Saturday, May 02, 2009


1st May 2009

Dear Friends,

Over the years, Zimbabweans have become accustomed to hearing Robert Mugabe's mastery of language. We know how skilful he is at adapting what he says and how he says it to suit his audience. Linguists refer to this concept as 'register': the ability to use the appropriate language in different contexts. Mugabe is a master of 'register'. In the days when he strutted the world stage, we would hear him addressing world leaders in perfectly enunciated English, his clothes and body language epitomising their understanding of what a world leader should be. We at home heard a very different Robert Mugabe when he returned to his native land. Gone was the suave, urbane statesman, instead we saw the clenched fist and heard the language of hate and vengeance as he addressed his supporters at Zanu PF rallies up and down the country. He took to wearing the Zanu PF regalia, a baseball cap and shirt with his own image embossed on the front - a worrying symptom of ego-mania, I'd say- but since the faithful were also wearing party T shirts, perhaps he was merely identifying with 'his' people. It was all part of Mugabe's assessment of the appropriate 'register' for the occasion. For the listener, or the reader, the important point was to know the audience he was addressing. That way one could test the validity of the message and the intention of the speaker. In Mugabe's case the rallies were clearly intended to whip up his followers into a frenzy of hatred against his so-called enemies: the British, the Americans and, of course, the opposition.

Without in any way suggesting that these two men are cut from the same cloth, I was reminded of how important 'register' is this week when Morgan Tsvangirai, addressing two very different audiences, made what seemed like widely differing remarks. Speaking in front of thousands of his supporters, the Prime Minister said of Mugabe, "We respect each other although we may disagree. There's nothing Robert Mugabe does without me approving and there's nothing I do without him approving."

Bearing in mind that Tsvangirai was speaking to his own supporters, it's hard to understand what his intention was and if it was really necessary to go to such lengths to identify with a man whose functionaries continue to torture and imprison MDC party officials. I was not there at the rally so I cannot assess how this remark was received by the crowd but I can guess that if I or any member of my family had been imprisoned and tortured by Mugabe's regime, I would find it pretty difficult to 'respect' the political ideology that sanctioned such behaviour. Was Tsvangirai telling his followers that he 'approved' the patently illegal treatment of Ghandi Mudzingwa and Chris Dhlamini even though he didn't agree with it? Was he 'approving' the government sanctioned farm invasions and all the other lawlessness going on in the country, often at the instigation of the police themselves? Reading Tsvangirai's words thousands of miles away, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the Prime Minister had seriously misjudged the mood of the country. The people may be desperate for the GNU to succeed but not, I believe, at the cost of justice for the hundreds of victims of Zanu PF brutality. To align himself with Robert Mugabe in such an abject way as Tsvangirai did, was, I believe a grave error of judgement on his part. Despite his condemnation of Thabo Mbeki's earlier 'quiet diplomacy, Tsvangirai appears to be adopting the same approach now. He says he will not use 'megaphone' diplomacy to condemn wrong doings by his partners in government but there is a difference between shouting from the roof-tops and the almost servile utterances we hear from him now.

Talking to the business community was no doubt an easier task for Morgan Tsvangirai; the businessmen and women's primary aim is to make money after all. That aim fits in very neatly with the GNU's repeated pleas to the west to lift sanctions and make cash immediately available for the bankrupt country. What was interesting was that, in marked contrast with his remarks to his own followers, Tsvangirai chose this occasion to stress time and again how important it is to restore the rule of law in Zimbabwe if there is to be a favourable economic climate.

"If business is the engine of growth," he said, "then the rule of law is the fuel that drives that engine…The rule of law is a moral imperative and a business necessity." Later on in the same speech, Tsvangirai said "The responsibility to save and protect the quality of life for all must preoccupy us, the political leadership, regardless of race, colour, tribe, religion or political affiliation…a value system (that) can only rest on the pillars of civil liberties, the right of association and the right of civil society to challenge those entrusted with government." Does Robert Mugabe 'approve' of these fine words - and they are just words since Tsvangirai gave no evidence of what steps he and his fellow ministers in the GNU can take to make them a reality - does he 'respect' the man who spoke them? We have no evidence that Mugabe respects or listens to anyone, least of all his partner in this so-called Unity Government. Robert Mugabe gained power through the barrel of a gun; he has boasted of his 'degrees in violence' but it seems that Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC ministers are prepared to overlook past and present crimes for the sake of national reconciliation - but without the necessary truth and justice prevailing. Where is the 'moral imperative' here? A police report states this week that there have been 2000 fresh reports of violence since the GNU was installed but still Morgan Tsvangirai tells his followers that he 'respects and approves' Mugabe's words and actions. The thousands of Zimbabweans who have suffered and continue to suffer under Mugabe's ruthless brutality deserve nothing less justice.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, PH



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