BSR: the boys who looked after Morgan


A colony of ants has many departments with different responsibilities. The queen is responsible for reproduction of the clan. She carries thousands of eggs and ensures the regeneration of the colony. She is looked after and cared for because of the centrality of her role in the colony. Then there is the working class. This includes the workers which fetch food and supplies, constructing the nest, feeding the queen, tending to the young ones and carrying out other mundane chores to keep the colony running.

There are also the soldiers. These are the protectors of the colony. They after the queen and the rest of the clan, ensuring that enemies are kept at bay. When they go to war, they look after the wounded, carrying them back to base to recuperate and to fight again. They literally put their lives at risk for the rest of the colony. They are the unsung heroes of the colony. nobody talks about them, but they are the fighters.

Politics is a game in which the story is often dominated by the big men and women in suits. The rest who make up the organisation tick are often forgotten. The men and women in suits strut on the big stage and pontificate on various issues, attracting applause and platitudes. But their achievements belie the great work that is done by the workers and soldiers behind them. When I worked with Morgan Tsvangirai I was drawn to and humbled by the work of these men and women who toil behind the scenes – the workers. They are miracle workers, because with very little, they still produce extraordinary results. And they did.

Many of them were volunteers who, despite their sacrifices, had no material benefits to show for it. The party was not always in funds, and many times they would not have been paid, but still they came to work. For many of them, it was their devotion to Morgan Tsvangirai, their icon. They fought hard because he inspired them. He made them believe. He gave them hope.  There is one particular group, though, whose dedication and sacrifice will stick with me to the end of time. They are the small group of men who looked after Tsvangirai’s security and welfare. there are the man who are the inspiration of this BSR. It is their voice who made this possible.

Many eyes at rallies or other public gatherings would have been drawn to Tsvangirai, but these boys were ever-present, sometimes standing a short distance away on either side or behind hm, sometimes blending into the crowd, unnoticed. They did not cheer when everyone else cheered Morgan. They did not laugh when everyone else laughed. It was because they had a job to do. A job that only a few noticed. They kept their eye on any threats to their boss. They looked after him. He was the only thing that mattered to them. To many they were there but invisible. Their job was to look out for the man whom everybody revered.

It might seem simple. It might look like a job that only requires brawn and no brain. No, it is not so. It was not an easy job. While Tsvangirai understood the value of security, he sometimes wondered whether it was too much for him, especially around his loyal supporters. Was it necessary for them to follow him to the stage when he presented his speeches? At some rallies, he would ask them to stop and keep a distance.

“Vakomana munobva mamira mudhuze-dhuze kudai pane angandiuraya here pano paRally!” he would quip, laughing, as usual. (Why do you come so close?)

I think this was the ordinary man in him who felt trapped by the protocols of high office. He disliked the idea of being treated as a special case. However, true to their duty, the boys would have none of it. As men trained for their job, they knew that as a politician, their principal might have believed it was good politics not to be seen with too much security around him. They would simply refuse to obey the commander and like true professionals, they stuck to their mandate.

“We have to help the politician from himself, too” one of them once said, with a smile, when I reassured him that their role was much appreciated. Once or twice I would remind the boss in casual conversation not to be too hard on the boys as they were only doing them job. He would laugh, the laugh that one makes in acknowledgement of a fact rather than in dismissal of it. He knew they were very important and he appreciated them. He had survived attempts on his life before and there was an ever-present threat against a man who had taken on a vile and unforgiving system. I admired the bond between them.

I grew fond of these men. I admired their dedication and discipline. They spent days, if not weeks away from their families. They were permanently on call. Protecting Tsvangirai came with many risks but it also availed many rent-seeking opportunities, which corrupt security officers could have taken advantage of. Tsvangirai was hated by the repressive regime and these men who protected him could easily have been his biggest threat if they were easily bought. Yet, as I observed them go about their work, they took their role not as a job but as a duty. They were absolutely attached to and dedicated to their boss.

