Quo vadis Zimbabwe?

With horror, we have looked at Zimbabwe and seen the whiplashes of a panicking regime. But now what? Now what, after the welts are healing and the worst of the blood has been staunched?

Examination will show us that to chronicle this as the work of a desperate regime is inaccurate. It is the deliberate strategy of President Robert Mugabe, whose bid to extend his rule until 2010 has failed.

He therefore believes violence might secure him extended political tenure.

As Zimbabweans who believe in our country, we must begin to plot a way forward that is not dependent on Mugabe, Zanu-PF or even the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The best way forward will be to begin assembling the building blocks of a negotiated settlement that will result in a new rights-based constitution.

Here’s why.

Mugabe has no intention of stepping down any time soon, for a number of reasons. His own explanation is that Zanu-PF is currently divided over the succession issue and needs him to face the opposition. This is a crisis of his own making for he has not put a succession plan in place or created an environment in his own party that would allow for the emergence of a new leader.

He also fears prosecution for human rights abuses perpetrated against innocent Zimbabweans since independence in 1980. These include the Matabeleland massacres, the violent land invasions that saw hundreds of white commercial farmers and opposition activists killed and the Murambatsvina atrocity, which the United Nations report recommended should be referred to The Hague. And he continues to add to these crimes with the current round of violent attacks on opposition activists.

Playing on Mugabe’s mind must be the arrest of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor on war crimes charges, the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic for human rights abuses and the recent events in Iraq. Thus, the main reason for staying in office is not because he has a vision of a better Zimbabwe under his leadership, but because the office offers him protection from prosecution for human rights abuses. For the sake of progress, Zimbabweans may have to consider guaranteeing him immunity under certain conditions.

Zimbabweans have already suffered long enough and there is no price too high to pay for peace. They will have to choose between continued violence and pardoning Mugabe if he leaves office now. This demands political maturity and the international community will have no alternative but to take its cue from Zimbabweans. Should this immunity be extended to all his close associates? This could be worth considering in exchange for full disclosures of all documented human rights abuses.

It is important to realise that unless this is done Mugabe is prepared to use violence against all Zimbabweans calling for change to a more democratic dispensation. Zimbabweans must pay the ransom so that they are freed from Mugabe’s violent clutches. People desperately need a chance to live and dream again and only Mugabe, and those whose fortunes are wedded to his, stand in the way of this. Mugabe has nothing to lose and is prepared to take the country down with him, but he must not be allowed to succeed in this evil scheme.

With Mugabe gone, we could contemplate the future and its challenges. As part of the transition to a new Zimbabwe we will have to draw a line in the sand and ensure that we don’t allow another Mugabe to emerge from our midst. An all-party negotiated constitution on the South African model, which is rights-based, would be a necessary foundation stone for a new Zimbabwe.

It is instructive that violence, as a political tool, has worked perfectly for Mugabe so far. The current round of violence is partly intended to divert attention away from calls within Zanu-PF for him to step down. Mugabe has orchestrated the violence against the weak and divided MDC as a way of focusing his divided party on an outside enemy. Mugabe hopes that the factions in his party will buy this ruse, rally to his call to eliminate an ineffectual opposition and help him purchase a few more years in office. The violence is also intended to send a clear message to those within his party who are opposed to him. The message is that they too could come to suffer at the hands of his band of hired thugs.

It appears that, for the moment, the two factions opposed to Mugabe are not taken in by his diversionary tactics. They have woken up to the fact that he is using them to achieve his personal goals. They are realising that there is no national purpose to be served by Mugabe’s selfish political survival project. Indeed, his indication last week that he wants to run in 2008 is another tactic meant to force his enemies within Zanu-PF to fall in line and campaign for him under the threat that if he loses, so will the party.

He is using the epoch to cement the image of himself as synonymous with the ruling party when power groupings had begun to imagine a Zanu-PF without him. In this regard, calls by Tony Blair this week for more political sanctions play into Mugabe’s hands and force his protagonists in the party into an uncomfortable corner with him.

Two powerful factions within the ruling party want Mugabe out of office. These factions take credit for defeating Mugabe’s 2010 project. The more powerful of the two is led by retired general Solomon Mujuru, whose wife, Joyce, is one of Mugabe’s vice-presidents. A year ago, this faction was on the ascendancy, but has clearly fallen out of favour, as evidenced by Mugabe’s attack on the Mujurus’ ambitions.

