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Of prostitutes, frogs, puppets and old men

Foul language is all we have heard from the president’s mouth in the countdown to the March 29 harmonised elections in Zimbabwe. It makes one wonder where the nation will end up. It has come down to electing a “prostitute” (sometimes called a “frog”), a puppet or an old man in the contest for the control of Zimbabwe.

Folks, this is not funny and, of course, there is some unknown guy called Langton Toungana who claims he has been requested by God to run for president. However, he will not say which church he belongs to and will not campaign for fear of his life. I have heard of God working in mysterious ways, but clearly this is not one of them. And if it was, it would be only for Zimbabwe.

In the past weeks, President Robert Mugabe has likened his challenger, Dr Simba Makoni, to a “prostitute” and a “frog”; likewise, Makoni’s sidekick Ibbo Mandaza has called Mugabe “an old man who needs to retire in peace”. Vulgarity has once again shown its ugly face. Since the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999, Zimbabweans have become accustomed to Mugabe’s hostility towards the opposition, especially Morgan Tsvangirai, whom he has labelled a “puppet” of the West. It is not surprising, therefore, that Mugabe has been spitting venom and is likely to do so as new developments take place, such as his “dumping” by Dumiso Dabengwa, one of his senior politicians, in favour of Makoni over the weekend.

Beneath the foul language, however, lies the nation’s crisis. Isn’t it interesting, though, how the current context in Zimbabwe has closed possibilities and left the electorate with settling for an “old-man president”, a “puppet president” or a “prostitute president”? I don’t even want to think of a frog being a commander-in-charge. That would make Zimbabweans frogs too.

Evidently, the war of words will increase in intensity as we approach March 29. What will not increase, though, is the confidence of voters about each of the candidates. Makoni started on a wrong slate, with some analysts even suggesting that he represents Zanu-PF interests. Frankly, Makoni has also not done well in his campaign so far. Listening to him in most of the interviews he has given, one is left with more questions than answers. He is not convincing, but again those in the opposition who argue his Zanu-PF status should just shut up because the majority of them were Zanu-PF as well.

For me, one of Makoni’s shortcomings is his arrogance. If unchecked, he might easily become another Mugabe. Mugabe obviously enjoys the state machinery, but the stakes are against him. Zimbabweans are hungry for change and this is his make-or-break election. He has not drawn the electorate to his side, though. His “prostitute” analogy, for example, has serious overtones of discrimination against certain groups of people — for example, homosexuals, whom he has described as “worse than pigs and dogs”. Clearly, this is insensitive language and contravenes rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Again, Zimbabweans have always had rights in the Constitution, including this very one — the right of free expression. It is the right after expression that they do not have. Such is typical of the current regime. In terms of the MDC, it became useless as soon as it decided to soothe its ego rather than the interests of the nation. My view is that the MDC will perform badly in this election compared to previous ones. The party had the chance but squandered it.

This election and those that have preceded it show that at the heart of the crisis in Zimbabwe is the lack of mature political leadership. Until we break down the mental poverty that seems to characterise many African leaders, we are unlikely to make a breakthrough in the political and economic malaise.

As things stand, I am afraid Zimbabwe will slide into the limbo much faster now than ever before. And driving us there will be the old man, the puppet or the prostitute/frog. The more I think about this, the more I realise that indications are that it will be the old man or the prostitute/frog. I don’t see just how the puppet will make it. It seems to me that the real competition will be between Mugabe and Makoni, and if it does go to the wire as is expected, a second round of elections will be conducted in 21 days. This will be chaotic given the very unpreparedness of the Zimbabwe Elections Commission in this election.

Zimbabweans should therefore brace themselves for post-March 29. Either way, there will be commotion and, God forbid, if it goes the normal route of post-election violence, I am afraid Kofi Annan will have to fly to Harare to broker yet another power-sharing deal. Political leaders in Africa in general and Zimbabwe in this case never cease to amaze us — it is as if Ayi Kwei Armah had Zimbabwe in mind when he scripted his seminal work The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born.

So where will this election leave us? It leaves where we were in 2000. The more things have changed, the more they have remained the same. Maybe Zimbabweans should vote for Langton Toungana, for a change — he will be a messianic president.

I have chosen to write in the language that the presidential candidates speak and hopefully understand.


  • Bhekinkosi Moyo is trained in political science and currently shuttles between Southern Africa and West Africa. He works for TrustAfrica-a Pan African oriented foundation that works to secure the conditions for democratic governance and equitable development. In 2007, he edited a collection of chapters: Africa in Global Power Play. He has just completed editing an 18 country book on DisEnabling the Public Sphere: Civil Society Regulation in Africa.