Return of the famous seven

HARARE – In some ways, it almost seems unfair to compare a sequel to the original.

It should be judged on its own merits.

However, usually the only reason many are captivated by a sequel is because of the original, so it is inevitable to compare the two.

In like manner, there is an interesting political phenomenon which took place last weekend.

Not the Zanu PF special congress, but its immediate aftermath.

It was the Zanu PF Youth League extraordinary congress which convened the day after the congress, whose purpose was to elect 10 people to replace those that the party had shown the exit  door.

One name stood out; that of Godfrey Tsenengamu, who staged a dramatic return to the party echelons by winning an election for the influential position of the league’s national political commissar.

But away from that, there was a silent movement happening beneath, out of the public glare.

The famous seven — a grouping of belligerent Zanu PF youth leaders — made their way back into the ruling party fold.

And Tsenengamu was part of that small cast — comprising Godwin Gomwe, Vengai Musengi, Kumbulani Mpofu, Edmore Samambwa, Tamuka Nyoni and Washington Nkomo — which traversed the length and breadth of Zimbabwe in 2014, de-campaigning Zanu PF cadres that would have fallen out of favour with the powers-that-be.

The young men were, at the time, all-conquering and swashbuckling.

Known as “the famous seven” or simply the “group of seven”, these youths were capable of making or breaking political careers — just to please their handlers.

With such referral power, they became a law unto themselves, until their cathartic fall, which did not take too long to come.

In their trail, broken hearts were left, some of which may never mend.

But the biggest casualty was former vice president Joice Mujuru, a part victim of their feral tongues.

At the time, Mujuru was fighting an enervating war against President Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed the then president Robert Mugabe — a long, twisting question which only the army could answer with a sheer show of force last month.

When the army stormed out of the barracks and invaded the streets on November 14, in an operation code-named “Operation Restore Legacy”, the famous seven saw an opportunity to retrace their footprints back home after spending two years in the proverbial political Siberia.

Except for Tsenengamu, who obviously was the biggest winner, the rest grabbed back their positions as provincial chairpersons, which they occupied before they were chased away.

Their readmission proved one very old truth — there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, but permanent interests.

In this case, permanent interests simply meant: You scratch my back and I scratch yours.

No sooner had they dealt with Mujuru and her allies than they found themselves at the very deep end.

Power, instead of shifting in favour of their preferred candidate, who was Mnangagwa, had moved to 93-year-old Mugabe’s overambitious wife, Grace.

And she was in no mood to tolerate them.

One afternoon at a local hotel, they called a press conference which was addressed by Tsenengamu, by far the most eloquent among the youth leaders.

They had no kind words for Grace, whom they openly threatened to “deal with”.

Mugabe was not impressed. Not at all.

That night, he addressed what he termed a State of the Nation address but one which was more accurately a state of the party address, accusing the famous seven of taking illicit substances, rebuking them for having a go at his dear wife and got them kicked out of the party.

Since then, Tsenengamu had brushes with the law enforcers.

The former Mugabe administration thought he was speaking too much and had to be caged.

He was elated to be back in the party and to be more powerful than he has ever been.

“I am happy to be back home. For now, I don’t want to talk too much, but just say I am ready to serve the party in my new capacity to the best of my ability,” he said.

He is not short on ability either, whatever its implications.

He showed exactly what he is capable of doing when he temporarily sought refuge in newly established party, Zimbabwe People’s Party (Zipp) led by one Blessing Kasiyamhuru.

Under his leadership, Zipp had taken root in his home province of Mashonaland Central and once the party’s central committee announced that it had lifted all suspensions and expulsions made after the 2014 congress, he, along with his colleagues, naturally found his way back home.

Gomwe is back too, and with him the muscular bodyguards that dwarf his tiny frame.

“I am back in the party and all the comrades are also back and raring to go,” he declared, flanked by two alert bodyguards who looked like ready to pounce.

Whether they have reformed or not, they “famous seven” shall always be remembered by their earlier (dis)repute.

This is a formidable force which hunts in packs like the painted dogs and they have shown that they can brutally take down any size of politician.

It might, to some, appear unfair that to compare the sequel that they are now to the original they were before, but even Mnangagwa provides a key lesson to all and sundry about Zanu PF returnees when he said: “They must know that we have forgiven, but we have not forgotten.”

He was of course not referring to Tsenengamu et al, but to his G40 nemesis, but to everyone else, the statement applies even to his own comrades whom he has taken back under his wings.

But while the return of these youths has been celebrated with pomp and fanfare, cagey political analysts said the development only served to indicate that youths were only pawns in the political game.

“Their outright expulsion and subsequent return, albeit after a radical leadership change in Zanu PF, speaks to politics as the dirty game that it has always been thought to be.

“These young men were used so effectively, but once they had exhausted their usefulness in the old order, they were kicked out.

“They were suddenly a liability and no longer an asset, so they had to go. Now there is new leadership, and they are back again, most probably to serve the same purpose which they had served before their initial ouster,” said University of Zimbabwe political science professor Eldred Masunungure.

Political commentator Rashweat Mukundu concurred with Masunungure saying: “The lesson for is that youths must build their own political base which they can use to leverage power with the senior officials.

Let them offer their own ideas rather than hiding in the big coat of senior political bigwigs. They must learn from (Norton legislator) Temba Mliswa who built his own political base. Without that, they would be like expendable political fodder.”

Memories of the “famous seven” lining up at rallies and chanting slogans that floored their victims are still vivid in the minds of many.

Because they had become too big-headed, some of them were now surrounding themselves with heavily-built bodyguards to shield themselves from any danger — real or perceived.

With general elections beckoning, it might be worthwhile to look at the kind of politics they can bring about by looking at their previous exploits.

In the case of Gomwe, it was quite an interesting sight to see his small frame sandwiched by menacing, muscular bodyguards.

With Gomwe, calling the shots in Harare, the other six were running the show in their respective provinces as well.

Vengai Musengi — well-built and possessing the strength of no less than three ordinary men — most likely did not need any bodyguard for he looked ever ready to personally deal with any potential physical threat.

While ruling from Mashonaland West, Musengi’s casualties included none other than fitness trainer-cum politician, Mliswa, who was stampeded out of the provincial executive by the youths he groomed and commanded.

Samambwa did battle from the Midlands Province, home to Mnangagwa.

Cleaving with Samambwa were other youths like one Tonderai Chidawa who leads the Zanu PF-affiliated Zimbabwe Council for Students Union; Absolom Madusire; Memory Masengu and controversial businessman and legislator, Justice Mayor Wadyajena.

Nyoni commanded Matabeleland North, combining with Washington Nkomo (Matabeleland South) and Mpofu (Bulawayo) to form the deadly triumvirate that battled from the southern region.

Tsenengamu ruled the roost in Mashonaland Central, which became the hotbed of thuggish politics.