Friday, March 15, 2013

(HERALD ZW) Headlands: The little boy who wrote MDC Manifesto

Headlands: The little boy who wrote MDC Manifesto
Friday, 01 March 2013 23:47
Nathaniel Manheru The Other Side

As I write this piece, my heart bleeds for the Maisiri family which lost a 12-year-old son in a horrific inferno last Saturday. I have seen images of the little boy’s charred remains sticking out to form an ugly silhouette against a dim backdrop of charcoal.

You saw what remained of the torso, some burnt and bloated little thighs of a soul that once breathed, lived, walked, but now so haplessly prostrated by an ugly fire. It looks like he expired face downwards, as if giving his back not just to the world that would not keep him, but to all those fated to lift his burnt remains for interment.

I am a father. I have sons. It is very easy to slide into the shoes of Shepherd Maisiri, the father of this ill-fated boy whose name — Christpower — seem like a mockery or a cynic’s view on Divinity itself.

My deep condolences to the Maisiri family, and all those related to the same. My humble tribute to the family is my decision to devote this Saturday to a reflection on this tragic incident.

When facts become so rare

Yet here is one death which has afforded us a rare glimpse into the nature and depth of our own humanity: as a people, as a nation, indeed as a culture. How a people create death, grant death, receive death, handle death, read into death, gives them a character. Instances of human end reveal a lot about human nature, and this is the subject matter I wish to grapple with. First some basic facts. Christpower was in primary school.

Christpower had some congenital handicap. We are still to hear whether this was fits or down syndrome. The Maisiri family is, like most peasants, agricultural. In their case, they grow tobacco, and Headlands is known for that crop. The curing facilities were within the precincts of their homestead.

For all his disabilities, Christpower, alongside his siblings, performed some of the chores surrounding this crop, including starting the fires for curing.

Or stoking them. And in curing tobacco, lots of fire is made, is used. From what I have seen, the Maisiri family has slender means, like most of our rural families. There is no electricity at their homestead which comprises basic structures which one paper, obviously straining to make sense to its imagined readers abroad, termed “apartments”.

The term sounds like some cynically misapplied description of opulence that the Maisiris can only meet in dreams. That is always the tragedy of news: to be written from the angle of the reporter, not of the subject!

Naked fire, naked lies

Like all of us who grew up in rural homes, the Maisiris rely on naked fire to beat darkness, to cook and to cure their tobacco. For lighting, they use chibani, a makeshift paraffin lamp made from used jam bottles, with an improvised wick lit above the bottle top. The wick coils beneath, inside the bottle soaked with paraffin.

It emits thick carbon, whose dark soot one always scoops out each morning after, using your curled small finger, itself the last born child of your palm, and thus the one most abused. Most of us relied on this form of lighting, until recently when better times finally came. On that fateful Saturday night, something went terribly wrong, leading to the death of this incapacitated child.

It is still not clear whether the fire that extinguished Christpower’s life was started outside or smouldered within. The tenuous claims of explosions by persons who were also asleep cannot simply settle matters. Let us be serious. In any case the fact that Christpower’s siblings had to escape or pulled out when the house was already aglow suggests help only came well into the tragedy.

What is the rush about?

All his other siblings made it to safety, which might suggest that Christpower’s incapacities played some part in his tragic end. And this adds to one’s sense of grief. A mishap fed by incapacity.

These are the facts I can bring up for the attention of you, gentle reader. How these facts interacted or didn’t interact, to give us this tragic story,

I cannot say. I am no expert and would rather wait for those with requisite competencies to guide my understanding.

I don’t have the boldness of those in certain newsrooms who handled the matter with the profoundness of forensic scientists, a capacity far exceeding what my little diploma in journalism from Harare Polytechnic will ever permit.

I am sure the good Lord and Christpower will still find room to grant these men and women from my professional tribe the grace of forgiveness.

In the meantime I counsel that we wait for a full report from the Police, which should tell us what happened.

The day grief bowed down to slogans

I said death reveals our nature. That surely it does. Upon seeing the headline, my own little humanity was tickled. I sought to find out whose son the dead boy was; what ugly circumstances had caused his death. Equally, I sought to hear original grief groaning from the loins and womb of those that bore the ill-fated boy.

Grief is always big, gripping story, good copy in the pidgin of my profession. And this is where the despairing side of things started hitting me, triggering this existential question on who we are, when measured against sorrowful circumstances.

From news reports, I sought in vain to vicariously meet and condole with Christpower’s parents: his father, his mother especially.
But I could not find these two key characters in this story of profound grief. In their place I met raging activists from a political party, characters pouring out slogans of a party, than plaintive sobs of heartbroken parents haltingly sharing the story of their tragedy with the rest of the world. What I met was a political story, never a human interest story in a story so profoundly human.

