Two days after former President Robert Mugabe fired Professor Jonathan Moyo, I received a meeting request from the former information and publicity minister. It was a crazy, unpredictable time.
By Tafi Mhaka
Professor had just been dropped from cabinet and expelled from Zanu-PF, right after registering as an independent candidate for the March 31, 2005 parliamentary election.
I felt slightly anxious about going to a government house in Gun Hill in the midst of widespread consequences over the so-called Tsholotsho Declaration, but went anyway.
When I arrived at the gate, two men, whom I presumed to be CIO operatives, didn’t say much and let me through. That day, I met Prof’s lovely wife and children for the first time.
Greetings aside, I really felt sorry for him. His time in government had ended on an extremely low and embarrassing note. Yet I was delighted to join a fight against Zanu-PF as I believed in his right to go to the people of Tsholotsho to seek democratic redress and secure a future in politics.
Because unlike most Zanu-PF MPs, who routinely did very little for their constituents, Prof had performed wonders in Tsholotsho and that mattered to me.
After the systemic inequalities brewed by the Gukurahundi massacres and the absolute dereliction of duty the government had long displayed towards the developmental needs of ethnic minorities in Matabeleland, I believed Tsholotsho deserved to enjoy the benefit of a smart, hardworking and dynamic representative.
As a cabinet minister, Prof had campaigned for the construction of a commercial bank, new roads, a GMB depot, improved school facilities and introduction of cell phone coverage in Tsholotsho.
The former UZ lecturer had also donated computers to underprivileged schools and established a scholarship fund for bright disadvantaged pupils.
So whatever had gone wrong in the halls of power in Harare, I was convinced that the residents of Tsholotsho would have the final say in Prof’s floundering political career.
Anyway, in the meeting, Prof explained that he’d be standing as an independent candidate in the Tsholotsho poll and campaign materials must be produced.
He didn’t exactly ask if I would want to be part of the campaign team. He in fact simply delved into the details. Still, I didn’t so much as say yes or no. I just ran with it.
My particular area of expertise was communications. However, this was no ordinary campaign, but a most visible, combative political campaign.
To my credit, though, I was fearless and had great organisational skills, a can-do attitude, a very diverse skillset and an untiring work ethic.
Plus I knew my way around town, had worked for a top advertising agency for several years and could single handedly put together a communication campaign.
Prof, meanwhile, had produced a catchy song titled ‘Phambili Le Tsholotsho’; so I also worked on manufacturing cassettes and printing the campaign manifesto, posters, t-shirts and caps.
It wasn’t easy, as a lot of suppliers and printers were reluctant to produce anti-Zanu-PF materials for Prof. Many were afraid he wouldn’t pay them; others just didn’t want to be victimised for seemingly helping a Zanu-PF rebel.
Be that as it may, working with a number of young, resourceful and savvy printers, I got the job done. All the while, Professor had formed a small campaign team and work had begun in Tsholotsho and Harare.
To begin with, I transported campaign materials to Bulawayo. And to avoid the prying eyes of the ZRP at roadblocks or any meddlesome characters that might confiscate or destroy the collaterals, I often drove to Bulawayo late at night, alone.
I went back and forth, between Harare and Bulawayo, until all the campaign materials were safely stored in Bulawayo. Then, I bid goodbye to my dad and moved to our campaign base in Bulawayo. Two or three weeks later, Prof came through and everyone stayed in Bulawayo for a short while.
Later on, the whole team moved to a big house in Tsholotsho.
The place was a hive of activity. There, I would vet news teams eager to interview Prof every morning.
And for about a month, we would wake up at six in the morning to hit the campaign trail, only to return after sunset.
The Tsholotsho parliamentary poll elicited tremendous attention and every outing was an unimaginably surreal and unforgettable experience.
It wasn’t without controversy or difficulties, but our team comprised a great number of good, honourable men and women who put everything on the line to win.
The team crisscrossed every square inch of Tsholotsho distributing campaign materials and meeting ordinary folks, headmen and chiefs.
Every day at night, when all was said and done, my cousin Wellington and I would wind down with a few cold drinks at a bar at Tsholotsho business centre and that was always plenty of fun.
