Controversy over Lacoste brand

LACOSTE, a top French clothing and accessory label, has become the centre of political play in a fierce race to succeed President Robert Mugabe.

The brand, just like Mugabe, has been in existence for at least 90 years but it is the controversy it is courting in the political circles that is the new twist.

A simple Google search of the word “Lacoste” from a Zimbabwe Internet Protocol (IP) address will bring out news about Zimbabwe politics on top, as the brand has become the talk of the country.

While Lacoste in Zimbabwe has been dragged in factional politics, to the rest of the world, it is just a clothing and fragrance brand with a green crocodile with an open mouth.

In the fashion world, the label is described as “preppy” clothing worn by upper middle class preps who know fashion.
How did this seemingly high-end fashion brand end up being at the centre of Zimbabwean politicians’ power struggle?
When one says “Lacoste” in Zimbabwe the mind quickly rushes to the Zanu PF faction aligned to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, which has adopted the name “Team Lacoste”.
The VP’s supporters have in the past weeks been seen defiantly donning the Team Lacoste regalia, putting on provocative T-shirts that had a crocodile emblem painted in national colours.

According to First Lady Grace Mugabe, when asked, Mnangagwa said Lacoste was just a perfume. “We have seen people, among them youths, wearing T-shirts with Zimbabwean flags labelled Lacoste, and when we asked them they said Lacoste is a perfume. We are not fools,” she said at her latest no-holds-barred rally at Kanyemba Secondary School in Chiweshe, Mashonaland Central.

“Do not take us for fools. They will not take over from Mugabe. I will rather put him in a wheelbarrow to work because we have realised that those we thought were being groomed as leaders are sell-outs. We no longer have confidence in them,” Grace charged.

Lacoste is, however, a polo, shoes and fragrance, accessories and clothing label, whose trademark polo sells for over $70 in the US.

However, there are several similarities between the Frenchman who created the brand and the man behind the Lacoste brand in Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa.

Just like Rene Lacoste, Mnagagwa is known as Ngwena (crocodile), the nickname he got as a result of his supposed association with the crocodile gang during the liberation struggle.
Rene Lacoste became known as the Crocodile in 1923. “Critical press acclaim for Rene Lacoste’s strength and performance quickly followed. Hearing of a bet over an alligator skin suitcase, a journalist nicknamed him the “crocodile”.

“Inspired by his nickname, (in 1926) Lacoste asked his friend Robert George to design a crocodile. The now famous logo made its first appearance embroidered on the blazer of René Lacoste,” reads the story on the Lacoste official website.
As a teenager and at the age of 17 René Lacoste won his first tournament and the French open for the first time in 1924, as he terrorised people on the tennis court.

At the age of 19, Mnangagwa was spared form the hangman’s noose over charges of allegedly sabotaging a locomotive train in Fort Victoria because he was underage. In Zimbabwe, and according to some Zanu PF party officials, the supposed Team Lacoste has been terrorising women and anyone aligned to a faction opposed to Mnangagwa’s ascendance to the presidency, dubbed Generation 40 (G40).

“The VP is my brother and today we are asking you to reprimand people abusing your name. Do not behave like a duck that looks down while its children are being eaten. Stand up and say something like what VP Mphoko has done,” said Zanu PF women’s league secretary for finance Sarah Mahoka, during a rally before the party’s politburo meeting last week.

“I will say it publicly because I am not afraid to say so, although I know that I am now a target ... tinoona vana vakapfeka ma T-shirts akanzi Team Lacoste (we see youths wearing T-shirts with the Team Lacoste label) and so if you want to be president tell us,” thundered Mahoka.—Bridget Mananavire

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