At Sea without a Rudder

As any sailor or passenger on a boat at sea will tell you, a ship needs a rudder and firm control of just where the boat is going. In open seas, the loss of rudder control can lead to the boat turning sideways to the sea and being swamped. Close to shore the dangers are many including running onto the rocks and being smashed up by the waves. In all cases the passengers face the very real danger of drowning or being cast adrift in a life boat at the mercy of the weather.

Political life is no different – Jesus said once “in the world, you will have tribulation”, not maybe, or in tough times, and we need to recognise that the political seas that cover the globe are turbulent and storms are frequent. In these circumstances it is important to have a person of capacity and experience at the helm of the State. In addition the person controlling the helm must have a clear idea of where he is going.

In Zimbabwe today we are adrift in a storm; the captain of this small ship is no longer capable of either steering the ship or giving directions to those who might take over. He cannot even agree who should take over the helm – not even when he is absent from the country – he trusts no one.

As a consequence the Zimbabwe ship is adrift on a stormy sea and quite frankly anything could happen. Below the decks chaos reigns – near panic is setting in and no one can agree on what should be done. What should happen is that the crew and the passengers should sit down and agree on who should take the helm and set a course that will get us to safety.

In recent history I can think of two situations that are very similar to our own – China when Mau was reaching the end of his life and Malawi when Banda was also near the end of his life and tenure as the President of Malawi. Both men had held absolute power for many decades, both were regarded as the founding fathers of their countries, both led totalitarian regimes where opponents and competitors were simply not allowed – not even when it was painfully obvious to all with eyes to see, that they were no longer capable of exercising their power and control.

What also stands out for me is that both men had “wives” who were half their age, politically ambitious and determined to take over, even using the incapacity of their husbands as a tool and an opportunity to pursue their ambitions. Both women had a small coterie of powerful and ambitious men and women around them and they both plotted to take over control of the helm of State when the inevitable happened. Both failed in their aspirations and suffered a harsh fate which was little mourned by the people whose rights they sought to subvert.

Ten years ago we had the Army saying that anyone who had not fought in the liberation war could have the right to take over the helm of State. This was obviously directed at Morgan Tsvangirai who was never a combatant although he supported the struggle like most Zimbabweans. Last week on Friday it was a full page advert in the papers saying that no one except someone carrying the name of Mugabe could replace Robert Mugabe as President. The adverts were inserted by the Zanu PF Youth League whose leadership has an average age well beyond the youth category.

I found this both amusing and instructive – the fact that even the Youth League of the Party now accepted that Mr Mugabe is no longer capable of controlling the helm and will have to be replaced in the near future. The only problem is that the Party could never agree on just who should take the helm and certainly the old autocrat is not going to give any directions – just like Mau and Banda. It will have to be others who actually choose the next helmsman and see to it that he takes control.

Concern over the control and direction of the Zimbabwean State is growing in many countries. Those with direct interests – perhaps passengers on board or cargo in the hold or shares in the vessel itself, are watching anxiously and I hear that South Africa, China and the United Kingdom are all trying to marshal support for one of the two Vice Presidents to take control of the helm. That VP does not speak Ndebele and is both clever and devious, the silent master mind behind the 2013 elections that restored full control of the ship to Mr Mugabe.

The problem with that solution is that the passengers are not at all happy with such a choice. In addition, many other countries with interests in our situation are not happy about the direction in which the substitute helmsman would take the country.

So we are faced with numerous problems – how to survive while adrift and facing the possibility of capsizing or running onto the rocks; who, to put in charge of the helm and how to make that decision; what port to target as our safe haven; then to leave it to the crew or insist that the passengers, who are many more, should also be consulted.

Incredibly one faction of the crew wants the Old Man to continue at the helm and are pretending that he is still in charge and capable of steering the ship, even if he cannot climb the steps to the bridge on his own and then has to be helped to stand at the wheel. The problem for them comes when the Old Man must rest or go for medical treatment. They are terrified that he may become incapable of even the pretense of being in control. For them the clock is ticking.

For the other faction in the Party and the passengers, the choices are more complex – take the bridge by force? Conduct an election and then enforce new leadership at the helm? If we go for a vote, the passengers will carry the day and this is viewed with concern by the other faction. Not all the passengers are happy with the likely outcome of a simple majority vote and want a compromise – the creation of a small group who will take the helm and set the course.

So we drift in the open sea, the wind is rising and the seas getting rougher but land is nowhere in sight and confusion reins on board.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 7th February 2017