Zimbabwe’s President, Emmerson Mnangagwa’s public speaking is increasingly coming under scrutiny.
The reason is that his speeches are not usually short of a particular streak of reference to violence and death.
By Tichaona Zindoga
And his opponents, especially those in the mainstream opposition are latching onto every faux pas to lambast him.
Analysts have also seen the President’s erratic speeches as reflective of the dying intellectualism in the ruling party, Zanu-PF.
Perhaps the problem is even deeper than that: Mnangagwa was always going to struggle on the big stage, having succeeded Robert Mugabe, a consummate, if sometimes self-consumed public orator who straddled Zimbabwe’s politics for 37 years until his fall in November 2017.
On the other hand, Mnangagwa, also known simply as ED, was to compensate his limited speech talents through action, and doing good of the job of running the country.
As it turns out, as the job of running the country appears to be heading south for Mnangagwa, his speeches are getting more attention.
Particular focus has been on why the Head of State has joked about deploying soldiers to beat up people; arresting people for harbouring cockroaches (itself a fraught political symbolism in Zimbabwe’s fragile psyche); and about mortuaries.
“There is something called ‘dark/black humour’ or ‘gallows humour’,” Nick Mangwana, Secretary for Information and Broadcasting Services justified on Twitter earlier in the week.
“This is legit(imate) humour which makes light of a subject ordinarily considered as a taboo or sensitive. In some disciplines dark humour is considered as therapeutic. We should never constrict our sense of humour,” he said on Twitter.
He posted a meme to illustrate that.
Media researcher and lecturer Alexander Rusero sympathises with Mnangagwa – somewhat.
“I personally have not seen anything sensitive or harsh about ED’s statements,” he said, “they are just gaffes made which in the process have proved to be to be out of touch with reality.”
He explained: “People should understand that ED is not sophisticated, neither is he gifted with oratory skills like his predecessor.
“Evaluating ED’s speeches using Mugabe’s benchmark is not only wrong and unfair but also an inevitable invitation to disappointment as has been the case.
“That being said, a lot must be done behind the scenes in terms of choreography, grooming and rehearsals.”
Others are not so forgiving.
“I think Mnangagwa just lacks the intelligence, clarity and depth expected from a person occupying the highest job on the land,” Maxwell Saungweme, an analyst told Review & Mail.
He analysed that the President was either out of touch or reckless and should not have repeatedly made “cold and insensitive jests.”
Jonathan Moyo, arguably Mnangagwa’s harshest critic, is unsparing in his assessment of the President’s speeches.
“There are two historical backdrops and a recent development whose combined consequences expose and explain Mnangagwa’s ideological bankruptcy and shocking speeches which have left many thinking that he has lost his marbles,” said Moyo.
“The first historical backdrop is that Mnangagwa used his long years as minister of state for national security, responsible for the CIO, to cultivate an image of himself as a ruthless and feared intelligence supremo who always gets his way.
“The second historical backdrop is that the late former President Robert Mugabe used Mnangagwa as his chief enforcer or chief executioner. Mnangagwa used his position as Mugabe’s chief doer to create an aura of invincibility around himself.
“It’s notable that Mugabe never used Mnangagwa as a source of ideas, as an advisor or as a thinker but only as an enforcer or executioner. “Mnangagwa took advantage of that to instil fear among his opponents and even colleagues in cabinet and the ZanuPF central committee and politburo.
“The thinkers around Mugabe who were advisors were the likes of Nathan Shamuyarira and Edison Zvobgo, and they had little regard for Mnangagwa whom they treated as Mugabe’s thoughtless enforcer.
“Then there’s a recent development since the November 2017 military wherein Zanu PF has become idealess as a party. The coup killed the thinking side of Zanu PF.
“It’s telling that Zanu PF in general, and Mnangagwa in particular, is now relying on an amorphous group called varakashi, who have distinguished themselves more as crude noisemakers than as thinkers of any kind,” he said.
Moyo claimed that Mnangagwa was a “violent person”, something that reflected in his speeches.
“Mnangagwa is prone to making so-called jokes which have a violent streak because his essentially if not entirely a violent person,” Moyo adjudged.
“His politics are macabre. Since the Maputo days, he has been involved as the chief instigator or chief enforcer of atrocities. That’s why the Gukurahundi burden lies heavily on his shoulders.”
Moyo has an infamous bad blood with the Zimbabwean President and accuses him of orchestrating the 1980s suppression and violence in Midlands and Matabeleland.
Political communication problem?
McDonald Lewanika chooses to see the matter of poor speechmaking as afflicting Zimbabwe’s main political leaders, including opposition MDC Alliance president, Nelson Chamisa.
“ED Mngangagwa’s rhetoric, just like Chamisa’s during the 2018 election campaign trail are gaffes, in bad taste and inappropriate only to an audience that is distant and not in situ when the statements are made,” said Lewanika.
“These otherwise light hearted moments portray and transmit to his present audience a soft, jocular and even personable side that is only identified by those who are in the room – the rest of us who get snipers on social media do not have that context and as a result miss the essence of the ‘jokes’ and a media that is interested in the sensational also does not team it the everything – just enough to alarm and cause controversy.
“However, despite the contextual nature of these uttering and their possible resonance in the room, stadia or hall they are made, they point to deficiencies within the communication culture and strategy of ED and other leaders.
“The first rule to effective political communication is to have clear messages that have little room for being misunderstood and being used against you. So the culture and strategy is poor in that respect. “Second, we are living in the digital age and our politicians must realise that where ever they are they are communicating with more than just the people in the room as such they must be careful not to alliance their broader constituencies while try to please the limited audience in front of them.
“This doesn’t mean that there is no longer room for banter in politics but it suggests that the political image is something in constant curation and sentiments, rhetoric and statements must be well manicured everyday to ensure that the correct and desired image of the leader is being portrayed,” said Lewanika. – Source: Review & Mail