HomeEditorial CommentHe who has our food has power

He who has our food has power

The immediate desire for shelter, health, wellbeing and the innate instinct for self-preservation and survival has long been hailed as the single most dominant human need and inherent motivation of human (and animal) behaviour.

By Mathabelazitha/ The anvil

When that prior and fundamental family of needs is effectively threatened, humans are consumed by fear, they are at their most vulnerable, their most disempowered. This is as true of individuals as it is of groups and society. Conversely, it is really when those underlying needs of people are reasonably satisfied that they may be expected to graduate to secondary and subsequent aesthetic motivations of common good and experiment with politics, change, rights and social innovation.

Consequently, although dining culture does vary somewhat from one society to another, food is central to our lives and the dinner table stands out as a domestic milestone of great, agreeable conversation and pleasantries, a family rendezvous of divinity and thanks-giving and a daily celebration of our family union, companionship and well-wishing. The dinner moment renews our common vow and gratitude to the bounty of livelihood and food supply and seals the permanent authority of God, the source of our food, and the benevolent head of house and our toiling mum, the chief administrator.

Food, and the attendant resources and blessings that it comes with, is an important source of power and control. The rituals that accompany our access to food and livelihood entail an inevitable, intricate bargaining process between the holder of the food and those that are without or those that need the food. It is the epicenter of our politics. It is commonly understood and broadly accepted as dining etiquette that those that are eating and well fed do not, while at the feeding trough, talk or argue! That is basic table manners.

Without doubt, the supreme gesture of ubuntu, empathy, exemplary leadership and humankindness demonstrated by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s act of visiting his ailing political adversary and long-standing champion of Zimbabwe’s democratic opposition project, Morgan Tsvangirai —touched many hearts and potentially indicated a refreshing new leaf in the political culture of Zimbabwe. It is the way of being African and indeed it is a defining moment of our collective humanness that transcends our narrow political enclaves and a welcome departure from ugly divisions that we have been long accustomed to in the Mugabe era.

Inevitably, the great gesture, taken along with the rest of political embellishments including well-publicised church excursions, hospital detours, tomato-shopping tours — has attracted warm ululation and public adoration, but also immense criticism, unconvinced faith and public ire. Are these manifestations of a sincere changing Zanu PF heart or are they simply a well-choreographed poisoned chalice?

It is also common cause that the seemingly “benevolent gifts of retirement” from the president to the former prime minister — the Highlands home, the significant monthly upkeep and all the medical and social welfare of Tsvangirai are legitimate deserts of his employ as then prime minister of the Republic. But it is common cause too, that in his own limping political wisdom, former president Robert Mugabe deliberately dangled, but held back the carrot, denying Tsvangirai full access to his pension.

As such, it is within his influence and power, for Mnangagwa to continue doing the wrong thing, to play the vengeful political game and continue to deny Tsvangirai access to his benefits. He didn’t. He did, instead, the unthinkable, albeit the right thing. He emerges the great, magnanimous, fair and kind-hearted leader and president.

The question that arises therefore is, besides the obvious public gallery and vote of confidence this beautiful drama brings to Mnangagwa, is: what political leverage does it give him over his opponent-in- chief come 2018 election? Virtually, personally living off Mnangagwa and the government he purports to depose, Tsvangirai is a grateful tenant of his benevolent government landlord. What real opposition to government can be effectively championed by an ailing leader, whose final steps in war are totally aided and fully sponsored by the same government he intends to replace?

The new-found and roundly celebrated rapport and warm camaraderie between Mnangagwa and presidential hopeful, Tsvangirai (MDC) is of a nature and character that would seem to pronounce the beginning of the end of the MDC. Having deliberately captured the civil service and the civil servants, Zanu PF has over the years ensured that those that participate and earn any benefit from the employ of the state are directly accountable to the political party and may never dream of openly opposing the incumbent leader of both government and their party.

Living in a government house, earning a government salary, supported by government medical aid and ancillary government benefits has been a tool effectively employed by Zanu PF to reduce and eliminate potential dissent and force civil servants to align themselves to the ruling party.

Is it feasible or possible, while enjoying the warmth of government goodies and the personal love of Mnangagwa for Tsvangirai, to lead, today a robust legal onslaught on, for example the roundly condemned illegality of Justice Chiweshe’s pronouncement on the legal status of this regime?

Is it feasible or possible, while enjoying the benevolence of Mnangagwa, for Tsvangirai to lead today, an effective constitutional challenge of the continued, routine militarisation of government and the state?

Is it feasible, while enjoying government sponsored health care support from the capitals of the world, for Tsvangirai to honestly champion a robust nationwide demand for an absolute transformation of the health sector that seeks to revive our hospitals and bring world class health services to Parirenyatwa, to Mpilo and to Mambale?

Is it feasible, for one cushioned by a cool 15k monthly stipend, courtesy of his government, to really understand and purport to champion the cause of the unemployed millions, the hungry and the poor, the homeless and the world dispersed?

We wish great health and recovery to the great leader of the opposition. But while he recuperates on the government dinner table, Tsvangirai’s tongue has been cut. He needs to eat well, think well, speak well and savour the meal his master chef has just served him. He may be willing, but he is utterly unable to lead a robust, winning opposition to the kitchen that is serving his sumptuous dinner.

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