Comment: Mugabe’s Charm Offensive

IS President Mugabe reforming or is he just putting up a typical politician’s show to curry favours with the electorate?


Edwin Tsvangirai –– the son to the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai –– last week provided interesting insight into his perception of old wily Bob.

This may be the same perception that a number of people who listened to Mugabe at the church service held for Susan Tsvangirai last Tuesday now have. There are many who now view Mugabe differently even though it is too early to talk of a Damascene conversion.
Edwin who spoke at a memorial rally for his late mother at Glamis Stadium had this to say about Mugabe: “I would like to thank His Excellency, the President of Zimbabwe, President Mugabe, for giving us words that have changed my understanding of him”.
He did not tell us what President Mugabe represents today, neither did he tell us his perception of the president prior to the speech in church.
What is significant though is that to Edwin, Mugabe has morphed into some character with attributes which he had no prior knowledge of.
It could also be true to say that he believes Mugabe is changing for the better.
There are many who could have been convinced that Mugabe has changed after seeing his photos and footage at Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s bedside two weeks ago, moments after his hospitalisation.  
His speech at the church was a crowning moment he grabbed with both hands.
This was not his usual egoistic rendition but a composed and thoughtful narrative in which he empathised with the bereaved prime minister.
He spoke of Tsvangirai as “mumwe wedu” (one of our own). It was an invitation to the nation to stand with the prime minister (as the president was himself doing) during the difficult period.
The speech sent the message that Tsvangirai was now part of the Zimbabwe family (and not the running dog of the West, or the traitor, counter revolutionary, chigevenga, etc).
Mugabe also spoke about an end to political violence. “We are doing our best that we create a conducive environment and tell our supporters that the issue of violence must end,” he said.
There is no more apportioning of blame here! This was a unique opportunity for Mugabe to address MDC supporters and sympathisers and he made the most of it.  
Tsvangirai last month turned down an invitation to attend Mugabe’s birthday celebration on the pretext that it was party function.
Mugabe last week turned Tsvangirai’s tragedy into a national event in which he played a very pivotal role.
In all this Mugabe tried to display an old man’s charm and magnanimity that will not necessarily win him friends but may help to repair his not-so-rosy political career in the eyes of the opposition.
His conduct was a major propaganda coup not just critical in embellishing his quest for political legitimacy as head of state but to also get a foot in the door in his quest to be accepted by MDC supporters as leader of the country.
This has a lot to do with his quest to leave a legacy of astute statesmanship.
This was a political manoeuvre that demanded reciprocity on the part of the MDC in its future dealings with Mugabe and Zanu PF.
Last week fate provided the MDC with the opportunity to return the favour. The party sent a terse condolence message following the death of former Zimbabwe Defence Forces chief and Zanu PF politburo member Vitalis Zvinavashe who passed away the same day Mugabe spoke in church.
The MDC recognised the late general’s role in the liberation of the country and as commander of the defence forces.  
In short, the party endorsed Zanu PF’s decision to award him national hero’s status.
By the way, should the decision to recognise heroes continue to be the preserve of Zanu PF now that we have a unity government and moreso when the Home Affairs ministry which is responsible for organising state funerals is jointly presided over by MPs for the two parties?
But we were not expecting to see the MDC’s Giles Mutsekwa as master of ceremonies at Heroes Acre last Saturday when Zvinavashe was buried?
This aside, those watchers of Mugabe’s rehabilitation will be keenly monitoring his actions.
He did not disappoint at Heroes Acre last Saturday when he stuck to the same line of peace and togetherness.
But largely, the jury is still out on the reformation process. We are watching out for relapses.

BY VINCENT KAHIYA