By Philip Chiyangwa | Extracted from: Memory and the National Question in Zimbabwe: A Re-Reading of Obert Mpofu, Edited by Richard R Mahomva and Tawanda Zinyama(2021).
On the Shoulders of Struggle: Memoirs of a Political Insider has broadened my horizon of appreciating the function of literature. Besides, the creative outline of the themes of the book, I realised that autobiographies have an empowerment effect on their audiences.
As such, Dr Mpofu’s engagement in self-writing hypnotises the ordinary reader to appreciate the prolific and less emphasised side of his profile rooted in Zimbabwe’s armed struggle and in post-independence politics.
His overlapping relevance in Zimbabwean politics characterised by his transition from the Zimbabwean African People’s Union (ZAPU) to being a member of ZANU in the early 80s heralding the path to the Unity Accord proves how he has always mastered the art of being strategically positioned in shaping his political career.
To political students and participants, Mpofu’s autobiography is an inspiring masterpiece. In the Second-Republic under the leadership of President Emmerson D Mnangagwa, the author is serving the ruling ZANU PF as the Secretary for Administration in the Politburo. His consolidated ascendancy to power leaves many footnotes of excellence in the mind of the reader.
In this regard, Obert Mpofu’s life story is in itself empowering as it explores the relationship between discipline and ideological consistency. The tips on discipline and consistency discussed in the book serve as the major reason for ZANU PF’s continued survival which the book exhaustively engages.
At the same time, Mpofu’s life history grounded in the nationalist liberation trajectory is symbolic of auditable adherence to discipline and ideological consistency at an individual level. Mpofu’s self-reflections profoundly contest the neo-liberal assertions of Zimbabwe and indeed Africa’s dispossession misconstrued as a Western civilising mission.
In discussing the issue of economic indigenisation, the writer is demonstrating the need for Africa to reimagine economic policy-making outside Eurocentric (looting and plunder) terms which have sustained our continued dispossession as a race.
Discipline and Loyalty to Principle
As Mpofu writes the story of his life in Zimbabwean politics, he is reasserting his place in the mind of the reader as a mentor and a point of reference to credentials of ZANU PF’s tradition of rewarding discipline and total subscription to the party-line.
His rise through the party structures from the cell to national leadership demonstrates his devotion to ZANU PF. In no unequivocal terms, Mpofu grounds his stay in the politics to discipline and declares that he takes a leaf from the wisdom of the late former President Robert Mugabe (quoted in Mpofu 2020 p 61) who once said:
I have described discipline as having two dimensions – the external and the internal – emphasising that the internal kind of discipline was the more important of the two.
Internal discipline is a state of order within a person that propels him to do the right things. It is a stage of individual development that resolves the contradictions within an individual. The pull to be selfish is counterbalanced by a greater pull to be selfless, the pull to drunkenness is countered by one to moderation, the pull to disobedience is negatived by that to obedience, and the pull to sexual givenness yields to sexual restraint, deviationism is corrected by compliance and individualism by collectivism.
The individual must comply with the order laid down by the group. Our group is the Party called ZANU.
In his own words, Mpofu indicates that his political survival has been predicated on his subscription to discipline. In buttressing this point, Mpofu (2020 p 61) recalls:
I was entrusted with very crucial ministries during my tenure in the cabinet. I have successfully executed my duties with the diligence and honour of a determined patriot.
I am grateful for my current elevation as the ZANU PF Secretary for Administration. My current assignment has been made smoother by a robust atmosphere of collegiality from highly experienced former cabinet ministers and diplomats deployed as full-time heads of departments at the party headquarters.
In the same manner, while reading Mpofu’s book one would be analytical unconscious not to associate a higher attribute of the principle of discipline to the political person of the First Secretary and President of the ruling ZANU PF, Dr Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The mention of President Mnangagwa in this respect stimulates the nostalgia of a generation which discovered its mission to liberate Zimbabwe from colonial bondage. Therefore, when Mpofu writes not only as a member of this generation but as any active current political player in Zimbabwe, he is reminding us of the journey we have travelled as a nation.
His writing gives hope to the continuity of the liberation values espoused by his generation in delivering an independent Zimbabwe.
The Second-Republic: A Pursuit of Ideological Consistency
As one reads the life story of veteran politician Obert Mpofu from the current pinnacle of his reflection since the age of 16. This is a narrative pointed towards an intergenerational baton passing rite.
This diverts the thematic bias of the book from personal memories to a re-centred focus on the national identity. What one sees here is history being narrated to re-live the past in a bid to guide Zimbabwe towards unity, prosperity and reconciliation.
