COLUMN: MARY REVESAI
Mugabe wants to stay, not save face
The outspoken Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who has spoken out regularly in solidarity with the ordinary people in Zimbabwe, suggested that Mugabe, who has been the country’s sole head of state since independence in 1980, needed facing-saving options to enable him to accept the possibility of stepping down.
Tutu suggested that a change of leadership in Britain where Gordon Brown had replaced Mugabe’s nemesis, Tony Blair, could provide an opportunity for Mugabe to climb down from his position of clinging to power at all costs, including the collapse of the economy and the pauperisation of the population.
“A change of cast might have an important bearing on how things develop. I would hope that there might just be a way of providing face-savers that would enable people to exit without feeling that they had lost a great deal of personal stature…”
The Archbishop’s wise counsel would work in any other situation and with any other leader but it is most unlikely to work with Zimbabwe’s 83-year old authoritarian.
Mugabe is tenaciously clinging to power because, in my opinion, he wants to remain in charge until he drops dead. I believe that he would ignore the most subtle face-saver even if it was thrust into his face (pun unintended) and he has, in fact, passed up many opportunities when he could have retired honourably.
The very reason he is currently citing as justification for not allowing a successor to be identified within Zanu PF, that he cannot leave the ruling party in disarray as a result of intense jockeying for position by the various factions, would in fact have been one of the best reasons to give others their turn to lead.
If Mugabe were prepared to look at the bigger picture, he would have told his colleagues that in the interests of preserving party unity, he would step down but before that he would use his influence and prestige to defuse infighting within the party and thus help to build consensus about who should take over and how that successor should be chosen. He would have had to be actively involved in defusing the raging tensions and divisions to ensure that he left the organisation and government in good hands.
Mandela did it seamlessly when he handed over to Thabo Mbeki after serving only one term. Tony Blair may have been pushed to quit but all the same he did the right thing by passing the baton on to Brown in recognition of the mood within New Labour. In contrast, Mugabe is determined to ignore all signs of resistance to his continuing monopolisation of leadership.
The most telling sign that Mugabe simply does not want to go is the way he has used divide-and-rule tactics to create fear, panic and uncertainty within his party so that he could use the resulting mayhem as his reason for holding on to power. This has been clear in the manner in which he has attacked both the Mujuru and Mnangagwa factions, at one stage comparing aspirants to the position of state president to witches “standing at the door” to hasten his departure.
After declaring during an interview on the occasion of his 83rd birthday in February that there were “no vacancies” in the presidium, speculation is rife that Mugabe is the mastermind behind the recent alleged coup plot to oust him, in which Mnangagwa was implicated.
Cynics believe that the coup plot is a Mugabe ruse designed to demonstrate that both the candidates touted as his possible successors, Joice Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa, cannot be trusted and therefore he should remain in charge to hold the party together. If Mugabe was ready to go, he could have used the passing into law of the 17th Amendment to the constitution which was said to mark the completion of the land reform programme. He could have told his party and the nation at large that now that his dream of empowering blacks through the redistribution of land had come true, he would retire.
Mugabe also has his advanced age as a ready and honorable reason for handing over power to new blood. Mandela used it to great effect and won universal admiration when he announced that he would step down because an 80-year old man had no business to be still president of a country. For whatever reason, Mugabe has in fact done the opposite, mentioning regularly that he is a “young old man” with the bones of a 28-year old although he will be 90-years-old if he remains in power for another six years as widely feared.
Recently, Mugabe’s younger brother, Donatus, died at the age of 80. At the funeral, Mugabe eulogized Donatus as having been the family patriarch because of the elder Mugabe’s involvement in politics.
If he wanted to let go, Mugabe could have won the respect of the nation by announcing that he was quitting politics to finally assume the role of patriarch within the family. It did not necessarily have to be true but it could have provided him with an honourable way to leave the political scene without losing face. Some observers have speculated that Mugabe is so determined to remain at the helm because he fears that the fate of Charles Taylor, who is being prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity at The Hague, could befall him too. Mugabe has the Gukurahundi genocide in which 20 000 civilians were butchered in Matabeleland and the Midlands in the 1980s, hanging over his head. Since then, he has been accused of sanctioning more human rights abuses and killings.
It is therefore difficult to believe that the fear of prosecution in his dotage is the reason Mugabe is doing everything under the sun to remain in power. I want to argue that if this were indeed the reason, Mugabe would be making sure that he did not perpetrate any more atrocities against the populace and try to atone for past misdeeds by being more humane in the twilight of his life. But he has done the opposite and has continued openly sanctioning state-sponsored violence against political opponents, even boasting before fellow African leaders at a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) emergency summit that the police had indeed battered Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai and other opposition leaders three months ago.
Last year the police similarly brutalised leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and Mugabe poked fun at the victims saying the police would continue to thrash those who “provoked” them. He was equally insensitive when the police recently targeted lawyers and tortured a group protesting the arrest of colleagues. The victims of this latest police brutality included Beatrice Mutetwa, the first woman president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe. Common sense would dictate that if Mugabe was clinging to power because he was apprehensive about his fate after leaving office, he would be careful not to commit any more human rights abuses.
Mugabe’s case seems to be a straightforward case of power corrupting absolutely. The man cannot simply imagine anyone else being good enough to govern the country while he is still alive. The many complex wars and battles he is still determined to wage at his advanced age when he should be taking things easy, do not paint a picture of someone who would leave voluntarily under any circumstances.
Mary Revesai is a New Zimbabwe.com columnist and writes from Harare. Her column will appear here every Tuesday
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