President Emmerson Mnangagwa, pictured, who replaced long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in July ©Getty Images
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has never been a prolific orator like his predecessor the late Robert Mugabe, he seems to have been trying to compensate for that lack of the gift by using humour.
His many ‘jokes’ however, have often left many confused and bewildered and some even in shock. The general consensus has been that many of his jokes were in bad taste.
Before he became Zimbabwe’s number 1 citizen, Mnangagwa was a man of very few words, and you would have been hard pressed to remember a single joke he cracked in public.
Observers have expressed concern that the President’s jokes have only served to expose his insensitivity to other people’s feelings. Many of the jokes have been felt to be in bad taste.
While officially opening a mortuary built by a local businessman in Gutu two weeks ago, Mnangagwa told guests the story of a state-of-the-art mortuary he built in Mbizo, Kwekwe, an area he used to represent as a legislator before the opposition MDC forced him to decamp to Chirumanzu–Zibagwe constituency.
“When I was a Member of Parliament for Kwekwe, I constructed a state-of-the-art mortuary with 12 bays, very cool inside. I did not get inside, I just had to put my hand inside and it was cool. I told people in Mbizo that there is a prize for the family that brings the body of their (dead) relative first,” he said.
“At that time there was already someone who had passed on at the hospital and that family won the prize.”
Traditionally, Zimbabweans revere the dead and do not joke on issues related to death, and many found the joke quite jarring.
Sadza and vegetables
In January this year, Mnangagwa’s picture aboard a hired private plane feasting on mazondo attracted a lot of scorn.
It became a point of conjecture when the President encouraged residents in Kuwadzana who had pleaded with him to address the issue of rising prices of meat.
In his response, Mnangagwa said: “Muriwo ndiwo unodikanwa namadoctor. Madoctor anoda kuti museve nemuriwo kuti mugare makasimba mune utano. Nyama haina kumbonaka veduwe. Apo tapesana, inini ndoterera vana chiremba saka ndodya zvangu muriwoo. Hanzi mavitamins anowanikwa mumuriwo nemapotato. Handiti wazviona.” (Doctors recommend vegetables because they are good for your health. We don’t agree on meat. I listen to doctors so I eat vegetables. Vegetables and potatoes have vitamins).
This created the impression of an uncaring President as the increase in the price of beef was symptomatic of the rising cost of living as citizens struggled to put food on the table under his leadership.
After encouraging citizens to shun meat and eat vegetable, Mnangagwa bragged to starving villagers early this week that he ate plenty of meat because there were lots of livestock at his Precabe Farm in Kwekwe.
“At this farm, we have plenty of livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and countless poultry. From all those we eat whatever we want when we feel like,” he said during a field day attended by VIPs.
During a clean-up campaign in Kuwadzana, Mnangagwa jokingly said should he discover that Kuwadzana residents were responsible for the dry spell in the country, he was going to send in the army to deal with them.
“If there are no rains, there will be hunger in the country and if there is hunger in the country, there is no joy,” Mnangagwa said.
“If the people of Kuwadzana do not want rain and are causing problems, we will just say to the army, kombayi tirove (round them up and beat them up).
Kuwadzana suffered some of the worst violence after Mnangagwa’s administration sent in soldiers who summarily beat up anyone in sight during protests against a 150% increase in fuel in January last year. The suburb had a similar experience during the post-election violence of August 1, 2018.
His “joke” sounded like a tacit admission that the assaults were at his bidding.
One of Mnangagwa’s favourite word, kurakasha (thoroughly beating up), which makes him sound more like henchman than a President, has also been taken in a similar context.
At yet another clean-up campaign in Gutu, Masvingo, Mnangagwa threatened to release home inspectors to arrest everyone found with cockroaches in their house.
“Make sure the clothes you put on are neat. After dinner, make sure the plates you use are cleaned so that we don’t have cockroaches. It will come a time we will go around with village inspectors, we will begin by warnings then it will get to a time where we will arrest you if we find a cockroach in your house,” Mnangagwa said.
The video of him saying that went viral and sent chilling signals to those who understood the significance of cockroaches.
At the height of the Rwandan genocide in the early to mid-1990s, the minority Tutsis were referred to as “cockroaches” as they were targeted for ethnic cleansing by the Hutus. Not a good memory for a country that has failed to address the massacre of 20 000 of its citizens by security agents when Mnangagwa himself was Minister of State Security in the 1980s.
Several of Mnangagwa’s jokes have not also found takers within the Christian community, with many accusing him of being blasphemous through his misplaced biblical references.
In 2015, before he became President, Mnangagwa addressed a funeral in the Midlands province where he said God puts on a cap signed by the then President Robert Mugabe.
“I grew up as a Christian and when I was older l went to war after learning that there is a Jehovah of war. There are people like you who love peace, I chose the God of war and went to war. You say you want peace alone; there are some of us who want war because we have the God of war. The Jehovah of war is the same with that of peace,” he said.
“One day, Jehovah was seated in the shed with a cap written RG Mugabe. Have you ever seen it? You see this cap?”
He called a central committee member with a Zanu-PF cap with Mugabe’s signature.
“This is the cap God was putting on in the shed,” he continued. “A small boy came near while passing by. God asked, where are you from? Where are you going? The name of the young man was called Satan and he said makandirakasha mukandikandira pasi. God asked whether he had seen Job, the boy said I saw him, but makashosha ruzhowa paari.”
In December 2019, Mnangagwa equated himself to God while likening his arch-rival and MDC leader Nelson Chamisa to Satan.
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana has, however, defended Mnangagwa’s “jokes” saying that those who “deliberately miss them take themselves too seriously for nothing”.
However, according to Alex Magaisa, a former advisor to former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mnangagwa’s preferred choice of metaphors are not surprising as they are deliberately meant to inculcate fear in the listener.
Source – newsday