Rands or guns? Who cares? Whatever gets the job done
When you think about it, maybe Mbeki was right about Zim – maybe silent diplomacy was the way to go
As his entourage hurried him through the echoing passages of Zimbabwe’s presidential mansion, past the gigantic bronze of a naked Robert Mugabe wrestling a dragon that was half snake, half Tony Blair, Cyril Ramaphosa tried to remember what his aides had told him earlier.
“What was the thing about mentioning elections?” he asked as they passed a courtyard where a junior secretary was scooping leaves out of the Rejuvenation Tank.
“President Mnangagwa doesn’t like hearing about them,” murmured the representative from Dirco.
“Ours or theirs?”
“Both. Either. Any. He says the word is triggering. Literally. If you say ‘election’ he has this pavlovian thing where he starts pulling triggers.”
“Ah,” said Ramaphosa. “And how much do we think he’s going to ask for?”
An aide from the treasury popped up at his elbow. “They’ve sent us a spreadsheet with a ballpark figure.”
Ramaphosa examined the document.
“This is just a drawing of a man in a field.”
“Yes,” she said. “That’s what they faxed us. It’s a figure in a ballpark. Apparently, the little stick man is President Mnangagwa and the field is where the army is going to murder and bury him if they don’t get paid. Harare Cricket Club, I believe.”
A secret service man touched his ear and murmured into his sleeve. Ramaphosa smiled. The secret service no longer had either earpieces or sleeve-microphones – both had been confiscated after an agent had offered to dictate the longer, more difficult numbers to Jacob Zuma during a state of the nation speech, with famous results – but Ramaphosa liked the gesture.
“Sir,” said the agent. “He’s ready for us.”
The president of Zimbabwe was busy on his memoirs as they entered, and hastily saved the document entitled Chapter 3: So About That Ndebele Thing – It’s Not Genocide If Your Side Wins.
“Cyril!” he cried, rising and striding across the plush carpet made of shredded and compacted ballot papers. “Thank you for coming. Can I get you anything?”
“Jameson on the rocks?”
“Excellent!” cried Mnangagwa and leaned in to an intercom on the wall. “Primrose? Please tell the garden staff to gather some very large rocks together, and then tell Jameson in Accounting to go outside. The president wants to watch Jameson being flung down onto–”
“Never mind,” said Ramaphosa. “Perhaps we should get to business?”
“Very well,” sighed Mnangagwa. “We don’t need a lot. Just enough to allow the basic functions of government to continue.”
“You mean generators in hospitals and that sort of thing?”
Mnangagwa shrugged. “Sure. Sure. I mean, I was thinking more along the lines of shotguns, live ammo, batons, car batteries for attaching to testicles, maybe some legal fees for when someone complains, but sure, let’s go with generators in hospitals.”
“I don’t know,” said Ramaphosa.
“OK,” said Mnangagwa. “Then just some cash. How much you got on you?”
“Emmerson,” said Ramaphosa. “This is a tricky time for me.”
“Fifty rand? Twenty. Make it ten. That’s, like, one baseball bat. Sure. Why not? You can do a lot with one baseball bat.”
“Emmerson, I’ve got to be strategic. My position is shaky, and then there’s the election– ”
When the secret service eventually climbed off him, and he could look out of the window of the helicopter as it sped low and fast towards the border, dodging the weather balloons that comprised the Zimbabwean air force, Ramaphosa finally caught his breath and straightened his shredded tie.
When you thought about it, maybe Mbeki hasn’t got it so wrong. Maybe silent diplomacy was the way to go.
“Let’s send a fruit basket,” he said. “With a card declaring solidarity with the blah blah struggle blah historical blah revolutionary and so on.” He paused. “Do you think he could murder someone with a banana?”
His aides nodded.
“Ah screw it,” sighed Ramaphosa. “Just send him a tenner and don’t tell me anything after that.”