Where is mom, dad?

Today I know Shepherd Maisiri more as MDC-T’s deputy organising secretary, and as an aspiring candidate for Headlands, than I know him as heartbroken, pitiful father of the late departed, father of Christpower. Today I know Beauty not as that writhing womb that carried Christpower for a long nine months, but as a woman activist sober enough to say: “He (Christpower) has been made to be a sacrificial lamb for the MDC and this constituency will definitely go to the MDC”.

Not quite words of a grieving mother, certainly words of an activist seeking mileage from a tragedy. Not quite words that unite us in common grief, but words that invite us to ask whether or not you are eligible, strictly on grounds of your political side and choice, to concern yourself with this tragedy.

Or even to see it as one. In all this, Christpower is orphaned by the very world he has trusted with his charred remains. What is worse, his death is extinguished by political calculation. I hear him cry, where is mom, where is dad, from the high heavens.

So we can condole with them . . .

Mai Maisiri goes further: “I delivered this son in a mountain because I was fleeing from Zanu-PF activists who wanted to kill me.... I was raped in 2008 by a Zanu-PF election agent, Lovemore Manenji, my house was burnt eight times by Zanu-PF supporters. I want Mutasa to come out clean in this matter or else the blood of my son will not rest until the truth is known about those behind the killing.”

I immediately thought of Betty Makoni and her fund-raising confessionals; thought of Grace Kwinjeh and Beatrice Mtetwa baring their inner portions to display Zanu-PF’s well-marketed brutality. Here is a grieving mother savaging her own demeanour and standing, which is what rape does to womanhood. Here is a grieving mother making key political connections - causal connections - between her son’s death on the one hand, and politics and key political players for Headlands, one of whom is her own husband, on the other.

This is how far we have come. We cull politics out of cadavers, even hold for show claims of violation of our very dear bodies, our own wombs, indeed Christpower’s home before he came into this burning world some 12 or so years ago. I want to grieve for Christpower; can Christpower’s parents stand up please, ndivabate maoko!

Skills of a dip tank attendant

What is the significance of the figure “nine” in the tragic life of this family?

Beauty, Christpower’s mother says “nine” counts the number of times her “house” has been burnt for political reasons. An unnamed neighbour says “nine” counts the number of times her husband was attacked in politically motivated violence. Here is one family whose homestead has been burnt on nine successive occasions, without the story hitting headlines! More is claimed, this time by the father of Christpower: “Since the MDC was formed, these mountains have been my home.

They have burnt my houses nine times since 2000. I lost two children to the cold weather while I was hiding in the mountains. In 2003, they stabbed my younger brother to death after mistaking him for me. They have also been attempting to take away my fields.” Again quite an extraordinary story already, before we factor in Christpower. Yet unwritten, unknown, unheard.

Would it not be more helpful for our all-knowing reporters to do simple cross-checking for us, readers, so we grieve better with the Maisiris, than delving into the esoteric area of forensic science with the exquisite skills of a dip tank attendant? And with such stalking tragedy, why until now hasn’t the propaganda-hungry MDC-T profiled this family for maximum effect? Could they resist such an awful story, they whose appeal is founded on artful victimhood?

Hatching lies

Let me move on, away from the family whose grief I still wish would one day find clean expression. The MDC-T. The key actors are Biti, Mwonzora, Eddie Cross and Timba, well before the party president, Morgan Tsvangirai, comes in.

On Sunday, a day after Christpower’s death, Biti tells the world Zanu-PF has hatched plots to assassinate MDC leadership: “I have been informed today by our friends in the security forces that they have a plot to assassinate our leadership to instill fear into our supporters.

“They cannot win any elections without using violence but we are not afraid of anyone”. This key claim frames Headlands, just before the death becomes news. It does much more. It girds the nation for more horrors.

In other words it inaugurates a psychosis of tension, violence and death in the country, leaving a brooding sense of uncertainty to do the rest. Above all, it projects MDC as the brave victim, ironically yelping for SADC and international rescue from the impending “mini-genocide”. And Biti is a lawyer.

The dossier that was already ready


Enter Mwonzora, another lawyer. He finds Zanu-PF guilty until proven innocent! He says: “The callous murder unquestionably bears the signature of Zanu-PF. It is high time people put an end to Zanu-PF hegemony by voting them out of power”. Yet he still speaks of giving the police names of suspects!

He adds: “We are going to push for observers from the UN, the African Union, Sadc as well as other groups.” Then something extraordinary happens. The MDC-T produces a brand new dossier recording 120 cases of political violence against its supporters, barely one working day after the death of Christpower!

It is also armed with wads of pictures of the charred remains of Christpower. And Biti widens the vista of his charge against Zanu-PF: “The MDC-T is extremely enraged at the increase of politically motivated incidents of violence taking place throughout the country at the instigation of the chaos faction of Zanu-PF.

