Comment: Tsvangirai Should Tread Carefully

THE Movement for Democratic Change is currently riding on the crest of regional discontent with President Mugabe over the delay in releasing presidential election results and the incumbent’s sabre-rattling about wanting to die in office.

There is also a lot of goodwill in the region for the MDC to capitalise on as demonstrated by the solidarity of dock workers and civil society groups who this week prevented an arms shipment into the country from China.

We however do not believe that the MDC leadership is making the most out of the amity that regional leaders and civic society have for the people of Zimbabwe and the concomitant impatience with President Mugabe’s administration.

For the first time in the eight-year history of the country’s crisis, leaders in the region have adopted a resolute stance against the degenerating situation in the country.

They believe there is a crisis in Zimbabwe and they want to help.

We have often raised concern with the failure by the MDC to take advantage of political opportunities under their noses to further the cause of positive change in Zimbabwe.

It is more worrying when the party takes an obtuse move at this important stage of its struggle to form the next government.

Party leader Morgan Tsvangirai has of late not disguised his irritation with Sadc-appointed mediator Thabo Mbeki who two weeks ago pronounced a “no crisis” verdict on the Zimbabwe situation.

Tsvangirai’s frustration with Mbeki — which many Zimbabweans share — is understandable in as far as the South African leader, as mediator, has not only failed to nudge President Mugabe’s government to release the outcome of the presidential poll but has also failed to comment on the post-election violence that has gripped the nation in the past three weeks.

Amidst this anger however, Tsvangirai’s subsequent call to have Mbeki removed as mediator and replaced by Zambian leader Levy Mwanawasa was not tactically astute.

“We want to thank President Mbeki for all of his efforts, but he needs to be relieved of his duties,” Tsvangirai said.

Sadc and Mwanawasa were quick off the blocks to reject this call by Tsvangirai and reaffirm that Mbeki remained mediator in the talks.

Tsvangirai should have trod with caution on this one by reading the mood among Sadc leaders regarding Mbeki’s mediation. In Lusaka, two weeks, ago, they renewed his mandate to mediate and they have not condemned his “no crisis” statement either.

The significance of this scenario is that the leaders in the region still believe that Mbeki can do the job better than the other heads of state.

To the regional leaders, their view of mediator is neither a Mugabe-basher nor someone who will show partiality to the MDC.

They want a mediator who can maintain engagement between the MDC and Zanu PF.

They are aware that any mediator anointed by the MDC as arbiter will be ridiculed by President Mugabe and Zanu PF.

The Zanu PF mocking team was quickly scrambled last week to pour scorn on Mwanawasa for calling an extraordinary summit to discuss Zimbabwe.

We shudder to imagine their reaction to Mwanawasa taking up the mediation role on the recommendation of the MDC!

Tsvangirai we believe should have been more circumspect in calling for Mwanawasa to replace Mbeki.

Also the MDC here should have weighed its options carefully before showing Mbeki a red card.

The move means the party believes it can succeed in isolating Mbeki in the region and putting him in the same bracket of infamy with President Mugabe.

The second option is working to lobby the region and unite the leaders to isolate Mugabe. The “Mbeki bad, Mwanawasa good” standpoint presupposes that the MDC can divide the region to achieve political ascendancy in Zimbabwe.

The party has very little chance in achieving victory on two fronts, against Mbeki on one hand and against the real target, Mugabe, on the other.

President Mbeki could have blundered during the course of the mediation process but his peers in the region believe he can achieve a measure of success in Zimbabwe.

He is prepared to continue with the mediation but the MDC has given him the thumbs-down.

We see the MDC in a dilemma here.

If the party believes that positive change can be achieved by lobbying leaders in the region, then Mbeki remains key.

Dumping Mbeki would mean a complete change of strategy, which should still achieve the same result — a negotiated settlement with Mugabe.

We believe that the way forward to unlock the current logjam and ease the constitutional crisis is through a negotiated settlement, whatever the result of the presidential election.

But this requires Tsvangirai to put his best foot forward.

He seems to have difficulty doing that.

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