THERE is something intriguing about the history of political agreements in our small country of Zimbabwe.
I mention this in light of the furore surrounding the allegedly doctored agreement between Zanu PF and the MDCs, the elaborately entitled Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed on September 15 2008.
I struggle to understand why it is endowed with that lavish title. Someone has to educate me on what is â€œglobalâ€ about the political agreement. Our politicians seem to get unusually excited when they refer to the â€œglobalâ€ part of the title.
Listening to the brouhaha over the alleged changes made to the GPA (I use the title reluctantly) the history student in me could not help but recall that this may not be the first time that a momentous agreement has been the subject of such disputes. It seemed to me that ours is a nation built on very shaky foundations as far as political agreements are concerned.
But, perhaps, out of sync with the reaction in opposition circles thus far, I think this episode also provides an opportunity for the opposition to have honest self-introspection about the way it handles its duty of care toward its millions of supporters and sympathisers. But more on that later.
Letâ€™s take a long trip into our history, for an occasion when an agreement has been the subject of disputation over allegations of unilateral and fraudulent changes. We might see that fraud, deceit and unscrupulous behaviour are hardly a novelty in our tired country.
There is, in particular, an uncanny resemblance between the so-called GPA and the agreement that paved the path to the colonisation of the land that we now call Zimbabwe (the Rudd Concession), in as far as there is deceit and trickery. I rely, rather shakily, on my rudimentary understanding of history so I stand corrected. The point of similarity that is drawn is only limited to the allegations of deceit and doctoring of agreements.
Charles Rudd negotiated an agreement on behalf of his business associate, Cecil John Rhodes, with King Lobengula. At the time Lobengula dominated (or was thought to dominate) a large part of the area which Rhodes so coveted. It was thought, rather wishfully (and wildly so, it later appeared) that a second Rand lay somewhere north of the Limpopo. This was after the discovery of rich gold deposits on the reef around Johannesburg.
The Rudd Concession, as it is commonly known, was signed in October 1888, which is 120 years ago. Rhodes had also, apparently, enlisted the services of Dr Leander Starr Jameson to persuade King Lobengula to sign. Jameson is said to have had some leverage over Lobengula because he had apparently treated the king for gout. Having been relieved from such a predicament, itâ€™s probably natural that the king regarded Jameson as a good man, whose word he could trust.
The meaty part of that deal however, and of relevance for current purposes, are the allegations of deceitful conduct by Rhodes and his friend Rudd in their dealings with Lobengula. Apparently, they had made assurances to King Lobengula that only a few white men would undertake mining activities in his land. However, it is alleged, this clause was omitted from the papers documenting the agreement which Lobengula signed. A few extra clauses were also added, it is said, such as that the mining companies could do anything that was deemed necessary for the fulfillment of their operations. The true meaning of the agreement was not fully availed to the king, until later.
By the time King Lobengula discovered the fraud and the extent of what he was purported to have given away, it was rather late in the day. He tried various ways to neutralise and counter the effects of the Rudd Concession. For example, he granted in 1889 a parallel agreement to a German prospector â€” what became known as the Lippert Concession. But even this came to naught as Lippert was later bought out by Rhodes.
King Lobengula even sent envoys to Great Britain with a letter to Queen Victoria, protesting against the doctored agreement. He is said to have written, â€œA document was written and presented to me for signature. I asked what it contained, and was told that in it were my words and the words of those men. I put my hand to it. About three months afterwards I heard from other sources that I had given by that document the right to all minerals of my country â€¦â€
In a dramatic description of his situation at the time, King Lobengula is famously quoted as having remarked: â€œHave you ever seen a chameleon catch a fly? The chameleon gets behind the fly, remains motionless for some time, then he advances very slowly and gently, first putting forward one leg and then another. At last, when well within reach, he darts his tongue and the fly disappears. England is the chameleon and I am that fly.â€
Those words in the agreement and the deceit that accompanied them had paved the way for the colonisation of King Lobengulaâ€™s lands. The king tried to put up a fight but the Maxim gun was much too powerful against the assegai and shield. After all, someone remarked rather smugly, â€œWe have the Maxim gun, and they have notâ€.