All in all, it was a fascinating time and contrary to every expectation, Prof won; and the euphoria of the moment was simply exhilarating.
Yet, it didn’t last long.
A day after I had returned to Harare, I passed through the bar at the Paraplegic Sports Club in Mabelreign, with my uncle from Honde Valley.
Unfortunately, when it was time to go home, my uncle had disappeared. I searched everywhere and asked everyone about his whereabouts, right until the bar closed, but couldn’t find him.
Mystified and astounded by my uncle’s inexplicable, ghastly absence, I drove home somewhat depressed. Fortunately, he returned the next morning.
However, mistaken for Wellington, he had been abducted by three men and severely beaten. As the paid thugs beat him, they reportedly went on and on about “who does Tafi think he is?”, “tell him to be careful” and “we’ll get him”.
I told Prof about the incident, but didn’t regret working on the Tsholotsho campaign, as I really didn’t fear anything. Although “they” had followed me and harmed my uncle, I had always understood that participating in an eminent electoral campaign against a Zanu-PF candidate carried great risks.
This is why in 2009, I couldn’t help but wonder why Prof re-joined Zanu-PF.
Clearly he is adept at promoting opposition standpoints and did well as an independent MP. Further still, his early writings obviously depict a man with great understanding of Zanu-PF’s conservative obstinacy and propensity for violence.
More so, his professional communication while in government suggests a certain disdain for the MDC. So does his reluctance to join the MDC.
Although, I must add that during the Tsholotsho campaign, Zanu-PF, not the MDC, was our declared enemy.
Yet, at present, as his name is often entangled with Nelson Chamisa’s current challenges, it is very difficult to reconcile this reportedly MDC-leaning Prof with the fearlessly independent Tsholotsho candidate of old or the lucid, provocative government critic of the pre-2000 era. And it is incredibly hard to see him stuck to simply politicking on Twitter.
Indeed, he must return home to face up to the men that ran him out of town, even if that means spending time in a jail cell. He must stand by his documented convictions and stand for election in the 2023 harmonised poll as an independent candidate.
Leaning on Chamisa and subsequently distorting the MDC-A message with problematic analyses of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF is hardly necessary and does little to moderate the many anti-MDC policies Prof fronted as a government minister.
Despite promoting local arts and music superbly well, Prof also introduced AIPPA and became an enthusiastic apologist for Zanu-PF’s murderous 2002 presidential campaign.
Undeniably, although he was not responsible for every Zanu-PF transgression, he became the ubiquitous, overwhelming manifestation of Zanu-PF’s steely repression from 2000 to late 2004.
Many people believe he actually organised the terror that often engulfed MDC activists and supporters back then.
Yet, even though I spent a lot of time working with Prof, I didn’t tell him that and never asked about his relationship with Mugabe, especially in light of his father’s death at the hands of the 5TH Brigade during the Gukurahundi massacres.
He may never have understood what drove me to go to Tsholotsho, but informed by my childhood experiences in Matabeleland and a yearning to promote multi-ethnic politics, I had my own unsaid objectives to fulfil.
So Prof re-joining Zanu-PF did betray the profoundly stimulating and progressive spirit of our 2005 campaign. Still, all is not lost. Despite being hounded into exile after the November 2017 coup, Prof remains enormously influential in Zimbabwe’s turbulent and ever-changing politics.
His twitter feed is incredibly popular and the man obviously still has strategic allies in government that don’t buy into the new dispensation propaganda. But that energy must be converted into something more solid than seemingly merely banking on a Chamisa victory in the 2023 poll.
Prof is destined to be bigger than an exiled Twitter personality. Besides, that massive social media presence won’t get him back into parliament: winning the Tsholotsho North parliamentary seat will.
Prof must walk down the just, democratic and independent political path again; that is what made him a force to be reckoned with in the first place.
More crucially, he must begin to understand the harm caused by Zanu-PF in countless communities remains and learn to adopt a strongly apologetic, progressive tone.
Prof, today, must look beyond the MDC Alliance.
He really doesn’t need Chamisa to get back to the top.
He just needs to find himself again.
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, will be published in 2020.