Morgan Tsvangirai’s At the Deep End is a very brave and somewhat surprising book. It is brave in the sense that the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, who is also the president of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), decided to give a very personal account of his life and experience in Zimbabwean politics.
This is a rare phenomenon in Zimbabwe given the fact that seldom do incumbent leaders in government write memoirs, let alone while they are still in office.
The last prominent Zimbabwean leader to do so was Joshua Nkomo whose memoirs, The Story of My Life, were published while he was president of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union in the aftermath of our national independence.
The surprise components of the book are to be found in the revelations that the Prime Minister makes in reference to his party’s history and his interaction with other leaders.
He also surprisingly refers to the “no vote” in the constitutional referendum as a mistake “with the benefit of hindsight”, a point that is controversial on its own. Some of these revelations have already been published locally and on the Internet in the print and electronic media.
In reading Tsvangirai’s account of his political experiences, there is an evident sense of arrival in the tone and language of the book.
The narration of his life history interspersed with historical data is essentially one that seems to reflect the author’s intention to tell the story of a journey travelled against many odds, but with a successful outcome.
In part, the success of the journey is metaphorically hinted to as being “the mountain has finally accepted that it needs to have a bath in a tiny pond down the river”.
This is made with reference to President Robert Mugabe’s capitulation and agreement to talk with Tsvangirai after the disputed June 2008 presidential election run-off.
Furthermore, the sense of arrival and achievement is augmented by the writer’s general confession to being ordinary in relation to what other heads of states and government and parties would normally be like.
This is illustrated vividly in the sections of the book where Tsvangirai describes his mistrust and despair at members of his party’s national executive who were proposing together with Zanu PF negotiators that there be a degree requirement for presidential aspirants.
This, together with his character judgment of now Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara where he writes, “the narrow technical traits our universities prize as higher learning can easily block our access to wisdom, deform our morals and deplete our intuitive gifts to a point where common sense ceases to be common”.
In this, it is fairly apparent that the author is aware of the judgment call that has been made on his levels of education, and he feels somewhat vindicated that for all the education of his colleagues in the inclusive government, he seems to be grounded in a better understanding of politics.
In the book it is also apparent that the author has some disdain for some non-governmental organisations as well as those he refers to as “desk-top revolutionaries” who were being impatient with the “struggle”.
He also accuses some civil society organisations of being motivated more by seeking to secure donor funding than they were to the struggle.
It’s a harsh judgement call on non-state actors, and perhaps some of them will respond, given the fact that they too were party to the National Working People’s Convention that he vividly describes.
Moreover, in relation to civil society organisations, Tsvangirai makes the bold, and in my view, thoroughly wrong assertion that “the no vote” in the constitutional referendum of February 14, 2000 was a “strategic mistake”.
While his opinion echoes that of his rival Professor Welshman Ncube, it is an opinion that is more conjectural than it is based on a full understanding of the importance of the “no vote” to his own party’s interests.
The assumption given in the book is that had the draft constitution been passed at the referendum, Mugabe’s succession would have been easier is not necessarily true for speculation. The “no vote” being the first national defeat for the incumbent Zanu PF in a national plebiscite had deeper political meaning than Mugabe’s succession.
It was the coming into a new consciousness of the people of Zimbabwe and was therefore a necessary historical event and outcome.
In relation to the media, the book praises in part the arrival of The Daily News and other media for helping spread access to information and Tsvangirai also expresses sympathy for the harsh treatment meted out on the paper.
He expresses his commitment, in part, to a free media, but this may not be as apparent in the aftermath of the formation of the inclusive government in which he is the Prime Minister.
Media freedom remains a challenge that he must evidently address in contemporary Zimbabwe, particularly by pushing for the repeal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The most telling narrative however is that of “victory” over his political rivals as it were. Where he gives accounts of the leadership styles of other leaders he has interacted or worked with, he seeks to emerge as the eventual winner, regardless of what they may have thought of his leadership style or education.
And this is a key point of the book.
It is basically to say, that regardless of the odds staked against him, the personal grief, the political challenges set by Zanu PF, Sadc and some of his own members, he, Morgan Tsvangirai, overcame them, and is not going anywhere soon.
Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity