a generalised war and resistance, with him as a focal point. Instead he burnt his capital, and took flight leaving whites and their structures unmolested and intact in Bulawayo. Of course while this changed in 1896, the fact remains, the King was no longer there to provide focus to the resistance.

Beery father to Prime Minister

Talking about Lotshe, Lobengula’s Prime Minister, his ill-fated life illustrated another use of lethal soft power: alcohol.

By way of a broader context, let me say the great northward road, before and beyond the Limpopo, before colonial conquest and occupation, also became a liquor route, the same way it became the route for guns, cloth, and wildlife trophies in the environmental plunder of southern Africa, Zimbabwe included. So serious was this liquor flow that Khama banned liquor trafficking in his Kingdom, often sjamboking and deporting notorious white traders whose avarice created and transferred ruin to his people. But the story is a lot more complex than one-way ruin suggested here. Both Mzilikazi and Lobengula deployed meat and liquor to deadly ends, in their dealings with early whites who came into Matabeleland. And this was traditional brew, as potent as it was thickly African. Missionaries who also partook of this deadly brew, spoke of a ruined sample of whites leaving in and around Bulawayo. They had been drugged by African potency, in a spectacular deployment of liquor in defence of sovereignty. Gambee!!!!

Bring the bottle!

But my fascination is with Lotshe, the King’s Prime Minister. With time, western agents soon realized he was a key aiser to the King, who had to be won over to gain access to the King’s ear. One Irish mining engineer, Alfred Taylor, who worked for a mining interest at Tati goldfields sought the services of one Moore to get a trading license from Lobengula while he waited for the arrival of shipped mining equipment.

Let Taylor takes us through: “I was most amused with a little affair that occurred between Moore and Loche (a prominent Induna). Moore had been using him as a go-between and feeding him on champagne. Moore had to take a hurried trip down country and evidently thought out the champagne question so bought Cape Brandy and some effervescing mixture.

On return Loche demanded the usual drink which Moore presented. Loche tasted it, spat it out and said “That’s not champagne, bring bottle”, so the Yank was caught.” Of course if Moore had been caught, Lotshe himself had been entangled in a deadly snare.

Go well, Son of Lotshe

This is the same Lotshe who, after getting what (?) from the inveigling Rudd, Maguire and Thompson representing Rhodes in 1888, counsels the King so accept and sign the fatal Rudd Concession by which sovereignty was lost. Lobengula ordered his execution soon after, but it was too late. Champagne had done its bit to drug the country’s first Prime Minister, setting him to pass deadly aice to the King. Hark, I hear an echo ringing across time, across history.

Whose feet tread the savannah veld? The man from Buhera walking back from Trojan Mine. But where to after such a pounding? To Chatham House, I hear! Travel well, son of the great River Save. With a pound in the wallet, it is a good time to pay homage to Bacchus, as did Lotshe, our great, great predecessor.



Source : The Herald