How could we not have fallen in love with Jestina Mukoko when she worked at the ZBC?
We loved to call her Jestina because we believed we knew her well and she knew us. So, after Jestina had left TV and disappeared from the evening news bulletin, our love affair with her blossomed immeasurably. Her warm love for journalistic excellence remained forever etched in our collective conscience and satisfied hearts and minds like the mellifluous Musi Khumalo had done before her.
By Tafi Mhaka
So, whoever arrived at Harare Magistrates’ court under the watchful eyes of several hawkish armed policemen on December 24, 2008 could not have been the ever-effervescent Jestina we enthusiastically adored. Far from the subtle but authoritative TV newsreader we had come to admire, she had become the lead story, after a scary saga of abduction and torture had transfixed and appalled the nation. Jestina looked bad. She appeared dishevelled and defeated by the mental anguish and physical abuse her body had experienced in captivity.
But while her immediate future seemed absolutely miserable, the outlook for the powerful Vice-President Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru – a woman whom salaried sycophants at Zimpapers and ZBC commonly branded a motherly torch bearer and a fearless fighter for social justice and the rights of women and girls – appeared magnificently bright and sunny, as her ascension to the highest political office in the land apparently neared.
The contrast could not have been less distinguished that December: while immortal greatness awaited Mujuru, shifty state lawyers and irate securocrats had prepared a communal cell in Chikurubi Remand Prison and an enduringly long legal process and lengthy jail sentence for Jestina. Two women whom the nation had come to know well had unknowingly contended for the soul of the nation in 2008. Yet Zimbabwe had never fallen in love with Mujuru, for we never got to know her well, and she did not really know us at all. She did not achieve that beloved first name status.
To be honest, Mujuru barely found ample room to settle in the national psyche in the fashion Sally Mugabe had done while alive. Whether it was a deliberate move on her part remains an unsolved mystery. The late First Lady had an affectionate affinity for people and public empathy. Perhaps it was her effusive love for children that enthralled the nation. Perhaps it was her delightful Ghanaian accent. Whatever she had, Mujuru lacked in spades. So, where Jestina became the queen of our bleeding hearts in 2008, Mujuru became the queen of nothingness. She represented the classical problem in Zimbabwean politics: absolute hollowness.
When Jestina joined the Zimbabwe Peace Project, her relationship with the people remained a truly commendable and humble dedication. Meanwhile, the highly honoured lady who had an office located at Munhumutapa Building had earlier that year won a parliamentary seat by a phenomenal margin. Mujuru had polled 113,236 votes against 1,792 for Gora Madzudzo, the candidate of the Movement for Democratic Change in the 2008 parliamentary elections. Yet what had she possibly done for Mount Darwin in the corridors of power when the Mashonaland Central Province town hardly looked highly industrialised and multifaceted in any regard?
Voters there and elsewhere around Zimbabwe do not always totally appreciate that there is more to real politics and economics than cutting red tape at cultured ceremonies and dishing out donations to rural schools and parading cheesy smiles for ZBC and Herald cameramen to capture. The problems that the people in Mount Darwin grapple with daily – very low employment, hunger, poverty, and bleak future prospects – stem from the social inertia and political skulduggery Mujuru and former acquaintances like Didymus Mutasa perfected to the hilt in Harare. Both did nothing while in political office but look after themselves and party interests. Neither Mujuru nor Mutasa spoke against corruption, economic failures, political violence and Gukurahundi. Mujuru divulged as much in an interview BBC with Stephen Sackur on BBC Hardtalk.
“I did not say a word against it, but those were executive orders that were used by the Fifth Brigade. With an executive person, what else would you do?” said Mujuru. She did not say a word either when Edgar Tekere, Margaret Dongo and Simba Makoni were banished from Zanu-PF. She said nothing when Tracy Mutinhiri was expelled from Zanu-PF after she had raised concerns about violence being perpetrated against MDC supporters.
