Tsvangirai's walkout puts Mugabe on the backfoot

For once, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change appear to have scored a palpable hit against President Robert Mugabe and his allies. Following a meeting with Tsvangirai on 21 October in Cape Town, South African President Jacob Zuma declared that ‘the country should not be allowed to slide back into instability, and that he was ready to assist the parties in implementing the Global Political Agreement (AC Vol 50 No 17). Tsvangirai’s temporary walkout of the power-sharing government came on 16 October, as the faction-fighting around Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front seemed to be reaching a crescendo (AC Vol 50 No 20).

Mugabe’s dismissal of the walkout as of ‘little consequence’ rings hollow. His own ZANU-PF is in crisis in the lead up to its December congress, with open warfare between the Joice Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa factions battling to succeed Mugabe. ZANU-PF’s organisation in the three Matebeleland provinces is in a shambles, partly because of the administrative bumblings of Mugabe’s ultra-loyalist, Didymus Mutasa. At the last count, five ZANU-PF grandees were battling to take over the national Vice-Presidency after the death of Joseph Msika.

After suspending cooperation with Mugabe and his ministers, Tsvangirai embarked on a tour of neighbouring states to call for pressure on Mugabe and ZANU-PF. The pretext for walking out was the indictment of the MDC’s Treasurer, Deputy Agriculture Minister Roy Bennett, on terrorism charges (after a string of vexatious cases against other MDC members of parliament). The latest episode in the long-running Bennett show saw him back in the cells, albeit for only one night, but it was enough for Tsvangirai and the MDC to ramp up international concern about the wider progress of the government.

Blocking and delaying tactics
Tsvangirai points to a lengthy list of ZANU-PF’s blocking and delaying tactics. None of the issues highlighted by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit on Zimbabwe in January have been resolved: the row over ministerial duties and powers; the illegal appointments of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana; and Mugabe’s failure to ratify the appointment of provincial governors; along with a lack of progress on constitutional reform, liberalisation of the media and a national audit of land holdings.

Indeed, the two sides cannot even agree on the government’s title: the MDC rejects ZANU-PF’s appellation ­ Government of National Unity (GNU) ­ as grossly misleading. There are elements in ZANU-PF whose aim is to bring about the collapse of the power-sharing government by continually harassing and humiliating MDC MPs. The fear of such hardliners is that the MDC will get the political credit for the government’s limited economic successes and further undermine ZANU-PF. This time, the incarceration of Bennett appears to have backfired.

By violating the spirit of the accord, the ZANU-PF hardliners want to bait the MDC into pulling out of the government. Tsvangirai, in the best trades unionist tradition, operates on the sound principle of ‘never resign from anything; the longer you stay the stronger you become’.

ZANU-PF drags its feet on all the political and economic reform proposals but pushes through appointments which suit it. The most blatant is appointing Professor TafataonaDottyMahoso as Chairman of the Broadcasting Authority, despite his dismal performance before the parliamentary panel choosing nominees for the Media Commission.

Media Minister Webster Shamu announced the appointment of army officers and other ZANU-PF loyalists to several media bodies within his gift without consulting the MDC. When it was pointed out that, for a publicly quoted company, appointments to the Zimpapers board were the prerogative of shareholders, Shamu said someone had mixed up the files on his desk. Under his nom de guerre of ‘Ndhlovu‘, he served in the 1980s both as a junior minister and time in prison for corruption. A streetwise activist from Mashonaland West, as ZANU-PF spin doctor, he is proving something of a disaster. With the return of Jonathan Moyo to the fold, his time may be up.

Among Shamu’s blunders was allowing Mutasa to be interviewed by the United States television station CNN, where he blurted out, ‘Supporting white farmers is insupportable. If that is what human rights means, you can keep them. We don’t want them in Zimbabwe.’ Earlier this year, Mutasa had explained that his interpretation of the unity government was that ‘everyone should do what President Mugabe says’.

There is an obsession with destroying Bennett. This gives the issue the sharp profile that the other outstanding breaches lack, which is why it works against ZANU-PF. The issue is not whether Bennett is guilty but whether his bail would be reinstated by a higher court. The judiciary is asserting some independence. The case of Justina Mukoko, head of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, who was wrongly detained for three months and then freed on judicial order, is an indication of this. Again, the judicial order to free Bennett on bail ran counter to ZANU-PF pressure and wishes. In both cases, the Judge was Charles Hungwe, who has impeccable political credentials as a fighter in the liberation war and cannot be dismissed as an MDC or British placeman.

The political damage was immense ­ the bail refusal was broadcast around the world by the international news networks. Mugabe and ZANU-PF were portrayed as mean-spirited, with no intention of operating the GNU in a spirit of goodwill. SADC leaders were embarrassed by another example of ZANU-PF’s bad faith. Tsvangirai was given a perfectly plausible excuse for withholding MDC cooperation with ZANU-PF at ministerial level, without resigning from the government, until Bennett’s status and other outstanding issues were addressed.

ADC Secretary General Tomaz Salamão was on an unpublicised visit to Harare to set up a meeting between Tsvangirai and Mozambican President Armando Guebuza on 15 October. Tsvangirai then expanded that to a ten-day tour taking in Angola, Congo-Kinshasa, Mozambique and possibly Botswana and South Africa. He told Mugabe about it on his way to the airport.

For now, ZANU-PF looks snookered by Tsvangirai’s move. If it expels the MDC from the power-sharing government, it will have to take responsibility for the breakdown. Botswana’s President Seretse Khama Ian Khama insists that a purely ZANU-PF government would have no support within the region, let alone internationally. On this point, few of his peers are likely to demur. Even Mugabe’s older comrades, such as Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, are tiring of the continuing crises in Zimbabwe and their negative effects on the region.

For ZANU-PF to re-establish a modicum of political goodwill, it will have to make some credible concessions. MDC insiders hope that the outcome will be the long delayed appointment of some MDC provincial governors and some movement on the Reserve Bank issue. What emerges from the crisis is that, apart from faction leaders Mujuru and Mnangagwa, who themselves can hardly wait for him to go, Mugabe is surrounded by a team of political incompetents.

When Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa objected to the SADC tribunal ruling in favour of white farmers and tried to pull out, the SADC officials pointed out that there were procedures for abrogating international treaties and a ministerial letter was not one of them. When the Spanish Ambassador made a pointed analogy with the last days of General Francisco Franco, Zimbabwe’s Foreign Ministry issued a directive that ambassadors should not make political speeches on their national days. In fact, embassies enjoy extraterritorial immunity which allows ambassadors to say anything they like ­ until, in extremis, the host government demands their exit.

The dearth of political talent in ZANU-PF is encouraging people to re-examine the political prospects. After 29 years of effective single-party rule and a decade of calamitous economic decline, the slow collapse of ZANU-PF shows Zimbabweans that there is life after Mugabe and they will have to live it. Gradually, people are seeing that subservience to the Mugabe leadership is no longer the only route for advancement. No one can see clearly the shape of the country’s emerging politics, but many Mugabe followers are preparing their excuses and their exit lines.

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