TOBIAS Mapfumo (not his real name) was seated in a room he rents in the sprawling high-density suburb of Kuwadzana, Harare, on July 1 awaiting patiently to listen to a late night news bulletin to get a grip on the latest political developments in the country.
He grabbed his portable radio and started tuning in to his favourite radio station. It took a while to get a signal and as soon as the radio started crackling away he quickly brought it close to one of his cold ears.
Mapfumo had tuned in to Studio 7 â€” an American station the Zimbabwe government describes as a “pirate” broadcaster â€” and since the signal was not clear, he stood on top of his single bed moving from one side to the other.
The smile on his face showed that the signal had become clearer.
Tendai Biti, MDC secretary-general, was being interviewed by the station and insisted that talks between the opposition and Zanu PF were not going to take place.
Biti was adamant that engaging in talks with Zanu PF would be a betrayal of those who were killed in the post-March 29 harmonised elections in alleged state-sponsored violence against MDC supporters.
The MDC claims that over 100 of its supporters were killed, plus 10 000 injured and more than 200 000 internally displaced.
The next morning, Mapfumo came across a copy of the state-owned newspaper, The Herald, carrying a comment from MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa saying the party was in favour of talks with Zanu PF to resolve the countryâ€™s crisis.
Mapfumo, like most people in the past three weeks, was left confused, not knowing what to believe regarding the MDCâ€™s position on the talks initiated by Sadc and being mediated by South African president Thabo Mbeki.
The issuing of contradictory statements on the talks has become the hallmark of the MDC, with political analysts this week saying it revealed a crisis in communication for the opposition with the incoherence making the party a problem to work with.
On July 1, Biti issued a statement dismissing as “malicious” and untrue reports that Zanu PF and the MDC were negotiating a political settlement and were on the verge of clinching a deal.
“As a matter of fact, there are no talks or discussions taking place between the two parties and most importantly, there is no agreement in the offing,” he said, adding that the “election on 27 June 2008 totally and completely exterminated any prospects of a negotiated settlement. It is now the firm view of the MDC that those who claim they have got a mandate to govern should govern. Chitongai tione.”
Biti was further quoted by AFP describing the June 27 run-off as “an exercise in madness”.
“It showed us we were dealing with people who were not ready for dialogue,” he said. “Before June 27 you could say everyone was a loser because they could argue they did not win the 29th of March election so it was a give and take exercise. Now we have made it clear that June 27 would block the arteries of dialogue.”
Asked if that meant there could be no further dialogue, he replied: “Dialogue to achieve what?”
These statements contradicted what Chamisa was quoted as saying in The Herald of July1.
He said there was need for an urgent negotiated settlement.
“Our hope is that we have to ensure that we have a negotiated settlement and understanding. We are warm to a negotiated settlement and we believe that talking should be about genuine dialogue,” Chamisa said.
On July 4, Chamisa was quoted again in The Herald saying that his earlier position still stood and Bitiâ€™s statement had been “overtaken by events”.
These contradictions went on despite negotiators for both parties being scheduled to hold talks between July 9 and 13 in Pretoria.
Biti â€” who is accused of treason, publishing falsehoods and causing disaffection among the defence forces â€” had his bail conditions relaxed last week for him to travel to South Africa for talks with Zanu PF â€” presumably the same talks he said would never take place.
Eldred Masunungure, a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said the incoherence in the voices of the MDC was as a result of the different perspectives held by members on the key issue of whether to negotiate or not with Zanu PF.
“There are hardliners and softliners in the MDC,” he said. “The hardliners (Tendai Biti and others) are of the view that this is not a good time for negotiation while the softliners (Chamisa and Tsvangirai) want to have talks. These contradictions confuse the electorate, the partyâ€™s stakeholders and those who are supposed to mediate.”
Masunungure added: “There is need for the party to streamline their line of communication and have one party spokesperson. How can you have a secretary-general, the key adviser of the party, commenting or the partyâ€™s treasurer? Chamisa is the one who should be speaking on behalf of the party. Tsvangirai, yes he can comment.”
He said on the other hand Bitiâ€™s contradictions could be excused because he might have been traumatised while in police custody.
“Psychologically he was bound to say anything without thinking much into it. The MDC should make it clear when they are speaking their mind and when itâ€™s about the partyâ€™s policies or position. They should learn to speak with one voice,” Masunungure said.
“Whatever politicians say should never be totally relied on.”
National Constitutional Assembly chairman, Lovemore Madhuku, said the MDCâ€™s contradictions have made it a difficult party to work with and made their agenda unclear.
“The MDC has proved to be a problematic group to work with even for us in the civil society,” he said.
“What only binds us together is our bigger agenda of bringing democracy to the people. In terms of a systematic programme, it is a difficult group to work with.”
Madhuku added: “The MDC is taking people for granted and they could help everyone by becoming clearer in their agenda. MDC came at a time when people were frustrated thus they managed to gain massive support without much effort. They never learnt how to gain respect from the people, that is why many politicians in the MDC are reckless in the way they deal with certain issues.”
Madhuku went on to give an example of Tsvangirai pulling out of the run-off, how his statements differed from the partyâ€™s treasurer-general Roy Bennett.
Bennett in a statement came out strongly saying the MDC would not withdraw from the election, but a day later Tsvangirai pulled out.
Analysts said unlike the MDC, Zanu PF was more organised in terms of how they handled their communication. They said the party was more articulate in expressing its position and spoke more consistently on policy issues than the MDC.
“Their message may be asinine and distasteful but the whole party signs up to it every day,” one analyst pointed out.
By Wongai Zhangazha