HomeCommentCandid Comment: Dialogue With Magaisa Over Dialogue

Candid Comment: Dialogue With Magaisa Over Dialogue

THESE are notes in response to Dr Alex Magaisa’s article in the newzimbabwe.com site titled “Managing the bad news from Pretoria” on the current talks between Zanu PF and the two MDCs.


I found the article eloquent in a number of respects but also too indulgent of the MDC’s tendency to play victim even in cases where it makes glaring errors of judgement and loses the game. I don’t believe we are helping the MDC to grow either as an opposition or as a ruling party by playing the role of activists who must see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil about its leadership.

*The MDC is not out of power simply because it is an innocent victim of violence and cheating by Zanu PF. To me this boils down to what Nelson Mandela recently called a “tragic failure of leadership” as being responsible for Zimbabwe’s spiral of political and economic decay. Some of this will be evident below.

*We should be careful not to overstretch the dangerous thesis that to win a “democratic” election a political party always needs the military on its side. This smacks of political opportunism. Democracy can’t be all about wresting control of the military and the police from President Mugabe and handing over the same institutions to Morgan Tsvangirai.

*If Tsvangirai had not been fooled to spurn the one-candidate principle, it is more than probable he would have won the March 29 election outright. His failure to win the mandatory 50%-plus votes was almost a repeat of the 2000 constitutional referendum — a wake up call to Zanu PF.

*Having thus failed to win the required 50%, there was no way the MDC could legally assume power without going through a presidential election run-off. That is what the rule of law is about.

Once again the MDC leadership vacillated, claiming Tsvangirai had got 67%, then 56,1%, 53,1%, 54% and finally 50,3%. But the wish could not translate into fact. By the time it accepted the reality of the June 27 election run-off, Zanu PF had embarked on its criminal campaign of violence just as it had done in 2000.

But again at the last minute Tsvangirai was advised to take a suicidal tactical gamble — pull out of the election race in the hope that Mugabe would declare himself winner. That action by Mugabe would have been perfectly legal but a sham victory since Tsvangirai received more votes (not won) in the first round. It was a fatal miscalculation. Tsvangirai cannot seriously claim to have pulled out of the race because of violence after he declared that violence would not deter his supporters. He boasted that he could win without campaigning. He said the injured in hospitals had been more galvanised and itching to limp to the polls to finish off the dictator.

Having decided he needed to hide (as he did in Botswana and at the Dutch embassy) to protect his life, Tsvangirai should simply have urged those of his supporters who wanted to vote to go ahead. Any victory by Mugabe would still have been contested on the basis of violence, not Tsvangirai’s withdrawal.

Forget this obsession with legitimising Mugabe. He hasn’t had it since 2002 and he doesn’t expect it from Western nations. The surprising thing is that the MDC keeps trying to use the same fig leaf it has used to boycott past elections, yet nothing has changed.

*There is nothing to be gained by pretending that Tsvangirai won the March 29 election on the basis of speculation that it was rigged. Reprehensible though it might be to delay the release of election results, such a delay on its own doesn’t confer victory on anyone.

*Closely linked to the legitimacy argument is the mistaken belief that, having cheated his way into power, Mugabe will meet his Waterloo in the battle with the economy. But an economic implosion doesn’t automatically translate into Tsvangirai assuming power and represents the height of political despair, just like appealing for divine intervention in a political dispute.

This is a favourite tune of those who make pious daily vigils at the temple of the capricious deity of sanctions. It is treacherous terrain, not least because while the MDC likes to dangle this for leverage (“economy will worsen”, “tongai tione”), it has absolutely no power to determine how and when these can be removed and the money start flowing in. Who will make the final decision on whether the sanctions have achieved their objective? In the case of the US, George Bush will leave that burden to his successors after the November elections.

To me, Mugabe has remained legally in power because of four fundamental factors:

*The MDC’s strategic and tactical blunders just outlined which have allowed Mugabe to win against popular sentiment;

*The party’s ideological muddle-headedness over the land reform programme, an ambivalence inherent in its unfortunate, mixed parentage;

*Mugabe’s refusal to defer to age Nelson Mandela-style, ascribed by his critics to fear of prosecution for alleged human rights violations; and,

*Most fundamentally, a party and a national constitution modelled for life presidency and thus with no term limits or clear succession plans.

To address the last point, one must hope that a new constitution will set not only term limits for the president but also include a First Amendment-type clause forbidding parliament from amending the constitution to extend a president’s term of office.

Thus in the context of the talks, beside posturing for the media, both Zanu PF and the MDC must acknowledge that they are desperate to have the talks succeed. The MDC must give its voters hope. It cannot continue to play the advocacy role of mocking Zanu PF’s failures from the sidelines in the hope that this will appease its hungry supporters.

What ordinary Zimbabweans need right now does not require the involvement of Jean Ping. No doubt there are many whose devious personal interests are threatened by any peace deal and have been praying for the collapse of the talks even before the ink was dry on the MoU.

By Joram Nyathi

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