The era of the Inclusive Government was one of the most trying times for these men. This because as Prime Mnister, Tsvangirai was assigned security from the police and state intelligence services, the dreaded CIO. This was the apparatus of the state that had been used by the Mugabe regime to beat up, torture and detain Tsvangirai in the past. How could they be trusted to protect Tsvangirai? A compromise was found – Tsvangirai would retain his personal security from the party which would work alongside state security agents. It was an awkward arrangement which was characterised by mistrust and conflict especially in the early days. When I arrived in 2012, they had worked out a way to co-exist, but it was still a very difficult relationship. I did my best to get the teams working together. I have to strike a balance, ensuring I enjoyed the confidence of both teams. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. I was impressed that Tsvangirai’s men remained vigilant during this sensitive period.

Oddly, as I discovered, the administrative arm of the organisation did not seem to treat them in a manner that was commensurate with their role. I never understood how men who had the life of the party president in their hands were given such scant treatment. Some politicians were openly contemptuous, which was really embarrassing. One day one of them approached me to say they were thankful that I actually made time to talk to them, even greeting them. But it’s natural, I said. “Some of our leaders treat us like dogs. But we are here for the president and that is what matters,” he said.

For my part, being naturally drawn to the underdog, I tried to work very closely with them, listening to their needs and helping out where possible. I first made this observation at the Christmas party in 2012, just a few months after I joined Tsvangirai’s team. That word of acknowledgement touched them, for as they later told me, they had never been publicly acknowledged before.

Most of their requests were not even personal. They were for their boss – there were not enough vehicles in good shape, his own car had not been serviced, the tyres were worn out, there was not enough fuel to get around, etc. Over time, our bond grew. They appreciated my concern for their welfare and that this was in the interests of “Mdhara” as we called him. For them, anyone who was there to promote the interests of their boss was an ally. Even in the last few years, when I paid visits to Tsvangirai, I would make a point of seeing them too and whenever they saw me they would all come. I valued this relationship and I admired the fact that they continued to perform their role even when conditions were difficult.

When news of Tsvangirai’s death reached me on Wednesday evening, my thoughts went to his elderly mother and children but also to this group of silent warriors whose gallant work has often been under-appreciated. They will be grieving deeply because they have lost far more than a boss. They were loyal and the bond between them was solid. Their world is empty now without him. The next leader of the party will probably come with his own team. They will probably be discarded and forgotten.

Many people are rightly grieving for the loss of their icon, but for those of us who had an intimate knowledge of his world, we are also grieving with and for these men who had dedicated their lives to protect him. They did their best over the years against the physical threats to Tsvangirai’s life, making sure he was safe. But they could do nothing against the coward that is cancer. There will be theories and conspiracies that perhaps the cancer that took Tsvangirai’s life was not nature’s work but the hand of humankind.

Some of the boys might even blame themselves that perhaps they could have been more vigilant. But this is all conjecture and it is hard to see what they could have done, even if this were the hand of humankind. They should walk with their heads high that they stood with their man to the very end. I saw them at work. They kept awake while we slept when we travelled. They slept in crowded rooms and spent long periods away from their homes, receiving very little by way of compensation. But they never wavered.

This is why I have told their story, because after this sad chapter they will probably be dumped and forgotten. I always wanted to tell their story, but I realised that it would be unwise as it would compromise their important work. But now their principal is gone and these unsung heroes might be forgotten, their role must be acknowledged, honoured and celebrated. They do not have the same hand to articulate their issues. It is this hand that I have given today, even without naming them.

I hope the party and the new leader and their administration, whoever they are,  will take care of these men and not forget them just because the man they looked after is no more. They are good men, deserving of respect and honour.

One day, perhaps their fellow Zimbabweans will put their hands together to acknowledge them in material terms. They soldiered on and served well right up to the end. I salute them.

Beautiful songs on the occasion of the death of an icon: