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By Alex T. Magaisa

THERE was a certain irony in the headline of the state-owned Herald newspaper, on Monday, June 30, 2008. ‘It’s a landslide!’ bellowed the headline. A landslide, indeed, is what had just engulfed Zimbabwe in the aftermath of Mugabe’s one-horse race for the presidential office after MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai had withdrawn.

Some communities live in constant fear of landslides; when Nature shows the unkind side of her character. In Zimbabwe, people live in constant fear of a man-made landslide that comes regularly through the medium of an election. So regular has this phenomenon become, it has a uniquely Zimbabwean character, it must, surely, be given a distinctly Zimbabwean name: ‘It’s a Zanuslide!’ might have been a more apt headline.

The instalment of Mugabe as President was short sharp and swift as predicted in these pages in the weeks leading to the June 27 one-man race. The collective effect of the reports of the observer missions is that the elections were neither free nor fair and failed, therefore, to reflect the will of the people. The credibility of that race was dealt a further blow when the African Union issued a resolution calling for the establishment of a Government of National Unity (‘GNU’).

Mugabe and Zanu PF have appeared receptive to this idea. That is hardly surprising as it was always part of the plan. A day before the election, Mugabe had himself stated that the doors were open for talks with the opposition. They were never serious about the election and even they recognise the paucity of legitimacy. The election was designed to confer one important thing: leverage in negotiations. Having lost in the March election, Zanu PF was keen to regain its legal leverage in terms of a foothold on state power.

The AU has not helped matters a great deal. It has simply bought into the Zanu PF plan because a GNU was always on its cards, contrary to public posturing. Indeed, the GNU model is a tried and tested model of dealing with political opponents, using a combination of coercion and baits - the bait being an invitation to join the gravy train after a demonstration of the violent impact of force. That indeed is the path travelled by PF Zapu, until it was swallowed by Zanu PF.

In considering the path of negotiation, the MDC may wish to take heed of the old saying, ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’. This of course derives from the story of the most famous of Greek gifts, the Trojan Horse.

It is said that during the Trojan Wars, the Greeks had laid siege on the city of Troy for a decade. When they decided to leave, they built a very large wooden horse as a sign of peace and an offering to the gods. As they retreated, they left the large wooden horse at the gates of Troy. When the citizens of Troy opened their gates for the first time since the siege, they received the gift, which appeared harmless. But when it was brought inside the city, Greek soldiers who were hidden within the wooden structure came out and destroyed the city of Troy. The Trojans had been warned against accepting the gift.

Likewise, the MDC has been under siege from Zanu PF. Suddenly, Zanu PF has changed and is talking peace and unity. The MDC has reason to fear that this may be no more than Zanu PF’s Trojan Horse; that once it comes in, gains a foothold and re-organises, it could well carry out destruction of the dream from within.

There can be no doubt that Zanu PF is in dire need of negotiations. They have the power but not much to use it for given the paucity of legitimacy and increasing disquiet across Africa. So what should the MDC do in these circumstances?

The MDC is right to be sceptical, first about the genuineness of its rival and second about the intended outcome of those talks and the effect of any governmental structure that will emerge. Is Zanu PF serious about the talks or is it simply trying to buy the legitimacy that it sorely lacks? And more importantly, what would be the effect on the broader democratic movement of any unity government that is likely to arise? Will it, for instance, derail the greater struggle to rid the country of a hostile, corrupt, undemocratic culture that has flourished under Zanu PF rule?

Zimbabwe’s problems will not simply be solved by a GNU – at least, the lessons of 1987 Unity Accord are clear. The country faces both immediately visible and deep-rotted problems. Zanu PF’s approach may be to regain some legitimacy, proceed on a business-as-usual basis and hope that the economic challenges can be easily rectified. This approach overlooks the deep-seated deficiencies in the system of government, which is affected by a culture of corruption, greed, intolerance and above all, the supremacy of fist over the hand of the law. It is arguable, therefore, that a simple GNU will not work to the desired effect.

What is more plausible, however, is a temporary transitional arrangement on the basis that this can stabilise the social, political and economic conditions in the country in the short term, ushering a reformed order in which a more permanent electoral solution can be constructed.

It is arguable that entering into any arrangement with Zanu PF, however temporary, would be tantamount to giving in and sacrificing the MDC’s democratic principles. There is a risk that once they have joined the proverbial gravy train, Zimbabwe’s greatest hope of achieving a democratic environment will be jettisoned.

Yet, one must also consider that the MDC’s Achilles Heel has been its inability to influence matters within government structures or more pointedly, its lack of power otherwise derived from control of institutions of the state. That is because it has not had a foothold in the structures of power. Zanu PF has for long been able to use its monopoly of state power to the detriment of its opponents. The MDC might therefore wish to consider whether this could, therefore, be an occasion for drawing power from Zanu PF’s traditional sources?

One can see that the MDC remaining outside the strictures of the state will deprive Mugabe of the much needed legitimacy but it will not necessarily bring him down in the short-term. Instead, he and his comrades are likely to dig in, retaining their comforts despite the sanctions, whilst the general citizens continue to bear the brunt of the economic collapse. The question that arises therefore is, whether, in this likely long-drawn process towards democratisation, the MDC can create some space for itself and gain a foothold that would enable it to have some measure of influence in those structures where power is held, for example the security structure that includes the military.

At the end of the day, whether under Zanu PF or the MDC, the key for Zimbabwe’s political governance is to create a new environment in which a more credible election can be held. This means that a big priority of the transitional authority will be to create a new democratic Constitution. That could be the principal product of any transitional arrangement, which will then pave the way for new and proper elections. Meanwhile, by then, through the transitional arrangement Mugabe will, surely have found a way out.

Tsvangirai is right when he says that the struggle is not simply for power but about democracy. But as we have seen, that environment cannot be achieved without power. Those who are in control of state power are the primary determinants of the political and economic environment. In the case of Zanu PF, this has been a disaster; a man-made Zanuslide that has engulfed the whole nation.

If the MDC is to create a democratic environment it has to gain power; therefore power is, indeed, what they are fighting for. It is achieving this power that has proved to be a very difficult problem. That way will probably be opened through some form of transitional arrangement. But in negotiating, the MDC does need to ‘beware of Zanu PF bearing gifts’. Because, one still has to fear Zanu PF, even when it is offering gifts.

Alex Magaisa is based at Kent Law School, The University of Kent, UK and can be contacted at

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