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Editor’s Memo

From the crucible

Joram Nyathi

TUESDAY July 22 was an unusual day for Zimbabwe. I was able to watch ZBC-TV’s usually dreary Newshour to the end without feeling like s

mashing the TV screen. On most days I can’t endure it beyond the headlines. I wanted to hear President Robert Mugabe’s address to parliament and that was pushed to the end of the bulletin.

What struck me most when the news was broadcast was the meeting of the opposites, Joseph Chinotimba and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai sitting side by side on the Speaker’s Gallery.

It looked like they were sharing a joke. That was most unusual. Second, Mugabe didn’t sound like the angry old man that we have become used to. He did admit during his speech that he was our “mudhara” but he was not the look of thunder and lightning that scares friend and foe alike since he lost the February 2000 constitutional referendum.

Chinotimba and Tsvangirai first. It was not easy to understand how the commander-in-chief of farm invasions was suddenly reconciled to a man seen by Zanu PF and the government as seeking to “reverse the gains of our independence and give back our land” to whites. Which one of the two had been struck by light on the way to Damascus? Had this been pre-arranged for the camera or they simply bumped upon each other on the gallery and there was a sense of esprit de corp as losing finalists in elections?

That could easily have passed unremarked if it didn’t create a sympathetic fallacy for what was taking place on the floor. The Mugabe who was addressing parliament was not the usual raging despot wielding his hammer and threatening to crush Zimbabwe’s internal and external enemies.

Sitting calmly listening was a group of both Zanu PF and MDC MPs. There was a mellow mood all round. It was the look of an dignified House with honourable members all ready to serve their country.

I want to think that my sense of optimism was not misplaced. Somehow I always had a feeling that the tension between the MDC and Zanu PF could not last forever and I think we are seeing the first tentative meaningful steps towards a calming of nerves – not another Mugabe political dummy. The nation can’t afford that.

I see that setting in parliament on Tuesday as a defeat for the hawks on both sides and an indictment of President Mugabe’s “war cabinet”. Not that it had any purchase in the minds of the people except those who saw their future through the tunnel aperture of a Zimbabwe in perpetual turmoil.

President Mugabe did say he was happy that the MDC had finally seen the need to work together. It was a matter of principle, not capitulation, that the MDC had decided to end the boycotts of his addresses to parliament.

More important on Mugabe’s part was the realisation that it is not only MDC followers who are toiling in the chasm of the divide between the two parties.

Every Zimbabwean is suffering. It matters not who you voted for either in the parliamentary or in the presidential election. Inflation and other economic problems will hit everybody. Mugabe would be less than a statesman if he took the MDC’s decision to attend parliament as a sign of defeat.

Zanu PF chair John Nkomo interpreted it like every enlightened Zimbabwean would have – a sign of maturity and reconciliation. That is what it was in fact.

Zimbabwe is tittering on the brink of a calamity because the two major political parties have for the past three years waged a war of attrition against each other while ignoring completely the suffering of their electorate. The result is a Pyrrhic victory for all.

What Zimbabweans are looking for now is a chance for peace. They are looking for economic recovery. They are looking for social regeneration.

More importantly, Zimbabweans are looking for true leaders to emerge from this crucible, not another pack of opportunists wanting to pass for patriots.

This has not been simply a war of words. There are some in parliament today whose hands are dripping with blood. There are honourable members in parliament today whose abominable deeds during the last parliamentary election would leave Macbeth feeling like a saint.

It was, in Mugabe’s own words on another equally despicable patch of our history, a “moment of madness”.

But it is edifying when in the end people realise the folly of their ways even as they stand on the cliff to take a few haste steps back and examine themselves closely and ask: What are we doing?

It would be naïve to conclude from events in parliament this week that we are out of the woods. We are not and that is why we are in need of true leaders. Out of this adversity must emerge leaders who are committed to the welfare of the people. Patriotism can’t be measured in terms of what slogans you sing but what you can do for your country.

Zanu PF and the MDC must now work together to end the madness we have gone through in the past three years. There are extremists in both parties who will have to be sacrificed for the sake of progress. That is as it should be. We can’t sacrifice the country for their selfish dreams.

Those who attended the Speaker’s reception in the evening tell me the mood was ecstatic. Even the Speaker himself, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was in a jovial mood as he watched people cross the political divide to talk and joke about the events of the day.

The symbolic rapproachment between Tsvangirai and Chinotimba might be the low point on dialogue but it does show there is a way out of the political and economic crisis if leaders choose to put their heads together. This is a man-made crisis. It is not beyond our power to solve it.

Even in a guerilla war compromises have to be made sometimes. That is how Mugabe ended up sharing a table with Ian Smith at Lancaster House in 1979. Are Mugabe and Tsvangirai man enough?

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