March 17, 2003
[Ed. For those readers who may be unfamiliar with Zimbabwe, please read a short introduction to Baffour Ankomah's article that a friend of Swans wrote. Further resources are appended at the end of this article.]
"Morgan Tsvangirai is finished," Dr. Ibbo Mandaza, a former Zimbabwean cabinet minister now trusted political commentator, boldly proclaimed to New African five days before Christmas. There are some brave people in Zimbabwe, and Dr. Mandaza is one. For starters, he was the only one bold enough, against the public mood in Harare, to forecast the results of last March's presidential elections two weeks before it happened -- and got it right! Give or take a point or two, his figures (of 60% for Mugabe, 40% for Morgan) were almost dead on. The official results were 56.2% for Mugabe, 41.9% for Morgan. After the official results were known, even Dr. Mandaza's arch opponents took their hats off in congratulation for his accuracy.
Now, the same man is looking into his crystal ball and divining that the end of the road is nigh for Morgan. We shall see where his forecast goes this time.
Interestingly, Morgan Tsvangirai himself is making -- or appears to make -- the work easier for Dr. Mandaza. On Wednesday 18 December, he called his MDC party's members of parliament to an impromptu meeting at the party's headquarters and told them, on first hearing, "a very strange" story. It took political diviners like Ibbo Mandaza to read between the lines and proclaim it "not very strange" after all.
Morgan told his MPs (he was beaten in his constituency in the June 2000 parliamentary elections and therefore not an MP himself), that as the review of the Commonwealth suspension of Zimbabwe drew near (in March), "we have begun to witness a number of unsettling developments with regards to the way forward".
And what were these "unsettling developments"?
"One Colonel Lionel Dyke and his business associates," Morgan revealed, "are being used to promote an agenda that seeks to legitimise the rogue regime [meaning Mugabe's government; the MDC still refuses to recognise Mugabe's electoral victory a year ago, claiming it was achieved through rigging, a word even the Commonwealth with all its many agendas has refrained from using in its discourse on Zimbabwe]."
Morgan continued: "The names of Emmerson Mnangagwa [the speaker of parliament highly tipped as a likely successor to Mugabe], and General Vitalis Zvinavashe [commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces] keep on coming up in this dirty plan which we are told was endorsed by Zanu PF, the British and the South Africans.
"We are, therefore, confronted with this unholy and strange triple alliance designed to neutralise the sovereign wishes of the people of Zimbabwe. The cutting edge is supposed to come in the form of a summit between Robert Mugabe and myself. I am reliably informed that Mugabe is prepared to meet with me somewhere outside the country to discuss his problems," Morgan told his hushed MPs.
Something new always come from Africa after all! Sounding tough and pretending to be his own man, Morgan emphasised that "the Anglo-South African plan" would not even take off if the aim was to legitimise Mugabe's government.
The next morning, the opposition newspaper, The Daily News (which is very pro-MDC), reported Col Dyke as confirming to the paper: "I went to see Tsvangirai last Friday (13 December). He said he and his party would vote for a change in the Constitution that would allow Mugabe to go peacefully and would not force elections for two years thereafter. I took this message back to [General] Zvinavashe."
Col Dyke was the former commander of the Rhodesian African Rifles. After Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, he was asked to command the country's first Parachute Battalion. The Daily News quoted him as saying further: "I would like to see a peaceful change in Zimbabwe, and, as such, the vehicle of Zanu PF should be used as part of a transition to a peaceful change."
Morgan's revelations made good headlines in Harare, but proved pretty uncomfortable for his chief foreign backers -- the British.
Diane Corner, Britain's deputy high commissioner in Harare, quickly put on her denying robes: "The British government has consistently made it clear that it wants to see a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe. It follows that we have no interest in 'neutralising the sovereign wishes of the people of Zimbabwe'. Indeed, it has been the central plank of British and European Union policy to see those wishes freely and fairly expressed through the democratic process."
This was a significant development. The denial aside (Britain would deny it as a matter of course, so no news there), why did Morgan choose to go public instead of making his misgivings quietly known to his principal foreign supporters? Imagine Britain working with Mugabe (forget South Africa) to dump Morgan in this "dirty plan" (Morgan's own words). It is a funny old world, our world.
