ED needs cushioning from gaffes
© “We say to Robert Mugabe, if you don’t want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently,” the late MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangirai told his supporters at a rally at Rufaro Stadium in 2000.
The remarks invited a treason charge for Tsvangirai who appeared not to have meant what he had said.
Tsvangirai later said he was delivering a warning to Mugabe that “there is a long line of dictators who have refused to go peacefully — and the people have removed them violently.”
If Tsvangirai’s message was not clear to MDC supporters and indeed neutrals — who also felt that he didn’t mean to topple Mugabe out of power — it was gleefully received and accepted by Mugabe’s government, which said it was treasonous.
This was Tsvangirai who had on February 12 and 13, 2000, successfully led and mobilised Zimbabweans, through the
National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) — to reject a government-sponsored constitutional draft in that year’s historic referendum. This was the same Tsvangirai whose party had garnered 57 seats to Zanu PF’s 63 in its first time of contesting in June 2000. Zanu PF was only able to increase its numbers in Parliament when it was saved by the additional 30 non constituent seats that were reserved for traditional leaders and provincial governors.
So Tsvangirai had played into Mugabe’s Zanu PF hands when he made the “treasonous” statement during his address at Rufaro Stadium.
The Rufaro incident forced the MDC into preparing speeches for Tsvangirai to avoid exposing the late much-loved politician who enjoyed speaking off the cuff.
The Tsvangirai’s “lost in translation” moment has reminded me of the increasing and regrettable gaffes by President Emmerson Mnangagwa during his public addresses.
Mnangagwa was accustomed to operating from the shadows due to his strong security background and it would be tactless on the part of his communications and advisory teams to let him speak off the cuff quite often.
The reason why speech writers prepare speeches for presidents or senior officials is to guard against unguarded moments, which often take the speaker by surprise, when they trigger a reaction.
A case in point is last Friday’s clean-up exercise where the president was in Kuwadzana 2 in Harare. He made a number of statements during his engagement which characterised him as arrogant and out of touch with reality.
Apart from that, some of the comments were unsavoury even if they were made in jest, as it appeared to be in the final analysis.
But for those who were at Kuwadzana 2 shopping centre and indeed thousands of other ordinary citizens who expressed their disappointment and disquiet over Mnangagwa’s statements — through widely shared footage of his speech on social media, the damage had been done.
Mnangagwa’s “eat vegetables jibe” during the clean-up exercise stirred fierce criticism for the president.
What might have been ordinarily treated as an innocuous answer turned into a mega public relations disaster for the president and his entire team.
The residents told Mnangagwa that they were spending weeks on end without eating meat due to the exorbitant prices being charged by butcheries.
Mnangagwa, in response, appeared to have been caught off guard as his answer was not what the genuinely-meat starved residents were expecting.
“Aah nyama, ko muriwoka. Muriwo ndiwo unodikwana nanadoctor. Madoctor anoda kuti museve nemuriwo, kuti mugare makasimba, mune utano, nyama haina kumbonaka veduwe. Aaaa apo tapesana. Ini ndoteerera vanachiremba. Saka ndodya zvangu muriwo. Kwanzi mavitamins anowanikwa mumurivo namapotatoes,” he said much to the chagrin of the residents.
(Why meat and not vegetables? Vegetables are recommended by doctors as they are good for your health. Meat is not good for you. This is where I disagree with you because doctors want people to eat vegetables. I listen to doctors and I eat vegetables.
Mnangagwa could have been well-meaning, but the timing and the manner in which it came out assumed a different meaning.
At the end of the day it is down to the environmental scan, anticipation and preparing a speech which seeks to address most of the topical issues affecting people.
Environmental scanning and anticipation become even more important especially when you know that the president would address people in an urban constituency controlled by a popular opposition party.
It doesn’t make sense to make a scramble for corrections in the aftermath because “the horse would have bolted”.