WHEN President Mugabe bellowed â€œpasi ne MDCâ€ at his partyâ€™s conference in Bindura last month, he merely confirmed our worst fears: that his keenness on seeing the success of a unitary government with the MDC had worn thin.
The damning slogan is reserved for his enemies, opponents and elements which he regards as undesirable. Tsvangirai and his MDC party have always been regarded as undesirable appendages of imperialists.
The tone Mugabe set in Bindura has erased any hopes of a workable political settlement with the opposition and with it, 2009 can turn out to be even more of an annus horribilis than 2008 as long as the gulf between Zanu PF and the MDC is not bridged.
That rift has opened even wider amid state allegations that the MDC is fomenting armed rebellion to topple the ageing strongman. The pieces have started to come together.
Mugabe has started to wheel out the evidence of MDCÂ â€œtreasonâ€. Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko and dozens of MDC abducted by state functionaries last year now stand accused of plotting to topple the government.
The state is also alleging that the activists were culpable in the bombing of police stations and railway lines late last year. This is notwithstanding statements by police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri that the bombings were an inside job.
Here is wily Mugabe playing victim again. And when he is in this mode, he is at his most dangerous. He will now use this phony state of siege to justify drastic action against the opposition.
We recall the Cain Nkala saga in which the MDC was portrayed as a murderous party and then Tsvangiraiâ€™s treason trial which both collapsed in court. The incidents were both designed to weaken the MDC while at the same time diverting attention away from the failure of the Zanu PF administration.
It is not surprising therefore that Mugabe has launched an assault on the opposition while at the same time putting up a faÃ§ade of a magnanimous and charitable leader extending an invitation to the opposition to ride on his threadbare wagon. He knows the futility of riding alone.
He wants to ride with a weakened Tsvangirai. That way, he thinks he is guaranteed gaining the ascendancy which he failed to win through the ballot box.
But gaining legitimacy is a different kettle of fish. And in the event of an early election, Mugabe knows that his chances would perhaps be brighter against a traumatised MDC.
In its current state, the opposition has already started to display sure signs of weakness. Tsvangirai and most senior leaders of the party are outside the country â€” they say to organise â€” but arguably in exile.
The current Jestina Mukoko saga is most likely to keep the leaders away. Meanwhile the party cannot properly organise on the ground. State agents have launched activities to destabilise the party at all levels.
Tsvangiraiâ€™s MDC appears rudderless at the moment. It should be said that the MDC leadership is playing right into Zanu PFâ€™s grand plot.
The party is weakening with each passing day that Tsvangirai and his colleagues stay out of the country.
Conditions on the ground now point to two possible outcomes.
A weakened MDC could be dragged into the unity government kicking and screaming by the strong arm of the state. The terrorist plot would be used as the stick to force compliance. In this scenario, the party would cede powers to Zanu PF and reverse gains garnered from the March polls.
The second possible outcome is a frustrated MDC walking out of the dialogue with Zanu PF and refusing to support the passage of Amendment Number 19 when the Bill is brought to parliament later this month.
Mugabe would then dissolve parliament and call for fresh polls. As long as Tsvangirai stays away, it would be a huge task for him and his party to win. He cannot rely on public discontent alone to upstage Mugabe in an election. He is required here to lead his party.
The two scenarios are both favourable to Mugabe who is still more than determined to hang on to power despite his inability to rescue the country from the morass he has created. Mugabeâ€™s continued occupation of the throne is manifestly not the tonic required to put right this economy.
The agreement between the two parties was the best option available for Zimbabwe but that opportunity is fast waning. In South Africa this weekend the MDC leadership is scheduled to deliberate on a way forward.
They have two clear options: to bite the bullet and join Mugabe in a government that is abusing power and accusing the party of treason or to tear up the agreement with Zanu PF and face an election in which they will be at a profound disadvantage. Both options carry serious risks for Tsvangirai. But that is the nature of politics. It is time to demonstrate leadership.
BY VINCENT KAHIYA