Why is being a 'principal' so important to Arthur Mutambara?

Jul 12, 2011

Arthur Mutambara remains deputy prime minister, but his overall political standing and reputation are at a low ebb. A good illustration of how little substance he retains on the Zimbabwean political scene is how important it seems to have become to him and his acolytes for him to be considered a 'principal,' a nebulous, very Zimbabwe-esque 'title' that means little or nothing.

Mutambara was supposed to represent Zimbabwe's bright political future. Prestigiously educated, articulate and energetic, he entered politics at a high level, having been invited by Welshman Ncube to lead an offshoot of the main MDC party of Morgan Tsvangirai. In that role he won plaudits as well as brickbats for trying to straddle spouting a ZANUPF-like ultra-nationalism with 'democracy' talk. The small MDC faction may not have made much popular headway, but the formation of a coalition government made it possible for Mutambara to win himself the position of deputy prime minister.

This only seemed to feed his ego, making him a great man in his own mind. He began to sound even more verbose and self-satisfied than before. Then came the party conference in which his former mentor Ncube claimed back the leadership of the party, leaving Mutambara bereft. At first he handled this unexpected reversal very well, saying the right things about change and moving on. This won him new admirers even amongst those who had begun to dismiss him as a clever but loud and unwise loose cannon. But Mutambara changed his mind, deciding to challenge the party congress that deposed him in the courts. This soiled whatever shred of credibility he might have still had.

Then followed the fight with Ncube about which of the two should now be deputy prime minister. Mutambara so far has won that fight, but it made both men appear to be petty, more concerned about positions and a shallow 'prestige,' than motivated by any great vision for their country.

Ncube at least has the political 'legitimacy' of being head of a party, and having a concrete ministerial portfolio, industry and commerce. Mutambara, on the other hand, has a government title, but almost nothing 'real' to back it up with. He is never been an elected official, has no clearly outlined or well-understood responsibilities as deputy prime minister. Not only does he no longer head a political party, it is not even clear if he still belongs to one, regardless of the ongoing, embarrassing-to-Mutambara-himself court challenge of Ncube's election as faction leader.    

So what to do for Mutambara to try and save face? How does he make himself look relevant to Zimbabwe's politics when all of whatever foundation he stood on has been pulled out from under him? What is his role? How is he making a difference to anybody?

Alas, the learned gentleman has failed to find effective answers to these basic questions. And so the best that he has been able to come up with is for him to tenaciously hold on to the 'title' of 'principal.' No one seems to be able to define exactly what this means, making the importance that Mutambara (and rival for the dubious honorific Ncube) seem even more petty and small-minded.

'Principal' appears to mean no more than the party leaders who signed the coalition government agreement. Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai did so on behalf of ZANU-PF and the main MDC respectively, and so to this day remain indisputably 'principals' according to the ill-defined meaning. Mutambara at the time was head of the smaller MDC faction and was a 'principal' on that basis. But now that he has lost the position, is he still a principal, or should Ncube now assume that 'position' on behalf of his party?    

This is the shockingly low level to which Mutambara and Ncube's politicking has sunk, but the former has been much more damaged by the pettiness because of the thin basis of his political position. Ncube has also rehabilitated himself somewhat by taking the high road in the 'principal' fight, effectively and wisely saying ''if that nothing of a 'position' is so important to Mutambara, let him have it.'' This only makes the tightness with which Mutambara seeks to hold on to it seem even more ridiculous.

All the 'principals' seem to do in that capacity is to occasionally meet for tea to discuss whether the coalition government is functioning well and as intended or not. The fact that it isn't, and that there seems so little commitment to work to make it do so, is yet another sign of the embarrassing utter irrelevance of the fight over who is or isn't a principal.  

Consider then the astonishing heat with which a Mutambara associate defends his 'position' as 'principal.'

“I know for certain that the negotiators made the request (that Ncube be accommodated and Mutambara be dropped), but as far as we are concerned, it’s a closed chapter,” said Mutambara’s spokesperson Maxwell Zimuto. “They can make the recommendation as many times as they want, but it will be rejected.

That Mutambara and his outfit would defend such a meaningless 'title' so robustly is perhaps indicative of how little that is real and meaningful they have left to stand on. It is a precipitous decline for a man who came onto the political scene with such a bang. 


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