Bob’s Day

1 03 2018

Last Wednesday was officially a public holiday; The Robert Mugabe Youth Day. Up until the soft coup last year that saw Mugabe forced to resign as Zimbabwe’s president it was his official birthday but not actually a holiday. There was inevitably an extravagant bash somewhere in the country and business’s were browbeaten/intimidated into donating cash or kind (i.e. cattle) for the party. One year there was a particularly tasteless version where a sycophant donated elephant meat. This year I got a letter from the local branch of ZANU-PF on my desk asking for cash or kind for a party for the ZANU-PF Youth Wing. It went straight into the bin. I should have kept it as in a delightful twist of irony it was addressed to “Comrade Robert” and it would have enhanced this blog.  Last week I got a phone call from the author following up on why she hadn’t heard from me or received anything. I rather brusquely told her I didn’t support ZANU-PF.

In the past I might not have been so quick to dismiss her or at least been a little more polite. As a white commercial farmer I have always been a bit of a soft target for such requests – they know we feel vulnerable and easy to squeeze for cash. I rather doubt that it would have made the slightest difference – if they’d decided to evict me then they’d have just gone ahead and done so whether or not I’d supported their celebrations. Independence Day I did usually give something, the logic being that it was a national celebration. The money was still going to a function organized by ZANU-PF and quite possibly into someone’s pocket rather than the intended purpose. I was always assured that a receipt would be given though of course there are official receipts and others and who was I to know the difference. Quite frequently there were thank you letters which did rather surprise me.

I have just been watching a clip of Trevor Noah, the South African comedian, mocking the fall of Jacob Zuma – the disgraced South African president. The fall of Zuma was in no small way a result of a fiercely independent and critical press, a robust constitution and independent judiciary. We have seen a lot more of the critical press in Zimbabwe since Emmerson Mnangagwa took power in the aforementioned soft coup in November. Whilst they have not been directly critical of him there is most certainly an atmosphere of “we can say what we want” and other politicians have been heavily criticized. When Mugabe was in power this was not the case. People were jailed for criticising or mocking him even though a decision by the Constitutional Court, the highest in the land, stated that it was not illegal. Mugabe was the law. Zimbabwe has a strong constitution though it is not always followed; the soft coup being a good example!

The Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) is scheduled for the last week of May. In the past they have had artistes expelled from the country for mocking the government. The South African rock group Freshly Ground didn’t even make it into the airport for making video to the song “Chicken for Change” that featured a puppet version of Mugabe. I do wonder if this year we will see acts that lampoon Mugabe as Trevor Noah was doing to Jacob Zuma. Despite his destruction of the economy, a culture of kleptocracy and non-accountability he has the national airport named after him and a national holiday. What does it take to become fully disgraced?

The official portrait of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. I think they could have done better.

In the days of the Mugabe regime it was common for offices and shops to have the official portrait of the president in plain view. It was never obligatory and there was never one in the office at my nursery and no-one, not even the politically connected, ever commented. I was rather hoping someone would complain so that I could pick an argument but alas, I was disappointed. Not surprisingly these pictures were pulled down the day after Mugabe was forced to resign; often with YouTube video clips as evidence . It hasn’t taken long for a replacement poster of Mnangagwa to appear around town. The photo of the president is not bad but it seems someone forgot the national flag in the background and a very bad Photoshop version was added. I still don’t think I will be buying one.



Entitled to vote

15 11 2017



Well, this is me. I am all there in that bar code. 9 fingerprints and a photograph. The right little finger refused to be recorded despite numerous attempts involving wiping it against my nose to get more grease on it. Seriously! Anyway, now I am legit to vote in next year’s general election the date of which is to be decided.

I am not at all convinced that I am going to vote given the farcical state of politics at the moment but I want to be able to just in case so I’ve done the biometric registering.

Oh, how prophetic that last paragraph though I must admit farcical might be the wrong word. You see, it’s 6 days later and we have just had a military coup d’etat or maybe we haven’t if one chooses to believe the now co-opted national radio station. Yesterday there were reports of “tanks” on the Kariba road heading into Harare. Dash-cam footage showed them to actually be APCs (armoured personnel carriers) and one was reported to have lost a track en route – not a good start. They apparently took up strategic positions in the city, blocking access to the Houses of Parliament, though curiously the troops seemed pretty relaxed and weren’t actually carrying firearms (they were probably in the vehicle).

In any coup attempt the radio stations are targeted and indeed by this morning the normally verbose ZBC was playing continuous, bland music. On the way back from a failed attempt to walk the dogs (too muddy due to heavy recent rains) we listened to the first statement read by one General Moyo. Rambling and more than a bit confusing, it basically stated that a coup had not happened but the intervention was because certain elements in the government were trying to recolonise the country and they weren’t going to let that happen. It did not say whom was behind the colonisation attempt or how it fitted the scenario. By the time I drove to work the statement had become much more lucid and better spoken. It was reiterated that this was most certainly NOT a coup and calm, peace, goodwill and normalcy (sic) should prevail – they were just after the criminal elements in the ruling ZANU-PF party. It sounded suspiciously like the statement the fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa released a few weeks ago when he arrived in South Africa promising to be back, in 2 weeks, to fix up the mess that is Zimbabwe. Very MacArthuresque – it sounded to me like the same person had written both scripts.

It comes as no surprise that the “criminal elements” in ZANU-PF are members of the G40 faction led by Grace Mugabe who has aspirations to the top post of president when her husband, Robert Mugabe, dies. It has since emerged that a number of the G40 have been arrested including the finance minister Ignatius Chiombo whose security guard was foolish enough to resist the army detail sent to arrest him – he was shot. Pictures emerged on Twitter of his flattened security gate with an APC now parked inside. Pictures have also emerged on Facebook of  water tanks with the comment “more tanks seen in Harare”. A sense of bad humour is alive and well. So far the social media has remained unfettered as it serves the purpose of the various factions.

The whereabouts of Grace Mugabe has not been confirmed though rumours have it that she fled the country in the early hours of the morning to Namibia whilst others speculate the entire first family is under house arrest. There are certainly military roadblocks on the way to the airport (renamed the Robert Gabriel Mugabe airport last week at the trifling cost of $500,000 – I wonder how long that name will last?) and the troops manning them are reported to be civil.

A visit to the local bank was fruitless – closed apparently because the tellers hadn’t arrived though our domestic servant arrived this morning from the other side of the city and didn’t encounter problems. The local pharmacy was also closed (no explanation given) but the Borrowdale shopping centre across the road was buzzing as usual. I noticed an 81CD (US Embassy) car whose owner had taken advantage of the Embassy call not to come to work but was ignoring the advice to stay at home and was enjoying a meal at a restaurant! Not just Zimbabweans were heeding the call for normality.

Twitter is of course kicking up a cacophony of tweets speculating, guessing and maybe informing of developments. Perhaps the most reliable opinion is from Bulawayo-based David Coltart, a onetime Minister of Education, who despite previous misgivings seems to think that this is not a full blown coup but rather a bit of ruling party house cleaning by the old guard, often ex and current military types represented by Mnangagwa’s “Lacoste” faction, on the G40 faction (Alex Magaisa thinks differently So far there is no certainty that Mnangagwa, a veteran of the bush war and once Mugabe’s right had man, is actually back in the country. Whether he will return to lead the country to greatness is also unknown but if he can will Zimbabweans be prepared to forgive his Gukuruhundi involvement where thousands of Ndebele people were massacred in the mid to late 1980s? Time will tell. Maybe, just maybe I’ll get to use my voter registration next year but until it actually happens I will remain sceptical.