The Chris Kabwato Column | In search of the donkey’s horns

ZNA Commander Anselem Sanyatwe has vowed Zanu will rule until donkeys grow horns

On 16th May 1997, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu fled Zaire into exile as town after town fell – Goma, Kisangani, Lubumbashi – and the rebel forces led by Laurent-Desire Kabila advanced on Kinshasa.

It was an undignified exit for a man who had renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga – “The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake”.

For those of us watching the drama on television, it was schadenfreude – the sense of poetic justice happening in real time and loving the consequences. Kabila was dramatic: “Goma has fallen, Kisangani is next. Mobutu is a dead man.”

The Immortals

Politicians have a propensity to believe in the immortality of their political organisations. One leader in the country south of Zimbabwe once stated that his political party would rule until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Recently, in our landlocked teapot, a man who wields a gun and commands many people declared that the ruling party would continue to reign until donkeys had grown horns.

The declarations of immortality of political projects are ahistorical. Ask the Romans, the Greeks, the Aztecs, the Mutapas, the Rozvis, the Mandinkas…

Poet PB Shelley and a comrade called Ozymandias

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822), was an English poet. One of his famous poems is titled Ozymandias and the narrator says he met a traveller from a far land who told him about a disintegrating massive statue that is slowly being covered by sand:

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I would assume, in commissioning his own statue, Ozymandias thought his legacy was immortal. But even that monument fell and was consumed by dust.

But let us come closer to home.

Ian Smith and the reign of a 1000 years

Around 1977 or 1978, I overheard my mother speaking with her good friend whom we considered our aunt, Mai Lomas Gangata. They were wondering if our war of liberation would ever end. After all, Ian Douglas Smith – the man we claimed had stolen a goat’s eye and inserted it in his empty right eye socket – had declared: “I don’t believe in black majority rule ever in Rhodesia—not in a thousand years.”

Whilst the ZANLA forces had Comrade Chinx, the Rhodesians had Clem Tholet, who in 1973 released a song called Rhodesians Never Die. Thanks to the producers and engineers at Teal Records, part of this chart-topper’s lyrics went:

‘Cause we’re all Rhodesians and we’ll fight through thick and thin.

We’ll keep our land a free land, stop the enemy coming in.

We’ll keep them north of the Zambezi till that river’s running dry.

This mighty land will prosper for Rhodesians never die.

Ah, Clem the Patriot! I am sure all the black folk who nauseate us daily on X hungering for the return of Rhodesia would have joined in the singing.

For me, and other natives in Dangamvura, we lived in fear of the baas, the constable and the soldier. A relative of mine found a job in the white suburb of Greenside on Kingfisher Road in Umtali (Mutare). The employer was the Officer Commanding Umtali. If they worked late, my relative would be dropped off by the commander himself in his Peugeot 404 sedan, white in colour with navy blue stripes on either of the front doors. The blue light stuck out on the roof like a thumb. Whenever we saw the car, we all stood still, watching in awe.

A few years later, probably in 1977, my mother sent me to the market. Just as I turned to go home holding tomatoes wrapped in the Rhodesia Herald, an army truck pulled up. Out jumped young white soldiers with their faces painted black. I glanced at their FN rifles and continued walking, rather stiffly. I had been well trained because of the constant “spection” searches that police and the army conducted in our houses, mostly at night. Luck was not on my side on this day, even though I had taken care not to wear my t-shirt that had a cartoon soldier and the caption “Dad’s Army”. One soldier walked towards me. In the blink of an eye, he kicked at my hands. The tomatoes flew into the air, in different directions. My hands stinging, I kept walking. My mother understood what had happened. Demonstration of power. The little black boy – a potential terrorist – needed to be put in his place.

It would take 15 years of a bitter war and over 20,000 deaths before Ian Smith would concede to majority rule. The one-eyed king had fallen with his white tribe.

The eternal relevance of reggae music

Driving alone on a long distance journey recently, I was struck by the continued relevance of reggae music. I listened to the classic roots rock reggae album Fire House Rock by the Wailing Souls. Released in 1980, the album has songs such as Bandits Taking Over the Town:

Say the bandits taking over the town
The deputy sheriff isn’t around
Dem even seh him deh underground
Bandits taking over the town

Dem control bank and all things around, oh yeah

Well, we know that bandits now control the Reserve Bank and there is no sheriff to arrest the ruffians. The discredited so-called anti-corruption outfit will continue with its catch-and-release or go for the dispensable minions whilst safeguarding the masterminds.

When the liberator becomes the Babylon System

Robert Nesta Markey died on 11 May 1981. If he was still alive, what would he make of the country he so loved that the ultimate honour for him was to play on the day of the formal birth of Zimbabwe?

His song Babylon System off the 1979 Survival album is poignant:

Me say them graduatin’ thieves and murderers
Look out now they suckin’ the blood of the sufferers (sufferers)
Yea! (sufferers)

Tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth right now!

If Marley was out there in Kingston, we would tell him that thieves and murderers in Africa fight to keep presidents alive, no matter how frail they become, because the only way to eat the national cake is to prolong the life of the ruler.

I have abiding memories from 1993 of Kamuzu Banda in a wheelchair, senile and wasted but being pushed around by those who feared the welling opposition. The coterie of hangers-on and eatists knew time was up but they could not let go. The future was unknown, and the taps could be closed. It would happen again when Bingu wa Mutharika died of cardiac arrest on 5 April 2012 and attempts to foil the ascension of the vice president by some loyalists failed. It was like reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch where a cabal keeps a half-dead president in power just to continue their reign of terror and conspicuous consumption.

It never ends well

Those declaring that they shall rule until donkeys grow horns should sit in the corner like the good boy Jack Horner and reflect on what history teaches. It teaches us that Adolf Hitler’s last days were in his Berlin bunker where he raved mad at betrayal by those close to him. Above ground, the Soviet troops were closing in.

On 30 April 1945, Hitler pulled the trigger on himself. The Third Reich had lasted only 12 years despite its architects referring to it as the Thousand Year Reich (empire). 

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