Press conference with Tsvangirai and Mugabe was nearly pleasant

OPINION – It’s been a risky business being the only white face in a crowd of blacks, most of whom are very unpleasant secret agents or media police, in the lobby of the hotel where the crisis negotiations have been going on for the last four days.

The last time the negotiations were under way, last month, a white journalist was arrested and the other two present slipped out of a side door. So my presence at the talks has been fleeting – ten minutes a few times a day to consult with my more safely hued colleagues.

I was at home last night when Colin called to say Mbeki would be holding a press conference. To announce failure, I was sure. I arrived minutes after Morgan Tsvangirai had left. “He said it’s a deal,” said Colin. “He was beaming. He was so pleased, he didn’t know what to do with himself.”

I stood in amazement. Everyone in Zimbabwe has been disappointed so often that we were like a nation of a serially cuckolded husbands. This was a strange experience. I waited with the crowd on the row of steps for Mr Mbeki to come out of the lift and into the lobby and address us.  

I never thought there were so many journalists left in Zimbabwe after the regime’s vicious predations on the press. “No there are not,” said Phillip. “Look how many there are in suits and not carrying notebook or a camera.” A white man, allegedly a foreigner, was frogmarched away earlier, he said. There was a handful of Chinese to the side of group. I wondered if I should join them.

I stayed put, determined to brave it out, to make a loud scene if any spook tried to “pick” me, as local parlance has it. They won’t do it now. I thought. I am sure that, whatever the agreement, they wouldn’t dare now.

Suddenly the mass of journalists turned as one and scurried up the stairs. We were going to have the luxury of a proper press conference in a conference room. With chairs. Would they try and stop me going in? Let ‘em try now, I said. Gosh, I’m getting bold all of a sudden.

Whatever the deal contains, it will mean Mr Mugabe will never be the same. Unless Mr Tsvangirai and his entire cohort of lawyers, advisers and consultants had been drugged, they would not have accepted a deal that would give Mr Mugabe anything like the absurd range of powers he was demanding when this four-day session began. It means he will have the completely foreign experience of having to share power with someone else, with one he loathes. He will have to consult, and share meetings where he will not be treated as a god.

Mr Mugabe must have slipped out of the building when we trooped up to the conference room. He’s not normally one to dodge the cameras.

As I sat in the conference hall waiting for Mr Mbeki, I mused over Mr Mugabe’s constant incantation. “Morgan Tsvangirai will never, never, never rule this country.” Sorry, Bob. You’ve just opened the door.