It's a hard question, but is Tsvangirai really up to the job?

Perhaps the MDC should replace its vacillating leader with someone who has more of Mugabe's ruthlessness

Raymond Whitaker
Sunday 29 June 2008 00:00
Comments

People get the government they deserve, it is said, though Zimbabwe surely does not merit its descent into blood-soaked chaos under Robert Mugabe. But what about the leader of the opposition?

Watching Mr Mugabe celebrate his victory in a one-man election, Morgan Tsvangirai must be wondering this weekend whether his decision to pull out of Friday's presidential run-off was the right one. Three months ago he defeated Zimbabwe's ruler of 28 years by six points in the first round – and that was according to official results, delayed nearly five weeks – while his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) overturned Zanu-PF's parliamentary majority. Yet last weekend he quit the race.

It is true that Zanu-PF violence against MDC supporters had reached a crescendo as polling day approached, and that Mr Tsvangirai was not alone in believing that Mr Mugabe's thugs were capable of doing anything to ensure their man won.

The MDC had an unenviable choice between withdrawal and asking its supporters to take their lives in their hands to vote, probably to no purpose, because the result would be rigged anyway. But, only a few days earlier, the MDC leader had said that to pull out would be a "betrayal of the victims" of the government's oppression.

Mr Tsvangirai gave further demonstrations of his inconsistency as the week went on. On Wednesday, he called for the African Union and the UN to oversee immediate negotiations on Zimbabwe's future, insisting that, while he was prepared to negotiate with Zanu-PF before Friday, the MDC would "not have anything to do" with a government that emerged from the vote. Yet on polling day itself he said negotiations were still possible, despite an election that was "not legitimate".

On Wednesday, the MDC leader was asked about an article that had appeared under his name in The Guardian, which called for UN peacekeepers to be deployed in Zimbabwe to help prepare the way for fresh elections. His response was: "What do you do when you don't have guns, and the people are being brutalised out there?" Though emphasising that he was not calling for military intervention, he did not disown the piece.

But when Zanu-PF seized upon the article as proof of its claim that the MDC was the agent of foreign powers, as anyone could have anticipated it would, Mr Tsvangirai denied writing it. The newspaper accepted that he had not approved the commentary, but he did himself no favours with his belated denial.

To his exasperated supporters, it was another example of the way Mr Tsvangirai constantly allows Mr Mugabe to set the terms of debate. The 84-year-old president, with his multiple degrees gained in captivity, is known to disdain the 56-year-old trade unionist, who failed to complete school before becoming a miner.

Sometimes, however, Mr Tsvangirai can appear as imperious as his opponent. The MDC split disastrously in 2005 amid claims that he was seeking to take all the decisions, and the breakaway faction supported another candidate in March, depriving him of an undeniable margin of victory. And, when his first-round win called for him to be more "presidential", and resist falling for the government's barbs, he failed. He also spent weeks in South Africa, just as he is now sheltering in the Dutch embassy.

There is no doubting Morgan Tsvangirai's personal courage. He has fought off treason charges which carried the death penalty, survived assassination attempts and suffered a savage beating by soldiers only a little over a year ago. Almost anyone would sooner have the concerned, impulsive opposition standard-bearer as a friend than the country's chilly, half-demented president. But when it comes to ousting the tyrant, it may require someone with more of the despot's ruthlessness.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in