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Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
elections: Why the courageous Morgan Tsvangirai must now retire
David Blair, The Telegraph
August 06, 2013
View this article
on The Telegraph website
is a courageous man with a historic achievement to his credit. Despite
being assaulted, locked up, threatened and endlessly vilified, he
did more than anyone else to dismantle Zimbabwe’s one-party
state and force Robert Mugabe to contend with serious opposition.
founded the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) 14 years ago, Zanu-PF
held all but three parliamentary seats. Mugabe had swept 93 per
cent of the vote in the presidential election of 1996. However disappointing
the MDC’s performance in this latest contest, the era when
Mugabe reigned supreme and unchallenged is over forever –
and that is largely because of Tsvangirai.
too easy to criticise from the safety of London. But Tsvangirai
must now do the decent thing: he must resign his leadership of the
MDC and retire from politics. The case for his dignified departure
First of all,
Tsvangirai has lost
three presidential elections in a row. True, each of those struggles
was shamelessly manipulated and even according to the official figures
he won the first
round of the last poll in 2008. But life is not fair. In the
normal run of politics, a three-time loser would stand down. That
is particularly true if, like Tsvangirai, the politician in question
has led his party for 14 years. Mugabe, power-hungry and self-obsessed,
wants to be an eternal president; Tsvangirai can show grace and
wisdom by demonstrating that he has no wish to be an eternal opposition
This leads us
to the second reason why he must go. I will be blunt: Tsvangirai
has shown time and again that he lacks the qualities of leadership.
Anyone bidding to remove a politician as ruthless and determined
as Mugabe must be an exceptional figure. In particular, his words
must carry weight. Friend and foe alike must take him seriously.
Put simply, he must mean what he says. Does Tsvangirai fit this
mould, or has he always been a man of empty words? Sadly, the latter
I could quote
the many occasions, stretching right back to 2000, when he has promised
to lead “mass action” or “resistance” or
a “winter of discontent” and then done nothing at all.
I could recall the time in 2006 when Tsvangirai shamelessly urged
Zimbabweans to “come out in your millions” to protest
against Mugabe and then failed to come out himself. I stand to be
corrected, but I don’t believe that Tsvangirai has led a single
street demonstration against Mugabe since the foundation of the
MDC (he has addressed some illegal rallies, notably in 2008 when
he was horribly beaten, but that is something different).
And, most tellingly
of all, I must cite the dismal ritual whereby Tsvangirai threatens
to boycott every election and then (almost) always contests anyway.
As a consequence, Tsvangirai has torn his personal credibility to
shreds. Everyone knows there is rarely a link between what he says
and what he does.
election, after all, Mugabe had agreed a series of reforms. In particular,
he had signed up to the creation of a truly independent Electoral
Commission. Suppose Tsvangirai had said to Jacob Zuma and the other
African leaders ‘if Mugabe breaks his word and fails to carry
out these changes, I will boycott the poll and urge my supporters
not to vote’. Suppose his interlocutors had actually believed
him. Then the pressure would have been on Mugabe to deliver the
reforms. Instead, a wearily familiar sequence played out: Mugabe
broke the deal, Tsvangirai threatened a boycott, no one believed
him – and he duly contested the election anyway.
When not making
empty threats, Tsvangirai can say things that are plain foolish.
I could cite the occasion in 2000 when he talked of toppling Mugabe
“violently”, thereby handing the regime an opportunity
to charge him with treason. I could recall the time in 2002 when
he fell for an obvious ruse and was filmed discussing Mugabe’s
“elimination” with a shady “political consultant”,
who turned out to be in Zanu-PF’s pay.
In the end,
leaders must take decisions, stick to them and rally their colleagues
behind them. For all his personal warmth, Tsvangirai just cannot
of all, it was on Tsvangirai’s watch that the MDC split in
two. Think of the consequences of that divorce. First of all, there
was the sordid violence that accompanied the schism, with Tsvangirai’s
supporters assaulting his rivals.
Then there was
the fact that the anti-Mugabe vote has been split at every subsequent
election. If Tsvangirai had been the only opposition candidate in
the 2008 election, the fabled tidal wave of support, big enough
to overwhelm any system of rigging, might actually have swept him
to victory in the first round. But the presence of a third contender,
Simba Makoni, who was endorsed by the rival wing of the MDC, stopped
that from happening.
And what about
Tsvangirai’s performance as prime minister from 2009 onwards?
Sadly, his period in office if not in power showed up all his shortcomings.
A few MDC ministers made an impact, but Tsvangirai personally made
almost none. Despite having a majority in parliament (if the two
MDCs could have worked together) and a majority of ministers in
the cabinet, he failed to use these levers of power. Mugabe outmanoeuvred
or ignored him time and again.
a man of many qualities, but he has failed as a politician. He should
have the wisdom to admit as much and to leave the scene with honour.
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