One of the biggest assignments on Zimbabwe’s slippery political lanscape is being appointed the Zanu PF commissar, effectively the former guerrilla movement’s chief organiser.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Webster Shamu, remains the only surviving politician to have held the position and completed his term of office unlike his predecessors who all curiously perished in “Saturday accidents”.
But the former ICT minister will be remembered more for his bootlicking than for his ability to leave the hot seat unscathed. Known for his lucid tongue, especially when giving platitudes to President Robert Mugabe, Shamu’s political career can be traced to the 1970s bush-war that brought majority rule in 1980. He reportedly skipped the border into neighbouring Mozambique after abandoning his job with the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation where he worked as a disc-jockey.
Not much is known of his wartime activities, but Shamu reappeared at independence to become a youth leader in Zanu PF and is credited with establishing the 21st February Movement meant to celebrate Mugabe’s birthday. He also served as editor of the Zanu PF mouthpiece The People’s Voice, before he was appointed to government after the 2000 parliamentary elections.
His cabinet portfolios include Industry and International Trade, Policy Implementation, Information and Broadcasting Services as well as Information Technology and Courier Services before he was “baby dumped” together with a group of officials accused of plotting to oust Mugabe and replace him with then Vice-President Joice Mujuru.
Shamu’s exploits as a government minister were not as colourful as those at party level where he was master of ceremonies at many party jamborees. Shamu was an apple-polisher of unparalleled eloquence, showering Mugabe with lurid citations. In 2011 he described the nonagenarian as “Cremora”, a popular local powdered milk brand.
He shocked many by saying: “Gushungo, people say you have Cremora . . . the whole body.
“The world over, President, is about you. They fear you and that is why they are doing all this. There is no President the world over who has degrees like President Mugabe. He is brainy and that’s why he is feared. You fought the liberation struggle for a long time and you should also rule for as long as you want.”
The lickspittle did not end there as in 2012, Shamu gushed that if he had a choice, he would have become one of the Zimbabwean leader’s children.
“If I was given the option to choose my father before birth, where would I go? I would have been Chatunga’s elder brother. I would have been number one at First House, at President Mugabe’s house.
“I would have said that’s where I want to be born,” Shamu said while officiating at the Harare International Festival of the Arts Press conference in 2012.
However, things turned bad for the journalist-turned politician when fierce factional fights for Mugabe’s throne within Zanu PF split the party into two warring factions — one led by Mujuru and another by her successor Emmerson Mnangagwa. Shamu was accused of being a member of the Mujuru faction and was at the wrong end of a serious tongue lashing by First Lady Grace Mugabe and the President in the aftermath of the youth congress mid-last year.
Mujuru was accused of seeking to topple Mugabe by force and was kicked out of the party she had called her political home for the better part of four decades.
Grace accused Shamu and his wife Constance of abusing donations from the First Family, as well as selling party regalia as the knife was twisted in ahead of the December congress, while Mugabe accused the then cabinet minister of “sleeping on the wheel during his tenure as party commissar”.
Mugabe did not mince his words either.
“Organisationally, the party was not quite able to restructure, recruit and grow itself in a tangible way. That constitutes a failure on the part of the Commissariat’s work away from the current jostling and pushing for positions,” said the Zanu PF leader, adding he could never “countenance being succeeded by something that cannot define its ideology” in reference to the opposition.
Shunned by the party and his position as master of ceremonies taken away; Shamu cut a forlorn, sorry and pitiful sight during the Zanu PF emotive congress last year.
Youths aligned to Mnangagwa weighed in, claiming Shamu and other senior party officials, who have also fallen through the trap-door, deliberately rigged elections to ensure Mujuru allies won.
But a brief flirtation with Mujuru that saw Shamu attending the former Vice-President’s graduation ceremony in October last year held in Dotito served to confirm his inclinations.
Shamu is also at the centre of a storm involving at least 300 000 party membership cards that have not been accounted for and reports indicate he will soon be investigated over the issue.
In a report to the party ahead of the fateful congress, Shamu tried to exonerate himself from any wrongdoing, claiming he had funded the party from his own pocket.
The then whimpering Shamu claimed in the report that he had contributed $5 000 towards the renovation of Mugabe’s office at the Zanu PF headquarters. This generosity did not save his skin.
Even an apology to the First Family over alleged abuse of party resources including seed meant for communal farmers and more brown-nosing could not save his neck from the chopping block.
Party insiders said Shamu was a victim of politics and did absolutely nothing with his functions taken over by then chief Mujuru faction storm-trooper and party secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa.
Shamu, along with other stalwarts including Mujuru, Mutasa and then information chief Rugare Gumbo and War Veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda were reduced to mere card-carrying members.
However, political misfortunes Shamu should be contend that he still has his head and neck intact given the fate that befell his predecessors.
In April 2001, Zanu PF national commissar and Youth and Employment Creation minister Border Gezi died after his Mercedes-Benz reportedly burst a tyre while travelling to Masvingo for a restructuring exercise.
Less than a month later, his successor Moven Mahachi died in a suspicious car crush in Nyanga and Zanu PF tried to incriminate opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the botched treason trial involving former Israeli spy Ari Ben Menashe.
Fast forward to December 2008, Gezi’s successor at both party, government and Parliamentary seat, Elliot Manyika also died in another mysterious accident when his Mercedes-Benz burst a tyre, resulting in the driver losing control, along the Zvishavane-Masvingo road. His vehicle mysteriously or miraculously was tailed by a doctor’s car, who witnessed the accident and ferried him to Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo, where he was pronounced dead on admission.
Shamu has since been suspended for two years from the party but retained his parliamentary seat and is now back-bencher.
With Zanu PF effectively split into two, Shamu remains the last man standing — the only surviving political commissar from the “original Zanu” .
He has, however, not forgotten his bootlicking ways. In a bid to save his neck, Shamu was back to his old grovelling self a month ago during a rally in Hurungwe when he chanted “Pasi nevanoramba kutambira zvakabuda musarudzo ye congress yegore rakapera” (Down with those who oppose the outcome of the December congress).
Last week the former Zanu PF political commissar was heckled by opposition MPs in Parliament as he continued with his praise singing of Mugabe, describing the 91-year-old leader as a visionary President who is an “African icon”.