No light at end of this tunnel

THERE was a significant development at the recent Sadc summit in Lesotho which few if any of the media covering the event picked up. President Mugabe was denied a platform for his customary theatrics.

Mugabe’s supporters constantly remind us of his “triumph” at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002 where he was cheered by NGO activists at the same time that then US Secretary of State Colin Powell was booed.

Admittedly, the activists were more concerned with denouncing the US than they were with endorsing Zanu PF’s depredations. But it enabled Mugabe to bask in a false glory.

Over the years since then there have been fewer and fewer opportunities to repeat the performance. The following year he withdrew Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth in a fit of pique over the organisation’s insistence that he adhere to the 1991 Harare Declaration on governance.

That episode was also significant in that an important international body, comprising many previous allies, refused to indulge his rule-breaking. Mugabe had been desperate for Zimbabwe to remain a member. But hell hath no fury like a despot scorned and he now pretends he didn’t want to be a member anyway!

Every year in September he rushes to attend the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting in New York because of the podium it is obliged to provide to heads of state but audiences there seem to have cooled to his ardour. Other demagogues from Venezuela and Bolivia have more appeal in their statement of the anti-American case and they have caused less harm to their own citizens.

Even the AU seems less enthusiastic about having Zimbabwe’s cantankerous leader in their midst at regular intervals.

The state media has openly lamented being jilted by Col Muammar Gaddafi. And officials are clearly irritated by Zimbabwe’s omission from the rollcall of those praised for bringing the DRC to democratic fruition.

The Maseru meeting was therefore significant for what was not said rather than what was. Yes, Zimbabwe might have been absent from the formal agenda, which enabled ministers to mislead gullible reporters, but Aziz Pahad inconveniently reminded the South African press last week that it was the subject of a closed meeting of heads of state and foreign ministers. In their public statements officials suggest they are looking for ways to rescue Zimbabwe from “this situation in which we find ourselves”.

Their frustration is palpable. But they remain reluctant to grasp the nettle of governance. Instead they express relief that the authorities in Harare have been able to put in place new electoral arrangements in line with the Mauritius protocol, whatever the shortcomings of those measures.

For the present Mugabe’s position resembles that of the elephant in the living room: nobody can remember how it got there; and they certainly don’t know how to get it out.

So the nation and the region are resigned to a 2008 exit — 2010 is unthinkable — in the hope that some change is better than no change at all.

Nobody seriously believes Joice Mujuru is capable of taking the reins of office without challenge. But her succession does open a door to change.

The worst aspect of Zanu PF’s rule between now and then is the deception that it is dealing with the myriad problems its misrule has spawned. Operation Sunrise is just one of a raft of measures to hoodwink the public into thinking the ruling party is capable of providing solutions to our problems. It manifestly is capable of no more than papering over the cracks.

Inflation is not coming down. It is just rising slightly less rapidly. Land seizures continue unabated. The public power utility that can’t even supply electricity to the capital has announced that it is diversifying into tobacco farming. The toxic business climate is meanwhile closing companies and driving off investors.

There is no turnaround. And those businesspeople pretending that there is light at the end of this particular tunnel are part of the problem.

It is time they spoke out on what is needed in terms of national leadership.

It is time the country started to fashion a dictator-less future, for only then will the turnaround become real.

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