Whereas Jestina represents the noble pursuit of peace and justice, Mujuru turned a blind eye to men and women like Tonderai Ndira with deafening obliviousness and calculated silence. Sometimes, feigning ignorance and pleading helplessness when the nation went through seismic political actions and disturbances in 2000 and 2008, and experienced intense and lengthy economic upheaval, represents tremendous immodesty and unresponsiveness to the desperate dilemmas of the humble people who had earlier entrusted their lives to her wisdom and leadership. Mujuru apparently heard things but chose to remain silent. “I didn’t see. But hearing, yes I was hearing.” Yet, others chose to stand up to economic and social imbalances.
Tekere, while not by any means the most perfect person in the world, stood by his beliefs and died a poor man. He did not spend 34 years comfortably atop the political bandwagon. He did not spend three decades with his head determinedly entrenched in the profitable political feeding trough while doing sweet nothing. He did not hold on to the prized probability that he would somehow become president one day. Only after her dream of becoming the first female president had been snatched from her did Mujuru open her eyes to the widespread neediness and hopelessness in Zimbabwe. And were it not for that nasty twist of fate that befell her three years ago, would she not still be a member of Zanu-PF in satisfactory standing?
So, what can Mujuru bring to the anticipated grand coalition, when, by her own admission, she could not do much about the central matters that disturbed all peace-loving Zimbabweans while she held significant responsibilities in government?
However Jestina remains committed to human and women’s rights, respect and tolerance for diversity, justice and public accountability, and helping the defenceless and ostracised, from a comparably modest position at the ZPP. Now, because populists do not make for excellent economic and social bureaucrats half the time – think Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Mobutu Seseko in the DRC, think President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his successor Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, should Zimbabwe change tradition and empower honest technocrats through cabinet positions? Lula was embarrassingly sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison for corruption and money laundering by a court in Brazil earlier this month. His impending political demise casts further light on the fiscal wastefulness and bureaucratic filthiness that feed and water rampant populism in places like Brazil, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
Mujuru is thus undeniably a proud product of her tainted past. How can she not understand how three decades in Zanu-PF Women’s League and state structures should have functioned as the superlative stage to help the people of Zimbabwe? Instead, she dithered and sat around and willingly waited in the wings, ready to soar to the presidency on the back of Zanu-PF structures. Could Mujuru quit politics today, and like Irina Georgia Bokova, a Bulgarian politician, become Director-General of Unesco?
Bokova was responsible for human rights and the equality of women in Bulgaria before being assigned to the United Nations. Could Mujuru swap living in Harare for New York City and become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, with her track record in Zanu-PF politics? Mujuru is the closest personality Zimbabwe has to political royalty, but now, with all the economic and humanitarian challenges the country faces, does she deserve another bite at the cherry? She has certainly made a case for it and mentioned how she worked with the people and had no real executive powers while in government.
But I am afraid that is not good enough for my Aunt Resca, a now-fragile old woman who spent an entire lifetime working as a nurse in hospitals throughout Zimbabwe. She lives in Britain and cannot return home because the health system is so dilapidated and the dearth of experienced personnel and new science and technology and medications in state hospitals has made excellent health care an incredibly foreign notion. She cannot return home and live amongst family and friends and enjoy the fresh and scintillating smells and sounds of Zimbabwe for she would die for it. Yet Mujuru, who claims to be moneyless, has the money to travel around Zimbabwe and visit Europe and even make a pompous appearance on Hardtalk.
So the Mujuru case speaks to our national dreams and aspirations. When the UNDP reports that 82% of the working population is poor, than you know the Zimbabwean dream has been well and truly deferred and devastated by Mujuru and Mutasa types for far too long. I will stand by my aunt Resca and anybody else whose family and dreams have been torn apart by a ruling elite that has failed to empathize with the plight of the people. I will stand by anyone who lost family to political violence. I will stand by Jestina: eternally.
The writer, Tafi Mhaka can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org