And now, 120 years later, we have yet another agreement, the so-called GPA, between Zanu PF and the two Siamese twins of the MDC. We hear, long after the event, complaints that Zanu PF fraudulently doctored the original agreement signed on September 11 2008. It is alleged the document signed at the lavishly dressed formal ceremony on September 15 omitted and added some clauses that do not reflect the original. The MDCs are evidently unhappy. There have been accusations and counter-accusations, each shifting blame to each other.
If correct, it obviously shows bad faith on the part of Zanu PF. But thatâ€™s just one side of the equation, one, it must be said, that is easy to deplore. It is easy to see why the flurry of castigations has been targeted at Zanu PF. There is another side, however, one that those of us who share sympathy and support for the opposition are often more reluctant to question because it is inconvenient, perhaps embarrassing too. It is characteristic of our approach when we deal with leaders on this side of the fence, the opposition. There is always a tendency to look for somewhere to place blameworthiness; to shift it from our shoulders even when there are apparent failures and neglect on our part. We are scared to question these shortfalls lest we are castigated and consigned to the compost heap of â€œZanu PF supportersâ€.
But question them we must. These leaders aspire to sit in high places and might well assume the mantle of leadership soon. They are going to be negotiating and entering into agreements of all types, some complex and others very simple. They are going to deal with very crafty persons, perhaps craftier and more cunning than Zanu PF. They will still have to deal with a cunning Zanu PF.
But how, it has to be asked, is it that they participated in a public ceremony signing a document that is quite clearly a sham? One thing is clear: they did not read it before appending their signatures. They did not do due diligence, notwithstanding the outstanding legal and accounting brains at their disposal; people who have drafted and signed countless documents in their professional lives; people who know that the Ts must be crossed and the Is must be dotted. These are people trained and experienced enough to have an eye for detail. Yet this document, the one that carries the hopes of millions, was left in the hands of a party to the agreement, a crafty party whose cunning ways are legendary. And they just signed, believing the crafty party was acting in good faith!
To be fair to King Lobengula, he had none of the legal expertise at his disposal. He dealt with the folks who came to him in good faith and some had been good to him. He had little cause to doubt their sincerity. All the knowledge of the pen and paper was weighed heavily against him and he relied on them. What the episode shows us is that this world has crafty people who will do everything possible to gain advantage over others. They cannot be trusted with documenting agreements. It is important always to keep a watchful eye because any slip up can be used to your disadvantage.
But what defence do our current leaders have? Simply blame the crafty party whose ways require no introduction? Chinamasa and Zanu PF were wrong to doctor the agreement, if indeed they did that as alleged. But surely, that does not exonerate the opposition leaders from culpability.
No, gentlemen, you have fought the good fight and you continue to do so against all odds and you must be commended, but on this one you need to raise your hands and admit there was a weak link. In any corporate circles the lawyer would rightly fear that a client might just slip away. Supporters will back you to the hilt because they like you and sympathise with your situation. They understand what you are up against and they will stand with you come what may. But it does not mean that you should bury your heads in the sand and pretend that you did not make mistakes on your part. Acknowledge that you are in bed with a crafty partner and be vigilant at all times.
Remember that in 1979 at the Lancaster House talks, it is said Mugabe and Nkomo had agreed to contest as the Patriotic Front. By the time Nkomo woke up on the morning after the talks, Mugabe had allegedly vanished to Tanzania. Of this Nkomo says in his book The Story of My Life on p206, â€œThat was the end of our agreement to talk, broken not by me but by Robert Mugabe and the leadership of Zanu … I and the fighters and followers of Zapu had been deceived.â€
If Zanu PF does eventually concede the Ministry of Home Affairs, look very closely gentlemen and make sure that the document does not say Ministry of Homeless Affairs.
lMagaisaÂ isÂ availableÂ atÂ wamagaisa@ yahoo.co.uk or email@example.com