Muckraker: The Lesson From Down South We Could Use

PROFESSOR Geoff Hughes of the University of the Witwatersrand who writes for the Johannesburg Star made some useful observations regarding the September 15 signing ceremony which has been so hyped in our state media.

 

He said the success of any deal of this sort depends on trust, goodwill and compromise.

President Mugabe’s speech, he said, did not augur well in this regard.

“His praise for President Thabo Mbeki for ‘finding an African solution to an African problem’ was a revealing piece of isolationist thinking,” Hughes said. “After all, he and his henchmen have been the major source of the problem.”

“Mugabe’s usual rant about British and American ‘interference’ ignores the fact that the economic meltdown he has presided over now necessitates aid from all sources. It will be interesting to see the role of the Chinese in this respect,” Hughes observes.

Mugabe’s comment that “democracy in Africa is a difficult proposition” is normally one heard from right-wing whites, Hughes notes. “His argument has nothing to do with Africa — it is simply intolerance of opposition.”

Indeed.

What surprises us about Mugabe’s speech on September 15 was its complete lack of depth. Here was an opportunity for Mugabe to deliver a speech that positioned him as a statesman who accepted responsibility for policy failures and understood the need for national unity in overcoming the damage.

Instead it was the usual stream-of-consciousness that sought to blame the British and Americans for all the country’s setbacks. Slumped on the table in front of him, he saw no need to capture the importance of the occasion or to provide leadership. It was just more of the same. And the body language of those listening told its own story. Morgan Tsvangirai covered his face in embarrassment. Mbeki looked around the room as if to say “what on earth is he talking about?”

Unreported in the official media were the cheers that greeted every mention of Ian Khama’s name. Mugabe certainly understood the significance of this and attempted to suggest he was close to Khama’s parents at the time of Independence. This probably came as news to Ian!

Mugabe claimed he had never issued a word of reproach about Botswana. But this was disingenuous. He may not have said anything but his newspapers, directed from his office, have been vitriolic.

But what was even more interesting in Mugabe’s remarks was his failure to acknowledge the presence of his two vice-presidents. They didn’t get a mention either from Mugabe or the other dignitaries present who showered praise on everybody else.

Those who have accused Mugabe of being a closet royalist will have found ammunition in his fawning reference to King Mswati who Tsvangirai had supposedly snubbed, among others. Tsvangirai had resisted all entreaties to sign up, Mugabe said.

“Even the king!” he declared to everybody’s amusement.

Except Grace. She sat there unsmiling throughout, the Iron Mask evident to all. This uncomfortable ceremony marked the end of her ambitions as well as her husband’s. She was just a stone’s throw from the prime minister-designate who she had sought to humble during the election campaign. Now it was her turn to eat humble pie.

Those fortunate to watch the signing of Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement whether on TV or in-person had an opportunity to witness why there is more to this story than the details of the agreement itself. For the very first time in Zimbabwe’s history Mugabe had to share the stage with someone who had won an election against him. Someone that he has repeatedly vilified in speeches, in his own media and in countless exchanges with Sadc and the AU over the years. Moreover, he did this in front of a host of leaders from the region. And in doing so, the myth that he alone is the only leader of Zimbabwe was shattered. Although more and more Zimbabweans have been coming to this realisation for a while, leaders in Sadc and the AU have taken more time to appreciate it. Last week changed that.

After the signing ceremony, the two main rivals had a chance to speak and in doing so, history may have been made. With the stage now freely available to the two long-time protagonists without the filter of the state press and without the interference of the army or police, the audience had a chance to evaluate the men on their own merits and in the context of today’s Zimbabwe. The stark contrasts were not only ideological, but generational as well.

Tsvangirai spoke from prepared notes in a speech that was well-written, responsible and hit on some important points. He quoted from Mugabe’s speech in 1980 about turning swords into plowshares and moving forward in unison. He talked about the need for the immediate resumption of food aid, the need for medicines in clinics, the restoration of the economy. He also spoke about the sacrifices that so many have made in Zimbabwe over the years. He referred to the war of Independence but also reminded the audience that he too carries scars from a different phase of the struggle. He outlined a five-point action-oriented plan to get Zimbabwe moving again.

In a sense, it was Tsvangirai’s coming out party. He is now an African statesman, sharing the same stage as Mugabe. And to some, Tsvangirai’s road to the job was just as tough as many others who have overcome injustice in Zimbabwe and elsewhere on the continent to reach positions of influence.

