By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
The last week or so has shown two polar extremes of our democracy. One good and positive, the other insidious and worrisome. President Mnangagwa and Morgan Tsvangirai represented the former, many of Tsvangirai’s supporters on social media the latter.
President Mnangagwa visited Morgan Tsvangirai at home. For most of us, the first we knew of it was when pictures started appearing showing the former Prime Minister sat next to his fetching wife and the President across from them. The mood seemed very cordial, just two Zimbabweans on opposites sides of politics perhaps but clearly in a pleasant setting.
Then the misguided started their usual nonsense. This was a ploy by Mnangagwa to ‘expose’ Tsvangirai’s illness and lose him votes, they claimed. Mnangagwa had alerted the press so that they take photos of Tsvangirai to shame him, they added.
Then it turned out that Tsvangirai had in fact tweeted to say that the President and First Vice President Chiwenga were coming over to see him. And it makes sense. The press were clearly alerted to this and came. Besides, the pictures were taken in Tsvangirai’s living room. Are we to imagine that anyone would have entered there and taken photos without Tsvangirai’s agreement?
Tsvangirai then issued a statement. While people have focused on his insinuation that he might be resigning for someone younger, the most important take from Tsvangirai’s statement is what he says about the President’s visit.
Rather than see it in the nonsensical lenses that some of his supporters have, Tsvangirai rightly sees the epochal significance of having political foes relate humanely and having friendly contact. The young who see this event, Tsvangirai argues and l agree, will see that it is possible to be political rivals without being enemies.
Robert Mugabe did not go out to Chartsworth or Bubi or Mbirashava and beat up a random villager. But when he and his wife went about doing their pasi naTsvangirai nonsense, when he did not condemn those who beat up Morgan at Zimbabwe grounds, when he made his ‘zviroto zviroto’ diatribe against Tsvangirai for daring to oppose him, the message he sent to his supporters was that opposition is treasonous. So when they beat up MDC supporters, they did actually not think that Mugabe would get to know about it, but they guessed correctly that he would not lose much sleep over it.
So, when President Mnangagwa tells the Zanu PF congress that there should be no violence, when he visits Tsvangirai at home, because he is unwell, when he offers to personally look into the former Prime Minister’s pension, the message he sends out is “we are rivals yes, but enemies never, in a new Zimbabwe.”
That, is what a President does. He sets the tone.
And like a dog whistle, his message communicates to the right people what they should or should not do. Our democracy might take a while to recover from 37 years of Mugabe and his politics of subjugation and intolerance, but on current evidence, this President is doing a lot to rehabilitate it. That, again, was a point that Tsvangirai alluded to in his speech after the visit.
A President embraces opponents and tells his supporters by that action that “l see him, he opposes me but l am President for all.” A President loses sleep over the comfort of a citizen and does something about it, even if that citizen wants his job in 6 months or so because, he is the President for all.
Those that see a conspiracy in the visit blind themselves to two obvious facts.
First, Tsvangirai has never sought to hide his illness. He never refuses requests for selfies with him, which will inevitably show his emaciated state. And, having had a chance to talk to him some months back, l can confirm that he answers fully when you ask “what are the doctors saying?” No doubt those around him wish he won’t, and maybe in their shoes many of us would too, but that is him.
So, anyone that thinks the photos of an obviously unwell Tsvangirai did him a disservice clearly don’t know him. I might disagree with him on many fronts but one thing about Tsvangirai is that he has never tried to mislead anyone about his illness. That, is leading by example. The legacy of the man should not be tarnished by those trying to suggest that he wants to hide his condition. He has his faults, but this is not one of them.
Second, having just survived dictatorship by an invalid, it seems stupid for people to want us to vote for Tsvangirai without knowing the true nature of his illness. Nothing more can be said about this: it is just downright stupid.
When people who have suffered a long time find deliverance, it is inevitable that they will retain a certain level of skepticism against those that saved them. However, it needs to be a healthy skepticism. What occurred after the President’s visit to Tsvangirai around the conspiracies about the reasons for the visit was not healthy. It was rank stupidity to see anything other than chivanhu in that visit. It is conspiracy theory nonsense to think that there was a ploy to expose Tsvangirai. Vanhu vanongofanigwa zvavo kungotikwanira, priz.
This President is setting a good tone for our democracy. Yes, it’s early doors, but the door is ajar. Open it and help build. Hiding under the blankets and seeing Mugabe in every well meaning action taken by President Mnangagwa is indicative of only one thing: post traumatic stress disorder. There are doctors for that.
If Tsvangirai ends up at Heroes Acre, you will hear some idiots say he sold out during that visit. I say, by his reaction to the Presidential visit, the former Prime Minister has demonstrated the kind of measured and thoughtful leadership that initially attracted many to him, but which those around him appear to have drummed out of the man. And that, is a pity. Because there are no doctors for that.
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a Zimbabwean lawyer who is also a prominent former student leader at the University of Zimbabwe