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Man - Is the Mugabe era near its end?
June 26, 2006
morning, accompanied by an employee of a local residents' rights
group, I drove my Opel Astra rental car about six miles south from
the center of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, to a squatter camp
that had sprung up last year: a cluster of shanties made of road
signs, radiator grilles, and other scrap. A dozen people were standing
or sitting in front of the hovels, cooking over small fires, beating
laundry against rocks; a tall young woman, who introduced herself
as Nancy Mugova, was kneeling in the dirt with a baby tied to her
back, hammering rivets into the handle of a frying pan. She invited
us to sit with her in her dwelling -four feet tall, twelve feet
long, and made of corrugated tin, with a flat tin roof held down
by rocks. There was just enough room in the airless interior for
a double mattress (on which all five members of the family slept),
a cheap cabinet filled with ceramic plates and cups, a box of clothes,
three pairs of men's shoes, and two sacks of sadza, or mealy meal,
the Zimbabwean staple, which cooks into a thick porridge. Just in
front of the structure, the Mugovas had propped up an iron grate
over two stones; this served as their kitchen.
was wearing the white robe and white headscarf of a local evangelical
church, told us what had happened. Early one morning in mid-June,
2005, hundreds of armed officers of the Zimbabwe Republican Police
and the city police notified the Mugovas and their neighbors that
their houses were "illegal," and gave them thirty minutes
to remove what they could. Nancy Mugova, her husband, Israel, and
their children stood in the cold and watched a bulldozer demolish
the five-room brick cottage that had served as both their home and
their workplace, a metalworking shop. By the end of the day, bulldozers
had knocked down every structure in the area, destroying the homes
and the livelihoods of a thousand people. Most eventually found
shelter with relatives, or in rural areas, but about a hundred and
fifty people, I was told, had nowhere to go, and had built shanties
on or near the ruins of their homes.
that forced out Mugova and her neighbors was called Operation Murambatsvina,
or "Clean Out the Trash." It began without warning on
May 19, 2005, when police swept through street markets in downtown
Harare, ripping down stalls and beating and arresting hundreds of
vendors. The next day, the chair of the city's governing commission
declared that all "unauthorized" structures in the city
would be destroyed, claiming that they had become eyesores and centers
of criminal activity. The project, though, was a pretext for remaking
Zimbabwe's political map. Two months before Operation Murambatsvina,
the circle of security advisers who surround Zimbabwe's President,
Robert Mugabe, had warned him that the United States and the European
Union were planning to rally slum dwellers and small traders, the
backbone of the pro-democracy opposition, into a "Ukranian-style
Murambatsvina spread through Harare's slums, then to other cities;
as many as seven hundred thousand people were made homeless in three
months. The United Nations Special Envoy, in
a report last August, rebuked the regime for destroying homes
and businesses. The operation unfolded with such brutal speed that
it became known simply as "the tsunami."
Then, just before
the release of the U.N. report, the regime announced a scheme to
build thirty-one thousand houses and small factories and shops for
those uprooted by Operation Murambatsvina. The plan, called Operation
Garikai, or "Stay Well," quickly collapsed, amid allegations
of favoritism and corruption. A parliamentary investigation revealed
that fewer than five hundred houses had been completed in Harare,
where nearly half a million of the displaced live.
In the most
notorious case, senior military officials and civil servants loyal
to Mugabe-s party were given dozens of the houses which were
supposed to have gone to those who had been forced out. In May,
days before the first anniversary of Operation Murambatsvina, according
to the Herald, a state-owned newspaper, the police in Harare arrested
another 10,244 "vagrants, street kids and other disorderly
elements." A police spokesperson said that they would be "relocated"
to "homes" in rural areas.
came to power in April 1980, after waging a thirteen-year-long guerrilla
war against the white-supremacist regime of what was then Rhodesia.
