Tsvangirai forgot to use long spoon

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RECENT political events in Zimbabwe have proved the wisdom of the adage: “If you sup with the devil, you must use a long spoon”.

Report by Qhubani Moyo

As others would say: “If you kiss a crook, count your teeth afterwards.”

This aptly sums what Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai forgot to do during the coalition government’s tenure in his dealings with President Robert Mugabe. Quite clearly, Tsvangirai supped with a short spoon and this explains why he is now in this quandary.

This is the side of the story that seems to be ignored by many about the current electoral chaos and how Tsvangirai played a complicit role in its creation. The prevailing electoral disarray was long coming and many with foresight warned about this, but the premier seemed too relaxed in the palace and began to eat with a short spoon with Mugabe.

The long and short of it is that the unholy alliance that Tsvangirai had created with Mugabe and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara is now coming back to haunt him. What should be understood by all citizens is that if Tsvangirai, from the very onset, had refused to play ball with Mugabe and Mutambara and concentrated on working with progressive forces and pushing for reforms, things would be very different now.

However, Tsvangirai, out of arrogance and blind hostility to Ncube, chose to fight from the same corner with Mugabe, not realising the president had a grand plan of resisting being surrounded by leaders of democratic forces and keeping Mutambara close to deploy him when the need arises.

Interestingly, the principals’ forum, according to Mugabe in one of his recent interviews, is where the state is being run and statecraft practiced. So it would have been in Tsvangirai’s interest, as many said at the time, for him to have supported Ncube’s inclusion to ensure they push for reforms and preparations for free and fair elections, something which Mutambara was not going to do as he is working with Mugabe as shown by recent events.

While many will ignore this angle of the debate, it is important to be placed on public record so that the citizenry will have a clear understanding of why certain things are happening now and how events are likely to pan out going forward.

Of course, what is more important now is to ensure that Tsvangirai and Ncube pull in the same direction to ensure this country holds free and fair elections, but the background to where the plot was lost is also critical if the way forward is to be correctly defined.

Even when the Sadc leaders last year in August resolved that Ncube must be part of the principals’ forum, Tsvangirai came back and collaborated with Mugabe and Mutambara to evade implementing the resolution by separating principals and political leaders, effectively defying the regional bloc’s decision.

Although Tsvangirai might have been right in arguing that he will not fight Ncube’s political battles, he missed the whole strategic argument around the issue, which was that his partnership and cooperation with him would have yielded better results in terms of pushing for conditions for peaceful and credible elections.

For it is clear the premier’s collusion with Mugabe and Mutambara during their meetings as principals has not helped anything besides eroding most of the gains made by the democratic forces in the past decade.

I have no doubt that Tsvangirai wanted to use the principals’ forum to create an environment conducive to free and fair elections, but he lacked the strategic thinking and tactical manoeuvres needed to outflank Mugabe who was assisted by Mutambara, initially in a subtle way but now openly.

By accepting Mugabe’s deception that he was going to embrace free and fair elections and that whoever loses must accept defeat, Tsvangirai set himself for trouble big time. The premier also lost it when he started defending Mugabe, especially during his overseas jaunts, claiming he wanted to leave a good legacy and suggesting he was now a changed man. Tsvangirai even went to the extent of suggesting at some point Mugabe was also being misunderstood.

No doubt Tsvangirai’s strategy — a naïve one, it must be said — was to placate Mugabe in the vain hope that he would feel less threatened by a possible MDC-T victory and leave power peacefully. This poor thinking was further reflected by statements by other senior MDC-T leaders who scandalously gushed about Mugabe’s purported wisdom and vision.

This was before Tsvangirai later claimed Mugabe had agreed to rein in and withdraw security forces reportedly deployed around the country in preparation for elections.

Later, the prime minister accepted and subsequently defended the appointment of Jacob Mudenda as the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission after Professor Regis Austin was frustrated into resignation. Mudenda was at the time a Zanu PF politburo member with a questionable history on human rights and for that reason Tsvangirai should have rejected his appointment.

The same can be said on the appointment of former Zanu PF non-constituency MP, Justice Rita Makarau, as chairperson of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) after the frustration of retired judge Simpson Mutambanengwe.

As if that was not bad enough, Tsvangirai publicly defended the Zec secretariat which had in 2008 spent five weeks refusing to release the results of the first round of the presidential election which the premier had won. In other words, Tsvangirai was defending the very same people who denied him victory in 2008.

It is public knowledge the secretariat of the electoral management body is composed of dubious characters who have roots in the partisan security organs of the state and have participated actively in Zanu PF’s electoral machinations.

Of course, Tsvangirai made a U-turn when the public, including his own party officials and supporters, refused to buy into his ill-advised position that the Zec secretariat has no problem, but some other unnamed forces behind it.

These are just some of the many blunders the premier committed during the inclusive government. Everybody in the coalition government, including Ncube, made mistakes, but the premier’s bungling was too glaring and is now costing him.

The idea is not to undermine Tsvangirai or prove he has poor judgment, but rather to emphasise the need for him to work with other democratic forces, not huddle in the same corner with dictators only to later find himself thoroughly exposed and going back to base to look for his natural allies.

This brings me to the crux of the matter. After the Sadc summit in Maputo last weekend and the great work done by democratic forces working together again, it is important that Zimbabwean parties should find common ground and work collectively for free and fair elections.

Even if it’s controversial and perhaps difficult to defend, the Constitutional Court ruling must be implemented as far as possible, that is, in a way which allows flexible compliance and the holding of free and fair elections.

If the ruling itself acknowledges the impossibility of having elections on June 29 and, hence the July 31 dates, it must by the same token be possible to extend it further within the limits of what is realistic and practical.

This can be done again to allow for resource mobilisation and smooth conclusion of the voter registration and implementation of reforms as well as dealing with the role of the security forces in politics and elections.

And most importantly, there is a need to ensure that the chaotic voter registration exercise is put back on track to allow all eligible Zimbabweans get a chance to register as voters. When all is said and done, Zimbabweans can then go for free and fair elections which will allow the country to move forward.

Moyo is the director of policy and research in the MDC led by Professor Welshman Ncube. He is also candidate for MP in Insiza North constituency. — mdcpolicyguru@yahoo.co.uk

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