HOPE is high that Zimbabwe’s much-talked about national dialogue could finally start in earnest this year, following recent political developments and hints to this effect by both President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the country’s new opposition leader, Douglas Mwonzora.
Analysts who spoke to the Daily News On Sunday yesterday said Mnangagwa and Mwonzora’s pronouncements of the past few weeks had raised hope that the “extreme political polarisation” which had been experienced in the country over the past two decades could now give way to a new “national politics of tolerance, commonsense and progress”.
They added that Mnangagwa’s move to “go out of his way” to reach out to Mwonzora when he became the country’s new opposition leader a fortnight ago, suggested that positive political momentum could be achieved in the coming months if nothing else sabotaged the improving local political climate.
This comes as Mwonzora, on his part, has promised to pursue “a new type of politics” that will see him seeking heightened interactions with both the ruling Zanu PF and other opposition forces.
The respected Harare lawyer and senator Mwonzora, who took over the leadership of the main opposition MDC last month, also reiterated that he would pursue dialogue with Mnangagwa and Zanu PF — with a view to improving the lives of long-suffering Zimbabweans.
Yesterday, political analysts told the Daily News On Sunday that all these developments were a sign that political dialogue, and possibly another government of national unity (GNU), could happen this year.
“It is the first time that the ruling party has warmly welcomed the election of a leader of the opposition … This may suggest that the MDC … can work together in some kind of an alliance with Zanu PF, either to strengthen the already existing arrangement, Polad — which Mwonzora has not really said he has problems with — or some form of an inclusive government,” University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said.
However, the highly-regarded academic also pointed out that such a development would favour Mnangagwa and Zanu PF.
“Such arrangement will be whereby the MDC … will be a junior partner, because it is not possible to go in bed with Zanu PF on an equal footing at this point, and many are not sure that the opposition will come out of it unscathed,” Masunungure added.
On his part, former opposition kingpin and Cabinet minister in the stability-inducing, but short-lived 2009 GNU, Obert Gutu, said Mwonzora had kicked off on “a very sound note”.
“His call for the adoption of a progressive brand of politics, underpinned by robust but respectful and fruitful engagement with the government of the day, should actually be applauded by all patriotic Zimbabweans.
“Where has the politics of hostile engagement taken us this far? Absolutely nowhere.
“Mwonzora should promptly engage the ruling Zanu PF and seek to positively influence and impact on national development,” Gutu, who is a former vice president of the MDC, told the Daily News On Sunday.
“Mwonzora should not wait to take his seat at Polad (Political Actors Dialogue) … from there, he can then seek to hold the ruling party to account and even put on the table his proposals for a GNU of sorts.
“Mwonzora is his own man. Those who accuse him of being a Zanu PF proxy are people who have always played a negative brand of politics.
“These are people who believe that insulting … Mnangagwa and calling him a dictator will somehow get them to State House,” Gutu added.
Upon being elected as the new MDC president, Mwonzora exclusively told our sister publication, the Daily News, that he would be pursuing a different type of politics to end deep polarisation in the country.
He also said that he would seek to have more interactions with Mnangagwa and Zanu PF, as he sought to end the “politics of hate and divisions”.
“Of course, of course, it (working with Zanu PF and other political outfits) is the only sensible thing to do … We are already working with Zanu PF in Parliament. We are also working with Zanu PF as we oversee its ministries.
“Working with Zanu PF is different from working for Zanu PF. We want to establish a relationship that is respectful … business-like … professional and that benefits Zimbabwean people.
“Zimbabwean people don’t benefit from dysfunctional fights … but we will take our responsibilities as the opposition and that is what we are going to do,” the self-assured Mwonzora told the Daily News.
“For us to get to a … GNU (new government of national unity) somebody must initiate it and usually that is done by the party that is ruling because the argument is that they are enjoying the mandate of the people … and the second thing will be the terms of the GNU arrangement.
“We are not interested in window dressing arrangements. But having said that, Zimbabweans did benefit tangibly from the GNU of 2009 to 2013,” he further told the Daily News.
“So, if that choice ever comes our way, we will weigh whether it is in the best interest of the Zimbabwean people to do that.
“That would entail us going around the country hearing the views of … people, and listening to the organs of our party … Zimbabweans have always benefited from dialogue,” the Harare lawyer also said.
“In 1979, we ended … the liberation war with dialogue at Lancaster House which brought independence … civil war, the genocide in Matabeleland ended with the Unity Accord. That was dialogue.
“The 2008 and 2009 violence ended again with a discussion. So, there is ample historic evidence that dialogue does work.
“We want to pursue dialogue. What it will culminate in is another story. Sometimes it culminates in a GNU. Sometimes it culminates in an arrangement different from a GNU.
“But as long as … that GNU is in the best interest of Zimbabweans, it is welcome to us,” Mwonzora added.
In remarks that have raised hopes for a cessation in hostilities between Zanu PF and the opposition, Mnangagwa has warmly welcomed Mwonzora’s political pronouncements.
“This is a very welcome move for our nation which is likely to put politics of rancour behind us, thus triggering collaboration, development and the harmony we sorely needed for national progress.
“Once the pledge and positive shift extended by the opposition happens, a new chapter will indeed begin, paving the way for consensual politics, greater unity, peace, harmony and accelerated development.
“We appeal to all those still stuck to yesterday’s politics of destructive confrontation and obstruction to learn from this salutary gesture by the MDC … To be in opposition need not mean being unduly negative, confrontational, divisive and disloyal to one’s nation and people,” Mnangagwa said while welcoming Mwonzora’s pledge.
Many Zimbabweans have also said that they would like to have another GNU, similar to the 2009 arrangement which brought stability to the country, after the economy had been ravaged by hyper-inflation.
Then, the late former president Robert Mugabe was forced into forming a GNU with the MDC’s also late and much-loved founding father, Morgan Tsvangirai, after the hotly-disputed 2008 polls.
That GNU was credited with stabilising the country’s economy which had imploded in the run-up to those elections.
In those polls, Tsvangirai beat Mugabe hands down. However, the results were withheld for six long weeks by stunned authorities — amid widespread allegations of ballot tampering and fraud, which were later confirmed by former bigwigs of the ruling Zanu PF.
In the ensuing sham presidential run-off, which authorities claimed was needed to determine the winner, Zanu PF apparatchiks engaged in an orgy of violence in which hundreds of Tsvangirai’s supporters were killed — forcing the former prime minister to withdraw from the discredited race altogether.
Mugabe went on to stand in an embarrassing and widely-condemned one-man race in which he declared himself the winner.