My weekend interview with The Herald seems to have torched quite a storm. I spoke and many others got talking, an opinion-maker’s dream.

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Alex T. Magaisa

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Some have said, but Magaisa, you have damaged your reputation among MDC supporters. Others said, you may have placed yourself in a zone of physical harm and that certain areas, such as Harvest House, the party headquarters would henceforth be a no-go area for me. Still others, have come up with all sorts of conspiracy-theories, sniping and snarling from their keyboards.

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My friends worry but I laugh it off. I tell my friends not to worry because these are the hazards of the terrain and the trade. As I have said before, if someone says that Magaisa is now a woman, I am not going to run around the neighbourhood naked to prove to people that I am still a man! Some things are not worth responding to because however much you try, you might end up looking silly yourself.

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We would spend considerable amounts of time responding to each and every accusation or conspiracy-theory that is constructed to suit particular ends. As my friend Tererai often says, “Imhute, ichavara hayo”. In other words, it’s like fog, it will clear with time. This too, shall pass and when this happens sense will prevail.

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But this occasion provides an opportunity to say something about analysis and advice and in particular, political analysis and advice.

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When in 2012, the MDC leader invited me to work with him, I asked why, when he already had advisors. He said he wanted something different, something that challenged commonly-receved wisdom in the party. He had obviously read my critical analyses in the past, some of which were critical of the party. He thought this was necessary. He was tired of being told the nice things all the time; the nice things which were not quite working. It was partly that thinking which I found attractive.

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Here was a leader of the biggest opposition party, expressing a preference for different views and not for things that pleased him all the time. I said to him, it would be an honour to serve but that if I came, I would not be able to sing praises and how great he was. I would be able to say the things that pleased him all the time. Rather, more often than not, I would say the hard, unpalatable things. He said that was exactly what he was looking for. This pleased me, not only because I have an independent mind, but also because it was in conformity with my own professional training.

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I had been taught in law school to be fair and objective in my advice to clients, not to please clients with false and misleading advice. If a client has no chance in court, you have to be upfront and tell him that his prospects are low. You can’t lie because if you raise his hopes and you go to court with a weak case, you will be exposed and embarrassed. Your client and his bank manager won’t be happy with you. It is always better to be frank and honest.

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At the end of the day, when all options are laid down, it’s for the client to make a decision. It is, after all, his case and his money that would be at stake. My friends and other people who have approached with their legal issues know this. I do not lie to them in order to please them. If they have a weak case, I tell them it is weak.

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This is the approach that I took into my role when worked with Mr Tsvangirai and the MDC. He understood what I was there to do and that it was not to sing praises. In my time, I saw many people fawning and saying all the lovely things – there is a lot of that in politics but he was experienced enough to know who was telling the truth and who was merely trying to please him.

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My approach was always to deliver my objective thoughts, even if they were unpalatable and I like to think he appreciated that. The bonds forged during that period were strong and they remain so. There was and always has been mutual respect.

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Indeed, this is the same approach I take to political analysis. I say exactly what I think, even if it is unpalatable to my political friends. I do not run with the mob simply to gain its favour and praise. I do not engage in political analysis to solicit for love and affection from the crowd. Indeed, the crowds can be deceptive. They can be wrong on issues and the easiest thing would be to agree with everyone. But that wouldn’t be the right thing. An analyst must be able to speak objectively, even at the risk of infuriating his friends. A bad friend is the one who tells you that you are wearing the best dress at the wedding, when she goes behind you telling everyone how hideous your dress is.

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I will always speak my mind, whether privately or publicly, and if that damages my reputation among certain quarters, so be it. For my part, I believe the opposition parties need to confront the truth, even if it unpalatable. They are dealing with an adversary that is deeply wedded to the state. They cannot do it in their current state of fragmentation. I don’t know anyone who thinks that this is bad advice.

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There are two other issues. If Zimbabweans are to find freedom, people must learn to read. But it seems to me that people do not read. Of these recent saga, I have heard many people say, but Magaisa, people don’t read stories, they merely read the headlines. The Herald published two items – the interview that we had and a story that interpreted the interview. Their headlines were consistent with their anti-Tsvangirai agenda. They deliberately selected quotes to support that agenda. I will use one example.

