Penguin Books has released two books by Zimbabwean journalists in time to celebrate the first anniversary of the coup that finally put Robert Mugabe’s ruinous reign to an end. These are Ray Ndlovu’s In the Jaws of the Crocodile: Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Rise to Power in Zimbabwe and The Graceless Fall of Robert Mugabe: The End of a Dictator’s Reign by Geoffrey Nyarota.
The books, about the end of Mugabe’s nearly four decades of ruling Zimbabwe, arrive at a time when journalists have to constantly rush to beat tweets and Facebook posts. This haste can work against their claim to be offering something closer to truth’s complexities than can be rendered in 280 characters.
At the time of the coup the international community, the long-suffering urban unemployed and rural peasants, and the business players itching to embrace the graces of a régime “open for business”, hoped that a long-delayed nirvana was just over the horizon.
That vista remains distant: if there was a rainbow – President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised Zimbabwean whites their place back in Zanu-PF’s good books – the pot of gold keeps receding. The long lines of fuel-starved vehicles indicated more about the first birthday of Zimbabwe’s “Second Republic” than Zanu-PF’s comparatively muted celebrations.
‘Queuing after the coup’ seemed an alliteration appropriate to this review of the two books, neither of which does justice to the enormity both of events in Zimbabwe as well as the sheer scale of what’s required to rebuild the country.
‘Romancing the coup’ could also characterise such tales. Ndlovu’s chronicle of Mnangagwa’s adventures bears the hallmarks of a roller-coaster thriller. In the Jaws excurses excitedly through “The Crocodile’s” firing from the vice-presidency, forced exile and escape, his Pretoria-based saviour, corrupt police (contrasted with brave soldier-saints), and his triumphant return to the treasures surely to follow his presidential inauguration.
Nyarota’s more sober historical take characterises former First Lady Grace Mugabe as someone whose treasure map bore little relation to the route she and her fellow plotters in “Generation-40” – the faction conniving to rid their party and country of “Lacoste” (a play on Mnangagwa’s nickname) group – took when they persuaded then President Mugabe to fire his longtime lackey.
Could military commander Constantino Chiwenga save the day and grab the treasure? Now a Vice-President, many credit Chiwenga with organising the “militarily assisted transition” allowing Mnangagwa to cross the river. In The Jaws celebrates the bromance between Chiwenga and Mnangagwa. But circumspection regarding such claims is cautioned.
The real gold lies under Zimbabwe’s putrid piles of economic ruin. Thus hopes are pinned on Mthuli Ncube, Zimbabwe’s new finance minister. These hopes are tied tightly to Zanu-PF’s factional fights for pieces of a Zimbabwean pie as ethereal as the electronic “money” used in the absence of real currency.
Ncube’s fantastical neo-liberal solutions are eerily reminiscent of the economic structural adjustment policies that during the 1990s’ precipitated Zimbabwe’s nosedive. Even the International Monetary Fund had to restrain Ncube’s exuberant “Austerity for Prosperity” plans. Matched with the ruling party’s scrambles and the poor’s impatience, roiling ensues.
Keynesians and neo-liberals alike have little to which they can look forward, although the Confederation of Zimbabwean Industry proclaims that industrial capacity rose by 5% in early 2018. Yet just after mid-year, the little electoral legitimacy on which the global citadels of finance and investment banked slid away. The military killed at least six demonstrators while, as many say, its intelligence corps took over counting the election’s votes.
Neither of the two books portends much of the coup’s consequences. They improve on an unhappy catalog of books on Zimbabwean politics. But the bar is low. The best that can be said of them is that they are good in parts.
Map still missing
Nyarota’s enthusiasm for the new régime is muted, but he’s very happy to see the back of Mugabe and his unruly wife.
Graceless is more about their drawn-out fall than the coup per se. The elder Nyarota’s world-weary schadenfreude contrasts vividly with Ndlovu’s youthful exuberance. Nyarota’s historical depth, if meandering, gives necessary context to last year’s events. His insight into the near-coups in the 1970s that Ndlovu misses completely – when not misconstruing history – is valuable indeed.
Graceless has no interviews: Mugabe’s minders refused Nyarota’s requests. Yet Ndlovu’s one-on-ones are mostly with the victors.
Of course, purported “Generation-40” leader and former cabinet minister Jonathan Moyo’s unstoppable stream of tweets and interviews from wherever resides his physical self, features prominently. But since they are accessible to anyone with the internet they need deconstruction, not replication.
One would expect journalists to criticize Moyo’s nefarious role in his information portfolio (and many others). The elder and the younger don’t disappoint. Unsurprisingly, when the born-again constitutionalist Moyo was interviewed recently he judged Ndlovu’s work as a hagiography for Mnangagwa. Unfortunately, Nyarota’s unpacking of Moyo’s past looks too much like Wikipedia to satisfy.
Moyo’s criticism of In the Jaws goes too far. But both books suggest more questions than answers. Even given publishers’ and the media rushes to keep up with insubstantial and fake news circulating via billions of clicks, this is not enough. Zimbabwe’s treasures haven’t been dug up yet, and these journalists-cum-authors haven’t drawn the map.