By Jonathan Moyo
AS President Robert Mugabe’s troubled days in power become truly numbered amid ill-fated machinations by his military and security handlers to kee
p him at State House until 2010 through a subversive constitutional amendment that has been on the evil deck of cards for more than a year, his continued stay in office has become a source of national pain and international shame for Zimbabweans.
Three events in the past week conspired to make this point with some telling drama.
The one event is the confirmation by Nathan Shamuyarira, Zanu PF’s secretary for information and publicity, that Zimbabwe’s military schemers have resolved to extend Mugabe’s presidency outside the electoral process through an undemocratic constitutional amendment that will put Mugabe’s interests first and those of the people last.
The other event was Mugabe’s visit to New York for the annual UN General Assembly meeting where his growing international isolation once again came to the fore.
And the third event was Mugabe’s unpresidential, unstatesman and scandalous response to the shocking brutality against some 15 arrested leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in police cells.
The facts surrounding the arrests and the severe beatings of the trade union leaders are now common cause. According to the police, the arrests were made because the labour activists were about to lead a widely publicised demonstration that predictably the authorities considered illegal. By all reported indications, the demonstration was doomed to fail as those who had been expected to participate in it had stayed at work for one reason or another.
As such there was no commotion of any kind when the police arrested the trade union leaders because there were only a handful of individuals present and the atmosphere was uneventful. What has shocked the world is that after they were arrested and while they were in police cells, the 15 labour leaders were subjected to savage brutality at the hands of police and other spooky security personnel.
The severe beatings were illegal and therefore without any good cause whatsoever. When Mugabe was initially asked about the brutality by the Associated Press in New York he acknowledged the savagery of the security personnel involved and described the incident as “the overzealousness of one or two police exaggerating their role”.
It was quite some relief to hear these presidential words from Mugabe speaking to a foreign news agency in New York and the words fuelled positive expectations that legal action was on the way against the overzealous security personnel who had violated the human rights of the 15 trade union leaders to the detriment of the national interest.
But, alas, it did not take long for Mugabe to come out in his true traditional violent mantra. Mugabe only needed an obliging Zimbabwean audience, away from New York, to rant and rave in support of naked violence. That audience was delivered to him by the Zimbabwean embassy in Egypt during a stopover from New York on his way back home.
Perhaps feeling secure in Africa, Mugabe abandoned his New York view that the severe beatings of the 15 trade union leaders had been the result of overzealous security personnel who had exaggerated their role and adopted a violent Cairo stance that the beatings were most deserved.
By the time he got back to Harare on Monday, Mugabe’s Cairo anger had become as brutal as the severe beatings themselves, effectively telling a Zanu PF crowd that received him at the airport, most of it drawn from Mbare Musika which had to be closed for the purpose, that when the police say move you must move or risk being left with broken limbs.
Forgetting about the effects of sanctions against him and others associated with his contested rule, Mugabe claimed that there was nothing that the Americans and Europeans could do about the savage beatings and those complaining about them.
Many well-meaning people have been left dumbfounded by Mugabe’s claims that the beatings were deserved and his promise of more and worse of the same brutality.
Here is a president on his way out, whose 26-year controversial rule has left him open to various serious charges of committing crimes against humanity including Gukurahundi and Operation Murambatsvina, still refusing at this eleventh hour to secure his legacy by atoning for his brutality; still continuing to cherish the language of brutality and torture when the bells of justice are tolling by his exit door.
As a grandfather emeritus, Mugabe is squandering his last opportunity to engender good national will. If you ask anyone with an 80-something grandfather, they will tell you that old age can be a wonderful blessing that brings with it not just exemplary wisdom but also a kind of engaging human innocence and spiritual purity that breed fairness.
Yet for some reason, most probably a very strange one, Mugabe continues to lack these essential qualities found in abundance among his African peers like Nelson Mandela and Kenneth Kaunda and the late vice-presidents Joshua Nkomo and Simon Muzenda.
Mugabe’s lack of human innocence and spiritual purity explains why he has become a very lonesome and now irrelevant figure as demonstrated by the kind of cold reception he now gets at various international forums. An examination of his recent trip to the United Nations shows that it has now become dangerous to allow Mugabe to represent Zimbabwe at any international forum.
The speeches that he makes at the UN, at Sadc or wherever have become too predictable and utterly inconsequential in terms of defending or promoting Zimbabwe’s national interest. For example, his recent trip will be remembered for his scandalous defence of the severe beatings and torture of the 15 trade union leaders whose crime was to be in police custody for engaging in a peaceful demonstration that did not even take place.
It is notable that while in New York, the only foreign leader that Mugabe met was Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete whom he had ample opportunity to meet only last month closer to home in Lesotho during the Sadc summit which he inexplicably left in a huff.
If there is anybody in government or Zanu PF or anywhere else who thinks it was proper for Mugabe to travel in the national interest to New York with his wife and a retinue of mandarins to read an old speech and thereafter only to meet with the president of the Republic of Tanzania, then that person needs to have their head examined by a competent psychiatrist.
Some cynical Zimbabweans are now openly saying the reason Mugabe and his wife continue to make these trips to the UN in New York and elsewhere in western capitals is to beat the travel sanctions for the First
Family’s shopping interests only, with nothing for Zimbabwe to gain. This is indeed a cynical view but it does drive the point home rather well.
Against this backdrop, and given the worsening economic meltdown in the country that has seen galloping inflation projected at more than 4 000% next year in an economy in which there is no shortage of shortages of anything important or essential, it is unbelievable that Shamuyarira had no qualms confirming that the Constitution of Zimbabwe would be amended yet again to deny Zimbabweans their right to elect a president in 2008 in order to give Mugabe at least two more years at State House through a manipulated Zanu PF vote in parliament.
Apparently, the military and security establishment that is behind Mugabe’s throne has realised rather too late that Mugabe has not only become internationally isolated but also that he has failed to groom a successor and, even more ominously, to make any room for interested or potential successors to groom themselves. This is the reason for the proposed amendment — to ensure that Mugabe succeeds himself.
But in the name of what Chimurenga?
The argument that the presidential election due in March 2008 should be nullified to save costs by harmonising parliamentary and presidential elections in 2010 is so manifestly stupid that even those advancing it cannot possibly believe it and still remain sane.
If there is indeed an argument about high election costs, then the rational thing to do is to harmonise presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008 because there is nothing at law preventing the dissolution of parliament at anytime during its life.
This would give the nation the much-needed space and opportunity to provide a critical political solution to the economic meltdown which would otherwise get worse should presidential elections be nullified through a constitutional amendment that puts Mugabe above the people.
* Professor Jonathan Moyo is independent MP for Tsholotsho and former Information minister.