IT MIGHT be too early to make any conclusions, but it looks quite likely that historians will look back at President Robert Mugabe’s hour-long speech on Independence Day two weeks ago and conclude that it changed our politics forever.
Already, that dazzling speech has set in motion a political earthquake that could shack Morgan Tsvangirai off the political stage for eternity, for it is now President Mugabe who is seen as the agent of change. He has replaced the Prime Minister in that role by correctly reading the national mood of growing disgust and mistrust for the political process.
Very few people expected him to speak so passionately about human rights and the importance of guarding against their erosion. Indeed, until the afternoon of April 18th, it was easy to find fault with the way President Mugabe had responded to some of Zimbabwe’s most serious concerns.
Well-founded allegations of violence and coercion during elections had constantly been brought to his attention and, despite the fact that these deeply shamed Zimbabwe as a nation and caused great damage to his reputation as a leader, action was thin on the ground.
Then, on April 18, 2012, he called for political tolerance in a way that stunned his enemies and supporters alike, drastically transforming the political landscape in Zimbabwe. Eloquent and confident, he spoke with the brilliance of a rising star.
The importance of his message lay not so much in the significance of the occasion as in the sincerity of his tone. Voters crave authenticity and they got it in abundance on April 18th.
In fact, a senior MDC-T official told me soon after the president’s Independence Day speech that after listening to Mugabe he was convinced, for the first time, that Morgan Tsvangirai might never become President of this country and that the inclusive government was about as far as he had gone.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Between now and the next election, Zanu PF will be subjected to a rigorous and microscopic examination. By and large, Mugabe’s party has made some fine accomplishments not the least of which is the on-going indigenisation and economic empowerment drive.
Yet some very troubling questions remain for Zanu PF. A few months ago, many in Zanu PF, including this writer, condemned the worrying levels of corruption, sleaze and greed currently being displayed by officials from Morgan Tsvangirai’s party. Of course we were right in pointing this out. But there was something very hypocritical about our criticism. We spoke of corruption in the MDC-T as if Zanu PF itself was sanctimonious.
And it is here that President Mugabe’s call for change will be tested. At the attainment of independence, many in his government were acclaimed for their strong belief in public service. They were well aware of the difference between public office and private life. They put nation ahead of self, duty ahead of greed. In short, they did not join government so they could make money. Yet in the recent past, we have seen public funds being used for private purposes and, with it, the deterioration of public life. The recent diversion of farm inputs meant for the less privileged graphically tells the story. Nor is that all. Time and again, money has changed hands and tenders have been awarded without due process. National wealth has been used to benefit only a few selfish individuals.
And as those who belong to this league of shame have lived lavishly, the entire nation has suffered. Little wonder this country is without electricity (an essential service) jobs, safe water and decent roads.
Of course there are few men and women of definite integrity in Zanu PF whose names remain uncontaminated and it would be a little unfair to put them in the same blanket as the disgraceful ones. But there is no doubting the fact that something has gone horribly wrong with our political system. A troubling culture of illegality has developed and it is now incumbent on President Mugabe to reverse it.
Regrettably, there is very little time remaining between now and the next election for the president to put things right. Yet a lot could still be achieved. Here is what needs to be done if Zanu PF is to regain public trust.
President Mugabe needs to show some steel and turn his back on all of those ministers whose names have been implicated, one way or another, in any form of corrupt activity- and there are no fewer than twenty such names. Not only have these wretched souls done terrible damage to the party, they have destroyed this once great nation in an almost unforgivable way. It’s time the country was grabbed from the reprehensible and handed over to the responsible.
Admittedly, it might be a bit tricky for President Mugabe to ditch some of his loyalists at this stage but that’s a risk he will have to take for the sake of this nation. He needs to demonstrate that he is as genuine as he appeared at the National Sports Stadium a few weeks ago. Should he fail, he will soon be treated with contempt again and that would be desperately sad.
If he succeeds, the price for him will be great and this year will be seen as the year that gave decency to his legacy and renovated Zimbabwe’s political culture.