columnBy Geoff Nyarota
Harare — I normally have a jaundiced view of politicians who are in the habit of making profound statements in the national interest while standing on podiums in foreign lands.
President Robert Mugabe has become a past master in this regard, as he occasionally makes known his new thinking on the sensitive but pertinent issue of his retirement from office during trips abroad. He grants interviews to foreign journalists while travelling in distant lands or to the few foreign journalists fortunate enough to be allowed to interview him in his office in Munhumutapa Building, much to the chagrin of local journalists. Particularly embarrassed are those loyalists within the government's media juggernaut who tirelessly sing in praise of him. Through dispatches from such distant capitals, Zimbabweans often get to know that their president is indeed thinking about the prospect of either stepping down in the foreseeable future or extending a little further his term of office.
The MDC appears to have taken a leaf out of President Mugabe's book in this regard, which is regrettable, considering that the party should be striving to shake off the image, imaginary or real, of an organisation manipulated by foreign interests.
During a recent visit to the United Kingdom by the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, his party's new secretary general Tendai Biti, made a statement that made instant headlines.
Biti was quoted by Reuters news agency as having disclosed that the MDC had accepted in principle a proposal to grant to President Mugabe immunity from prosecution for human rights violations, if that would help to save the nation from further catastrophe.
Such a statement will no doubt incur the wrath of our compatriots in the western regions of Zimbabwe, especially those who suffered the consequences of the deployment of or witnessed the atrocities perpetrated by Five Brigade during the Gukurahundi campaign of the 1980s. Also likely to take umbrage at such a pronouncement are the hundreds of thousands who have been victims of sporadic ZANU PF-sponsored political violence since independence, including the infamous Operation Murambatsvina and the millions who have been forced to relocate to the diaspora over the years as political and/or economic refugees. They, as well as all upholders of democratic values and principles, expect, understandably so, that President Mugabe be held to account for the transgressions of his government.
The MDC's proposal was, in those circumstances, as daring as it was unexpected among Zimbabweans who, in their frustration, now expect salvation or a solution to their nation's political and economic crisis from divine intervention or from the mediation of President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. Surprisingly, Biti's proposal is not entirely original.
As one who has been a victim of both persecution and excessive prosecution by the government, I was stunned, back on May 16 2005, to read in British newspaper The Times an article by Richard Dowden. He suggested that the government of President Mugabe's nemesis, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, eats humble pie and deals directly with the Zimbabwean leader.
"There is a chance of an internal deal that may involve immunity for past crimes," Dowden postulated. "Zimbabwe may be one of the places where justice has to be delayed -- perhaps until the next world -- for the sake of peace."
Part of my revulsion to Dowden's proposal was that it was coming from a foreigner. "Perfidious Albion," I said to myself.
This time around, a year later and with Zimbabwe's inflation now well over the 1 000 percent mark, on the back of a precipitous socio-economic meltdown, and with the same proposal now coming from Zimbabwe's most influential opposition party, I paid more attention.
I have heard this proposal propounded by Zimbabweans in numerous private conversations, but never in public, apart perhaps from the daring articulation of the late university don and Financial Gazette columnist, Professor Masipula Sithole. Zimbabweans are renowned for their magnanimity. In 1980 they pardoned Rhodesian rebel Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith, whose security forces committed untold atrocities inside the country and in Zambia and Mozambique during the war to liberate our country.
Since independence a pervasive culture of endemic fear has engulfed Zimbabwe. In fact, this terror has its roots in the violence spawned by that war, which the rural population was forced to endure in the operational zones of the brutal guerilla conflict.
The overwhelming sense of fear that has become a common characteristic of Zimbabwe's political ethos after independence is a carry-over from that war. Virtually every Zimbabwean lives in fear, prompting the uncharitable observation of the citizens of neighbouring countries that we have become a nation of cowards. Ordinary citizens, whether rural or urban, live in perpetual fear of the state security machinery -- the army and the CIO. They are terrified of ZANU PF and its own ruthless machinery for spreading terror and instilling fear, the so-called Green Bombers.
In reality, the ostensibly powerful ZANU PF politicians also live in morbid fear -- they are terrified of the CIO and the man to whom the organisation is ultimately responsible, President Mugabe.
Rather paradoxically, the President himself, meanwhile, also leads a terror-stricken existence. He is horrified by the prospect of the people doing a Pinochet on him in retaliation for the years of hardship, deprivation, cruel humiliation, violence and atrocity suffered by millions as a result of his government's retrogressive policies and actions. As a result, President Mugabe believes his own safety and security can only be guaranteed by his continued tenure of office. It can't be sheer love for power that has transformed him into a virtual prisoner at State House for the greater part of the last quarter century.
