By Tagwireyi W Bango
ZIMBABWEANS crave for an interruption to a five-year chorus of official monologues and primeval attacks on MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his party, depicting them as neo-imperial, feu
dal vassals of Europe and America.
Day in, day out, on radio and on television and in state newspapers, a generation of mediocre citizens is being fostered – totally uncritical of the goings-on in their country, as they are fed with a routine diet of hate material designed to turn minds dry and unimaginative.
Zanu PF made its point, way back in 1999. The people listened and made informed choices. The ruling party dismissed Tsvangirai and his party as a joke. But, after the 2000 referendum and the rejection of the Zanu PF message, the ruling party upped the tempo, with a result that needs no further debate today.
Since then, the communication pattern between Zanu PF and the MDC has left many without a holistic view of the real situation on the ground. Zanu PF has charged the MDC with treachery, supping with the devil and outright betrayal. The MDC refused to listen. Instead, the party argued that it is a well-grounded, civil society-driven post-liberation formation keen to extend the ideals of the liberation struggle.
Zanu PF thought the MDC was failing to hear their message. The party further raised its voice with direct action of violence and farm invasions, turning a blind eye to the rule of law. The party imposed severe controls on the democratic space and usurped the functions of the state.
In response, the MDC concluded that Zanu PF must be taught a lesson to listen. The party repeated its position, alienating what it saw as a stubborn and narrow-minded political elite which can only be punished into submission. So, for half a decade, the echo of messages yo-yoed – in a dialogue of non-listeners.
In April 2002, the two agreed on a national agenda to loosen the standoff. But, a subsequent legal challenge of the March presidential election result touched a raw nerve. The discussions collapsed.
The reasons were purely personal, devoid of any bedrock national concerns. Negotiations are unlikely to make progress if one side fears losing face, exaggerates its insecurity and believes the result could lead to lack of control.
The MDC underplays Zanu PF reservations and fears about losing power; Zanu PF sees the MDC as an inexperienced spoiler seeking to muddy the water and to humiliate the nationalists for their failure to fulfill certain post-war expectations. The term “born free”, is used to denigrate those who question the causes of urban blight, unemployment and food shortages.
Constant references to race, colonialism and Zanu PF’s overstated capacities to punish dissenters show that the party’s interests could be part of the problem. The party is hard on the people and soft on the problem.
In April 2002, an opportunity was lost to build bridges and to walk through the barriers of communication. The occasion could have opened up a platform for both parties to explore and figure out their interests, discuss options, set a common Zimbabwean political standard and to enable an inter-generation of politicians to sample out a range of political alternatives for our nation.
Listening is a normal trait. Like smiling, listening, as they say, is a harmless concession any party in a dispute can make. Given our experience, we seem to be miles away from this basic human gift.
When Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo went public last week with the news that President Robert Mugabe had agreed to meet Tsvangirai to hear each other out, the guns came out blazing as if Tsvangirai was a hungry cannibal ready to gulp down modern Zimbabwe’s founding father at first sight.
Meeting Tsvangirai, or his deputy Gibson Sibanda as was the case recently, does not always result in any political agreement. Even if talks were to resume, a disagreement was still possible – leaving the two organisations with an option to revert to their original positions if they still believe that is the best way forward.
But Mugabe went ballistic, repeating the same old hymn of hate about sell-outs, Tony Blair and puppets. The message is clear. Publicly, Mugabe maintains that he has an attractive walk-away alternative, cares less about the political emergency around him.
At recent public rallies seemingly organised as a show of public approval and political clout, Mugabe made no reference to Obasanjo, preferring instead to heap praises on Thabo Mbeki of South Africa as his most reasonable and dependable ally.
As the chairman of the African Union and as Africa’s current chief spokesperson at the moment, Obasanjo is proceeding with his mission. He has already tasked former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano to visit Harare and to get on with the job, an assignment Chissano has already accepted and confirmed.
In sincerity, Obasanjo may have been unaware that he was trying to reason with an absent-minded colleague who either misconstrued the content of the conversation or was up against a huge barrier of emotion, mistrust and anger.
Obasanjo could have been concerned about Zimbabwe’s growing pariah status, in particular Harare’s potential harm to attempts at constructive engagement between Sadc and some influential regional trading blocks.
But Mugabe remains caked in a denial mode, seemingly oblivious of any problem and was unwilling to listen. Attempts at international intervention show that Mugabe’s claims to victory in the March parliamentary election have, once again, failed to hold sway in Zimbabwe, Africa and even beyond.
For Mbeki, the West’s pointman and a vital external link to Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s positive utterances on Pretoria’s love affair with Harare made interesting reading. As Zanu PF and government officials took potshots at suggestions of dialogue with the MDC, a South African official delegation was in Harare.
Media reports noted that the delegation, in a series of meetings with their counterparts in the Finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, struck a few deals to bail out our ailing economy with a US$1 billion largesse. Is this Mugabe’s walk-away alternative to a negotiated solution?
Unless a grand plan is on the table, Pretoria is yet to assume the position of an international donor. Given the domestic pressures on Mbeki, South Africa lacks the capacity to donate the proverbial Chinese dish of fish to Harare, each time Zanu PF asks for support. Neither can the Chinese.
Flirtations with China to block a possible Security Council resolution arising from debates raised by Operation Murambatsvina and other symptoms of our crisis of governance are now common fare and are bound to fail.
To Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s reaction was old music. He recognises Mugabe’s tactic and uses that knowledge as a way of neutralising it. Tsvangirai lives with unlimited state demonisation, understands the trick and usually ignores the deception. He argues that there must be a distinction between role and self; accepts that the noise is not directed at him personally. The vitriol, you should have heard Mugabe address a rally in Victoria Falls recently, is aimed at the people Tsvangirai represents as a symbol of democratic resistance.
The people without food and jobs have since turned their backs on the Zanu PF system – hence the on-going internal hemorrhage and self-denial.
The primary challenge facing both the Zanu PF and the MDC is to contain the urge to control each other’s behaviour. They must control their own first, while keeping their eyes on the goal. Identify shared interests, base your arguments and agreements on disagreements.
Agreements are possible and normal, even if they are based on different interests. Differences in ideology, beliefs and principles for a new Zimbabwe and a new beginning can form a sustainable basis for a comprehensive political deal that puts the people at the forefront of our focus.
Without unnecessary political embarrassment and humiliation, without debilitating losses and without losers, Zimbabweans can easily reclaim their position in the family of nations. With a determined political will, nothing stands in the way.
Endless foot-dragging, self-saving stone walls, abusive language, media attacks and tired tricks have failed to provide a substitute for a burning desire of most Zimbabweans to search for a breakthrough to our political impasse.
The issues before us are real. Those in authority seem to have become hostages of their past, shouldering a baggage so laden with hate and fury that they react to minor criticism, can’t stand rejection and are bent on causing a scene at the instant.
Trying to get even or to mash those with a divergent view always draws us back. What happened in March is a case in point. The same fate awaits us if Zanu PF bulldozes its Senate proposal without the requisite national consensus.
Conversely, as a young party, the MDC must stop assisting Zanu PF to continue to fail the nation. There is life beyond the chaos. Aluta continua may have been a superb mobilisation tool, a meaningful war cry. But today, peace is possible.
*Tagwireyi W Bango is the spokesperson of the president of the Movement for Democratic Change.