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Question 6 was as follows: “Between strategy and policy, which do you think is Tsvangirai’s undoing?”
\nI told the interviewer that he was asking a leading question. I knew what it was designed to do – which was to say that Tsvangirai lacked strategy or policies. I was therefore very deliberate in giving my answer, making it clear that the problem was not about strategy or policy. My answer starts with these words, “I don’t think Tsvangirai’s undoing has been a lack of strategy or policy, but the fact that he has been fighting a strong opponent who has the backing of the state and its considerable apparatus”.

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In the story however, these words were excised and they chose instead to start in the middle of the answer. And in that way, they gave the impression that I had said that Tsvangirai lacks strategy. It’s all nonsense, of course, because that impression is inconsistent with the response, but that is their job and you wouldn’t expect anything different from The Herald. It’s like cutting a John’s head and then presenting him to the people without the head, saying this is Peter. It’s misleading but that is what they are paid to do. But if there is another picture of John, with the head intact, and people still believe that the torso is Peter, then the problem is with the people, who choose to believe what they are old, not what they can see for themselves.

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This is what is inexcusable, that people believe the interpretation of the journalist when the interview is there for all to read and form their own interpretations. If people choose to read the story and not the interview, and if they choose to be influenced by the story and not the interview, then the problem is neither the writer nor the newspaper.

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And if that is the kind of public that Zimbabwe has, then it certainly deserves its current leadership. The irony is that most of the so-called enlightened people who fell for this are the very same people who routinely accuse rural voters of being ignorant and prone to be easily influenced by Zanu PF.

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The second issue is the theory that the Afrobarometer Survey which sparked this saga is somehow a conspiracy by Zanu PF to hoodwink the public. I know this is nonsense because I am aware of the circumstances that led to the placement of this matter into the public domain. On May 5, when Afrobarometer published its survey results, I was alerted by a friend, also in the opposition circles. I thought the best way was for the opposition to set the agenda and publish them first, rather than to have to respond to them. This resulted in my first article.

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On the day that the first article was published, I got two messages from two journalists, one from NewsDay and another from The Herald. Both were asking for the source of the Afrobarometer Report. This demonstrated something I was unaware of, which was that both newspapers did not have knowledge about the Afrobarometer Survey and the report. Indeed, the journalist from The Herald had to come back asking for specific links to the report.

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The point here is if the Afrobarometer Survey was a Zanu PF or state-sponsored project, you can be sure that The Herald would have set the agenda and led in the publication of that story rather than come to me for links to the report. The simple fact is that they were not aware of that report and did not have it. If it was a state or Zanu PF-sponsored project, I can’t see how they would have quietly announced the results and not shared the with their propaganda machine. The reality is, as far as I am aware, this propaganda machine only got to know of this report after my publication.

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The conspiracy-theory trying to discredit the Afrobarometer Report is therefore nonsensical but if people want to bury their heads in the sand and believe nonsense, what can you do? Conspiracy-theories are very enticing, indeed, they even seem to make sense, but oft-times, they are way off the mark. In this case, it makes sense to say a struggling ruling party conspired to produce a misleading report that suggests they are doing well, but even if this is an enticing theory, it is wrong about the origins of the Afrobarometer Report. By all means criticise the scientific validity of the report but to say it’s part of a grand conspiracy is no more than a misleading conspiracy-theory.

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I will conclude the way I started. I will not shirk my duty to provide objective and fair analysis on political issues. I do so in respect of the ruling party, which has failed the country, and also in respect of the opposition. I have many friends in the opposition, people I respect a lot and admire, but all that does not stop me from critically looking at their politics and pointing to its weaknesses when I see them. To do otherwise would be to do them great disservice. I do not follow the mob. And while the mob can snipe and snarl all they like, I can only hope the sensible politicians will take heed. It is, after all, free.

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The rest can shout and scream obscenities directed at me. It worries my friends, but not me. It is a hazard of the trade. Was it not the wisdom of our ancestors that, if a man goes out to set a mouse-trap in a field that’s been recently burnt, he cannot cry foul when his buttocks get dirty?

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Alex Magaisa can be reached on wamagaisa@yahoo.co.uk. You can visit his blog on https://newzimbabweconstitution.wordpress.com/