Kirsty Coventry represented the nation of Zimbabwe at the highest level featuring at 4 Olympic events. Zimbabwe has 9 olympic medals and Kirsty owns 8 of them. She is an international superstar. For her exploits she won the hearts of all Zimbabweans. Leading to former President Mugabe granting her a diplomatic passport. She allegedly declined US citizenship so she could continue Swimming for Zimbabwe.
Throughout her career there was no public drama that could have tainted her image. Hence she became Zimbabwe’s Golden Girl, the darling of the people. She is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). She was elected Chairperson of the IOC Athletes Commission, a body representing all Olympic athletes internationally.
So with Kirsty’s appointment into EDs cabinet came a huge amount of expectation and hope. She was appointed to be Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation. A ministry that could be considered ‘junior’ to the main ministries like Home Affairs, Justice, Defence, and Finance. Many were impressed with the gesture by the president to select Kirsty into cabinet. Hers was the only appointment that trended online. Others however were sceptical and asked why she would accept a post to serve in a ZANU PF cabinet.
Cabinet is the inner circle that sits with the president regularly and has his ear. Parliament can discuss and debate over bills and eventually pass them after months. The day to day decisions and running of the country is basically done through the cabinet.
My own opinion with Kirsty’s appointment was President Mnangagwa and the Junta needed to be seen to be reformers. They had a huge PR campaign of sanitising the coup. After the rigged election they needed to be seen to have reformed. So after the normal ZANU faithfuls had been put in the critical positions they added in two independent technocrats.
Kirsty would be the face of legitimacy for the new dispensation’s reform agenda. I am sure she was aware that one of the main reasons she was invited to cabinet was to show the world that ZANU under ED was reformed and inclusive. Her inclusion in cabinet helped to pacify fence sitters. Some people decided to give ED a chance solely on the inclusion of Kirsty.
In light of the Shutdown protests which left up to 20 people dead, hundreds hospitalised, thousands arrested including minors, women raped and others displaced and in hiding, the people of Zimbabwe were expecting any influential person to come out and denounce the atrocities. That poisoned chalice fell on Kirsty Coventry.
With reports of minors getting beaten and detained this would have been a great time for the minister of youth to issue a statement. Or since some of the looting was allegedly done by minors we also would have expected the minister to say something. She could have gone to the police to check on the minors who have been arrested. She was expected to use her clout. Even to do a clandestine Tibaijuka type investigation. But she only eventually issued a brief statement because a rumour was circulating that she had resigned. So she had to address that.
Why ask Kirsty to take the morale high ground?
Initially most were hopeful that Kirsty would make a difference in her ministry because of her vast experience in sport and her youthfulness. But before she could prove herself in her areas of expertise much more was required of Kirsty. This was to be her first test. After the events of January 14-16 more and more voices started speaking up. Questioning why Kirsty was remaining silent and as the days passed by more and more voices. Even the lovey dovey tone started to wear thin and even reached troll like status.
People are expecting a different moral standard from Kirsty. Hoping she is cut from a different cloth to the rest of the ZANU PF. They wanted her to show that she is different. Firstly speaking up against the atrocities and even resigning from her post.
Very few celebrities, business people, or anyone of influence in Zimbabwe speaks against ZANU PF and publicly calls them out. This is mainly because of the fear of ZANU’s intricate influence in all spheres of society and their extra judicial dealings in settling scores. So why would Kirsty be expected to say anything? If a person of Kirsty’s stature is afraid to say anything then it sure emboldens ZANU to continue unabated.
So long as the most influential are silent or come out with statements like ‘Give ED a chance’ or ‘ED is sincere’ . It will be business as usual. But it was her international standing that made people hope that Kirsty’s speaking out would bring attention to the plight of Zimbabweans. But we don’t have a history of Kirsty speaking out before, during the Mugabe era. Why would it be different when both regimes have recognised her?