“As we speak, some people are being trained in Israel for that task”. Zanu-PF and Israel? He ropes in what he terms attack on NGOs, alignment of institutions, security sector reforms and of course the need for international monitors, all this heaped on the lifeless, charred body of little Christpower. And a manifesto begins to take shape!

Christpower the game-changer

But it is Morgan Tsvangirai who clinches the point, as indeed he should as head of the party. He says: “What confronts us requires global attention if Zimbabwe is to move away from dinner-table discussions, where it has been dominant, clearly for wrong reasons, for the past few years. Zimbabwe is today standing at a crossroads.” Worse came on the day of Christpower’s funeral. Tsvangirai spoke of being given a “matchbox” with which to burn this country, although he would not accept it. This was after the car crash in which his wife perished. He added that Christpower’s death “was a game-changer”. I spoke about the dossier which is whipped out, thanks to this death. More drama. Incidents, we are told through self-serving leaks of Cabinet deliberations by MDC ministers, are recorded in Cabinet. The President is said to have been shown images of the charred remains of Christpower. Minister Mutasa, we are again told, is accused of murder of the boy by Minister Tendai Biti. The same drama spills over into Parliament before its recess. Above all, we are told that Tsvangirai has despatched Jameson Timba to selected SADC capitals, all to plead for an extraordinary SADC Summit on the matter! This is the extraordinary turn of events, including indications that the MDC-T is mulling boycotting the forthcoming harmonized elections they have been battling to prevent, or at the very least delay. Elections whose likely outcome their own people predict are likely to go against them. All this and much more is the whirlpool around Christpower’s tragic death. How are we to make of it, to make of ourselves as a people?

I now hate us

Firstly, Christpower’s death has become both incidental and integral. This sounds paradoxical,itself arguably the best description of ourselves in, and with, grief. The Headlands incident proves we have ceased to be a people in grief, to become a people who ask what grief does for us, what death does for us, when it occurs. This is why Christpower has been far outrun by his own death. Incapacitated in life, he is now once more incapacitated in his death: a creature fated to be left behind, including by those who bore him. Far more painful than meeting an incinerating fate in a collapsing compound is his lonesome stillness amid the noisy cymbals of native politics.

The dictates of politics have marginalized him, made his funeral and burial incidental and mechanical, while the centre gets stolen by princes of power or the search of it, whose calculated language begs the very humanity which pretends to inform their outrage. We are fast descending into a society that can no longer mourn, that no longer handles death as a sorrowful departure of loved ones, but as sacrifices made to this heartless god of vaulting ambition. This is what makes Christpower incidental to his own death, yet such an integral driver to politics he was yet to understand, yet to sensibly believe in, beyond genuflecting to his parents’ convictions and choices. This turn in the national heart truly hurts. This cast in our politics makes one despair, creates a sense of a humanity which is slipping away, between our fingers. I hate us.

Offering cadavers

What does it say of us as a people when we keep dossiers in readiness for a death that might come? A people ready for a campaign that only awaits a bit of gore to trigger it? An empty manifesto which awaits the gruesome death to write itself? A people who will not seek for the whys and wherefores, who will not wait for facts, for truth, but will happily swim away with slanderous conjectures? A collective psyche pointing to an eagerness for gruesome tragedy, gratitude for it even? How do we look after our children, they whose death elicit the most pity and thus a death most wished for our politics to move, they whose tragic departure assure us of “global attention” we so seek, they who guarantee us of a factor that changes our game of politics? It redefines politics as some ogre, some Dracula craving for sacrificial blood of one’s own. We crave for sympathy for ourselves and our politics, yet spare none for those whose tragic departure we wish and require to trigger that craved-for sympathy for our political cause. And to belong to a party, to be of service to your party means to offer the charred body of your own son to that party for politicking?

Adding colour to our tragedy

Dossiers are ready. Pictures are taken and circulated. Larger political demands are made by big men and women standing on the charred and disintegrating remains of Christpower. Is that our new pedestal, our new podium from which we expound lofty theories of democratic change? Enter Eddie Cross. That white Rhodesian who has been with us from God-knows-when as a believing and active instrument of settler land policy here way back in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. A good thirty-something years after we overthrow the very system he so diligently served, he joins us, all in fake, politically calculated grief, and we feel consoled in this most synthetic, white way? He is no Guy Clutton-Brock, that lonely white African nationalist who rests at Heroes Acre, presumably still wondering why no other has joined him yet. He is Eddie, a mere cross we bore in colonial servitude.

