In the second week of March 2017 and nearly two and a half years since being expelled from the ruling party ZANU (PF), Joice Mujuru, Zimbabwe’s former vice-President and close ally of the country’s long-serving leader President Robert Mugabe visited the United Kingdom and placed herself in front of two of the most feared political interviewers in the world.
First, she threw herself in front of Tim Sebastian for his Conflict Zone programme on German TV channel Deustche Welle (DW). The no nonsense hard-hitting former host of BBC’s Hard Talk programme showed he had lost none of the pugilistic interviewing style which made him a household name. With his menacing calmness, he threw punch after punch, landing blow after blow at a seemingly hapless Joice Mujuru. That she lasted the course is a credit to a woman who has been famed for downing a helicopter as a young girl during Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.
Before the leader of the newly re-branded National People’s Party could breathe, she found herself in the ring with an equally ruthless Tim Sebastian’s successor at the BBC’s Hard Talk, Stephen Sackur. Sackur picked up from where his predecessor left and pummelled Zimbabwe’s former vice-President with questions about her role in a government which has been accused of committing some of the most heinous politically motivated crimes and atrocities. She tried to duck and dive but every punch landed in what became a painful viewing. In a boxing match, Joice Mujuru’s corner would have thrown in the white towel in surrender.
To say the presidential aspirant was dismal in the interviews would be an understatement. Zimbabwe’s national daily newspapers were unusually on the same side in their assessment of her performance. “Mujuru lies about family wealth”, led the government controlled The Herald. “Mujuru in shock U-turn” screamed the independent News Day. The Daily News took a softer line by simply going with quotes from her attempted explanations.
The response from Zimbabweans on social media has not been kind either. Comments across all platforms have been the proverbial “kicking someone while they are down”. Her pleading ignorance to everything that happened in Zimbabwe especially when she was the country Number 2 did not go down well with Zimbabweans online. But has Joice Teurairopa Mujuru authored her own political funeral as suggested by social media reaction?
To write Joice Mujuru chances off in Zimbabwe’s politics based on her showing before Tim Sebastian and Stephen Sackur shows a total lack of understanding of the country’s electoral landscape. Zimbabwe is a unique place politically. Strange things continue to happen. That ZANU (PF) remains in power despite overseeing a record economic decline with inflation running into hundreds of millions, is one of the most inexplicable phenomena in global politics. In an environment where such is possible, before writing off Joyce Mujuru one needs to understand why ZANU (PF) can win a parliamentary seat fielding Joseph Chinotimba or why Morgan Tsvangirai remains as popular despite all the personal and political calamities to befall him especially since 2008.
It needs to be understood that perhaps more than 80% of Zimbabwe’s electorate do not live or know the sophisticated Zimbabwe which we portray on social media. The majority of them will vote based on something as basic as who last gave them a free 5 kilogramme bag of maize. Chinotimba’s strategy leading up to the election in 2013 included joining people in their fields during harvest time and getting involved in solving problems such as someone’s goats grazing in a neighbour’s field. These people, who constitute the majority voters, have zero relationship with what the minority urban dwellers call problems. They have never had electricity or running water in their homes so can’t be expected to share the urbanite’s frustration with ZESA (the electricity supply authority) or the city council. They will happily receive goodies taken from Zimbabwe Revenue Authority impound warehouses at Grace Mugabe’s rallies and sing her praises as the “excellent Amai”. You can’t win them over by telling GDP and international trade stories.
Joice Mujuru therefore may appear as a political buffoon with little to no political intellect to the “sophisticated” elite when she appears before the likes of Sebastian and Sackur, but that will count for nothing when she rolls into rural Mashonaland Central where those who will get you to the State House a based. The same elite would have seen Morgan Tsvangirai as another bungling buffoon because he didn’t know the etiquette that goes with inspecting a guard of honour in Germany, yet the same Morgan identifies with a 60-year old grandmother in rural Zimbabwe by simply eating her roasted maize out of her dirty pan in a round mud-hut while talking about her pregnant goats, all this through the blinding smoke of a poorly burning fire.
Noah Manyika, Nkosana Moyo and dozens of others poised to join the fray ahead of the 2018 plebiscite mean well and would maybe totally transform Zimbabwe in the shortest of time if given a chance. They however need to know that if they are to get anywhere as close as Morgan Tsvangirai got to assuming power, they must be able to say “gogogoi ndauyawo” in Mukumbura or Buhera. ZANU (PF) has some Harvard and Oxford educated people in its ranks, but when you see them dancing “kongonya” at some dusty rural outpost it’s because they know who matters in the ballot booth.