President Robert Mugabe alienated one of the most level headed minds in Zanu PF by tacitly supporting the brutal purges that rocked the former guerrilla movement.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Described by many as “the voice of reason”, Cephas Msipa says while he has not given up, “for now I would want to take a back seat and watch”.
Msipa is one of the last remaining old-time nationalists that University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure described as “facing extinction”.
“He appears sober minded and clearly more sober than his peers in the former liberation movement. Sadly his advice, mainly in turbulent times, is never taken into consideration, most probably because of his background in Zapu rather than Zanu,” Masunungure told The Standard in an interview.
“He is probably one of the most frustrated personalities in the ruling party. Msipa personifies the old adage that age comes with wisdom. He has demonstrated his commitment to the party by providing what I would call sage advice and trying to reform the party from within, but this has not worked.”
Msipa was the last secretary general of Joshua Nkomo’s PF Zapu, making him the second most powerful person in that party at the consummation of the Unity Accord in 1987, in the aftermath of the Gukurahundi massacre that claimed more than 20 000 civilians.
“The fact that he has let juniors assume higher positions in government without so much as a word against them speaks volumes about his political modesty. Msipa is an unfamiliar breed in the political power matrix of the ruling party and country as a whole,” Masunungure said.
“Those who were more junior to him have taken higher position with alacrity. He is not an ambitious gladiator like most of them but remains a stabilising force in the midst of all this bedlam.”
Added Masunungure: “He is a special breed facing extinction and Mugabe should have recognised such political modesty. But everyone knows how difficult it is not only to please Mugabe, but to read into his Machiavellian politics which highly flies at a tangent with the likes of Msipa”.
But Msipa remains coy when asked about his contributions to Zanu PF, although he did not hide that he was not amused by the fact that his advice “has been ignored” by Mugabe.
“I love my country and I am a patriotic Zimbabwean. While everything is still going in the wrong direction I am still optimistic that we shall get it right, I am always optimistic,” Msipa said.
“The late Enos Nkala described me as an eternal optimist at the height of the disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands. I was of the opinion that unity between PF Zapu and Zanu at the time would be found. In the end it did, although many lives had been lost unnecessarily.”
In the midst of the mayhem that engulfed Zanu PF last year as the political infighting reached a crescendo, Msipa warned Mugabe of an impending split within the ruling party, urging the veteran Zimbabwean strongman to “stop your wife”.
“The key is in the President’s hands. He holds the key and I’ve no doubt about that. No other person [can]. If he can be seen to take action against those who are promoting factionalism, that will end it. The buck stops there. We have to be careful that factionalism does not lead other people to think about forming a break-away party,” Msipa said then.
Msipa also revealed that he had also failed to convince the Zanu PF leader to name a successor.
“Unfortunately, he didn’t agree with me. So as you know, politics is a struggle for power. People want to take certain positions in the party and that’s the nature of politics,” he said last year.
First Lady Grace Mugabe was at the forefront of a verbal assault on ousted Vice-President Joice Mujuru who stood accused of all sorts of things, including treason.
Msipa said Mugabe has the right to reject advice.
“The President receives advice from a lot of people and I am not the only one who gives him advice but maybe he realised that the advice he was getting from other quarters was better than the advice I was giving and I accept that,” said the ever modest Msipa.
“At times silence as they say is golden, especially when you realise that you are not being listened to and this is not the first time I have come to such a conclusion.
In the early 1980s I did the same, went into what I call political exile and that gives me time to introspect, that way I will maybe live longer to be of help to my country”.
He, however, said he would try and reach out to Mugabe once again “when the opportunity presents itself”.
“I am also of the belief that we should be building bridges rather than burning them, that Zimbabweans should be walking towards each other rather than running away from each other.
That is why I always say let us go back to the days when we called each other mwana wevhu [son of the soil], I do not like people spreading hate speech,” the veteran nationalist said.
Asked if he thought Zimbabweans were a happy lot, Msipa said the fear pervading the country made it difficult for people to be joyful.
“There is fear rather than happiness and Zimbabweans could be happier; I would like to wish for a better and more prosperous country. That is my hope and dream, that this country would find happiness, and we have the capacity,” he added.
Ibbo Mandaza, a renowned political scientist and a former senior technocrat in Mugabe’s government agreed that Msipa was a “gentle giant”.
“He has always been like that, quiet and unassuming but very intelligent and gentle. Sadly though and most significantly, no one listens to him,” said Mandaza.
Zanu PF remains on edge as the purges continue with key personalities forced out through the trap-door.
The fight to succeed Mugabe is far from over and characters of Msipa’s calibre might be called upon to cool tempers if need be. “I will be there as always to serve my country when called,” he said.