It needed somebody with political nous like Dr. Mandaza to break Morgan's code. "He is talking about it because it is true. Morgan Tsvangirai is finished. He really is," Mandaza bravely declared.
Looking at it closely, Morgan's decision to go public was born out of the stark realisation that the end was nigh, especially when, as he claimed, the British were involved in the "dirty plan".
"He is not happy, but the British are even more unhappy with him," another Harare-based political commentator explained. "They have now realised that he cannot deliver, and they want a new man."
Already, there are speculations in Harare that a group of church leaders are being groomed by the West to take over from Morgan. They want them to form a "Christian" party to be fronted by the churches opposed to Mugabe, whose membership covers about 40% of the population.
Operating on the belief that "religion is the opium of the people" (apologies to Karl Marx), the foreign backers, according to the grape vine, are hoping that where Morgan and trade unionism failed, religion might do better, especially given the fact that Zimbabwe is such a strong church-going country.
According to the speculations, some church leaders have already been flying in and out of the country, lining up the finance and the necessary foreign support for the launch.
Which makes Morgan's revelation of "a dirty plan" endorsed by Britain in cahoots with Zanu-PF and South Africa to "neutralise the sovereign wishes of the people of Zimbabwe", a bit difficult to reconcile with the "grooming of the church leaders".
But if true, Morgan would not be the first, and certainly not the last, African "leader" to be so dumped by his foreign backers. The continent's post-independence history is replete with such spectacular "dumpings".
Again, if true, the British might be taking desperate pre-emptive measures as the greatest danger to Morgan's political ambitions is just around the corner in the shape of a treason trial that will make or break him.
This month (February), Morgan and two of his MDC colleagues -- Prof Welshman Ncube (secretary general of the party) and Ranson Gasela (the party's agricultural spokesman) -- will be arraigned before court in the treason trail regarding the Ben-Menashe video tape in which Morgan and the MDC allegedly hired Ari Ben-Menashe's Canadian-based political consultancy firm, Dickens & Madson, to arrange the assassination of President Mugabe ahead of last March's presidential elections (see New African, April 2002, p24-27).
After a year's delay due to the logjam of cases in the Zimbabwean legal system, the trial is finally expected to open this month. Barring any further delay, February is going to be a very exciting month in Harare.
"We can't wait," a top government official told New African. "We've been frustrated ourselves by the delay."
Which is quite contrary to the view of the opposition at home and abroad, which claims that the "treason charges were a political gimmick" contrived by the government to win votes for Mugabe in last March's presidential election.
When the news of the tape broke on 13 February last year, 12 days to the presidential election, it was roundly rubbished in the West (in both government and media circles). But the Australian TV station, SBS, which first broke the news by airing an edited version of the six-hour tape on 13 February, stuck to its guns. Morgan denied any wrongdoing and sued in Australia, but nothing was heard of the case.
The tape was recorded in Montreal, Canada, at the third meeting between Morgan and Dickens & Madson on 4 December 2001. "The meeting begins at approximately 8.53 am," the SBS reported. "This tape records continuously for six hours. Tsvangirai remains all day until about 2 pm in the offices of Dickens & Madson, and later shares the birthday cake of Ari Ben-Menashe."
Ben-Menashe (who later crossed the carpet to Mugabe's side) claimed that his company was promised US$500,000 and lucrative government contracts (when Tsvangirai came to power) to arrange the assassination of Mugabe, "because Tsvangirai did not think that he could win the presidential election."
"Rubbish", Morgan said. But in his vigorous denial, he admitted that he had in fact attended a meeting in Montreal but for fundraising purposes. The MDC, he added, had only "hired Dickens & Madson to help build the MDC's image abroad but mainly in North America where Mugabe was said to be winning the propaganda war through its lobbyist group, Cohen and Woods".
When asked on South African TV, SABC, if he had suspected at any given time that there was a recording taking place, Morgan retorted: "How can you suspect a company that you have hired yourself to be recording you? I mean, it's crazy. And on the question of assassination, how can you talk about assassination with a lobby group? Are they an assassination group or some Mafia? It's never occurred to me that such an issue would be relevant in that discussion."
