The kneeling brigade's swelling numbers

HARARE - It's not known how many times prominent personalities, Zanu PF Members of Parliament and ministers in President Robert Mugabe’s Cabinet  kneel before divinity to ask for forgiveness for their sins as they retire to bed at night.

What is known though is that they do not have any qualms kneeling before their revered leader, Mugabe, and his wife Grace.

It is now a common sight to see bigwigs in Zanu PF kneeling before the first couple at public events such as rallies and funerals.

The trend is even more rampant behind closed doors — away from the cameras and prying eyes of the public.

Some accounts say even in Cabinet  meetings, some of Mugabe’s ministers kneel before him.

Then ICT minister in the government of national unity (GNU), Nelson Chamisa, once spoke about how senior officials that included John Nkomo (and may his soul rest in eternal peace) and Patrick Chinamasa regularly knelt before Mugabe during Cabinet  meetings.

Chamisa said the sight of a whole Cabinet  minister kneeling before the president came as a “culture shock” for MDC ministers who had just joined the GNU to end months of political uncertainties that had been occasioned by the inconclusive polls of 2008.

“I was shocked to find (the late National Healing minister) John Nkomo crawling in front of Mugabe. At first, I feared there was something wrong; then looked up and there was a grinning Mugabe,” he said back then.

“Only last week, at the end of the Cabinet session, Chinamasa wanted to ask Mugabe for a meeting to brief him on the inter-party negotiations.

“He went over and knelt down. They all kneel! You have to wonder if their wives know they kneel for another man. Mugabe has total power over them,” Chamisa said then.

That kneeling gesture in Zanu PF, according to analysts, was more like the officials would be singing for their supper.

Undoubtedly, Mugabe wields enormous influence and power in Zimbabwe and can make or break career paths at the touch of a baton, especially for those who have chosen politics as their stock in trade.

Mugabe’s appointing authority straddles across all three arms of the State and at the switch of a light can basically decide his subordinates’ next meal.

In a country where keeping a high-ranking government post is dependent on the benevolence of the 93-year-old leader, it therefore becomes difficult to discern a respectful gesture from cowardice and utter bootlicking.

The kneeling brigade has apparently become more open and daring, exhibiting its willingness to pander to the whims of Mugabe for personal gain be it in public or private.

With Mugabe’s wife, Grace, rising to become an influential figure in Zanu PF, the kneeling brigade has taken note of her enormous referral power and now kneels before her too.

A sharp-tongued political figure not afraid to embarrass senior government officials, sections of Zanu PF ministers view Grace as a kingmaker in the battle to succeed her 93-year-old husband.

In many parts of the country, it’s not common for men to kneel before women especially if their only claim to fame is being the wife of a powerful chief.

But that has not stopped that trend from gaining momentum in the ruling party.

The image of Zanu PF senior member Martin Dinha kneeling at the feet of Grace during a Mashonaland Central Rally in 2016 with his hands clasped in prayer is not easily forgotten.

Before Dinha, was Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo and then former Security minister Didymus Mutasa, who also dropped to his knees in an image captured after the 2013 elections.

Recently, pictures of Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Rita Makarau kneeling before Mugabe went viral.

Makarau and her team from Zec had gone to the State House to record Mugabe and his wife, as the first citizens to be registered through the biometric voter registration exercise (BVR) for the purposes of creating a new voters’ roll.

While the launch of the BVR exercise at Mugabe’s official residence enraged the opposition, the image of a kneeling Makarau at the feet of Mugabe fuelled speculation that the commission was controlled by the ruling party.

Makarau was to later defend her kneeling before the Zanu PF leader.’

The secretary for the Judicial Service Commission said culture demanded that she respects her elders and hence there was nothing untoward about her actions.

“I have been brought up to say that when you are speaking to someone older than you kneel down. That’s who I have been brought up and it was difficult for me to change just like that when he called me to his side,” Makarau said, adding that she also finds herself kneeling when conducting her duties as a Supreme Court Judge.

“I find myself kneeling to the chief justice if I have to speak to him I can’t get rid of that upbringing like I said. Even at work I find myself kneeling maybe I need to go for training (to get rid of it).”

She also defended her visit to State House to register Mugabe, in a recent interview.

She said: “I am very detached (from politicians) and when I was speaking to him (Mugabe) I was speaking to him in his capacity as the head of State....I think what people forget is that in 2013 I also spoke to the then prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, no questions were raised about that. I speak to any office bearer in my capacity as commissioner of Zec.”

Makarau might have a point though, rooted in Zimbabwe’s culture. But many will be watching to see if she would be able to kneel before MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and other equally important figures in Zimbabwe.

If she doesn’t, then it will become easy to dismiss her point.

In the United States, kneeling has become a social movement since September 1, 2016.

This was when an American football player — Colin Kaepernick — opted to kneel in protest over social injustices and seeking equality for all Americans, no matter their race or gender.

Kaepernick’s actions triggered mixed reactions, including from athletes in the National Football League (NFL) and other American sports leagues protesting the anthem in various ways.

His actions drew the ire of US President Donald Trump who advocated that NFL players should be punished if they do not stand up for the national anthem but many NFL teams and players stood together to protest Trump’s beliefs.

Just imagine this form of protest finding its way to Zimbabwe by some stretch of imagination?

It would really be a “culture shock” for some, as highlighted by Chamisa, now vice president in the MDC, when he shared his experiences in the GNU in which Tsvangirai shared power with Mugabe.

While officials in Zanu PF find it easy to kneel before their benefactors, it might be a long walk for the generality of Zimbabweans — faced with a dying economy, misplaced priorities and rising joblessness — to rise from their knees.

    Comments (1)

    If she(Rita) kneels before her husband then I have qualms about her kneeling before the president,if not........uuuuu!

    Nick - 5 October 2017

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