The flavour of the moment is the Emmerson Mnangagwa-led faction, which suffered a major reversal of fortunes following the Tsolotsho incident in 2004. Now Mugabe, as part of a divide and rule tactic, is making this faction believe it is his preferred heir. It would be political folly for the Mnangagwa camp to derive a false sense of comfort from Mugabe’s political embrace. He will dump them as soon as they become a real threat and once he is secure again. Make no mistake, politics in Zimbabwe is about Mugabe and nothing else.

And Mugabe has his own faction fighting for his survival, in the top echelons of the army, the police and the intelligence services. It must be noted, however, that there are deep divisions within the middle and lower ranks of the uniformed forces which mirror the three factions in the party.

Two things are instructive as Zimbabweans ponder the way forward. The first of these is that the defeat of Mugabe’s 2010 project was delivered by forces for change within Zanu-PF and had little to do with pressure from the opposition or the international community. Secondly, the weakness of the opposition MDC, unfortunate as it is, removed an outside threat for Zanu-PF, focusing the party on internal dynamics and causing deep divisions and the realisation that Mugabe is the problem. This points to the fact that Zanu-PF’s internal dynamics might be key in finding a way out of Zimbabwe’s crisis and that the MDC might not be the place to look for relief. While this is an unpopular view it is a pragmatic one, informed by the current weakness of the MDC and the potential offered by reformers in the ruling party.

Equally important is the evidence that Zimbabwe’s problems are far bigger than Zanu-PF and the MDC put together. We need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that talks between the MDC and Zanu-PF will solve Zimbabwe’s problems. A durable solution requires getting a broad section of Zimbabweans talking to each other about their problems and structuring the future together. This is clearly not a winner-takes-all strategy, but a process of negotiating how Zimbabwe’s future is going to be ordered. For this project to have wider purchase, trade unions, the churches, business and all other civil society players will have to be involved.

What Zimbabwe needs from the region and the international community is an honest broker who commands respect from all players. Zimbabweans have become so polarised that it would be difficult to find anybody internally to play this role. First, there must be an acknowledgement that we need to talk to each other, followed by agreement on the issues to talk about. We need to tear up the Lancaster House constitution and start afresh, fashioning a progressive rights-based founding law.

We would then need to agree on an electoral law and the rules of engagement and invite the international community to help run a democratic election whose outcome would form an important bedrock for the future. We would need to put in place a process to rebuild key national institutions such as Parliament, the army, the police force and intelligence.

Our people must realise that they have the power to elect and that they have the power to recall.

Our recent past tells us that we have lost our humanity and respect for each other, and we need to define who we are. Our national psyche has been poisoned by Zanu-PF discourse and we need to cleanse it, and rebase our norms and values. We need to confront the ghosts of our recent past and decide how we deal with them in a fair and just manner so that they don’t revisit us in the future. We are where we are largely because we failed to deal with troubling issues relating to our war of liberation which have all come back to haunt us.

Talk of peace, justice and reconciliation will find few takers among the hardliners in the opposition and the ruling party. But we should refuse to have extremists on both sides dictating a narrow political agenda to the nation. Zimbabweans have been brutalised and dehumanised, and need political maturity, not grandstanding from their leaders. Indeed, Zimbabweans desperately need a visionary leadership.

This all-inclusive political approach takes cognisance of the fact that while the MDC has played a significant role in confronting Mugabe’s dictatorial regime, it is far from ready to govern. On the other hand, while Zanu-PF is largely responsible for our current predicament, there are some good people in the ruling party who are prepared to play a role in fashioning a new Zimbabwe. However, apart from simply wanting to dislodge Mugabe and grab power, none of the Zanu-PF factions has shown it has a plan for the country and that it can be trusted to govern on its own. Thus a new Zimbabwe will have to be the outcome of a collective and consultative national effort.

Brutus in Julius Caesar offers us a way forward: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.”

Indeed, we face a choice between violent and peaceful change and we need to make the right choice for the future of our country.

Trevor Ncube is chief executive and publisher of M&G Media and publisher and executive chairperson of the Zimbabwe Independent and the Standard

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