6 July 2012

Zimbabwe: What Was Tendai Biti Up To?

editorial

FINANCE minister Tendai Biti's interview in the Sunday Mail, which on the face of it seems to be awash with indulgent praise-singing for President Robert Mugabe and nationalist posturing, has provoked a storm of controversy and debate.

The interview elicited different sorts of reactions, ranging from appreciation to criticism.

Those who agree with Biti say the interview shows he is now mature and strategic in his thinking and handling of national issues. They also note he has become statesman-like and a consensus-builder.

However, his critics say he was trying to put lipstick on a pig -- making a superficial analysis of the situation with cosmetic remarks -- while gratuitously indulging in hero-worshipping bordering on hagiography. They also say he failed the test of humility and being reflective, in the process exposing his thinly-veiled political ambitions and manoeuvres.

Biti's interview covered a whole range of key issues; historical events, Mugabe's contribution to the liberation struggle, his national significance as founding leader and legacy, what it means to be Zimbabwean in his view, generational challenges, political questions, including rule of law, violence and tolerance, and economic issues, as well as GPA and MDC-T dynamics.

But the most controversial remarks he made centred on Mugabe whose contentious leadership and policies have polarised society.

Mugabe, in power for 32 years without a break, is many different things to many different people. To some he is a liberator and hero; yet to others he is a freedom fighter-turned-tyrant. Admittedly, he is a complex and sometimes paradoxical character.

The dark side of Mugabe's character emerged early during the 1980s with the ruthless crushing of bitter rival, Joshua Nkomo and Zapu in pursuit of a one-party state agenda and command economy. His contemporaries and colleagues during the liberation struggle say Mugabe has always had a ruthless streak which first manifested itself during his days in exile in Mozambique.

Edgar Tekere and Wilfred Mhanda's autobiographies show this. Mugabe is still using the same authoritarian methods to remain in power. In recent years, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC officials, including Biti, have borne the brunt of his repression. Arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and killings have largely characterised his rule.

That's why many ask: Is Mugabe an African hero or a ruthless dictator consumed by hubris and self-righteousness? Is he that evil or just misunderstood? Now that he is facing an endgame of potentially horrifying dimensions, how will he be remembered?

"His importance in this country will be seen once he's gone. When he's gone that is when you will see that this man was Zimbabwe. Some of us who came from different parties have had to learn a lot from the man. He is a fountain of experience, fountain of knowledge and, most importantly, a fountain of stability," Biti says.

"There are a lot of horrible things that would have happened in this country if he had not said 'No'. History will prove the correctness of this statement. He has been the number one symbol of stability. There are people who would have wanted to destroy this country internally, but his value has been to say 'No'. Even this GNU; there are people who wanted to destroy it within two months, and it would have died. Where would we have been with a hyperinflation of 500 billion percent? So, I think us younger generations are lucky to have gone through his hands."

This was the most controversial part which led critics to say Biti is suffering from a battered woman syndrome or what they call in psychology the Stockholm syndrome -- a phenomenon in which hostages end up expressing empathy or having a positive attitude towards their captors, sometimes defending them.

However, Biti is an intelligent man, lawyer and shrewd politician. There must be something he was conveying, especially given the interview was in the Sunday Mail where ordinarily he would hesitate to be interviewed given he has choice on other platforms.

Besides, the journalist who interviewed him recently had a splash on Grace Mugabe. The question is, was the interview by accident or design? What was the coded message Biti was delivering and who is the target audience? Did Biti achieve his objective or not?

Whatever the case, Biti's thought-provoking interview stirred controversy and debate in equal measure, perhaps the most important thing after all.

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