By Sij Ncube
DESPITE spirited attempts in the Zanu PF controlled state media to limit the damage caused by President Robert Mugabe’s remarks that Kalangas are an uneducated lot who strive in dabbling in petty crime in South Africa; the embarrassing presidential gaffe appears to be refusing to go away.
In the past few days Information minister Jonathan Moyo, who controls the state media on behalf of Mugabe and Zanu PF, has dedicated acres of space in trying to deflate attention from Mugabe’s tribalistic utterances.
“While some commentary on the remarks in question has raised understandable community issues, it is unfortunate that there has also been opportunistic and even mischievous misinterpretation of the president’s remarks by some media and opposition political circles for inflammatory purposes,” said Moyo in a statement published on Monday, nearly a week after Mugabe’s remarks.
He maintained that Mugabe’s remarks were taken out of context, adding that he (Mugabe) was referring to the pre-independence stereotype about Kalangas, adding that this stereo-typing ended when Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980 and Mugabe introduced education for all Zimbabweans, including Kalangas.
Moyo said as a result of Mugabe’s education policy, Kalangas today were among Zimbabwe’s “best educated sons and daughters of the soil”.
On Tuesday the statement media again attempted to further deflate the presidential gaffe by rubbishing a Newsday report which erroneously claimed that the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo was a Kalanga, pointing out he was in fact Sotho.
The independent daily paper the previous day had carried a lead story in which activists called for the exhumation of nationalists buried at the National Heroes Acre, including the late Vice President Nkomo, whose rural home is in Kezi, Matabeleland South, the stronghold of Kalangas.
As if that was not enough, the Zanu PF mouthpiece, The Herald, run an editorial also attempting to play down Mugabe’s insults as reported by the independent media in which to all intents and purposes clearly exposed the Zanu PF leader as an unrepentant and uncouth tribalist.
But critics are adamant Moyo’s state media spin-doctoring does not wash; pointing out it came several days after Mugabe’s damaging tribal gaffe has been roundly condemned locally, regionally and internationally.
There are even suggestions Mugabe should be reported to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission for dabbling in tribalism.
Critics predict the Kalanga presidential gaffe is likely to affect Moyo personally in his bid to recapture the Tsholotsho North seat on behalf of Zanu PF as the constituency is dominated by villagers of Kalanga lineage most of whose off-springs sought political and economic refuge in South Africa as a direct result of Gukurahundi massacres which left an estimated 20 000 unarmed civil dead and the crisis between 2000 and 2013.
Moyo’s damage limitation is widely viewed as a big yarn and crude with some saying Moyo’s spin-doctoring has stooped lower than his infamous “breaking the fall nonsense”, in reference to his covering up of Mugabe’s fall at the Harare International Airport early this year.
“What colonial stereotype was he talking about 35 years after independence,” asked a media expert, who works for a local think-tank which sometimes lobbies the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services on policy issues.
“Was there xenophobia in South Africa under apartheid? Why try mix up oil and water when we know it cannot mix. Moyo’s latest explanation (regarding Mugabe’s Kalanga jibe) takes the biscuit compared to his nonsense about Mugabe breaking the fall. It is crass madness,” added the media expert, speaking strictly is not named.
Blessing Vava, a Zimbabwe media student with Wits University in South Africa, said Moyo is not being genuine in his explanation but knows the truth, saying he is just singing for his supper.
“Mugabe’s statements smacks of tribalism and there is no aorta of defence to justify such horrible, tribalist remarks when you are a leader of the whole nation not just of the zezurus,” said Vava.
He added that it is unfortunate and probably an oversight and lack of proper research on part of the media to claim the late was Kalanga yet he was of Sotho origin.
“But the subject here is not whether Joshua Nkomo was a Kalanga or Sotho, it is about the generalisation by Mugabe to single out a particular tribe of this country and label them all sorts of names.”
Rashweat Mukundu, a media consultant who doubles up as the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said while it is Moyo’s job to defend his boss, the minister’s latest attempts to explain away Mugabe’s gaffe exposes to the nation that Mugabe is no longer fit for the job more so because of advanced age and his continued gaffes.
Mukundu cautioned the media against making reckless mistakes saying it gave Mugabe’s spin-doctors a chance to divert attention from real issues.
“The media need to do thorough research before making statements so that journalists don’t fall in the same pit as Mugabe in making false and sensational statements,” he said.
Development and political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme added his voice to the issue which has infuriated descendants of Matabeleland South and beyond with Kalanga lineage, saying Moyo is just trying to clean up a mess created by his elderly boss who is sometimes losing it.
“Moyo is trying to sing for his supper, defending the indefensible and trying to spin dirty into something good. He is just doing what he is paid to do, in the process being oblivious to the cost that will have to his own political career as he still has a long way to go unlike his boss who is old and has seen it all,” said Saungweme.
“Zimbabweans are not fools who can be swayed by these professors who are soldiers of fortune, who trash all academic ethnics and ethos for money.”
Political blogger and analyst Takura Zhangazha said while Moyo is trying to do some damage control on behalf of his principal, it does not change the fact that the offending statements were uttered and have drawn various interpretations from not only the ethnic group affected but the broader Zimbabwean public.
“Bu I am sure that Professor Moyo is also trying to ensure that the statements attributed to the President do not negatively affect his election campaign in the Tsholostho by election.”
Be that as it may, Moyo’s latest spin-doctoring is viewed as a very pathetic attempt at defending the indefensible. Critics point out that even the master of spin Goebbels, would not have attempted to defend such hate language publicly spewed for all to see and hear.
The best that Mugabe and his government can do is to apologise for the remarks, pointing out there is honour in apologising than being stubborn and arrogant.
Charles Mangongera, another political analyst, says Moyo has so far dismally failed in trying to sweep Mugabe’s tribal boob under the carpet.