Last week was one of the noisiest in the rancorous Zimbabwean media.
The unravelling of the events reminded me of the expression “call someone’s bluff”. The term comes from poker. When someone is bluffing, they are pretending that the cards they are holding are better than they really are (in the hope of getting their opponent to give up). Calling someone’s bluff is forcing them to reveal their cards by continuing play. In general terms, it means that you think someone is lying and force them to prove their position one way or another.
Indeed, we have had poker politics for too long in Zimbabwe as the country limps from one crisis to another. You can do everything right and lose, and you can do everything wrong and win. Indeed, the winners became losers, and the losers became winners post-June 2008. Notwithstanding that former South African President Thabo Mbeki was not exactly an honest broker as he tended to favour the losers at the expense of the poll result, the Global Political Agreement (GPA) he finally came up with in September 2008 is a legal agreement, not a gentlemen’s agreement.
In the build-up to last week’s summit, Zanu PF, through its mouthpieces, went into overdrive as if they held all the aces or cards in their hands.
Envoys were dispatched to various regional capitals to sell their intended rush into elections with or without reforms and with or without a new constitution — all this against the letter and spirit of the GPA signed to unlock the political logjam caused by that very Zanu PF. In fact, they were speaking of the GPA in the past tense. They bizarrely tried to interpret the GPA as favouring the MDCs whereas it was actually overgenerous to them as the biggest losers in 2008.
The State media, right on cue, reported that the MDCs had not been invited to the Sadc summit in Luanda, Angola. It was not suspected, but expected that they would do so. In all this, there was a boastful, celebratory tone which proved premature as invitations to the MDCs were sent days later after Sadc realised that Zimbabwe was a burning, not necessarily raging, issue in the region.
There was an air of ultimatum in all this. Both Sadc and the MDCs had to accept that elections would be held this year. They bluffed that they would go ahead with an election with or without a new constitution and with or without reforms clearly stated in the GPA with one State media “analyst” going to the extent of describing it as “the so-called GPA” never mind that President Robert Mugabe appended his signature to it. This is a party which is in the habit of forcing matters. This is a nation where people are heard, but not heeded. One of Zanu PF’s own, Copac co-chairperson Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana, has been a victim of this as he has been pressured to lie about the constitution-making outreach findings and agreed positions, but so far he has commendably resisted and even hit back.
But if Sadc needed any convincing about the gravity and urgency of the situation, the killing of MDC-T activist Cephas Magura in Mudzi just days before the summit was enough tragic proof. This could have been one of the game-changers. It becomes impossible to explain that away and Sadc quite rightly decided to put Zimbabwe on the agenda of the Troika, notwithstanding Zambian President Michael Sata’s clownish spirited defence of Zanu PF and unreasoned and unreasonable attacks on the MDCs. These people are also obsessed with sovereignty as if it was ever an absolute concept. Zimbabwe, being a member of various regional and international bodies and subject to their treaties, has necessarily ceded some of its sovereignty to these bodies. That’s why it’s on Sadc’s watch, among others. So presidential spokesperson George Charamba’s assertion this week that Sadc is “not in the habit of interfering in sovereign processes of member states” is a narrow, shallow and self-serving interpretation of what has been happening.
After MDC leader Welshman Ncube lucidly laid out on the summit table the lowdown on the Zimbabwean political situation by dismantling Mugabe’s claims one by one on the lifespan of the GPA and what led to its formation, a reportedly angry Mugabe is said to have shot back saying Ncube did not hold elective office. True, but what about Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara? Vice-President John Nkomo? And can Mugabe himself honestly say with a clear conscience that he was freely and fairly elected in the June 2008 presidential election runoff after the MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai, the winner of the first round in March, was literally disabled from running as his supporters were terrorised? So, it’s neither here nor there that Ncube is not elected, but that the Troika was going by the terms of the GPA. Like the editor with the State media who referred to “the so-called GPA” whereas his favoured leader is actually a signatory to this, when people have run out of answers and explanations, they can say
anything illogical and out of place.
Sadc has decided that they cannot try to “band-aid” or bandage a bleeding Zimbabwe, but apply both wholesale curative and preventive measures, to use a medical metaphor, not the piecemeal, half-hearted measures as prescribed by Zanu PF.
They have seen that Zanu PF is avoiding getting to the underlying source of the problem — themselves — and is, thus, likely to misdirect and dodge real issues of substance. This means holding elections under such conditions is unsustainable.
Sadc has shown willingness and readiness to address the real cause of the problem rather than do a patch job because without that, Zimbabwe will forever be the sick man of the region. Tanzanian Premier Mizengo Pinda is said to have pointedly told Mugabe to behave like an elder statesman by not going for rushed elections, warning this would bring back “the dark days of 2008”. Without reforms, the next poll disaster looks guaranteed.
So Sadc decided Zimbabwe was going nowhere, but fast. All sorts of threats and ultimatums were issued, but Sadc stood firm that Zanu PF is not the only game in town. You cannot fool all the people all the time.
Zanu PF bluffed, but this time Sadc called the bluff.