Mugabe spoke without notes. Although he stuck to a script that hasn’t changed in decades, many of his other remarks were not focused and he didn’t seem prepared for the event. It was clear that he thought this day would never arrive and at times it was unclear if he fully realised that it had. He had sharp words for the British and US sanctions and railed against the external interference in Zimbabwe. He pronounced that what he viewed as an externally-driven regime change project was dead. He underlined that he will use his authority as president but gave no indication as to why he had agreed to the power-sharing arrangement.

He mused that Zimbabweans outside on the street must be wondering what is going on, but he suggested that others go and tell them as it was important for them to know. It was clear that although he has signed an agreement diminishing his powers, he will be as critical and uncompromising as ever. He also made light of the challenges that democracy and elections pose for Africa and chided opposition movements for expecting “more than they deserve”. At times, he responded to catcalls from the audience, something he has never had to do before. The configuration of the audience was clearly new. He spoke almost entirely in the past tense and did not mention an ordinary Zimbabwean at any point in his remarks.

This open stage allowed the audience to view the sharp contrast between the two men in an unfiltered, unprecedented way. This therefore has the potential to be an important turning point in Zimbabwe’s transition. It was as if Tsvangirai seized the moment, while Mugabe was seized by it.

This was an occasion that the applause-o-meter was made for. The crowd in attendance clearly spoke with their hands. Mugabe’s monopoly of the political stage in Zimbabwe is over. In addition, and potentially more importantly, his monopoly over telling Zimbabwe’s story to Sadc and the AU also appears to be over as well. President Kikwete remarked that we are witnessing a new generation of African leaders.

Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu has urged the press to act “responsibly” on the current situation following the political settlement. It was therefore curious to see the following remarks in the Herald’s Nathaniel Manheru column last weekend.

British settlers, Manheru claims, are angry that the agreement supposedly ties the MDC to Zanu PF’s rhetoric on the Third Chimurenga.

“They are not appeased even by promises of an independent land audit which MDC-T has been agitating for, but whose operationalisation is sure to draw blood redder than the setting sun.

“Who will be in it,” Manheru asks? “Who will dare go to the countryside to start processes calculated to appease (Tony) Hawkins and (John) Robertson’s yearn for a return to settler agrarian policy? Then you will have a real war here of the kind not even America can put out.”

So this is “responsible journalism” Zanu PF-style? Threatening bloodshed if the commitment by all parties to remove multiple-farm holders is implemented?

Please let’s take note of those threats from the crumbling ancien regime’s apparatchiks who are abusing the public media to subvert agreements reached by warning of violence if they are adhered to.

What has Ndlovu got to say about this manifest abuse?

The Herald recently published a promotional sidebar headed “A legacy of inclusive governments”. It deceitfully suggested “Zimbabwe has a history of putting the national interest first before political considerations as President Mugabe has appointed inclusive cabinets that reflected the diversity of opinion on the political scene since 1980”.

This suggests the political agreement signed last week was the product of a magnanimous president, not a reflection of his diminished authority. This week he abandoned steps to produce an inclusive cabinet, which he had only last month suggested was of compelling importance, to jet off to the UN to strut upon the world stage.

As for a history of inclusive governments, the people of Matabeleland may have a different view. An estimated 20 000 lost their lives in Gukurahundi because they got in the way of Mugabe’s one-party-state project.

General Peter Walls is described in the same article as “former RF commander”. Does anyone else know about this mysterious post?

And how about this for a piece of deception: “Unconfirmed reports say the new inclusive cabinet to be appointed in the wake of the power-sharing deal will have 15 Zanu PF ministers, 13 MDC-T ministers and three MDC ministers to reflect the popular vote during the harmonised elections.”

Does the retention of Mugabe’s dead-wood who have got the country into this fine mess really reflect the will of voters? Is that what they voted for: decline and dereliction?

The Herald should be careful with articles of this sort. They discredit the whole inclusive government project by identifying it with past repression and failure. Some of the people mentioned as reflecting Mugabe’s policy of inclusiveness subsequently had their property seized and their life’s work destroyed.

Shouldn’t Zanu PF recognise the popular will and take a rest instead of pretending they have some historic mission to defend? Nobody buys that hogwash anymore.

South Africa, having provided us with so many examples of poor governance in recent years, this week managed to show Africa’s immovable despots how it’s done. Whatever we may think of Thabo Mbeki and his Aids denialism, his crony police commissioners, and his rigid support for manifestly incompetent ministers, the manner of his going — disciplined, dignified and diligent — set an example of how leaders can put the national interest before self-serving claims of indispensability.

The state media spent the whole week reminding us of Mbeki’s “heroic” role in forging last week’s political settlement. What they didn’t say was how the example of his departure also contributed immensely to Zimbabwe’s democratic liberation!

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