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Zim – is this the turning point?

By Obediah Mazombwe

LAST week President Robert Mugabe sent out two very encouraging signals regarding the crisis facing Zimbabwe. Should these signals be a reflection of his adopted appr

oach to the Zimbabwean crisis, then we all have good reason to be more hopeful about our country’s future.

It still remains to be seen whether this is indeed so.

First, the president is reported to have called for mutual acknowledgement of each other’s right to exist by both the ruling Zanu PF and the opposition MDC. The opposition party should listen to what Zanu PF is trying to say; likewise the ruling party should listen to what the MDC has to say, the president is reported to have told guests, including opposition MDC legislators, at a luncheon last week.

Do I catch a glimpse of an elderly African statesman here? Until now the official Zanu PF position has been that the MDC is nothing but a puppet of the West and a front for Rhodesian and western interests in Zimbabwe.

Even as the MDC won almost half of the elected seats in parliament, and fought a close battle for the state presidency, Mugabe insisted that the opposition represented no Zimbabwean interests.

If indeed the above statement has been correctly attributed to the president then the major hurdle to a home-grown solution to our crisis has been overcome. This is a greater victory than the Zimbabwe Warriors’ qualification for Tunisia. Let us organise ourselves and move forward without any unnecessary delay. One can already imagine the smiling faces of happy Zimbabweans all over this beautiful land.

The second signal has been the president’s willingness to meet with the church group led by Bishop Sebastian Bakare. That group, although meticulously objective in its assessment of the Zimbabwean crisis, has nevertheless not minced its words on the culpability of the Zanu PF government and its role in causing so much suffering among the Zimbabwean people.

President Mugabe’s willingness to meet with, and listen to, persons who have been clearly and loudly critical of his policies and actions is indeed laudable. Mugabe seems eager to live to his word that he can accept and deal with opposition that he is convinced is wholly Zimbabwean and is not inspired by external interests that are irreconciliable with what is good for the generality of Zimbabweans.

Those of us who were tempted to classify Mugabe with despots like Idi Amin, and others of that ilk, may be forced to eat our own words yet. There seems to still exist some scope for this man to leave behind a defendable legacy for Zimbabwe in spite of all the “moments of madness” of the past.

The two signals are critical because until now one major problem holding Zimbabwe back has been the criminalisation of all organised opposition politics since 1980. Zanu PF has drilled its members to treat opposition party members as dogs and common criminals. The resultant human suffering is now history.

If Mugabe is serious about the approach he hinted at last week, he needs to move rapidly to decriminalise all opposition politics, as long as it is inspired by genuine aspirations of Zimbabweans. He needs to go on national television and radio and announce to Zanu PF followers that members of the opposition MDC are not enemies of the state. They are fellow citizens who simply see things differently from the way Zanu PF sees them.

Mugabe must tell all citizens that people of different political opinion need not eliminate each other. Like our fathers of old they must fight with words and argument.

Our ancestors would argue endlessly, throwing in proverb after proverb to buttress their positions, until consensus was reached by adopting the position most convincingly argued for. Successful deployment of the word, idiom and proverb constituted a large part of our hunhu/ubuntu. Not a drop of blood was shed and members of the dare emerged from such palavers more united than before.

Empowering all Zimbabweans across the board is the most effective way of assuring Zimbabwe’s sovereignty which Mugabe seems so overwhelmingly pre-occupied with.

Once there is open contestation of all Zimbabweans’ ideas and strategies relating to their country, Mugabe will be pleasantly surprised to find that it is long past the hour when Zimbabweans would allow anybody to sell the country to America, or Britain or even to Libya.

One hopes the signals we have witnessed of late indicate a genuine preparedness by the chief architect of present-day Zimbabwe to constructively intercourse with indigenous critics regarding the future of the country.

As Zimbabwe ponders the form that a national inter-party debate to chart the best way out of our crisis should take, the opposition MDC needs to make some rapid adjustments. Otherwise what we might need is an all stakeholders’ conference bringing together the major political parties as well as leaders of various civic groups. This is instead of a one on one conference between Zanu PF and the MDC.

The MDC is now a major block in the political history of Zimbabwe. The party has played a monumental role in successfully challenging the hegemony of the ruling Zanu PF. However, the MDC still remains hazy as to what it really stands for.

The party has not built any character beyond general claims of commitment to job creation, good governance, human rights, corruption-free management of resources, economic justice and the like.

Conspicuous by its absence is a well-articulated set of values and principles or an ideology that will drive the party’s policies and programmes. The party needs to articulate an ideology that will hold its members together and give the party focus beyond election day.

Again the absence of the faintest hint of nationalist or pan-African sentiment in the MDC’s rhetoric and general outlook is worrisome.

The nature of the problems faced by Zimbabwe and Africa, currently and historically, makes it imperative that any African political party worthy the name be firmly anchored in some form of pan-Africanism.

In any case MDC pundits seem to be aware of this deficiency and have attributed it to a conscious decision to first dislodge the current government then attend to such matters later.

It is now obvious that the MDC needs to attend to these matters now in order to enhance its credibility on the domestic scene, on the continent and globally.

The party also needs a sound and firm ideological basis from which to engage Zanu PF’s political sharks.

In the past Zanu PF tried to slaughter a “rogue” political bull and was unsuccessful for a while. Then the ruling party simply stepped aside, paused a moment, then proceeded to swallow the whole and live bull. It swallowed its horns and all.

Zanu PF is capable of simply swallowing the MDC and leave us all wondering what happened and what the fuss was really all about after all.

Obediah Mazombwe is a lecturer in Languages, Literature and Media Studies at the Zimbabwe Open University.

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