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Mugabe in the 'hood'
Moyo, Mail & Guardian (SA)
hand and speaking street lingo, a cool Zimbabwean president is appearing
in music videos in an attempt to woo young voters.
iron-fisted, anti-imperialist revolutionary, is getting an extreme
makeover. He has been appearing in music videos, talking on a cellphone
to teenage rappers and rattling off street lingo over booming house
for unpopular elections next year, he is targeting a youth vote
that has long rejected the old-fashioned, revolutionary rhetoric
that has been the hallmark of his party's previous campaigns.
It is Mugabe's
youth militia that have helped him retain power for years, but his
handlers are now looking for young musicians to help charm young
voters away from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
In one video,
played frequently on state television, Mugabe sits in his office,
picks up a cellphone and asks his young sister at the end of the
line, "Zvirisei-sei?", the Zimbabwe equivalent of "Wassup?".
In another song,
a speech Mugabe once made mocking exiled Zimbabweans doing deadbeat
jobs in foreign lands has been automated over a throbbing dance
off to England, you get there and you get a job cleaning old white
folks' behinds," Mugabe's voice booms over the
track in Shona. "Who are you running to?"
The music is
by a group called The Born Free Crew, a reference to those born
after independence, known locally as "born frees" and
much criticised by the older generation for discarding the values
of the struggle.
A glowing review
of the new Mugabe album in the state-controlled The Herald newspaper
said the music "paid tribute to President Mugabe for advocating
the total emancipation of not only Zimbabwe but also the continent
The songs on
the album, the reviewer wrote, speak about "the need for people
to stay connected with their country as well as the leadership,
with President Mugabe at the helm".
A member of
the group, Chancellor Majoka, said: "To the youths, let's
put our heads together and enjoy the freedom our fathers and mothers
Mugabe has his
ear to the ground. Last month he jumped on the frenzy surrounding
the Big Brother Africa television reality show and gave the losing
finalist, Munyaradzi Chidzonga, $300 000.
After 30 years
in power, Mugabe remains a mythical figure to many Zimbabweans,
so some are surprised to find that he too uses an everyday gadget
like a cellphone.
hope that showing him as an "ordinary guy from the 'hood"
will soften his image, though some feel the new campaign may only
expose him to ridicule.
Mugabe is a tough marketing job. His handlers have tried to make
him look cool before. In 2008 they invoked Tupac using lyrics from
the Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. album, to send the message to voters
that their troubles were only temporary. Using Tupac's lyrics
from the song Keep Ya Head Up, one banner declared: "Through
every dark night, there's a bright day after that. So no matter
how hard it gets, stick your chest out, keep ya head up."
As he went into
a run-off boycotted by the opposition, drab posters showing an angry
old revolutionary, trademark fist in the air, were replaced by brightly
coloured banners of a Mugabe wearing a playful smile.
The irony is
that the youths in Zanu-PF itself, apart from being used as militia
fodder, have little say. It was noted for years that one did not
need to be young to be a youth leader in Zanu-PF. But at Zanu-PF's
congress last year the party grudgingly agreed to change its rules
to let younger members lead the Zanu-PF Youth League - it
can now be led only by someone younger than 30. But it kept in office
its secretary for youth affairs, Absalom Sikhosana, who is believed
to be in his 50s.
At the weekend
Mugabe was back in more comfortable territory. At a meeting of mostly
ageing traditional chiefs, who still revel in the colonial-era,
ankle-length red robes, huge gold pendants, white pith hats and
canes, endorsement came a lot easier for Mugabe. He alone could
lead the country, they declared, and they would back him in the
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