Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirayi has, in the narrowest sense of the word, assumed political power. On Tuesday, 10 February 2009, he announced his share of thirteen Cabinet Ministers. Two days later on Friday the 13th, President Robert Mugabe made them swear an oath of allegiance to seal their fate in the corridors of what can confidently be described as supreme bureaucracy.
Rejoice Ngwenya, Harare, Zimbabwe
In Western folklore, 13 is an unlucky number, and for a rookie Prime Minister to commence office with that reviled digital label, it is a bad omen. Not without justification. The man hitting hard ball from the opposite end of Tsvangirayi’s political spectrum is perennial sour looser Robert Mugabe. Even before the ‘13th Ink’ is dry on ministerial appointment contracts, Mugabe has already abused the racquet twice by not only sending MDC fundraiser and Minister-in-waiting Roy Bennet to the cells but also trying to ‘smuggle in’ an unofficial addition of ministers onto the politically unbalanced team.
However, the subject of my interrogation is not Mugabe, but Tsvangirayi. Ever since his entry into big time politics in 1998, analysts have tainted him with several incidences of reckless ineptitude, some of which resulted in Mugabe’s getting away with the crime of defiling the legitimacy of democratic elections, others which led to the split of his MDC. At one time, allegations were that Tsvangirayi watched with bemused paralysis as Mugabe’s graders flattened homes in Operation Murambatsvina.
In another incident of spontaneous verbal euphoria, he is said to have challenged Mugabe to leave office voluntarily or else face forceful eviction. There are also records that he and Renison Gasela were once duped by Israeli Ben Menash into discussing military options to rid Zimbabwe of dictatorship and tyranny. Not far back, analysts questioned his motive in replacing long time ally and woman labour activist Matibenga with Theresa Makoni in MDC’s influential women assembly. Recently, armchair critics swore they heard Tsvangirayi, say, that the Government of National Unity [GNU] was a no go area for him unless Mugabe met specific political demands. In short, Tsvangirayi has been accused of being indecisive, unsure of the provenance of political advice, subject to the dangerous whim of appeasement and above all, suspiciously insecure.
This is why perhaps, the restive civil society, especially National Constitutional Assembly [NCA] allies led by maverick activist lawyer Dr Lovemore Madhuku have on several occasions advanced the theory that without full civic society participation, Tsvangirayi is too exposed in the GNU. They do not understand why a man with such a rich history of spontaneous blundering can withstand the demands of national governance.
Tsvangirayi is up against forces of tectonic proportion, the kind of impact that is experienced at the bottom of the Devil’s Cataract at the world famous Victoria Falls gorge. Consider his current adversaries in the GNU: Robert Mugabe, Commander- in-Chief; General Constantine Chiwenga, commander of the defence forces; Lieutenant-General Phillip Sibanda, head of the Army; Perrence Shiri, head of the Air Force; Happyton Bonyongwe, the director of the Central Intelligence Organisation, Augustine Chihuri, the police chief and Paradzayi Zimondi, the prisons commissioner. Then one throws in a bunch of ZANUpf hardliners like Emmerson Munangagwa, Kembo Mohadi, Gideon Gono, Patrick Chinamasa, Paul Mangwana and many more. I have not even mentioned the widespread incremental culture of impunity, non compliance, corruption and laziness inherited from ZANUpf’s thirty years of bad governance in the public service.
Of course Madhuku is wrong. Civil society is not part of government, but a crucial building block in governance. We play a watch dog role without begging the crumbs off our master’s table. For the first time, Zimbabweans have a section of government that can relate to the demands of civil society, thus our role is to keep the spot light on them, guide and admonish them and at best, demand their resignation. Politicians are a product of a political process, and as such, civil society has no role in building their capacity. Our interests are divergent. Such examples abound.
If municipal positions were based on progressive civic activism, ninety five percent of MDC Councilors and Mayors currently in office would never have seen the light of day. Observations are that when it comes to elections, the critical forces at play have no epicentre in proficiency, professionalism and integrity, but populist rhetoric and busy body mania. In such an environment, it is near impossible to attract the ‘right human capital’ to political office, especially in a polarised environment like we have in Zimbabwe.
And yet Tsvangirayi’s team has certain pockets of brilliance, but whether or not ZANUpf will allow them to exercise their full potential is another story. Finance Ministry appointee Tendai Biti has what it takes to rattle any establishment. His background in student activism, legal training and of course, having stood toe-to-toe with ZANUpf since 1998 makes him just the right man to ride the GNU political thunderstorm. Advocate Eric Matinenga’s role in the Ministry of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs is a perfect fit. He understands the psyche behind ZANUpf’s contamination of the judiciary, thus faced with people like Chinamasa, Matinenga is likely to secure his fair pound of flesh. While Engineer Elias Mudzuri would have been better placed in local government, he is a fast learner, thus Energy and Power Development will demand that he draws on the experience garnered as Mayor of Harare.
Intellectual whiz kids Professors Arthur Mutambara and Welshman Ncube will be no pushovers. Although many MDC blind faithful are still obsessed with the illusion of Mutambara’s ‘illegitimacy’, the former University of Zimbabwe firebrand student leader will give Mugabe a run for his money. Mutambara might pass as an eccentric demagogue, but underneath that veil of careless fanaticism is a thick layer of strategic acumen. Many analysts claim that Welshman Ncube is the one who coined Zimbabwe’s French style GNU, Mugabe might find him hard to swallow. Priscilla Misihairabwi’s jovial feminist overtones disguise a wealth of activist experience. When HIV and AIDS were still Holy Grail words in Zimbabwe in the late eighties, the woman was already attracting a whirlpool of advocacy around the epidemic.
Therefore the bigger political picture is that in dealing with ZANUpf, it will be extremely critical for Tsvangirayi to, proverbially speaking, sleep with one eye open and one finger on the trigger. The culture of cronyism, favouritism, spasms of political blundering and departing from the script as practiced at Harvest House [MDC party headquarters] must be erased.
While politics in developed countries attracts citizens who have everything in life except power, ours is dominated by poverty-stricken activists. I can understand why MDC leaders are struggling to fend for their families. Ten years of violent, corrosive and destructive political dueling with ZANUpf has impoverished many cadres. But the warning is clearly marked in red – this is not the time for self-enrichment and gluttony. ZANUpf will employ KGB-style temptations to lure gullible MDC ministers into corruption traps.
As for us in civil society, we will keep the spotlight on Tsvangirayi and if he begins to show signs of professional fatigue, we will be the first to fire the first proverbial accountability bullet. If MDC think that by being in the GNU, civil society must put more padding on their gloves, they have another think coming.
Rejoice Ngwenya is director of Coalition for Liberal Market Solutions in Harare and an afficilate of African Liberty