Even if she wanted to resign she would most likely not be able to. Kirsty’s resignation would have exposed the junta for what it is. Even Had she declined the offer it would have been a stronger statement. If there was any doubt that Ed was not reformed it would have been confirmed by this. But Kirsty accepted this position that in itself should have told us a lot. Her silence ensures that ‘reformed and inclusive’ facade would remain. We don’t know the details under which she agreed to serve at the delight of President Mnangagwa.
“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”Amos 3:3
In defence of Kirsty
Kirsty is not naive, and if she wasn’t a politician then. She sure is a politician now and is playing the politics game. Her silence is a political statement.
When she was appointed to this position she knew that she was getting into a ZANU PF run government. Appointment of Chiwenga as Vice President should have sent her some red flags. That this is not a normal situation, yet she accepted. In accepting this offer I hope that Kirsty also had some conditions that she would have put on the table. Regardless of what spin she was told am sure she still understood what was at play.
I would like to believe that Kirsty is going through one her toughest challenges. As a pro sportsman am sure she has had her fair amount of challenges. But having to defend a ZANU PF govt is no easy task. Maybe silence is the best way to deal with this at whatever cost. I wonder if she is even allowed to ask in cabinet about certain things? Deployment of the army is obviously not discussed in cabinet so there is a good chance that she has absolutely no clue with what is really going on or the forces at play.
Because of her international clout she will probably have to eventually make a statement. And that statement will be the make or break of any goodwill people have generally shown her. This is evidenced by the calls to be placed on the EU sanctions list as complicit. I doubt that would happen and I personally think that’s a bit of a stretch.
Celebrities are expected to make a stand to leverage on their status locally and internationally. To leverage on the fact that generally they will be untouchable by repressive regimes. But at what cost? Their careers? Their welfare? Not everyone is prepared to be a martyr. And with what we have seen in Zimbabwe even after huge personal sacrifices you are still seen as an enemy by the very people you are standing up for. How many of us are prepared to take a moral stand against our employers who maybe guilty of various abuses and crimes?
Kirsty can no longer be truly seen as an independent because she is in government at the invitation of ED. She was not elected by the people so her alliance I guess rests with her employer. She will most likely have to tow the line, effectively making her a ZANU PF sympathiser. So we can expect silence at critical times. Maybe her role was to just come in and be silent and just ride her contract through. Am sure she hadn’t anticipated the events of January.
Maybe Kirsty’s sole role was for a time just like this. Where her resignation would have brought immediate worldwide attention and the president would have been in the spotlight much earlier. Or maybe there are even tougher times ahead where she has been called to make a stand against. Thats a scary thought.
Or we are the ones who have totally missed the boat. Maybe Kirsty has been a ZANU PF supporter all along. She has a right to support the party of her choice. Hard as it maybe for Zimbabwe’s polarised electorate to stomach.
Kirsty has her own life and her own personal goals which she is working towards accomplishing. This may or may not align with a people driven agenda but that is her choice. And in all this drama she is still an expecting mother! That in itself takes its toll. Kirsty does not look like the type to give up easily and am sure she will give of her best.
Despite her appointment being a ZANU PR gimmick, she can still use that to her advantage for the benefit of her ministry. She hasn’t proved to be a Fortune Chasi type who is unashamedly ZANU PF but has tried to endear himself with the people and it seems to be working. Maybe Kirsty is heard at work behind the scenes and pleading with ED.
Outside of her swimming etc do we really know Kirsty, what she stands for. Now as a public figure she will come under heavy scrutiny. And over time it will become clear where she really stands. People were really hoping. Really really hoping that she was different. But with each day that passes that hope is fast fading. Soon we will see her treated like any other ZANU PF bigwig.
Kirsty is now sitting at the table and supping with the very people who have caused untold suffering in Zimbabwe. They will eventually require her to speak in support of their programmes. I just hope when that day comes she does not reduce herself to some of the comical defence of this repressive regime that has become consistent with ZANU sympathisers. I hope she does it with class, if thats even possible.
Happy Valentine’s Kirsty Coventry