How many black children died in Rhodesia? How many of these did he bury, this white man of MDC-T? He stays in Bulawayo, but is prompt, punctual enough to be in the right place, down there in rural Headlands, when the cameras snap, standing side by side with the grieving family, face contorted with learnt grief. I suppose it adds color to our tragedy as a people. Yet is leaves one with an overbearing sense of choreography, all in tragic circumstances. Is this what we have made of death, of our own dying? Why is Christpower so blest, even to gain a whole casket in his death, he who huddled in one room with his three other siblings while he lived?

When Tsvangirai meets Cameron

The hard truth is that Christpower is the little boy who wrote an election manifesto for a party that had none. God willing, he might be the trigger that MDC was looking for in order to start a train of events that might incinerate this country, and whose hoped-for endgame is an MDC ascendancy to power, amidst its ashes. Not by ballot, not by Zimbabweans, but by invasion and violent regime change led by outsiders. You get a sense of a Tsvangirai who craves for an Ivorian scenario in Zimbabwe. You get a sense of a Cameron who is craving for an opportunity to outclass France’s Hollande is his own backyard. Imperialism has grown an interventionist reflex and we carve our own political careers out of it, hoping to wade to the throne, last charred bodies. This is why Biti is so keen to shunt in a UN-mission here, on the pretext of election funding, disregarding all protocol. It is to internationalize our little, narrow politics, never to nationalize the international imperative as does nations that have grown great.

When virginity can’t save

But this little boy may have made him to give away the game, too soon. Indeed Christpower is a game-changer. The speed with which the MDC has jumped onto this tragedy has raised eyebrows. Their game is now known and shall soon falter. The MDC-T seeks power without a manifesto, without a platform. After the Inclusive Government, its “chinja”mantra has lost resonance. It cannot mobilize on opposing ZANU(PF) it has partnered, it has grown enamored of, in the years of inclusive politics. It cannot deny sanctions it has, itself acknowledged and even asked to be retained as some leverage against ZANU(PF). And as I have repeatedly said, it no longer pretends virginity after such a long night with a virile man who is known to tear down hymen in the village. It has governed and in doing so, it has misgoverned for all to see. Repeatedly, it has searched for a galvanizing idea, repeatedly it has drawn a blank. We have had restarts, promised slimy juices, yet we still wait. Herein comes Christpower.

Playing the last card

The little boy is that emotion which MDC needs to move western mountains, that powerful impulse that by-passes so many rational questions the MDC must answer from a disheartened, alienated electorate. They can only put forward a sympathy manifesto, which is why death and dying is so key to their survival as a party. You get a sense of an overdrawn tragedy. You get a sense of a party so fearful that Christpower’s tragic mishap might perchance become a mere death, not a murder, not a political killing, not a craved-for-assassination. It must have deep connotations. And in its stampede to keep this a murder, the party has shown some very fatal, ungainly steps which are sure to rob it of even this sympathy card, its last tramp card. This little boy who gave a party a manifesto, he might just take it away. And the trick is so clear- garner maximum publicity against ZANU(PF) while investigations continue, such that by the time the results come, facts will be at the mercy of contrived prejudices.

America first labels

I have made reference to regime change forces. They have come in mainly in two forms. First, the American Embassy here. This Warthog guy, sorry Wharton, why would he rush to issue an incriminating statement well ahead of investigations? Has he come here as a reporter under USIS or a whole, dignified and qualified ambassador serving a old democracy that must know better, behave better in the host country? It betrays a predisposition, does it not? A readiness to blame, convict and attack which is remarkably comparable to the MDC dossier craving for some death to be validated and galvanized. And of course those whom American seek to destroy, America first labels. Could that be why a man associated with Cold War-time disinformation has been deployed here at this time in the life of our Nation? Is America seeking facts and understanding, or bellicosity? Let him redeem himself. Today I express fears, raise questions on motives and purpose; soon I, too, shall judge.

Sleep well, the one who couldn’t be mourned

The second form is by way of a negative campaign against indigenisation and economic empowerment. I see it assuming an institutional form by way of a sustained media coverage. Interestingly, the so-called NIEEBGATE is the only other story that has been vying with that of Christpower for the first page. Correctly so. In the absence of a manifesto, the natural recourse of a beaten political party is to seek to rubbish the unrivaled policy of the winning party. And where you cannot attack the core tenets of the policy, you seek to cast aspersions on its implementation.

As a matter of fact in the wake of this debate on the Zimplats deal, Biti quietly made contact with Implats in South Africa to stiffen their back against indigenisation. Let him deny it if he dares. The hope is to attack one case of empowerment in the hope that by extension, the policy itself becomes a hard sell in actual elections. That way MDC will have got a pairing partner in running for office on empty. That is the beauty about elections. You get to know who is who. In the meantime, sleep peacefully Christpower, the one who couldn’t be mourned or buried.

Icho!

nathaniel.manheru@zimpapers.co.zw

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