On the 30th of November, following his inauguration on the 24th of November 2017, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, popularly known as Lacoste or Garwe/Ngwena in the Shona language, had his cabinet announced after a long wait. This cabinet had 22 ministers, with only 2 were women and not even a single youth. Even the minister responsible for youth, Sithembiso Nyoni is a 68 year woman. Among the ministers, 2 are high ranking serving military personnel, namely, Sibusiso Moyo, the ‘coup’ announcer with the rank of Army General and Perrance Shiri, an Air Marshal. From 2001, war veterans were instituted as a reserve army under the direct command of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) structures, meaning currently, they are seen in military terms. Mnangagwa’s cabinet initially named war veterans namely Christopher Mutsvangwa, and Victor Matemadanda in the cabinet, only to replace them following an outcry on a constitutional breach. Notably, most of the named ministers had once served under the Mugabe administration at some point, or were serving under Mugabe’s last cabinet. Among the chosen ministers, one cannot avoid picking up July Moyo and Kazembe Kazembe who were Mnangagwa’s front runners during the ZANU-PF factional fights that resulted in the change of administration. In deviance or ignorance of the constitution, Mnangagwa had appointed more non parliamentarian ministers than the constitutionally approved 5.
For most Zimbabweans, this cabinet eroded all hope that had perhaps been built during Mnangwagwa’s inauguration, especially by his speech. What followed were wide condemnations which led Mnangagwa to reshuffle his cabinet, dismissing some ministers before even getting to their offices. The reshuffling abandoned the embattled minister of education, Dr Lazarus Dokora who was very unpopular in Mugabe’s administration and Mutsvangwa and Matemadanda were moved to new offices as ‘special advisor’ to the president and ZANU-PF commissariat respectively. Clever Nyati was also dropped as Minister of Labour and Social Welfare and replaced by a woman minister, Petronella Kagonye. With the exit of Mugabe, whose administration had been associated with recycling ‘deadwood,’ corruption, dictatorship, many forms of injustice and inequalities, most Zimbabweans expected new blood and ‘fire’ in the new administrations. Zimbabweans also expected ministers chosen on merit and from across the board, a more representative cabinet and a government moving away from the militarism and the heavy-handedness associated with Mugabe’s administration.
However, the ‘cleansing ceremony’ turned to be a refinement of the system, trapping Zimbabweans into the very system that Mugabe had helped to create. When it wants to catch some juicy flies for its repast, the crocodile simply opens its mouth and patiently waits for the right moment. Attracted by the smell from the crocodile’s big and wide open mouth, flies rush into the mouth for a party, only for the crocodile to suddenly shut its mouth, crushing the little and fleshy flies and enjoying his own party. A closer look reflects that Mnangagwa’s appointments solidifies the Zimbabwean national project that ‘traps’ people in discourses of struggle and a strong-macho nation that is inflexible. This is the same national project that Mugabe had been working on until his power and authority succumbed to the ‘evil’ woman whom he married after his first wife’s death.
Zimbabwean nation-craft: Women, power and space
The events leading to the change of face in the Zimbabwean government administration and the subsequent cabinet requires a close analysis around issue of women, their power and their boundaries in Zimbabwe’s nation craft. In many ways, the dominant narratives show some kind of backlash to the current discourses that seek to ‘de-silence’ women and raise their social, economic and political status as the basis for equality, justice representation and positive development. This is very evident as women who rise because of their own hard work, their liberation history or their association with powerful men, hit a hard wall when they seem to cross their accepted boundaries.
In the 2000s, Joice Mujuru, a war veteran herself, rose within ZANU-PF’s ranks to become one of the country’s Vice Presidents. Although she had been in the liberation struggle and rose within ZANU-PF’s ranks, it cannot be disputed that her late husband and former Army General and king-maker, Solomon Mujuru aka Rex Nhongo directly or indirectly ‘influenced’ her ascendance. However, when she seemed to be Mugabe’s likely successor, she was accused of going to excesses such as causing factions and seeking ‘spiritual’ interventions in a plot to topple Robert Mugabe. This earned her a nickname as the leader of the ‘Gamatox’ faction with the intention of poisoning the ZANU-PF party and its legacy. Gamatox is a very popular and poisonous chemical or an anti-pest used to guard and preserve grain by most Zimbabwean farmers. Emmerson Mnangagwa and Mugabe’s wife, Grace were very influential in the public humiliation of Mujuru and her faction. Consequently, accusations on Mujuru led to her and her associates’ expulsion from both the government and the party. It makes sense to associate Mujuru’s fall with her political rise which threatened male power within ZANU-PF ranks. The idea of having a woman president taking over from Mugabe was probably ‘unthinkable’ in the ZANU-PF party. The same power-matrix can be linked to Grace’s recent political humiliation.
