Behold, barbarians by the gate!

Mr Tsvangirai

Mr Tsvangirai

It is surprising that just when the country was supposed to be moving forward with its economic story — the accelerated implementation of Zim-Asset — something rather ominous is hanging in the air. All of a sudden, some would want the world to believe we are back eight years ago, in 2007, and the country is facing a crisis of proportions. There are a few practical examples, such as the protests at Chikurubi, followed, as we heard yesterday, by similar protests at Midlands State University and the University of Zimbabwe.

Or, if you read the country’s private media and follow social media, you get a sense that something sinister could be brewing.

Granted, the spaces of private media and social media are largely occupied by what has been called the lunatic fringe. It is imperative to note though that there is some latency that could easily be awakened whether by the encouragement and legitimation of the lunatic fringe or by forces with a sinister intent.

Now, we may examine the individual elements that are seen to be making the country uneasy, or are being deliberately planted to give the impression of a crisis as obtained in 2007.

Itai Dzamara

Itai Dzamara

“Torture’s reward”
That is the title of Morgan Tsvangirai’s autobiographical book, At The Deep End.
It is situated in the events that unfolded in March 2007 where Tsvangirai and others were beaten by overzealous policemen in Highfield following a purported prayer meeting. Reports of course say that when Tsvangirai heard that his nemesis in the opposition, Professor Arthur Mutambara and others had been arrested, he rushed to get into the melee at Machipisa Police Station so that Mutambara would not steal all the thunder. Tsvangirai later had all the desired thunder to himself. That is why he could declare a dubious reward in torture.

International spotlight was on Zimbabwe and this saw African leaders moving in to force an inclusive government between the opposition and the ruling party. Those were the rewards due to Tsvangirai.

Today one Itai Dzamara, who we are told was abducted on March 9, is being used to try to bring rewards to Tsvangirai.

Already the US and EU have issued statements denouncing the alleged abduction and, interestingly, Tsvangirai himself travelled to the US on “party business”.

The alleged abduction of Dzamara came at a time when MDC-T was conducting sporadic, and mainly illegal, demonstrations in Harare and Bulawayo.

At the same time, prisoners and lately students have had some demonstrations, which could well jolt the security forces to respond to protect life and property.

That will directly play into the hands of Tsvangirai. That will be his reward.

Zanu-PF’s majority in Parliament won’t matter, nor the fact that President Mugabe was duly elected to lead this country for five years 19 months ago. Meanwhile, there will be no time for the implementation of Zim-Asset, least so, in an accelerated manner, and that loss of focus could as well do the ruling party in.

Non-existent leadership crisis
Over the past few months, there have been concerted efforts to portray Zimbabwe as having a leadership crisis.
In particular, energy has been expended and ink wasted mainly in the private media in an effort to project President Mugabe as no longer capable of running Zimbabwe. His age has been given as the only index of such a failure, never mind his election victory 19 months ago, the signing of mega deals with China and Russia and the very fact that he out-manoeuvred internal rivals that sought to torpedo him in his Zanu-PF party.

Now we have stories that First Lady Grace Mugabe is in control and that she is now a “centre of power”.

We even heard that the arrival of the First Lady from the Far East where she had been on holiday had sent Zanu-PF officials panicking. Connected to, and a little before the obsession over the supposed powers of the First Lady, we had seen the same private media shouting hoarse about how Vice President Mnangagwa was the “Annointed One”.

Now, each of the two above has every right, possibility even, to succeed President Mugabe. However, the fact of the matter is that there is no vacancy at State House — which the lunatic fringe might as well know — and such speculation is only meant to cause divisions and confusion in Zanu-PF which should not remain permanently rooted in succession politics but deliver of its election promises.

What may have started as a kind of mischief has now morphed into a permanent agenda. And does it not follow that if mayhem, as planned by the MDC through its provocations, break out, one of the themes of such “spring” is to demand the abdication of a president who no longer can control the country?

“Legitimate” opposition
It would be remiss not to acknowledge that the recent flurry of activity by the MDC is linked to the emergence of the United Movement for Democratic Change featuring Prof Ncube and Tendai Biti. The UMDC was supposed to be the “grand coalition” of opposition forces, to the exclusion of Tsvangirai. Both men are well educated, which Tsvangirai isn’t, and tend to appeal to the intellectual and diplomatic world.

They have little of Tsvangirai’s popularity, though. But Tsvangirai would not leave anything to chance. He can never.

That is why it is not a coincidence that Tsvangira’s visibility in the past few weeks has lived with the conception and birth of UMDC. For Tsvangirai, grassroots support, even illusion of the same, is a strength — which grassroots support, one may add, is but in the number of drunken youths he can mobilise in Harare to do illegal demonstrations and show a modicum of power.

Biti and company have no such luxury.

The biggest vote of confidence, though, has been Tsvangirai’s trip to the US, which happens to be the biggest driver of the regime change project. It is well-known that the US has its reservations with inept Tsvangirai, but, for now, he is their best card. Yet soon enough, we may see Tendai Biti beating the same path, or speaking at Chatham House.

Tsvangirai needs to consolidate his position. By whatever means.

Even by way of getting rewards from torture or mayhem.

Which all makes a case for vigilance by authorities and in particular the security arms of the State. How do the security apparatus react to the deliberate provocations by the likes of Tsvangirai and Itai Dzamara who are seeking rewards, capital, out of chaos and lawlessness?

How can they balance between applying the law and maintaining law and order and handling sponsored, drunken vigilantes? Surely another March 2007 will not help anyone. There are even bigger factors to watch in Zimbabwe at the moment. The strikes by students and prisoners are emblematic in at least two ways.

First, lack of service delivery, as students have been denied a chance to learn because lecturers are on strike.

Their anger could as well be anyone’s.

Protests against Zesa, against local authorities and against whoever is failing to provide sufficient services — and they are many.

These protests can easily turn nasty.

The second dimension is that of hunger.

With drought upon us, such protests as witnessed at Chikurubi’s “food riots” may spread to other prisons and schools (which calls for measures to avoid national hunger). Connected to the above, and even more volatile, is the swelling of Harare and other centres’ populations due to the liberalisation of street trade and informal businesses. These people make a captive crowd for any chaos. In fact, they may even trigger chaos, the way that Tunisian vendor self-immolated. The consequences will be too ghastly to contemplate.

Behold, barbarians are waiting by the gate!