Candid Comment: Just Give Tsvangirai His Passport

IT does appear that the nastier the humanitarian situation gets in Zimbabwe, the more petty-minded we must be.

 

There was a report in the Herald on Wednesday about MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai travelling to Botswana on an ETD. Tsvangirai had been quoted in the Standard saying this year should be declared “a non-agricultural season”.
Tsvangirai had to use an ETD because the Registrar-General’s office has refused to issue him with a passport. It is irrelevant to me that Tsvangirai refused to use the same document two weeks ago to travel to the Sadc troika meeting in Mbabane, Swaziland, to discuss the petty project of “key” ministries. Some said he needs a diplomatic passport. Others argued with disarming opportunism that the refusal to issue Tsvangirai with a passport was now part of the talks. It showed that Zanu PF was not sincere about the inclusive government.
But that is to miss the point — which is that there has been no convincing explanation for denying Tsvangirai a full passport. We know it is a privilege and remains the property of the Zimbabwe government, but given his position as one of the key stakeholders in the political dialogue, he enjoys privileges above ordinary, unelected Zimbabweans.
It has to be acknowledged that he is the leader of one of the contending political parties in the country. It is sham to try to convince us that it’s all to do with a shortage of paper. This explanation is an attempt at cheap subterfuge, to give the impression that the RG’s office is free from political manipulation. It is not. That’s why state institutions should be beyond the grasping clutches of political parties.
Which brings me to my point: that the passport incident makes Zanu PF political leaders not only petty-minded but vindictive too. In denying Tsvangirai a passport, they turned what was a simple domestic, administrative issue into political capital for opportunists at home and beyond. It is bungling of the worst order and gave a hostage to fortune.
They may have some other reasons for their decision, but they fly in the face of logic. After the initial signing of the MoU, most of us expected our political leaders to get closer together in the interest of national healing and cooperative engagement. Instead they have drifted further apart, abetted in this treacherous betrayal of the poor by selfish individuals in their political parties.
It has been alleged that Tsvangirai is being denied a passport on suspicion that he will use it to campaign for more sanctions on the government as part of “international pressure” to force President Mugabe to cede more power. This might well be true, but it might also not be the case. Why not give him the benefit of the doubt? People should judge him on the basis of what he says when he goes abroad, not what government suspects he will do or say.
The rational thing would be to let him have his passport and let him speak. He should be convicted by his own words. Denying him a passport on the basis of what he might do or say amounts to convicting him before he commits the crime.
On the other hand, you would expect the MDC itself to react with judiciousness and maturity. Forget it.
I have no illusions that even if Tsvangirai had gone to Swaziland nothing would have come of it. There is no meeting of the minds. The MDC now wants a fresh presidential election. Zanu PF is afraid of losing. People are tired, angry and hungry. The country is broke. Yet by going to Mbabane, Tsvangirai would have demonstrated his humility and showed that he respects the Sadc heads of state who had given him the platform to state his case, the same people whose advice and cooperation he might require as he tries to chart his way into the wider world as a new leader in government.
But these guys will not pass an opportunity for histrionics over the smallest incident of slight because they believe we don’t think and that we might not realise that they have been unfairly treated. So there was an attempt to blackmail everybody by blowing an individual’s passport issue into a national crisis more pressing than food production.
Yet this could have been avoided by simply giving Tsvangirai his passport. He has as much right as all other politicians to travel. He has as much freedom of expression as every Zimbabwean. It is an incident which gives a patina of relevance to the vexing deadlock over “key” ministries when people are starving.
If the fear is that he will say the wrong things to the wrong people once he gets his passport, isn’t the solution to get the wrong things corrected instead of turning this banal passport issue into a national embarrassment? In any case, by issuing the passport to Tsvangirai the government does not forfeit its right of ownership. It can withdraw it if it can be proved in a competent court of law that it has been abused in a way which threatens national security.
Let’s draw a line between trivial party issues and the national emergency which Zimbabwe faces as a result of the political stalemate.
So I could not understand it when prime minister-designate Tsvangirai said let’s declare  this year a non-agricultural season. Declare it to whom and to what end? Is he aware that he is no longer an opposition leader and should be proposing solutions to the national crisis? That calls for more responsibility; which makes him part of the solution and part of the problem why we have no functional cabinet eight months after the elections.
After parliament declared the food security situation a national disaster, we expect the political leadership to assume their role and call for a mobilisation of resources to feed the poor and for the cropping season. We boycott the season and do what instead? The global financial recession means there will progressively be fewer donors for those who fail to produce. Climate change also means there will progressively be lower world food stock reserves to go round.

By Joram Nyathi