From Marie Antoinette, Imelda Marcos, Eleanor Roosevelt, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to Sally and Grace Mugabe, these prominent women played significant roles in shaping political processes in their own countries including bringing good fortune and misfortunes to the political careers of their loved ones.
It is now close to a year since the unfortunate and untimely death (on March 6) of Susan, wife of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. May her soul rest in peace. I want to take this opportunity to interrogate the possible romantic political meanings to the political life of the MDC leader, Tsvangirai.
History has shown that the wives of political players are sources of stability or instability to the political life of their husbands.
They can be sources of wise counsel to their spouses and can help prolong their incumbency. In the case of Tsvangirai, this is so critical because the recovery of Tsvangirai from that sad episode in his life can possibly determine his political life. It is also possible that his moving on to a new romance can also be the source of his downfall or political Waterloo, if not handled properly.
Tsvangirai has so far survived many misfortunes which include an attempt on his life when unknown thugs attacked him but failed to throw him out of the window of an upper storey building in Harare while he was serving as the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in 1997.
He was also acquitted by the High Court in 2004 of a treason charge for allegedly attempting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe’s government.
On March 11 2007 during the Save Zimbabwe Prayer Campaign, the premier together with other political and civil society leaders was brutally beaten while in police custody at Machipisa Police Station.
While he survived the political violence from his opponents and a plethora of electoral mishaps, can he survive the risks of venturing into romantic relationships following the unfortunate death of Amai Tsvangirai?
From my experience and understanding the late Susan was a mature and modest woman, scandal free and very compassionate. Without doubt, Susan was a source of political stability to Tsvangirai. She was a woman with stature and capacity to handle the political dynamics of the party.
Susan also created political balance and stability for her husband in his party in that there were no reported problems within the MDC linked to her.
I never came across information in the public realm that suggested that Susan was linked to any power factions in the MDC. During the bitter war with the other MDC formation led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara back in 2005, Susan was never implicated for playing any negative role during the split of the party. This suggests that the majority in the MDC power hierarchy was comfortable with her.
She was therefore a source of unity for the MDC and assisted to shape Tsvangirai into the national leader he has become today. Unfortunately she is not around to enjoy the fruits of that critical political role she played.
When Susan passed on I was studying in the US and a colleague of mine in civil society, Gladys Hlatywayo called me from Geneva where she was attending a seminar virtually crying over the loss.
The next call was from my friend Phillip Pasirayi after Susan’s burial in Buhera. He said musicians, poets, politicians from across the political divide, diplomats, representatives of African governments were there to pay their last respects to Susan. That indicated that she was a person who could unite and bring people together during her life.
I sent my condolences to the Tsvangirai family. To me Susan was a motherly person and had the capacity to bring people together and provide wise counsel as well.
My encounter with her was after the March 2002 presidential election. I was working at the Daily News as chief reporter and wrote a story in which I exposed that results of the elections were rigged in favour of Mugabe. However Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede called a media conference to rebut the story.
During the media conference, Mudede threatened to beat me up and called his security guards to throw me out. All this was filmed by the ZBC and it later appeared on the main news at eight.
A week later I went to a press briefing at Tsvangirai’s residence and Susan called me aside and pleaded with me to be very careful in my work as it posed a danger to my life. She talked to me like a mother. I took heed of her concerns.
My argument is that if Tsvangirai fails to handle his romantic life as he seeks a new wife he could be in the same situation Mugabe got into when the late Amai Sally Mugabe passed away in 1992 (may her soul rest in peace). There is a general belief among Zimbabweans that the late Sally was a compassionate scandal-free lady, and she assisted Mugabe compared to the current First Lady Grace.
The late Sally was a mature and compassion ate woman. She was not involved in building mansions in a country engulfed with poverty and misery unlike Grace. She was not involved in extravagant shopping at international shops unlike successor Grace who is well known worldwide for her shopping sprees, and attacked a British journalist in Hong Kong in 2009 while shopping and visiting her daughter Bona.
In short, Sally brought political capital to Mugabe. She was a source of good fortune to the First Family. There is a general belief among Zimbabweans that the death of Sally marked the beginning of Mugabe’s political misfortunes as evidenced by the massive civil servants strike in August 1996.
The strike came after Mugabe’s lavish wedding to Grace in Kutama the same year. The public servants’ protest against poor conditions of service was precipitated by the sumptuous spending associated with the wedding.
There are other cases worldwide where First Ladies were a source of political misfortune for their husbands that Tsvangirai should learn from. People would remember that former South African President Nelson Mandela divorced Winnie Madikezela-Mandela when he realised that she was a source of political instability because of her scandals that had the potential to destroy Mandela’s political brand.
During the French Revolution that began in 1789, history students appreciate the political disaster in Marie Antoinette, the wife of French King Louis XVI when she said protestors should be given cakes when there were shortages of bread. Imelda Marcos, the wife of the late Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos was known for her corrupt activities and her unquenchable thirst for expensive fashion.
The late Zairean leader, Mobutu Sese Seko’s wife, Marie-Antoinette was well known for her shopping in Europe whilst the country was engulfed in poverty and civil strife.
The late US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a humanitarian, a pioneer of modern day human rights and played a leading role in the formation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
One does not need to be a romance sangoma to realise that at some point Tsvangirai would need a partner. He must realise that he needs a woman not just for himself but also for the whole nation who will neither destabilise him nor the party.
There are without doubt romantic doves hovering over him seeking partnership. People could be busy bringing possible candidates to him. There is nothing wrong with that as long as those people are not indirectly plotting his ultimate demise. Tsvangirai should be wary.
Great author William Shakespeare in his plays always contemplated the strong conflict between reason and emotion and the disorder that arises when reason is obliterated. The MDC leader needs to create a balance as he searches for a life after Susan in order to avoid political downfall through romance.
Pedzisai Ruhanya is a political analyst.