opinionBy Stephen T. Maimbodei
Harare — WHAT mystical powers do the signatures of the three principals in the current inter-party dialogue have?
Are these the marks that hold the key to a breakthrough in our political and socio-economic problems?
Are we to conclude that the appendage of all three signatures on the finalised power-sharing deal will bring relief to the nation?
Is any one of these signatures more important than the others; especially when it is not appended on the tripartite negotiated document?Are these signatures holding the nation at ransom?
Why are they, or better still, why has one of them become so crucial? Suddenly, signatures have become the le dernier cri (latest thing) in the Zimbabwean lingo after such terms like harmonised elections, run-off, Memorandum of Understanding and inter-party talks.
A signature (from the Latin signare, meaning "sign") is a handwritten (and sometimes stylised) depiction of someone's name, nickname or even a simple "X" that a person writes on documents as proof of identity and intent.
Thus a signature communicates that the signatory understands, agrees, is committed, stands by what he has endorsed, and would not make a U-turn, for to do so means that one would have perjured himself and would therefore be liable to prosecution.
It also means that he would have appended that signature in good faith and without coercion.
So sensational is the issue of signatures that all you hear in conversations since the beginning of the dialogue and the recent Sadc summit is, "(Tsvangirai) azosaina here, haana kusaina uyo, ko chiiko chinonetsa pakungoti kwe-e kwe-e; ko inga Mutambara naPresident vakasaina wani?"
Meaning, has he (Tsvangirai) signed, he hasn't signed, what is so difficult about just signing, if Mutambara and President Mugabe signed? Why has something that is normally taken for granted assumed such phenomenal significance?
A Budiriro woman said in a state of despair: "Ko pashaya here angafojera signature yake?"
This perhaps sums up the centrality of signatures to Zimbabwe's contemporary politics.
This is no laughing matter, and neither is it something that someone can seek heroism from.
At the very least it just goes to show that somebody's signature among the trio has mortgaged people's lives.
People have pinned their hopes on these signatures because they believe that that deal is their last resort and that when all is said and done this will bring relief to the challenges that have made their lives so miserable.
Unfortunately, since March 29, the electoral discourse in the media has taken an intellectual outlook of colossal proportions.
Issues are either reported or analysed in legal or scholarly terms and "the people" fail to understand how their lives are factored in that discourse. The sad thing that the talks about talks have left ordinary people wondering what exactly could be the problem with someone just appending his signature to a document?
When people become so desperate to the extent that they are prepared to append Tsvangirai's forged signature to the deal then there is need for proper reflection that these talks are not about individuals, but about the nation.
When Cde Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara append their signatures to the document that people hope will translate into deliverables, they are not it doing for themselves, their families or their parties. Rather they will be doing it for the people of Zimbabwe as one big family. In this context my perceptions are at variance with Musekiwa Makwanya, who recently wrote on The Zimbabwe Guardian website that he has "discovered that there is a very strong view that if Tsvangirai's signature is the one that will save the country then he should be accorded the power that is commensurate with the power of his signature".
Why do we give credit where it is not due, and why do we also try to make heroes out of people who thrive on national suffering?
The best this man who Makwanya is trying to idealise has done is to spend three weeks running away with a signature, thinking that Zimbabwe owes him a political existence.
We are talking about a man who thinks he can bring Zimbabwe to a standstill by withholding his signature and that ultimately everyone will bow to his whims and caprices.
This is a dialogue process and hence it is about give and take.
As President Mugabe said, it is like a card game, you lose some and win some but in the end you have to lay all your cards on the table.
You negotiate on who gets what, why and how.
In a negotiation process, there is also need to forgo certain demands and expectations for the sake of progress.
The demands that one makes are not necessarily unique because one has to bargain from a position of strength.
And the assumption was that everyone had their positions of strength and that is why they signed the MoU.
Makwanya goes on to argue: "The power of Tsvangirai's signature should come with responsibility and therefore requires necessary say in the major decisions in the Government that will obtain in Zimbabwe because people should be able to measure his contribution." This is one of the paradoxes that arise from the presumed importance of Tsvangirai's signature.
The understanding all along was that this process was about power sharing and not power transfer.
This why Welshman Ncube of the MDC Mutambara formation stated in a recent interview that the full executive powers that the MDC-T leader wants translate into a transfer of power and not power sharing, which goes against the reality of March 29 and June 27.
A recent Herald editorial captured it well when it said that the MDC-T leader was not indispensable.
The questions that we have to ask ourselves are that although Tsvangirai's signature is necessary what does that signature amount to especially if it is coming with illogical conditions?
Will his signature actually translate into tangible results?
If the MDC-T leader were to become the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, would he take this long to make a decision when Zimbabwe is faced with the threat of war?
Is the siege that Zimbabwe is under, not an act of war that needs decisive decision-making?
Why then take a 10-day tour of "Southern Africa" to coerce regional leaders to intervene when less than a week ago he had all the regional leaders in one room in South Africa?
If the people "spoke" on March 29, why is he not consulting them on the way forward about that unsaid sticky issue?
Who then are the beneficiaries of this much-talked about signature: the people, regional leaders or his Western backers?
In the August/September issue of the New African magazine, columnist Stella Orakwue writes so beautifully about using "the people" as objects.
In double-speak she wonders who exactly are "the people" that politicians often talk about.
Are these people you and I?
Thus we ask: "Who are the people that are meant to benefit from these signatures?"
Is it you and me or it is someone in a far-flung country who does not even know the difference between the Nile and the Zambezi?
Should the nation continue to fail to access health care because someone in the West has pegged a value to Tsvangirai's signature? The nation must remember, however, that the dialogue process is not a solution in itself.
It is an important means to an end and that is why we have pinned so much hope on it.
Makwanya concludes thus: "The question for Tsvangirai is: does he go into the theatre without enough tools or go in and ask for the tools once he is inside?
"Tsvangirai should not underestimate his power even without all the tools he wants, his presence in the theatre will make a difference to the lives of the people of Zimbabwe much more than he might imagine.
"It will take his creativity, imagination and initiative. It cannot be disputed that Mr Tsvangirai's role in the future Government should reflect the power of his signature."
Again I ask again, "ask for his tools" from whom?
Where at the end of the day does this leave people? All that the three parties are doing is to negotiate, hopefully doing so in good faith, because we all have a God-given responsibility to reverse the present situation, and leave a legacy and inheritance for future generations. So, where does this elusive signature leave the people?
The people of Zimbabwe have been through this many times and it now looks like there is almost nothing left for them to say.
Although the details might be different, they have now become so cynical about some of the antics they witness on the political arena to the extent that some now just shrug.
But in the true spirit of Zimbabwean people's qualities of resilience, patience and hope, they still want to give the MDC-T leader the benefit of the doubt.
His period of reflection and consultation should not take longer than people hope for, which again would dash their expectations.
For, the MDC-T leader must understand that although people do not seem to correlate this final signature with the current economic hardships, it was signatures from the MDC leadership that brought the evil called sanctions within their midst.
What the three leaders are doing is a matter of national duty and honour that should be driven by a people-centred conscientiousness and a caring attitude.
And we hope that they will regroup soon and carry on this mandate wearing human faces and human hearts for the sake of the people.