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By this time tomorrow, the people’s party could be no more

Africa’s illustrious uncle, Robert Mugabe, has perfected the art of political survival using the time-honoured tactic of divide and rule. Mugabe’s most precious lifeline was waking up on the morning of October 12 2005 to the news that the MDC had split into two formations. It was sweet music to his ears. Morgan Tsvangirai should have done everything in his power to avoid the split; sadly, he did not. For his sins, he is now reaping the fruits of failing to hold together the MDC as a cohesive unit.

Long before the advent of the MDC, Mugabe has with such deadly skill always exploited the dynamics that come with the divide-and-rule paradigm. First he divides in order to weaken. Once weakened, he moves in to complete the job, completely swallowing the enemy. In the Zanu vs Zapu years, it was not uncommon to find large contingents of Shona corporals in Matabeleland and equally an inordinate number of Ndebele officers in Mashonaland. Through years of sustained manipulation of sectarian interests, complemented by a long tradition of patronage, Zapu was eventually annihilated in the 1987 GNU.

For Mugabe, the MDC split in 2005 was therefore a godsend. It gave him the one answer he needed to all the vexing problems a united MDC would have posed. Those of us who have long concluded that the GNU talks were fucked the very day the two MDC formations came into being are not entirely off the mark. With the split came the opportunism and expediency sought by the one camp over the other — the very dynamic our illustrious uncle has meticulously exploited at every single turn.

That said, many have vociferously criticised Morgan for indecisiveness, even going as far as calling him inept for his refusal to budge on the so-called sticking points of the power-sharing/power-transfer negotiations. It was literally yesterday when all lauded Tsvangirai for his courage bordering on martyrdom. We regarded him as the embodiment of Zimbabweans’ hopes in what has now become an epic struggle for freedom. Today, Morgan is maligned for exercising his discretion on how to best ensure that the will of all long-suffering Zimbabweans is protected.

Part of the tragedy we share as a continent is that we tend to have such short memories. Far too many countries have lived through the euphoria of change only to be disappointed when the new leaders prove to be no better than their predecessors. If we are impatient with Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe risks going through the same disappointing see-saw of change-has-come-and-yet-nothing-has-changed.

Transformation is a delicate process with a high quality-control requirement in order for it to succeed. A transitional order that does not exorcise the elitist privileges of the incumbents in power, and especially those who will take over from them, will not be sustained for much longer before Zimbabwe reverts back to square one. Zimbabwe is not looking for a change of guard but a change of heart, a change of ethos, a change of destiny; a regeneration on multiple layers of political, economic and social governance.

In the face of the intensifying divide-and-rule tactics that Mugabe is exploiting to negotiate his continued stay in power (including the convening of Parliament this week), the warring MDC parties would do well to reconsider their self-interests. With SADC already disposed of, Mugabe now has his sights set on the two MDC formations, waiting to pounce.

There is a very possibility that by this time tomorrow, the MDC will have morphed from being a truly representative people’s party to one made irrelevant by sectarian interests. Indeed, the Welshmans, Arthurs and Morgans of Zimbabwe’s “opposition” would do well to watch Animal Planet and study the instinctive response of a beleaguered zebra herd facing up to the challenge of a lone predator. The fate of naive kudus sharing the watering hole with a famished lion, let alone a raging one, is a no-brainer.