Politics dirtier, deadlier

HARARE - It would to be a cold day in hell if fate handed me the great misfortune of having one of my offspring leap into the deadly arena of politics.

I appreciate to others, this would be manna from Heaven, likely to boost both parents’ egos and fortunes.

But an example of a would-be African politician of my acquaintance provides a salutary lesson of sorts.

In 1973, I was invited to the Soviet Union for a writers’ conference. I met a barrel-chested Liberian poet named Sankaulo.

We had a great time together, during the entire period of our visits to many cities and towns in that country, then still under the communists.

I was living in Zambia then, from which a story of mine, A Man’s Heart, was found fascinating enough by the Soviets to be included in an anthology of Afro-African stories.

It was fascinating enough for them to invite me in person to the writers’ conference.

Unfortunately, Sankaulo and I did not keep in touch after our conference, an exciting adventure in an exciting country, with exciting writers, among them Lev Tolstoy.

Decades later, well into the 21st century, I realised we should have kept in touch.

I came across a name in a newspaper which sounded very much like his.

I was anxious to establish if it was indeed this muscular poet I had met those many years ago in Moscow.

On Google, the man’s name popped up, with what I thought was a lengthy biographical presentation.

I was utterly devastated when it turned out that he had died years ago, in his own country, but not as a poet — but as a politician.

It was during the period of crisis in Liberia, featuring the exploits of Charles Taylor and others.

Sankaulo was not mentioned as having taken part in the carnage.

But he had ended up as a choice for president of one group which had suddenly gained prominence in the country.

He had then been wounded and had died in hospital. That was it.

The poet had died an inglorious death as a politician. What a horrible twist of fate! 

I have always felt sorry for any friends who ended up in politics, as unfortunately as Sankaulo did.

I have always imagined what fascinating poetry he would have written if it hadn’t been for that moment of madness.

I have felt almost the same way about another friend, Chris Kabwe.

In his case, it seems to have been entirely accidental that he fell into a net which included alleged plotters of a botched military coup against the-then president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda.

I have told in the past how Kabwe was eventually exonerated, yet was still targeted for elimination by other pro-Kaunda politicians.

At this time, I had returned to Zimbabwe and was working at Zimpapers.

Kabwe wrote me to plead for a possible escape from what he thought would be the end for him — capture or assassination by his enemies.

He asked me to find him a job in Zimbabwe.

He had risen to be the head of the air force.

I have no idea if he appreciated that just the mention of his name would get tongues wagging in the Mugabe government.

My fear froze me not to act. He died soon afterwards, of natural causes.

I have always felt guilty about that.

My great consolation is John Donne’s poem, Death be not proud. Its last line is Death thou shalt die.

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