Grace Mugabe’s rise to power is associated with Mugabe’s ‘fall from grace’, and removal from being the architype of Zimbabwean masculinities, amadoda sibili, associated with Zimbabwean gate-keeping and nationhood. Most of the emanating grand discourses have exonerated Mugabe as an unfortunate victim of the ‘evil woman motif’ where the fall of great men is linked to their association with ‘evil’ women. All of Mugabe’s perceived weaknesses are suddenly heaped on Grace. Instead of ‘nurturing’ Mugabe according the expectations of Zimbabwean nationhood, narratives show Grace as having diverted him, used him and usurped his power and authority to erase the liberation legacy and change the national image. In many cases, the national image is symbolically expressed through the character of the national women, specifically those who are public figures. Grace’s entrance into the Zimbabwean public was towards Sally, Mugabe’s first wife’s exit as she became Mugabe’s partner during Sally’s last years and period of pain, ‘predicting’ the start of national bleeding. Although she did not quickly enter into politics, her arrival in the late 1990s coincided with the beginning of a national crisis, collapse and demoralization. As a young wife and associated with the materialistic urbanized women, she is accused of not nurturing Mugabe to let it go. She is suspected of encouraging him to go on and on so that she amasses wealth for herself and also lives a flamboyant life as a First lady, hence the earned nickname ‘Gucci Grace.’ The narrative is that if Sally had been alive, she could have persuaded Mugabe to retire long back. Grace’s inability to nurture, as expected of wifehood, is also extended to her inability to raise modest children as she is blamed for her sons’ various scandals. Her lack of respect and dignity as reflected by her public cursing of people, and attacks on ‘fathers’ of the nation like Mnangagwa, her failure to unite the Zimbabwean ‘family’ but instead trigger divisions also contributed to her said failure as a ‘mother.’ Unfortunately, as Grace entered active politics in the 2000s and with her ascendance to one of the powerful positions of Chairwoman of the ZANU-PF Women’s league in 2014, the national crisis, together with different crises within ZANU-PF heightened with her political rise.
As Grace struggled for power within ZANU-PF and the state, she made efforts to shape herself as a ‘mother’ of the nation through charity work, distributing food and clothes at rallies, orphanage projects and other income generating projects. At public platforms, she proclaimed total support for her husband as a wife who loves, cares and protects. This was an attempt to erase a history that had for long associated her with loose, urban young women who snatch other women’s husbands, commonly known in Zimbabwe as ‘small houses.’ The ‘small houses’ are known for corrupting men and destroying ‘families.’ However, as ZANU-PF factionalism grew, public discourses have recently rejected the dignified mother identity and named her ‘marujata,’ which refers to a loose, pompous wife lacking direction. The perception is that with marujata as the ‘mother of the nation’ the national family is bound for destruction. Unfortunately, the Mnangagwa administration seems to have appropriated the Grace narrative as a disqualification for women leadership. The cabinet appointments cements the military view of ‘operation restore legacy’, a legacy that restricts national leadership by women.
Mnangagwa’s highly masculine cabinet might be seen as some kind of ‘purge’ to the ‘excesses’ of women power such as those demonstrated by Grace Mugabe. Following a public outcome after initially naming only 2 women in his cabinet, the Mnangagwa cabinet now has 4 women, who have been designated to obviously gendered ministries. Prisca Mupfumira got the Tourism and hospitality ministry. This goes along with narratives that proximate women to nature, beauty and their ‘natural’ hospitality, hence ‘attractiveness’ to tourists. The Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate change has been given to Oppah Muchinguri-Rushesha. The ministry is associated with care, preservation and the continuity of life, duties that are associated with womanhood. Petronella Kagonye got the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, projecting women as peace-makers and involved in welfarism. Sithembiso Nyoni was designated to the Ministry of Women and Youth affairs, a ministry that transmit the message that women and youths need to be guided and perhaps policed as shown by the absence of an equivalent ministry for men’s affairs. Also, the ministry itself seems to reduce the status of women as they are grouped with ‘children’ as implied by their categorization with the youths, and with an elderly woman as the ‘overseer.’
