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Candid Comment

Giving Mugabe a very long lifeline

By Joram Nyathi

THE opposition is fatally trapped in its fixation with President Mugabe. It is a contradictory obsession — on the one hand they loathe anything that involves M

ugabe and on the other must daily face the painful reality that the Mugabe phenomenon now transcends the individual. They must face the reality that there is no legitimate way in which Zimbabwe’s festering crisis can be resolved without engaging Zanu PF and Mugabe.

I had hoped that Arthur Mutambara would avoid the trap and move the discussion on the National Vision beyond witch-hunts and personal accusations. He fell deep into it. Witness the trademark claims about the bishops being used by Mugabe to “buy time” and that Mugabe “embraced the project to destroy its credibility”.

I don’t know how he embraced the initiative when Mugabe was so furious with the bishops who want his powers “circumscribed” in a new constitution. Moreover, there is no way Mugabe could have stopped the bishops from circulating the document — which is not the same as supporting it. It can’t be convincingly claimed that Mugabe loves the ugly evidence of his handiwork shown to him by the bishops, no matter how “apologetically” expressed as claimed Mutambara.

The bishops are not a political party to indulge in propaganda about the “criminal dictatorship of Mugabe”. The efficacy of that language has been pathetic in the past seven years. And how do you promote dialogue by fanning mutual hostility between the parties to a round table?

A major criticism of the Zimbabwe We Want document is that there was no consultation with key stakeholders. The bishops have called for input from everyone to plug the loopholes. The critics have unfortunately not shown how that omission is fatal to the entire initiative, except to then assert that it was done by Zanu PF. You would imagine that Zanu PF was so foolish as to criticise itself for a badly executed land reform programme when that has been its electoral plank since 2000.

In the same breath Mutambara declares that the people “will reject any process that provides a lifeline to Mugabe’s evil regime”.

Mutambara has not consulted “the people” but is certain that they are concerned more about the “process” than the outcome, that is an end to their misery. What is the correct process and who suggested it? How effective has it been in ending Mugabe’s “evil regime”? This is no more than a myth of political leaders calling themselves “the people”. Each one of them now wants to be approached in their little Munhumutapa offices so that they can say “the people” have been consulted. This is despite the fact that the bishops serve the same civil society, Zanu PF and MDC supporters in their churches every week and should know better what they want.

The issues of political legitimacy, the economic vision and corruption Mutambara raises are matters of emphasis. The same goes for Gukurahundi. It depends on the constituency you want to appeal to and whether the objective is national healing or primitive retribution. But that is putting the cart before the horse. The weakest part of the document is that it doesn’t say how we will attain the vision. But that is where political parties come in, for the goal is the same.

As with Murambatsvina, Project Sunrise and other abuses that Zimbabweans have endured in recent years, the opposition has failed to provide the leadership that they should. The churches have not said anything out of this world. What they have done differently is to produce a document on the missed opportunities and the Zimbabwe We Want. Above all, they have taken an unequivocal position on the side of the people and Mugabe is bitter. A people-focused MDC should have seized this momentum to mobilise the people and isolate Mugabe and through force of numbers, compel him to dialogue.

Once that is achieved it is then up to the politicians to make sure he doesn’t “buy time” or “appear to be doing something” but that he does something or concedes failure.

The churches already have a huge constituency on both sides of the political divide. They have openly declared that they will no longer have their territory prescribed for them by self-seeking politicians who say they should help only in health and education but not politics — a key determinant of any nation’s material wellbeing. Could there be a more robust rebuke of the Establishment?

After watching from the sidelines as Zanu PF and the MDC engaged in mutual destructive battles for supremacy, the church has stepped in to initiate a nation-building process involving all the contestants to power. Instead of capitalising on this, the opposition has obsessed itself with the form rather than the substance — the “who” and not “what” of the document. Would that substance be different had an MDC church drafted the National Vision? That is if one believes the infantile accusation that the bishops “want to placate or sanitise the dictatorship”.

What the MDC needed to do was to tap into an already existing groundswell of disgruntlement as evidenced by the churches to build critical mass. Who said a majority of Zanu PF supporters are not hungry and do not want change? But that is expecting too much from an opposition so fascinated by Mugabe that they would rather engage in peripherals than confront the issues that should unite them.

Mugabe is having the laugh of his life. It is the opposition, not the bishops, who are giving him a very long lifeline. While they are hunting for the authors of the National Vision Mugabe is laying for himself a marble-coated pavement towards 2010. Those with eyes would have seen the timing of agricultural equipment, the computers to schools and the rural housing programme among many populist development initiatives ahead of the Goromonzi people’s conference.

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