8 March 2018

Zimbabwe: Opposition Must Respect President's Call for Peace


"In this new era, we need to be reunited, we need to love each other, we need to share and the best argument, the best idea should take the day."

These were the words of President Mnangagwa when he held his first interactive meeting with church leaders in Harare on Monday this week. The President was elaborating on his announcement that he would soon meet leaders of various local political parties to preach a message of peace and non-violence ahead of harmonised elections later this year.

The President, in condemning violence and preaching peace, was repeating a message he has talked about since his inauguration on November 24, 2017. He implored Zimbabweans to be tolerant of each other, saying there was no need for violence.

The irony is that he was speaking only a day after MDC-T hooligans had spent the better part of Sunday stoning each other in the city of Bulawayo over political power.

Many were badly injured and property destroyed in the senseless mayhem. The previous week, the nation had witnessed almost similar scenes of intra-party violence at the burial of MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

"I will soon be meeting with my fellow leaders of different political parties including the young Chamisa (MDC Alliance presidential candidate) to drum up the same message that all of us as leaders of respective political parties must actively shun violence," President Mnangagwa told the church elders.

We expected mature political leaders to embrace the President's humility and open ended invitation with both hands.

Media reports on Tuesday evening, however, showed that the President's gesture to engage with fellow Zimbabwean political leaders was being interpreted as a show of weakness.

Leaders of the parties canvassed by the media were the ones now setting conditions for such a meeting. They wanted to dictate the agenda of the meeting, the venue and how the invitations should be done.

In particular, young Chamisa was very noxious, declaring he wanted "a special invitation" because the MDC-T leader could not be lumped together with those from tiny political parties.

Elton Mangoma, who leads something called CODE, demanded that they all meet as equals.

It is true that in a democracy people should be allowed to speak their mind. In fact, we believe that's what the President was trying to achieve when he mooted the meeting with what he called "my fellow leaders".

It is, however, the attitude of the opposition leaders that is worrisome. They showed themselves unworthy of the Presidential gesture. These are small-minded persons who lie to themselves that they stand on the same pedestal as the President. They need massive hand-holding to bring them down to Earth.

President Mnangagwa, in his invitation, did not bully anyone. He did not speak of small or big political parties. He did not set any agenda item except to say we want to discuss as fellow leaders, fellow Zimbabweans, how we can map the way forward towards a fair, transparent, credible and non-violent election. He has not denounced any political party or leader, even the violent ones engaging in dastardly acts of violence who otherwise belong to prison.

Instead these contemptible, puny men find it within their power to insult the President in public, to spurn his gesture of peace and love. It is a shame. Zimbabweans don't deserve these kind of leaders. We fear to imagine what they would become with State power at their disposal if they behave in such a despicable manner before they are elected.

If anything, sane Zimbabweans expect our leaders to act with humility; to be open minded and to be welcoming of any proposal that promotes peace and national unity. We expect them to engage the President, listen to him or express their reservations at that forum and to make their own suggestions in an atmosphere of dignity. Not this childish excitability and cheap showmanship.

We believe President Mnangagwa, in the circumstances, is the only one who has the locus standi to invite "fellow leaders" given their well-publicised contempt for each other. He is not pleading for a unity government, which some are still angry that it did not happen following Operation Restore Legacy.

The President is looking at a bigger picture, the future of Zimbabwe; he is concerned about maintaining, even after elections, the momentum of international goodwill his administration has earned so far. That can only happen if we are united, we speak with one voice and we conduct ourselves with dignity and exhort peace among our people. It is not about a single person obsessed with power and already fantasising about a future at State House.

Zimbabwe is far bigger than that and must always come first. Zimbabweans must reject these dangerously power-hungry, arrogant men of violence.


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