During Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe, the metaphor of the rooster has been used to both affirm and critique Mugabe’s continued hold on power. At the same time, this fowl-run space has been used as a microcosm of the Zimbabwean ‘family’ and to order and normalise the hierarchy of family members, using strict gender differences, where members were either masculinised or feminised. While some presented Mugabe (and by extension his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front, the ZANU-PF) as a rooster to dominate forever and be respected with age, some saw him or his party as an old rooster needing replacement by another younger and active one.
In most rural households in Zimbabwe, the dominance of a single rooster is common place and families keep a single mature rooster to avoid fights for power, control and ‘ownership’ of the hens (Mawere 2019, 2016). Throughout his rule, dominant and pro-Mugabe narrations presented him as the Zimbabwean jongwe which is always in control and whose position cannot be taken by any small fowls. Mugabe’s dominance as the rooster also extended to his party, the ZANU-PF (the ZANU-PF party headquarters has a symbol of the rooster and is also referred to as the Jongwe Building) as the rooster that should always dominate other political parties and silence all other voices in Zimbabwe.
In the post-2000 period when Mugabe’s old age disadvantaged him and his party against the younger opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), some of the ZANU-PF campaign literature articulated that the old rooster should remain at the helm because of its ‘maturity, experience and wisdom’. To Mugabe and the ZANU-PF, Tsvangirai and the MDC lacked this maturity, experience and wisdom which the old rooster had. This is why in the post-2000s the ZANU-PF electoral campaigns demanded jongwe mudanga (Mugabe should remain in power) (Mawere 2016). This placed Zimbabwean’s politics of power and control along fowl-run politics where a single male dominates and crushes dissent and threats whenever they appear. Power, dominance, control and ownership are retained through fighting and bullying. The other roosters are forced into silence if they do not match the fighting machinery of the dominant one. Their masculinity is erased and they are relegated to the status occupied by the rest of the fowls and they cannot mate with the females, especially in the presence of the dominant rooster. In this way, violence is seen as a measure of masculinity and power, dominance, control and ownership are gained by feminising others. The presentation of the rooster (and by extension Mugabe and the ZANU-PF) as highly performative reflects the ways in which masculinity is highly performative.
Rural families do not keep a dominant rooster forever, but always identify and groom another rooster to replace the old one when the time is convenient. However, for the young rooster to take over, the old rooster has to be killed and this is usually done during major family functions. Capitalising on this common rural life experience, MDC supporters re/invented the ordinary by adopting jongwe mupoto for its messaging of the inevitability of change, and rejection of ZANU-PF messaging that the rooster stays in position of power forever. The MDC, therefore, rejected ZANU-PF’s re/invention of rural livelihoods for power retention and articulated that old roosters are killed and served as relish and the new generation of roosters take over. In many ways, this shows the fluidity of metaphors and messaging and the refusal of spaces (for example the traditional fowl run) to be monopolised or reflect a single voice. Even the end of Mugabe’s rule in 2017 shows that roosters are replaced. However, at the same time, this message of change does not subvert the naturalised family order of patriarchal, masculine and violent leaders since the old rooster is replaced by another rooster. This puts into question the place of gender in the politics of the MDC as well as in the post-Mugabe era.
Interestingly, when the jongwe was replaced by the Great Zimbabwe as the ZANU-PF party symbol, after casting their votes during elections, some voters jokingly said that they had not seen the jongwe which they were used to, and therefore had cast their votes on its footprint (jongwe hatina kuriona, saka taisa X paratsika). This meant that they had voted for the MDC whose political symbol, the open palm, looks similar to a chicken footprint. This joke, again exemplifies ambivalences in political texts and the abilities of ‘dominated’ groups to convert the elite’s instruments to their own use. This shows how texts are slippery and how humour and the ‘everyday life’ can be part of the marginalised’s constituencies of subversion and resistance (Willems 2010; Mbembe 2001). However, in some ways, the presence of the rooster’s footprints signifies the continued presence of the patriarchal and authoritative order and is therefore a reminder of the gender imbalances characterising Zimbabwean politics and nation-craft.
The metaphor of the rooster has been used to normalise patriarchal, masculine, authoritarian and violent national leadership in Zimbabwe. Although some dissenting voices like the MDC managed to challenge and subvert the metaphor to challenge ZANU-PF’s continued rule, how the metaphor naturalise a gendered nationhood glorifying patriarchal, masculine and violent leaders has remained unchallenged.
Mawere, T. 2019, Gendered and Sexual Imagi(nations), the 2018 Zimbabwean E(r)ections and the Aftermath. Pretoria: CSA&G Press.
Mawere, T. 2016, Decentering Nationalism: Representing and Contesting Chimurenga in Zimbabwean Popular Culture, PhD Dissertation. Cape Town: University of the Western Cape.
Mbembe, A. 2001, On the post colony, Berkeley: University of California.
Ncube, L. 2014, ‘Bhora Mugedhi versus Bhora Musango’: The interface between football discourse and Zimbabwean politics, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, pp. 1-18.
Willems, W. 2010, Beyond dramatic revolutions and grand rebellions: everyday forms of resistance in the Zimbabwe crisis, Communicare: Journal for Communication Sciences in Southern Africa, vol. 29, pp. 1-17.
 Jongwe is a Shona name for a rooster chicken which was Mugabe’s and ZANU-PF’s political symbol before the current image of Great Zimbabwe. Although the rooster chicken was replaced by the magnificent Great Zimbabwe structures, its politics strongly re-emerged after MDC supporters had suggested that an old and weak rooster should be killed and eaten to allow another one to succeed it, and therefore, allowing the succession of roosters (succession of masculine leaders).
 Jongwe mupoto literally means putting the rooster in the pot or cooking the rooster. Literary, it refers to getting rid of Robert Mugabe or the ZANU-PF
 A similar joke relating to the subversion of ZANU-PF’s notion of ‘team’ and ‘scoring the ball’ was ‘I looked for the ball on the ballot papers and couldn’t see it. Looked for the goal posts and could not see them again. I therefore had to choose goalkeepers’ gloves which I found. The team has been beaten’ (Ncube, 2014:14)