HomeEditorial CommentClumsy transition: Our political legacy

Clumsy transition: Our political legacy

Our most decorated global project and sprinter par excellence fidgeted most clumsily with the relay baton from one hand to the other, all of 30 years!


With an anxious global crowd ululating and cheering in awe and wonder and a furious local crowd jeering in frenzied fear and economic agony; with mountains of tablets and an abundance sirens accompanying his final hour, Robert Mugabe huffed and puffed, fumbled and stumbled on the track. He broke his fall in bravado, but never quite knew where his finishing line was or indeed what the hell to do with that baton stick once his sorry race was run. Our hero fell most unceremoniously on the relay baton.

Clearly, the exhausted clinger to the Zimbabwean political baton was as clumsy at passing the stick on as were the stampeding multiple recipients of that stick at receiving it! Zimbabweans, as usual, remain frozen in perennial political anxiety, suspicion and fear in the country’s typical, gripping lack of ease and political flow.

What will it take for our African governments and political parties and institutions and leaders to learn to dance their dance and leave the dance floor graciously — while the music is still with them? Is there always need for this succession jambanja — the pressure of senility, diminishing health and absolute loss of capacity that forces our political leaders to make important strategic succession decisions at an emotional eleventh hour, on their virtual death beds?

The world’s most successful Olympians will tell you that the gruelling vigour and time invested in team chemistry, camaraderie and the painstaking efficacy of seamless passing on of the baton stick from one sprinter to the next, is more important a success factor at the Olympic relay than the speed of the individual sprinter per se.

Indeed, there is evidence that most successful Olympic relay teams over the proud history of IAAF both in the 100 and the 400 metre version of relay history have not necessarily been that feared combination of the world’s four fastest individual national sprinters. No. Rather, the golden podium has, cumulatively been dominated and graced by those relay countries that have mastered succession planning, the astute art of baton transition and effective team chemistry — even where one of the athletes is an average speedstar.

The collective speed of Gatlin, Christian Coleman, Tyson Gay and Bracy Marvin is furious and record-bashing. But it is the blink-perfect change-over of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Julian Forte, Michael Campbell that makes the Jamaican quartet world famous and virtually unbeatable.

My daughter reckons, naturally Africans are better at the marathons because it is for all intents and purposes, a selfish race, no co-operation, no buton change — you start alone and finish alone!

The sorely evident crisis of leadership succession in our government, as in our political formation is a deeply symbolic concern and a worrying indication of our dysfunctional and poorly premised political culture of personality culting, ethnocracy, othering and exclusion, prejudice and discrimination and the massive national bankruptcy of unifying, visionary leadership, national cohesion and a compelling and binding national vision.

It is jolting to the spine that a proud nation as ours, a nation of civilised, educated and seasoned citizens, can find itself having to resort to and to rely on gun power and to celebrate the involuntary departure of leaders at the virtual end of a barrel.

Water under the bridge, granted. But the poor or non-existent succession planning and the riveting turf wars that spilled from the ruling party directly onto the national governance domain, have far-reaching implications for our society. The entrenched culture of vengeance, uncertainty and fear grips and holds back the energies of the people. Society is increasingly reduced to cliff-hanging and witch-hunting gangs and counter gangs of a mafia nature, forever in war mode sniffing opportunity scheming to unmask and undo one another. Efforts at building common purpose are inevitably subject to the pervasive ramifications of continued patronage and selective governance.

While we conveniently forget that those Zimbabweans opposed to our political ideas are no less Zimbabweans than ourselves, nation-building is a far cry. While we treat Zimbabwean citizens who happen to be pro-Mugabe, proZapu, proNkosana Moyo, proJoice Mujuru or even anti-politics as less deserving of national resources than ourselves, the pursuit of effective citizenship remains a dream.

The failure to manage leadership change his been as glaring in Zanu PF as it is in what is supposed to be the most transparent, robust and democratic institution of our politics, the MDC. Except he lacks the benefit of a caring army to gun point his overdue departure and mid-wife his party succession, Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC boast the same leadership and succession poverty as Zanu PF the party they seek to depose.

It is not uncommon in our organisations, political and other, that the deputy president portfolio, is an uninspiring tokenist position that wields empty power and scant influence in the scheme of things. Resultantly, in our tribally anchored culture, the VP portfolio is often reserved to placate and appease irritating social constituencies, such as women, youth, disabilities and the Ndebele. Consequently, that portfolio is never granted any thinking of a future, logical upgrade to the substantive presidency. It is rarely ever consciously capacitated for or perceived as potential leader of party, government or organisation — it is a dead-end portfolio.

It is when, as is the case with MDC now, the incumbent president has to vacate his position that the succession shambolics emerge. While every pointer may suggest that Thokozani Khupe, long-time vice, amply qualified, great leadership poise, congress elected, extensively experienced should now step up and lead, it is the strong sense of personal and tribal entitlement to the organisation that kicks in and seeks to topple the legitimate expectations in favour of considerations non-democratic.

The emergence and eleventh hour ratcheting of quick-fix presidents can only fuel the deep reactions in the party and further entrench patronage. Zimbabwe needs a deep and urgent re-think of its entire political culture and ecosystem if we hope to ever build any meaningful, unified and cohesive nationhood.

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