Zimbabwe: Peace Talk - Is Mugabe Grandstanding?

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has not been his fiery old self lately. He appears to have discarded his salvos aimed at the West, especially the former colonial master Britain and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, which he has often accused of supping with imperialists.

Overnight, he seemingly has become an advocate of peace.

The dramatic change has been too good to be true; as the veteran ruler had earned a reputation in the past 32 years he has been in power for using every public forum to denounce all things British as evil and deridinghis rivals.

Despite this, President Mugabe's metamorphosis has been on the rise, with the ZANU-PF leader two weeks ago taking his peace call to new heights at the occasion of the Second All-Stakeholders' Conference held in Harare where he implored Zimbabweans across the political divide to exercise tolerance and embarrass the West, which envisages that Zimbabweans must always turn to violence to solve their problems.

Last week, at the opening of Parliament, President Mugabe's address bordered again on promoting peace and goodwill between rival political parties and he described previous clashes between his ZANU-PF supporters and the MDC's backers as "primitive".

On the eve of yet another election, touted for next year and which international watchdogs speculate could culminate in a bloodbath as ZANU-PF seeks to win at all costs, President Mugabe's overtures for peace have rattled the cage and left political players confused.

On the one hand, expectations all round had been that President Mugabe would up the ante on a violent campaign as he prepares for the do or die election, but in fact he has done quite the opposite and assumed a conciliatory tone.

However, this has not slammed the brakes on violence, with recent clashes in Shangani, Mutoko and Masvingo perpetrated by ZANU-PF supporters against the two MDC formations attesting to this.

Could it be that President Mugabe's calls for peace remain genuine, but he has just lost control of his ZANU-PF storm troopers who have practised violence for over three decades?

Welshman Ncube, the leader of the rival MDC in a recent interview with this newspaper dismissed the notion that President Mugabe had lost control of the party, suggesting that violence would be used again to prop up support for ZANU-PF.

"Violence is generic in ZANU-PF and is in the DNA of every supporter", he said.

Tanonoka Joseph Whande, a political observer and journalist based in Gaborone, Botswana, said it was ironic that whenever President Mugabe calls for peace, violent incidents would always erupt either before or after his plea.

"He doesn't mean it. If he did, he would stop it immediately. Why preach peace to victims instead of peace to the perpetrators?" he said.

Yet, President Mugabe's peace calls on the national stage have not been without effect.

The calls have ignited a glimmer of hope to election weary voters who bear the scars of the 2008 violence that maybe the country could head into its first peaceful election, however, minuscule that possibility remains.

But like a budding rose among thorns, the stance of military generals and their warnings that they would never accept an MDC-T victory has made the situation even pricklier and offered an unpleasant reality-check to voters that President Mugabe's peace calls may perhaps be suited for another lifetime.

Political analyst, Charles Mangongera, said President Mugabe may in fact be trying to salvage his legacy.

"It might be that he is seeking redemption and legitimacy. I think that his strategists calculate that ZANU-PF can win the next election with very minimal use of violence and intimidation hence President Mugabe's consistent message of peace and non-violence", said Mangongera.

"I am not convinced that he means it though. The only way President Mugabe can demonstrate sincere commitment to peace is by ordering the prosecution of known perpetrators of violence that are roaming the villages, countryside and urban areas".

As elections approach and divergent interpretations surface over the latest peace talk from President Mugabe, the proverb, "talk is cheap" may come in handy as voters try to assess the latest about turn from the veteran ruler.

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