How revolutionary are they?

I must have been very naive in my youth. When I first met Chen Chimutengwende he was to be found most often in a cellar in London's Gower Street, in the middle of the university area, firing up a group of miscellaneous black revolutionaries. Or more often in the evening on his favourite stage, at the bar of the Marlborough pub round the corner from that basement.

When he held forth about how political power was the way to personal economic power, I thought he was criticising the corrupt post-colonial elites whom he and his cronies despised and hated as much as they did the colonialists.

Looking back now, I realise that Godwin Matatu, who had not yet made his name as a journalist, was more cynical, and he was right. Maybe that is why he died so tragically young. The trouble wasn't really with what Chen and his cronies in that basement said. They quoted the right revolutionary authors, among whom I specially remember Fanon.

I was one of the simple souls who not only believed what they said, but believed that they, despite a heavily racist rhetoric and some misquoting of Fanon, believed it themselves. Of course Chen was only the jester at the court of our socialist monarch. A jester is allowed to say what others fear to express, but he showed where things were going by 1985.

That was when our first enthusiasm for our new government was losing its shine. Some things were going wrong, but if we couldn't brush them under the carpet, we could still say "Surely HE doesn't know about this?" I was at a gathering at that time of the development set and a mixture of leftish intellectuals and revolutionary comrades like the Palestinian and Cuban ambassadors, when some disturbing rumours were mentioned and met with "surely HE doesn't know?" A Nicaraguan woman replied "Why don't you tell him? That's what we do." This was met with an embarrassed silence. We didn't want to risk losing our illusions.

Our international comrades seem to have sized up Zanu (PF) faster than we did. Fidel Castro's response when he was shown the motorcade at his disposal for the Non-Aligned conference in 1987 was gently barbed: "Thank you very much for the kind thought, but I always find one bodyguard is enough."

That is as it should be. A true revolutionary does not isolate himself from the people. He certainly doesn't want them fear him. Comrade Fidel didn't use a limousine in Havana. He would ride around the city on a motorbike, sometimes with a bodyguard on the pillion and sometimes without. People would greet him, not run for cover lest his (non-existent) escort should think they were not showing enough "respect" (what our security people demand when they want "fear"). If they had requests, suggestions or complaints, they would put them to him and he did take notice.

He knew what that Nicaraguan lady hinted at. So did his colleagues on the left wing of the Non-Aligned Movement. They were polite, they offered what help they could to initiatives that might help our people. Look at how our rural medical services depended for a long time on Cuban personnel while the graduates from our own university sought greener pastures. But the international comrades don't treat our Old Man as a valued ally in any serious practical project to right the injustices of the international trade or finance systems. He might be useful if they want a few slogans shouted in the AU or SADC, but they know whose side he is really on. They probably knew more about the early development of Mujuru's and Mnangagwa's business enterprises than we did.

And wasn't Gaddafi's theatrical walk across the bridge at Chirundu after the Lusaka meeting where the OAU changed itself into AU meant to show up the pretensions of a "revolutionary" sent to greet him who could hardly walk half the length of the bridge because he was so fat?

Post published in: Analysis

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