At the same time, Cde Mpofu has successfully curated the ideological scene from a historical dimension to motivate an absolute understanding of the past and the present. In the same vein, Mpofu’s read facilitates the need for a defined ideological standpoint for Zimbabwe to decide the future based on enduring traditions of the nation’s liberation.
In drawing ideology to the fore of his life story, the author buttressed his fervent loyalty to nationalist values. This is a man who has seen it all from his ZAPU membership right up to his current place in ZANU PF.
He is also best qualified to discuss the ideological contradictions which have traversed the survival path of the nationalist movement in Zimbabwe. Mpofu concedes to the fact that ZANU PF’s long stay in power has also been entrenched in a plethora of internal and external power struggles.
He does not conceal that ZANU PF was born out of the contradictions experienced as early as 1963 within the nationalist movement. His narrative’s revisit to the contradictions within the liberation movement; now from a ZANU PF entry-point is symbolic of the continued need for self-introspection within political parties.
At the same time, this calls for celebration as ZANU PF has been able to survive internal rifts and incessantly reproduce itself to continue as the party of choice for the majority of Zimbabweans.
President Mnangagwa as a symbol of the ZANU PF’s rejuvenation in the post-Mugabe era as well articulated in Mpofu’s book embodies the tenets of institutional memory which gives direction to the future of the party.
At a national level, ZANU PF under the leadership of President Mnangagwa becomes an important vehicle to a good governance transitional experience which reinvigorates political and economic reform in Zimbabwe. As I write, it is even hard to ignore the amount of transformation which Zimbabwe has undergone courtesy of President Mnangagwa’s administration.
However, this position does not exclude the challenges which the country has since experienced since November 2017 after the exit of the former President from office. Chapters 14 and 15 of Mpofu’s autobiography prove beyond doubt that the continuation of the liberation agenda has always been defined through the institution of constitutionalism and cardinal terms of the anti-colonial ideology.
Mpofu (2020 p 230) gives merit to this principle by stating that ‘‘…ZANU PF’s posterity is guaranteed by consistent and unequivocal adherence to the core values of the liberation’’.
The discussion around the issue of peace and reconciliation also demonstrates clear efforts by the current administration in asserting inclusive nationalism. Mpofu does not shy away from asserting that nation-making past mistakes must be revisited to ascertain the future of peace, reconciliation and national healing.
In all fairness, the book articulates a clear objective promoting a nation-building agenda in as much as it calls for the ideological repositioning of Zimbabwe in challenging imperialism.
Indigenisation of the Economy
Part of Mpofu’s call for an ideological renaissance in his autobiography is anchored on the need for Africa to continue the trajectory of economic indigenisation guided by Zimbabwe’s land reform programme –a master blueprint for economic democratisation.
Mpofu insists that economic empowerment policies remain the source of ZANU PF’s powerbase and emphasises the need for the party to innovatively protect the Black economic empowerment policy. As a mass-line party, the indigenisation of the economy was and remains part of the organic characteristics of consolidating its relevance to the erstwhile marginalised Black majority.
Therefore, it can be safely argued that Mpofu’s book is written with the economically disadvantaged African populace in mind. At the same time, Mpofu writes against colonial capital. He reiterates how much the government’s economic indigenisation policy offended imperialist interests.
The intensification of land redistribution and its irreversible position facilitated Zimbabwe’s international isolation. The idea of returning land to the marginalised majority agitated international capital –which Mpofu lambasts in his book for being instrumental in causing Africa’s problems.
Mpofu points to the cause of economic indigenisation in explaining the roots of the international pressure which has been exerted on our domestic political processes.
On the Shoulders of Struggle: Memoirs of a Political Insider, exposes the magnitude of efforts by erstwhile colonial forces to challenge Zimbabwe’s economic self-determination through demonising economic empowerment policies. With the increase in neoliberal politics, any idea tilted towards economic empowerment is criminalised.
The West’s illegal sanctions regime imposed on Zimbabwe prove the high level of hostility endangering our sovereignty. With all these insights into how our politics is being ambushed by colonial interests, the writing of our national story becomes pivotal. Due to that Mpofu’s autobiography must be celebrated for reclaiming the nationalist ideological space.
Dr Philip Chiyangwa is a Prominent Zimbabwean businessman and the Founding President of the Affirmative Action Group (AAG). He is passionate about Black economic Emancipation. He is a former president of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) and is the current president of the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA). In 2012, he was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate in Business Leadership by the St Linus International University headquartered in the Dominican Republic.