FEW who know his record would deny Morgan Tsvangiraiâ€™s courage and tenacity.
He has stood up to a ceaseless barrage of threats, charges of treachery, and harassment. He has proved a charismatic leader who did what many saw as the impossible on March 29. He defeated the incumbent, President Robert Mugabe, in the nearest thing this country has had to a democratic election since 1980.
But now, facing perhaps his sternest test, he is in danger of throwing away his historic advantage. By refusing to come home when his people need him most, he is betraying their trust and the nationâ€™s need.
For make no mistake, Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. Years of misrule have taken their toll on the fabric of the country. Zimbabweans face a bleak future with an economy in free-fall and unemployment mounting. Mugabeâ€™s administration no longer even pretends that it has solutions to the nationâ€™s plight. Instead it relies upon the stale mantras of the past to get by â€” and printing money.
While the rest of the region has moved on, attracting investment and enjoying unprecedented growth, Zimbabwe is stuck in the mindset of a governing class which believes “100% sovereignty” gives them a licence to plunder.
The devastation in the agricultural sector and the collapse of manufacturing and mining are their legacy. Zimbabweans are poorer today than they were 30 years ago.
A new government would change that. International lenders are ready to re-engage with Zimbabwe. Investors are waiting to come on board. An army of economic exiles are prepared to come home and participate in national reconstruction. But the country needs leadership as the brighter prospects loom. Sadly it is nowhere to be found.
Rumour last Saturday of an assassination plot seems to have induced a bout of skittishness that sent the proto-presidential party racing back to their Johannesburg redoubt.
As Lovemore Madhuku has observed: “In politics there will always be all sorts of risks and assassination threats, and as a leader he has to take the risk and be with the people in the struggle.”
Tsvangiraiâ€™s supporters take that risk every day of their lives. They are in the front line of the struggle against the thugs who infest whole swathes of the country. Yet their leader is nowhere to be seen. Why is he not visiting hospital wards in Chiweshe and Mutoko, or addressing his supporters in Bulawayo?
Tsvangiraiâ€™s best insurance against harm is his visibility. Any politician seeking to boost his cause would have denounced the purported assassination threat on arrival in Harare and drawn the worldâ€™s attention to it. Whoever fed him this story has successfully kept him out of the country.
But we want to know what his plans are for the New Zimbabwe? What will he do with immediate effect to remedy the condition of manufacturing, mining and tourism? What can he do to reverse inflation?
He should be out there campaigning, setting up his stall in the market place of ideas.
Instead, President Mugabe has stolen a march on him. His wares may be threadbare but they are there for all to see.
Tsvangirai has already accomplished something significant. He has broken the mould of a once invincible incumbent. Mugabe is now seen as vulnerable to electoral defeat.
Tsvangirai on the other hand is now perceived as a democratic winner. But that will only hold if he can be seen to lead his people into the next round. Whatever his shortcomings, he stands for reform, recovery and the rule of law.
That is not a mirage. Recovery is achievable within a matter of months. But Tsvangirai must understand that this election is his to win or lose. He canâ€™t win it in Johannesburg.
There has been speculation about a government of national unity. This is a project promoted by regional leaders and the Makoni camp. Essentially they argue a lasting peace can only come by negotiation. A run-off will prove nothing and only deepen national fissures.
There is some merit in this argument. We can see a defeated and embittered Zanu PF opposition blocking Tsvangiraiâ€™s reform agenda at every turn and blaming the new regime for every failure. Wouldnâ€™t a GNU tie the two parties together in a responsible collaboration?
Perhaps. But Tsvangirai needs to take a leaf from Mugabeâ€™s 1980 manual here. Despite enormous pressure to go into that yearâ€™s election as a Patriotic Front alliance with Zapu, Mugabe understood perfectly the need to first establish Zanu PFâ€™s electoral hegemony before negotiating a GNU.
Tsvangirai needs to do the same. Mugabeâ€™s party is a defeated and discredited force. It needs to be shown that there has been a sea change in popular attitudes and that the claim that Zanu PF was merely asleep in March is a convenient myth.
It was caught in a tidal wave of discontent which it can no longer escape. Nobody buys its time-expired anti-imperialist excuses for failure any longer. The run-off will show that â€” but only if Tsvangirai returns and gives the nation the lead it yearns for.
Come home Morgan: Your place is here with the majority of Zimbabweans who voted for change. Itâ€™s time to finish the job.
By Iden Witherell