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Zimbabwe’s President visits opposition leader: Genuine or PR stunt?

When one refers to a country that has been hit by rough, turbulent times when it comes to politics, Zimbabwe is an easy thought. The country has endured a lot, a country smeared by scars and imperfections, with the people’s sheer resilience transcending all the searing hardships. And for those who have devoted their lives to the democratic struggle, it has not always been rosy. The road has extremely been thorny.

In 2008, the hopes of the Zimbabweans were at a record high. These hopes could shatter any barrier, could destroy any hurdle that was thrown at them in the unending but futile, fruitless quest for freedom. As the elections in that year beckoned, Robert Mugabe’s popularity had hit an all-time low. People simply could not see him in power any more. Riding on the crest of this determination, the people expressed their will in the March 2008 ballot. Little did the people know that this would result in chaos, havoc, despondency and utter despair.

The country’s captured electoral commission withheld presidential results for an appalling six weeks, a period during which results were obviously doctored. It is widely believed (known) that Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s chief opposition leader, had handed Mugabe a comprehensive defeat in the first result. Upon realizing this, Mugabe and his army sought to avoid the transfer of power. They used a handy pretext, a convenient legality, that Morgan Tsvangirai did not have the required majority to assume the much-coveted presidency, the highest office in the land. It was devastating, it was crushing. It was such a drab end to the fight that had been mounted very spiritedly. So Robert Mugabe called for a run-off, and the run-up to that was unashamedly characterized by brazen and naked acts of violence on opposition supporters that have damaged the psyche of Zimbabweans up to this day. Morgan Tsvangirai, feeling the heat of such persecution, had to pull out. It was a sham election in which Mugabe ran with himself and emerged the winner. What a sham it was. The story ended in what we are all familiar with; the power-sharing agreement.

Thus, Tsvangirai never got to taste the presidency. Never. The men who had engineered this agonizing sequence of torture to Morgan Tsvangirai and the scores of hopeful Zimbabweans, as is known to common knowledge, were current president Emmerson Mnangagwa, his Vice-President Rtd General Constantine Chiwenga and the military. They rented to Mugabe the power that he enjoyed up to his feeble and unexpected demise in November 2017, which was again orchestrated by the military.

January 5 2018. President Emmerson Mnangagwa visits ailing opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. The veteran opposition leader has been the bold and resilient face of the largest opposition party in Zimbabwe, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), later MDC-Tsvangirai (MDC-T). Morgan Tsvangirai has had to bear the brunt of the heavy-handedness unleashed on him and his supporters by the menacingly scary state apparatus. As I have highlighted before, he had the presidency snatched away from him when he duly deserved it. And of late, fortune seems to have deserted him.

Ever since the opposition leader announced publicly that he was diagnosed with cancer of the colon, things have changed dramatically, and for the worse. Without a shred of doubt, Tsvangirai’s ailing, deteriorating health condition has painfully deflated the electorate. With no faith in the ruling ZANU-PF, now headed by Mnangagwa, it is now hard to imagine where some people could place their ‘X’ at. MDC-T has been weakened by the misfortune at their doorstep. The MDC of 1999 and the early 2000s, up to 2008 even, is not the same with the one in 2018. Even the MDC Alliance, a consortium of six opposition parties with the aim of dismantling the long-standing regime of ZANU-PF, seems to be in tatters, with no hope of respite in sight,well, unless if some crucial reforms are instituted.

The question that now comes to the fore after all these factors have been highlighted is whether President Mnangagwa’s visit to the ailing Morgan Tsvangirai was genuine, or was a mere publicity stunt. These are two contrasting sides, but which have been conflated in a way that it appears as if the president has actually killed two birds with one stone.

The visit can be seen as a genuine gesture of love, peace, compassion and care. It is the exemplary type of act by a president which shows that he holds every human being with the respect they deserve. Beyond the life of politics, people still remain in their ordinary dimensions, moved by the plight of others. Here, our president clearly has great and unrivalled reverence for the sanctity of life. It is adorable, charming and sways all our emotions. The previous president showered Morgan Tsvangirai with slander, malicious words, hate speech and all those other unkind words. The new president apparently is a deviation from that, showing the side of him that is very kind and benevolent. He is not out here to make war, but peace. More of a symbolic political message: Let’s all tolerate each other and care for each other despite our sharp political differences. This is the first facet of the story. This one is for the optimists.

Then comes in the other narrative for the pessimists, those who insist on “please tell us the story as it is!” How do you expect a seemingly heartless leader who wrested power from his boss through the might of the military to show love and care to the opposition leader whose influence they ruthlessly subdued? The very person they denied the presidency in 2008, now they are smothering him with smiles and kind words? It is ostensibly inconceivable. Just like that. The visit mainly served to boost Mnangagwa’s new-found popularity as an understanding and caring leader. It is just a publicity stunt. It is what others call “politricks.” The president is exploiting Tsvangirai’ dire predicament to secure his motives, and clearly, nothing genuine coming out of this. The president simply wanted to exhibit the crumbling fortress and once shining bastion of opposition politics that is Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC. If you want to show your care, why invite dozens of journalists to show the world how frail Morgan is?

Whatever the narrative is, it all depends on what seems the most plausible explanation in light of the most appropriate context. One could prevail over the other. Or the president has simply killed two birds with one stone. Calls for Morgan Tsvangirai to resign have been gaining traction and after the pictures of how Tsvangirai has been ravaged by cancer, they have even grown louder. One can look at the visit from the lens of the president, which would raise the question of genuineness. Or from those of the opposition, which means that for its survival, and for them to stand a chance at this year’s elections, then Morgan has to resign and leave it to someone else.

It surely shows the dynamics of Zimbabwean politics. Everything is viewed with both pessimism and optimism. But, this has been a very strong message to the opposition which they need to take heed of before a full-blown internecine crisis like that of ZANU-PF ensues and leaves an undesirable trail of destruction that will be irreparable.

 

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