While it is patently clear that government has no solution to the nation's many ills, notwithstanding an abundance of resources, both natural and human, with potential to achieve an effective turnaround of our economy and our fortunes, President Mugabe will not step down because of a very real fear of the people. The increasingly elaborate security arrangements around his person bear ample testimony to this theory.
Meanwhile, our nation is held hostage to a problem that can be solved quite expeditiously.
Every other initiative, from foreign-sponsored quiet diplomacy to home-grown mass action, having failed dismally, the time may now have arrived for the people of Zimbabwe to seriously consider the proposed pardon for President Mugabe. Ideally, before it is implemented, Zimbabweans would be asked in true democratic fashion and in the national interest to indicate in some form of referendum whether the majority endorses such a proposal.
Essentially, they would be requested to choose between holding President Mugabe hostage at State House to the continuing detriment of the nation while hoping to inflict punishment on him one day or releasing him on some irrevocable guarantee of immunity so that we can get on with the momentous task of rebuilding our nation and rehabilitating our wrecked economy. Endorsement of the MDC proposal would result in a win-win situation; a compromise in which President Mugabe would be reprieved while Zimbabweans extricate their country from his relentless and devastating clutches. A transitional government headed by whoever appears to be Zimbabwe's most popular politician currently, would then be put in place, with United Nations-supervised elections being held at the earliest opportunity.
For President Mugabe, just to be the beneficiary of leniency and clemency, when he himself is intolerant and unforgiving and for him to witness the rebirth of a nation with vast potential for prosperity and a new hope for future generations would be a form of excruciating punishment.
Once in a while, President Mugabe would be invited to tour places such as Kondozi Farm, with Edwin Moyo on hand to show him thousands of happy employees once more working around the clock to meet growing export orders. The former president would also be invited to tour Tsholotsho, Lupane or other rural districts of Zimbabwe, there to witness new development projects, with citizens, happily waving to him in nostalgic memory of the triumphant guerrilla war hero that he was before the onset of Gukurahundi. In this scenario, politicians such as Professor Jonathan Moyo would be reined in so that their talents and boundless energy are tapped for the benefit of Zimbabwe.
Incidentally, if President Mugabe dies in office, he will still escape the punishment for which we all clamour so stridently and persistently. Essentially the options are that President Mugabe either escapes punishment now through a magnanimous grant of immunity while we proceed to rescue our nation or that he escapes punishment through death in office after our country has deteriorated even further.
In the final analysis, Zimbabweans carry on their shoulders the responsibility to spearhead the search for a solution to the current crisis. They cannot relegate this onerous duty to Thabo Mbeki, Kofi Annan, Tony Blair or George Bush. Zimbabweans must have pride of proprietorship over a homegrown solution. The issue of amnesty could be a pointer to such a wholly Zimbabwean solution. The solution to the current crisis must emanate from a spectacular prescription, requiring courage and determination. But then, as a nation, we have become prisoners of fear. The majority of the population cannot articulate their views or concerns openly on such sensitive but divisive issues as Gukurahundi for fear of being branded tribalists or Mugabe-lovers. Ndebele subjects who campaign for justice on this issue, however belatedly, do so away from public platforms, their campaigns assuming the countenance of rebellious plotting against the Shona majority.
Because they are accused en masse of conspiring with or supporting the Gukurahundi atrocities, the Shona majority have taken to adopting a negative attitude to any initiative that seeks to address the issue of the atrocities. This has engendered inexorable ethnic polarisation in the nation. The largely ethnic split within the MDC is a veritable symptom of that schism.
Before we seek to distribute any funds in compensation for government-inflicted hardship, let us first create the conditions for the generation of wealth. Once our country is set on the road back to prosperity and we have an abundance of resources we can then, acting together as a nation, address a number of outstanding issues that are the cause of disaffection among sections of the community. Such issues include the prospect of reparation or compensation for those who suffered the ravages of Gukurahundi, sporadic and murderous political violence, Operation Murambatsvina as well as bombs that exploded under printing presses. Demanding compensation today is a futile exercise, unless we expect Gideon Gono to print more money for that purpose. This is the harsh reality; these are the hard facts.
Bad timing and inappropriate strategy are the bane of even otherwise progressive initiatives, as the illustrious Professor Arthur Mutambara may already be lecturing to all who care to listen to him.