Bryan Mukandi
Bryan Mukandi

Proof of life, that’s what Tsvangirai needs

Recent events in Zimbabwe have reminded me of the 2000 Taylor Hackford film Proof of Life. The basic plot has a contractor kidnapped by rebels in a fictional Latin American setting. A negotiator is tasked with ensuring the contractor’s release. During the protracted negotiations, one of the things that the negotiator demands, before any payment can be made, is “proof of life”.

I have a lot of respect for Zimbabwe’s new prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai. He has made his fair share of political mistakes but he has demonstrated the kind of courage and political leadership that the country has desperately needed. I am also impressed by, and greatly respect the fact that he seems to have no desire to settle political scores. He is obviously not a vindictive man. Based on some of the photographs and video clips, which are in the public domain, one could be excused for forgetting that not too long ago, his new boss, the one with whom he seems very comfortable at times, probably had something to do with him being beaten to near death.

Rather than demand justice and mass arrests, Tsvangirai has called for healing and forgiveness. It would be easy to dismiss this stance as the only option open to a puppet leader. The fact that the security chiefs have had no qualms about publicly displaying their contempt for Tsvangirai and all things MDC add credence to this view. But I am not convinced. I think Tsvangirai is determined to be the adult in a place given to infantile behaviour and do whatever it takes to set Zimbabwe straight. For that, I commend him.

Unfortunately, there is probably quite a bit of truth in the old saying that “the path to hell is paved with good intentions”. It is one thing to take the moral high ground and set a good example but there is a world of difference between that and being duped. The sight of Tsvangirai and Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe’s minister of finance, doing the rounds for whatever financial aid they can get, bears a frightening resemblance to a couple digging their own graves.

The need for emergency food aid into Zimbabwe is obvious to all, as is the need for clean, running water and medicine. But one sometimes gets the feeling that the MDC has emergency and reconstruction aid mixed up. It has to facilitate the dispersal of emergency aid and do all it can for those who have been hit hardest by the country’s implosion. This could be done by a host of transnational emergency aid groups. But before calling for reconstruction aid, before going about the tough business of rebuilding the country, certain things surely have to be in place. There needs to be a type of “proof of life”.

What guarantees does the MDC have that Zanu-PF and the state’s security apparatus will remain true to their commitment to working together? If anyone, MDC rank and file know that Zanu-PF can be unpredictable. How wise then is it to raise funds that could be misappropriated or even used to undermine or crush the opposition in the future?

It seems as though the MDC feels that Zimbabwe’s greatest need is material. It is not. The greatest need is for change in how the country is run and how power is divided. Rather than going on fund-raising expeditions, MDC top brass should be working flat out at changing the country’s governing structures. Unless a new constitution is put in place, which limits the powers of individuals in government as well as the security apparatus, whatever money is donated to Zimbabwe will almost inevitably be siphoned off to a handful of individuals.

Worse still, if there is no change to the way the country is run, it will only be a matter of time before MDC officials blend in and begin to behave in exactly the same way as Zanu-PF people. No-one is incorruptible. Zimbabwe’s political system lends itself to corruption and patronage. If it is not addressed as a matter of prime importance, new members of the government could easily decide that it is better to be on the inside of a flawed system than on the outside, living on crumbs.

For the sake of the idea behind the government of national unity, I hope the MDC doesn’t give way until Zanu-PF give them tangible “proof of life”. Nothing less than a new constitution and the taming of military bosses will do. Otherwise history will repeat itself. Whoever succeeds Mugabe will turn into one just like him and all the suffering that has accompanied MDC’s rise to power will have been in vain.