Through the barrel of the gun, and not through the bedroom
Speaking at a 2002 ZANU-PF Congress that was covered by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), Mugabe rhetorically asks; “Tsvangison…aah ko anoziva nezvehondo yechimurenga kana kuti akatotiza. Akatiza aenda kunze. Kutya hondo asati atrenwa. Pfocho!!” [Tsvangison…what would he know about the war? He ran away…fled the country, scared of fighting without even being trained]. In the same year, the security chiefs led by General Vitalis Zvinavashe announced that they would not support and salute a president without liberation war credentials. The service chiefs under General Constantino Chiwenga repeated this in the run-up to the 2008 elections. Militarism, which is a sign of masculinity, is therefore a measure for respect and leadership in Zimbabwe. When on the 14th of November the military announced a takeover of ZANU-PF and government administration, they clearly stated that they were responding to the instability within ZANU-PF and the government that was threatening the country. To them, such instability was caused by a new breed of ZANU-PF members without liberation war credentials who had taken over power through their association with Mugabe’s wife.
Grace rose within factional lines that emerged due to Mugabe’s advanced age in the absence of a succession plan. Her ascendance to political power was facilitated by factional lines drawn between those who professed seeking to protect Mugabe’s interests and legacy through handing power to Grace and also feeling discriminated in the politics of power for lacking liberation war credentials. She represents what is politically known as the mafikezolo, those without history and those women, who get positions through association with powerful men rather than through rising through the ranks or sacrificing their lives. Grace herself made it clear that her power was derived from being Mugabe’s wife and dismissed her competitors as Mugabe’s employees who can be ‘fired’ anytime if they misbehave.
However, falling outside the liberation war history, and unfitting within the old guard, Grace associated with a ZANU-PF faction known as Generation 40 (G40). Without liberation war history, G40 has been portrayed as cowards. To buttress their cowardice, they have been feminized so as to sink them into a narrative that implicates women as weak, possible sell-outs and therefore national pollutants through which the nation may get diseased. The Norton constituency parliamentary representative, Temba Mliswa, has often labeled the G40 ‘gay gangsters.’ Such ‘defilement’ has been associated with the Morgan Tsvangirai led Movement for Democratic Change, MDC and meant to portray the ‘gays’ as ‘wives’ to white imperialists. Tsvangirai has also been Anglicized and caricatured as Tsvangson or Teaboy in a show of his foreignness, femininity, homosexuality and incapacity to lead Zimbabwe. In the 1980s, Joshua Nkomo, the late Zimbabwean Vice President was caricatured within the ruling party as having ran away from Zimbabwe wearing a dress, identifying him with women and therefore with weakness. To the military, Grace represents the establishment of what is called, using Zimbabwe’s lingua franca, a ‘petticoat’ government, or a government by women, which is ‘impermissible’ in a nation that emerged from the barrel of the gun. The G40 leadership is feminised and seen as ‘penetrable’ to colonialists and imperialists.
Mugabe’s recall from being leader of the party and government is because his manhood had been compromised and he had used the ‘bedroom’ instead of the liberation war ‘cult’ to decide the nation’s destiny. The presence of army tanks, the flooding of military personnel in full combat on the streets and the military ‘takeover’ dramatizes the power of the gun in determining the Zimbabwean destiny.
The hope that never was
It is clear that flies can never find hope in a crocodile’s mouth. Currently, there is nothing in Mnangagwa’s administration that has shifted towards a more equal, just and progressive nation. The military used people to evade censor from the regional and international world. The current dispensation still mirrors a warrior-masculinist national project that pays attention only to military men and military projects. There is still very little or no space for women and the youths in decisions making and in leadership positions. Particularly for women, it is now difficult to struggle for space as those that seem to make inroads suddenly experience the Sisyphean fall, thus they are heavily brought down to the ground when they are about to get to the top. In fact, the current administration has swallowed the voices of the most oppressed social subjects. The ‘cleansing’ of national dis(Grace) was in line with a parochial project that reserves national leadership for militarized men. The removal of Mugabe, which called for celebrations, did not manage to remove the system that he created. The ordinary people actually became pawns in strengthening the very system under a different mask.
Tinashe Mawere is a researcher in the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies and the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender at the University of Pretoria. Some of above views appear in some of his work around nationalism, gender and sexuality carried out at the University of Western Cape’s Women’s and Gender Studies department and the Centre for Humanities Research and the department of Historical and Heritage Studies and the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender at the University of Pretoria.