By Hopewell Chin’ono
Two Sundays ago when we had just buried Mukoma Tuku at his rural home in Madziva, I wrote on this page about the dangers of treating the main opposition leader like a criminal or political leper.
I said that it was foolish trying to block Nelson Chamisa from attending Tuku’s burial, an act that I witnessed which happened right under the nose of the South African ambassador and other diplomats.
These kind of barbaric and backward acts destroy trust and respect for each other and they make it extremely difficult to have any meaningful relationships especially in politics.
The President has summoned the Presidential candidates to his official residence today at short notice, it would have been normal were relations between these political actors cordial.
But are they cordial when the President’s men stop the opposition leader from attending an event like a funeral and burial of a national hero?
Is it even African to do so and does the blind support of such unsavoury actions by the President’s supporters reflect a pregnant atmosphere for dialogue?
Should we then be surprised when people like Chamisa dismiss the calls for dialogue by the President as a mere public relations stunt meant to help the President to release some of the political, economic and global pressure that his government is being subjected to?
I have repeatedly written here about how the President and the government are losing the plot in managing national events and issues to the detriment of the economy, the citizen and national cohesion.
My focus has been on the government because the opposition is not running the country and neither is it responsible for the gross corruption, incompetence and nepotistic behavior we are witnessing daily.
I also often talk about understanding the relatedness of issues in politics and international relations, it is just common sense that one requires to have that political astuteness.
Is Nelson Chamisa right or wrong to refuse to go to the State House?
History will judge his decision and perhaps writers will also write about it sooner.
But in the meantime there is zero confidence in what the government and the President are doing because of events of the past three weeks and the president’s track record going back to November 2017 when he took office.
After taking over from Robert Mugabe the President said that he needed a political mandate through an election, what is stopping him now from implementing his promises that include the repealing of repressive laws like AIPPA and POSA?
How do you engage in a meaningful dialogue when citizens are being pulverized by the military and compatriots are walking the painful road to cemeteries to bury their loved ones who would have died from military violence?
The President as the national leader should set a foundation that will enable the citizens and even opposition leaders to respect his office and trust his word.
Those around the President should speak the language of unity and respect not that of fear and intimidation because respect and dignity can’t be commanded, they can only be earned.
Politics is about winning hearts and minds through genuine and not deceitful engagement or through violence and terror coupled with fear and intimidation.
We have grown-up men and women even here who will uncritically support what the government has been doing, if that is the kind of advice the President is listening to, then this country is truly doomed.
How the President will handle this issue of dialogue will show whether he is genuine about healing the country or not.
Nelson Chamisa’s absence will not stop the President from doing the right thing, if at all this is an opportunity for the President to prove Chamisa wrong.
If the President sets the right tone by putting the right infrastructure for this dialogue, his actions will naturally force Chamisa onto the dialogue table.
The fact that ZANUPF zealots are angry about Chamisa’s decision is a reflection of their understanding that there can be NO meaningful deal without Chamisa’s seat on the table.
He represents over two million voters and their families, he is a main ingredient in any deal and in any genuine national dialogue that will be fruitful.
When the right atmosphere has been created by the President’s actions, Chamisa should sit on the table and put the country first, but that will require the right things to be done in pursuit of national interest and not partisan considerations or public relations optics.
Noah Manyika and Nkosana Moyo are attending today’s meeting, their demands are no different to Nelson Chamisa’s demands, they asking for the same principles that the President promised before the election and failed to deliver.
Therefore Chamisa’s absence should not be an issue if the President is genuine, dialogue is not about individuals but about citizens.
Any sane compatriot should be asking about the reasons why the President has called for dialogue and what is necessitating this dialogue in the first place.
If the President and his government had implemented the reforms that they promised on the election trail and reduced corruption, hired competent Zimbabweans in the civil service and put an end to nepotistic clan based appointments, this country’s economy would have taken off.
These issues will not be resolved by a political elitist pact at the State House, they will be only resolved by implementing the reforms that the President himself promised to attend to.
Britain that backed his ascendancy to Mugabe’s throne turned its back yesterday from supporting Zimbabwe’s re-entry into the Commonwealth and from supporting Zimbabwe’s debt clearance with the World Bank, Paris Club and IMF.
Will he be seeking dialogue with Britain again in order to get them back to fighting in his corner on the world stage as they did when took over?
If he does ask them for dialogue they will simply tell him to stick to the road map that he put out at his initial inauguration, these things can’t be fixed with cheap propaganda.
The President has promised 101 things since taking over from Mugabe in 2017 but he hasn’t implemented them, so the skeptical approach by people like Chamisa should not be divorced from the President’s own track record.
Dialogue can’t be in isolation of how his people behave and treat citizens and how they honor their word, it is called the RELATEDNESS of things in politics.
The President now has yet another chance to do the right thing, let us see whether he will surprise us and the rest of the world!
If he does, Chamisa will not have any reason for not joining his compatriots in trying to find a solution to this political crisis that is manifesting itself through economics.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker.
He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa Leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.
The recently departed music superstar Oliver Mtukudzi wrote the sound track for State of Mind.
It was recently nominated for a big award at the Festival International du Film Pan-Africain de Cannes in France. You can watch the documentary trailer below.