Comment

Chissano lets cat out of the bag



le=”FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-fareast-language: JA”>PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has called on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to “repent” and seek common ground with the government before unity talks can succeed.


“There is room for them to repent,” he said in his address at Heroes Acre on Monday. “There’s room for them to say we were wrong yesterday, we shall not be wrong tomorrow.”


There could be no unity with “enemies of the people, enemies of the struggle and enemies of our Independence”, Mugabe said, claiming the MDC should “speak the same language” as Zanu PF.


It is easy to think of the language that could be used to respond to this misdirected proposal. Exactly who needs to repent here? Is the MDC responsible for the killing fields of Matabeleland? Did it make people disappear in the 1980s? Is it responsible for the violence and mayhem that have accompanied two national elections in which people were abducted, tortured, killed and maimed because they dared to oppose the ruling party? Has it impoverished a whole nation by arbitrary land seizures and failed economic policies? Has it suborned the police and judiciary and spawned a culture of corruption?


If Mugabe has accumulated any wisdom over the past 79 years it was certainly not in evidence at Heroes Acre this week.


Followers of the MDC are deeply anxious about the talks currently getting underway between the two parties. The last thing they want is to see their leaders speaking “the same language” as Zanu PF: the language of political violence; the language that dishonestly blames outside forces for Zimbabwe’s current predicament; the language that is trapped in the mantras of 20 years ago and which offers no hope to the current generation of Zimbabweans.


The threat to Zimbabwe’s Independence comes from those who have so impoverished the nation that it is now obliged to beg for food from its “enemies”. The talks-about-talks are not about Mugabe giving the MDC a chance. They are about the country giving Mugabe a chance to redeem himself — to atone for the sheer wickedness and devastation wrought by his party’s rule.


The MDC should be less diplomatic in their response. They are throwing Mugabe a lifeline at the behest of the country’s neighbours. That may be what Zanu PF needs. But it is not what MDC supporters want.


The MDC has taken a commendable path in pursuing a policy of engagement as the country faces its worst crisis ever. But it needs to explain to its suspicious public why it is doing this and what its objectives are.


The aim should be to restore democratic freedoms seized from the people by the Zanu PF government after its defeat in the 2000 referendum. It is to remove the parasitic dictatorship established by Mugabe and his court circle after 1987.  It is to restore independence and professionalism in the police and army, a need underlined by the partisan remarks on Wednesday of General Vitalis Zvinavashe who, not content with instructing voters on who the military would accept as president last year, is now stipulating who qualifies to be a Zimbabwean.


It involves levelling the electoral playing field so there are no more travesties of the sort engineered by Mugabe’s supporters and supervised by the army last year.


The MDC needs to tell its people that Mugabe is looking for a dignified way out. That if not heckling him in parliament and providing guarantees against prosecution locally is the price to pay for that, it may be worth considering.


But there will be no sacrificing the trump card of the election petition — which will expose extensive electoral fraud — unless the process of negotiation shows signs of achieving tangible results.


President Joaquim Chissano let the cat out of the bag this week by speaking of the “political reforms” that were being contemplated in Zimbabwe. He promised, as African Union chair, to mobilise support so that “all the reforms succeed”.


Zimbabweans have not yet been informed by their government of what these reforms entail. Indeed, listening to Mugabe, it would seem he was still considering whether to talk to the MDC or not. His officials, who control the state media, are openly hostile to any talks with the MDC. But it is evident that Chissano knows more about this than we have been told.


What reforms and when? The public should demand to know.


It is understandable that both the government and the MDC should be reluctant at this delicate stage to negotiate in public. But that should not stop the MDC leadership from outlining in broad terms what such talks should expect to achieve.   Hopefully, such an outline will accord with civil society’s desire to see systematic change rather than just a change of guard.


Whatever the case, it is clear the hardliners around Mugabe have been fanning a bush fire so our view of what they are being obliged to concede behind the scenes is safely obscured.


Following Chissano’s visit, we at least know they are under peer pressure to reform. It’s official now.


Obrigado Presidente Chissano.