“PARTY divisions and party brands no longer matter to the people of Zimbabwe,” said Morgan Tsvangirai at the formal signing of the unity government agreement on Monday.
“We must all unite to solve to the problems facing the nation. The world has too many examples of what happens when people are driven by past wrongs rather than the hope of future glories.”
It was a grand occasion, the signing, but lacked greatness. It failed to glow beyond the external splendour of the invited dignitaries. Tsvangirai and his partners in the unity government, President Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara, appear to have discovered too late what ordinary Zimbabweans long knew â€” the need for unity and the dangers of revenge-driven agendas.
But that still doesnâ€™t explain the bathos. To me it takes great people to make great occasions and great speeches. Tsvangirai has suffered a lot over the years in the name of democracy. He has been imprisoned and beaten on several occasions. He has remained steadfast, and has grown in stature in his party.
But he has made so many grave electroral tactical blunders in his short tenure as leader of the MDC I have reservations about his judgement of people and situations. It was his blunders which have finally forced the MDC into the current compromise deal instead of an outright victory.
Mutambara is still trying to find his bearings in the face of white hot hostility from Tsvangiraiâ€™s people who view him as an intruder; not quite. His biggest sin was to associate himself with Lucifer who had cautioned that in Zimbabweâ€™s hellish conditions, there was a danger of creating another imperious god.
Mugabe has blundered as much as Tsvangirai in his many years of hegemonic power. He has frequently lapsed into moments of madness in which he doesnâ€™t flinch from using violence to justify his ends. He now faces an inglorious exit when he should have made an honorable departure at the December conference, which has turned out to have been a disastrous act of bravado for himself and his party.
Land reform, with all its imperfections, but for its historical significance, for me should have been the high watermark of his policy intervention, giving full expression to the assertion that land was the primary motivation for the liberation war.
Lately, failure by either Tsvangirai or Mugabe to win the elections decisively when opportunities were evident served to deepen the political stalemate and worsen the economic malaise, thus reducing them both to ordinary men fighting for political power with the backing of ordinary people who love their party brands.
Sheer desperation forced them to negotiate, not statesmanship. Each had an equal grip on the otherâ€™s throat. Which explains why their speeches on Monday were so banal and self-contradictory I had the impression they were drafted while each awaited his turn to speak.
Without outright victors there can be no acts of magnanimity, which alone show up great leaders and make historic events. The political deal between Zanu PF and the MDC will therefore collapse or survive depending on whether these leaders are able to rise above the ordinariness of the event, to aim for a higher national purpose.
There are many in both parties who donâ€™t like the agreement as much as the leaders admitted. To the poor, the ebullient excitement which preceded the signing has been replaced by an air of anxious bewilderment and uncertainty. “Was that all?” they ask. It had the bathos of getting to Cana and being told Jesus is not coming.
I donâ€™t know precisely what the balance of power is like in practice between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, but what will make or unmake the deal is what Alex Magaisa referred to in a recent essay as the “human factor”. Itâ€™s not a novel theory, but in Zimbabwe it has a certain poignancy because of the polarisation and violence which preceded the talks and the controversial elections.
In essence it says a deal will succeed or fail depending on the attitudes, actions and motivations of all those who have a decisive influence on it.
Mark civic society groups, which feel excluded or whose survival is threatened by a return to normalcy, who insist Tsvangirai has sold out because to them there can never be a meeting of minds between Zanu PF and the MDC. To many self-seekers, evidence was there in Tsvangirai already quoting Mugabeâ€™s speech on reconciliation before there is a template on national healing and how “past wrongs” would be dealt with under the envisaged political dispensation. They will insist in their cynical attack on the deal to make sure it doesnâ€™t succeed. You need political maturity and true leadership to tell between embittered cynicism and genuine criticism and forge ahead.
Beyond the continent, will Mugabe and Tsvangirai be able to withstand the manipulation and cajoling riding on a Trojan horse called foreign assistance? There is today in Zimbabwe a self-deprecating obsession with promised salvation from outside, forcing us to search for inferiority complex-laden qualifying criteria for this assistance as if Zimbabweâ€™s economy is amenable to a quick-fix. Immediate food aid yes, but foreigners who are well-meaning should give us tractors, seed, fertiliser and, above all, remove sanctions and see if we canâ€™t feed ourselves. It is demeaning that we should be making a political settlement designed solely to please outsiders.
So long as Mugabe looms large on the political podium, they will have a convenient excuse of why such aid is not forthcoming â€” that it was a bad deal in the first place. Local media will be decisive in putting things into the correct perspective.
By Joram Nyathi