Since then, journalists (including those on New African, and the British papers, The Guardian and The Sunday Times) who have had access to all six hours of tape have said it appears to be "very genuine". Mark Barkham of The Guardian, after seeing the unedited tape, reported that "there is no obvious sign that the sound or sequences have been tampered with". The Sunday Times agreed: "The tape revealed no sign of obvious doctoring. Scenes do not jump or appear out of sequence."
Despite rubbishing the tape when the news broke last February, the British authorities yet know of its highly incriminating nature, and the serious threat it poses to Morgan's political career. If his recent revelations about British involvement in a "dirty plan" to undo him is true, it may have come from a realisation by London that there was no virtue in waiting to be hit in the eye. "Permanent interests, not permanent friends" is the foundation stone of Western foreign policy. So why wait for the bad day, when you can find yourself a replacement now?
According to government sources in Harare, the prosecution in the treason trial does not have only the Ben-Menashe tape, but more besides, including an audio tape recorded by the country's Air Force commander, General Pretence Shiri, to back up its case in court.
The MDC is alleged to have sent a delegation to the home of General Phiri to recruit him into the coup against Mugabe. If true, it shows the utter naivety and political immaturity of the MDC.
Gen Shiri was one of the leading commanders of Zimbabwe's liberation war, a war which had land redistribution at its core. Having spent years in the bush with Mugabe forces, Shiri has risen to become one of the dyed in the wool Mugabe loyalists. To imagine that such a man would turn tail on the say-so of the MDC -- a party regarded by Zimbabwean nationalists as "a stooge of the British" -- beggars belief.
Not only that. To fix the meeting, Shiri is said to have been contacted on the phone by the MDC. Initially taken aback by the call, Shiri is said to have recovered quickly to demand that the meeting take place in his home and nowhere else. The MDC foolishly agreed, giving him time to set up his recording equipment. When the delegation arrived, they knew nothing of it, until it became an open secret last February (at the time of the Ben-Menashe tape) that Shiri had handed his tape over to the government immediately after the meeting.
All this -- combined with recent inside-fighting within the MDC and heavy losses in both local, and parliamentary by-elections -- has sent jitters through Morgan's local and foreign backers. Recently, the MDC even had to resort to strong-arm tactics to silence one of its own, the MP Munyaradzi Gwisai. He was expelled from the party for publicly lambasting the leadership for losing direction and for its intolerance to divergent views. So, the grass is not greener on the other side after all!
In Zimbabwe, like most countries, treason carries a death penalty. If found guilty, Morgan and his two colleagues might well receive presidential pardons from the man they so despise and save themselves an appointment with the hangman.
If found not guilty, Morgan would receive a major boost to his political career. But so far, the odds are staked high against him, and his political future lies delicately in the hands of the courts.
· · · · · ·
Zimbabwe: Life After The Election - by Baffour Ankomah (Sept. 2002)
Wholly Derelict Journalism: Letter to the Editor - by Alex Jay Berman (Sept. 2002)
My Journalistic Dereliction: Response to Mr. Berman's Letter - by Gregory Elich (Sept. 2002)
The Anti-Mugabe Brigade - by Gilles d'Aymery (Sept. 2002)
Zimbabwe Under Siege - by Gregory Elich (Aug. 2002)
Baffour Ankomah is the Editor of New African, a British-based magazine published by IC Publications, an international publications company, founded in London 40 years ago. With offices in New York and Paris, the IC group specializes in producing newsletters, magazines, special supplements and reports on Africa and the Middle East. In addition to New African the IC Group publishes two other magazines, African Business and The Middle East. In April 2002, Baffour Ankomah made a "world exclusive interview" with President Mugabe which was published in the May issue of New African. Parts of the interview were extensively reported by all the major agencies -- AFP, Reuters, BBC, CNN and scores of other newspapers and magazines around the world. In addition, New African published extensive excerpts of Gregory Elich's article, Zimbabwe Under Siege, in its October 2002 issue. Earlier this year Ankomah returned to Zimbabwe. This article was first published in the February 2003 issue of the magazine. It is republished here with the generous and kind courtesy of the author.
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