Despite brief MDC Success, the country will keep limping along

Johannesburg — MY RECENT visit to the genocide museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, was a disturbing experience.

The museum, a school transformed into a prison during the murderous rule of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, was divided into multiple cells to hold thousands of people over a few years, where they were tortured before being murdered.

Equally chilling is the photographic account of a western diplomat, who was taken on a "fact-finding" tour of Cambodia during Pol Pot’s rule. He concluded at the time that all was well, but in retrospect he was horrified to see how carefully his trip was stage managed.

The tale was reminiscent of South African government ministers, among others, being invited by the Zimbabwe government on similar fact-finding tours, equally stage managed and also accepted as fact by the invitees.

The Matabeleland massacre of the early 1980s, carried out by Mugabe’s forces soon after he assumed power, also evokes images of the horrors of Phnom Penh’s genocide museum.

It was a time of villagers being killed and thrown down disused mine shafts and scores more buried in mass graves deep in the countryside.

An estimated 20000 Zimbabweans died in the slaughter.

A Zimbabwean, who I related the museum experience to, wondered whether his country might one day build a museum to commemorate the senseless slaughter of his countrymen under Robert Mugabe’s regime.

Nearly three decades on from the Matabeleland slaughter, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc ) would have us believe that not only Mugabe, but a number of his security chiefs and party hardliners, who were involved in that atrocity, have changed to the extent that they can be part of a workable unity government with the Movement for Democratic Change — people they hold in utter contempt.

Zanu (PF)’s leaders did not go into the agreement because of a beating at the polls, or a belief that they could work with other parties in a democratic way. They agreed to it because the new foreign-exchange regime had closed the lucrative looting opportunities they had enjoyed for many years.

It is no surprise that the only drum that Zanu (PF) beats within the unity structure is that of the continuance of sanctions. The claim that the lifting of sanctions will suddenly herald a major economic turnaround is a myth. But it would certainly benefit the president and his team — the main targets of the sanctions.

Last week’s Sadc talks to "urge" the two governing parties to get on with ruling the country and stick to the terms of the flawed unity agreement is hardly a solution, but the fact that Sadc agreed to hold a special summit on the issue is a coup for the MDC, but it will be a short-lived victory.

Nothing is likely to change. Zimbabwe is doomed to limp along for some time. The compromises made to create the unity government have been too great for real change to be wrought.

The comparisons between Mugabe and Pol Pot are compelling on a certain level — but there are also very important differences, which were highlighted by Sadc’s rather gentle treatment of the former last week.

Remember, the latter’s neighbour, Vietnam, drove him from power into a life as a fugitive in the jungle.

Mugabe will live the rest of his days in comfort and, if any museum to be built, it is not likely to commemorate victims of his rule, but be a monument to his greatness.

Games is CE of Africa @ Work, a research and consulting firm focusing on African business.