For his first ten years in office, despite a pattern of repression
and the creation of a de-facto one-party state, Mugabe was widely
praised as one of the post-colonial eras most progressive leaders.
He guaranteed educational opportunities for Zimbabwe's blacks, who
had no access to most secondary schools and universities. High-school
enrolment, which had been about two per cent at the time of independence,
grew to seventy per cent by 1990, and Zimbabwe's literacy rate rose
from forty-five per cent to nearly eighty per cent in the same period.
Mugabe also tried to persuade the country's two hundred thousand
whites, including its forty-five hundred commercial farmers, to
stay. In the mid-nineties, when I was based in Nairobi as a correspondent,
a visit to Zimbabwe, with its game reserves and prosperous cities,
served as a welcome escape from the ramshackle kleptocracy of Kenya's
President Daniel Arap Moi.
changed a few years later, when the National Liberation War Veterans
Association, a group of self-proclaimed ex-fighters, pressured Mugabe
into giving its members cash, medical care, free education, and,
finally, land. In 2000, the government began forcibly redistributing
commercial farms and ranches owned by whites: thugs armed with clubs,
machetes, and rifles terrorized, assaulted, and, on at least a dozen
occasions, murdered the owners. Later, Mugabe told thousands of
supporters at a rally that his policy of reconciliation with white
Zimbabweans had been an error. "When you show mercy to your
former enemy . . . you think you are being noble. But, if you ask
me now how I feel about it, I think we made a mistake," he
said. War veterans and Presidential cronies took over most of the
farms, fired the black laborers, and, in many cases, ruined the
enterprises. The dismantling of Zimbabwe s farms, which had earned
about half of the country's foreign ex- change, precipitated the
collapse of the economy.
During the past
five years, thousands of businesses have closed. At least seventy
per cent of Zimbabweans are unemployed; up from twenty-five per
cent fifteen years ago, and in April the inflation rate soared to
over a thousand per cent, the world's highest. As many as thirty
per cent of secondary school students have dropped out, because
they cannot afford tuition. Mugabe's critics charge that funds destined
for H.I.V. treatment and education are routinely diverted to government
ministers and other high-ranking officials. One-fifth of the population
is infected with H.I.V., and an average of four hundred people a
day die of AIDS-related illnesses. The life expectancy of a Zimbabwean
woman has dropped from sixty-one years, in 1991, to thirty-four
years, the lowest in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
"What Mugabe has done to this country is despicable,"
Peta Thornycrbft, a Zimbabwean journalist, told me. "He has
destroyed the second-most-industrialized country in Africa. He has
wrecked the infrastructure, wrecked education and health care. His
only concern has been his own safety, his own power. He is a vain
man, so it's a mystery why he is not trying to do something about
his legacy. He must know there's nobody left who can write him a
I met Thornycroft
in a coffee shop on the outskirts of Harare. She is a gray-haired
woman in her fifties who has spent most other adult life reporting
from southern Africa. For the past four years, she has been working
in violation of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy
Act, passed in 2002, which has stifled most public criticism of
Mugabe and requires all journalists to be accredited with the Media
and Information Commission or face imprisonment. Following passage
of the Act, the government, prodded by its hard-line Minister of
Information, Jonathan Moyo, has jailed scores of re- porters and
closed three newspapers. Thornycroft was arrested in 2002, on charges
of impersonating a journalist, and now she has to be especially
cautious. "I can't take photographs, I can't interview people
with a microphone," Thornycroft, who files reports for newspapers
and radio in South Africa and Great Britain, told me. "Instead,
I'm always thinking, Oh, God, if I do that I'll wind up in the slammer."
The Daily News, which exposed corruption within the ruling party,
the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU- PF),
and the torture and beatings of anti-Mugabe activists, was attacked
three times; no one was killed or injured, but printing presses
and other equipment were destroyed. The Supreme Court shut down
the paper in September 2003.
critics have got bolder. The U.S. Ambassador, Christopher Dell,
gave a speech to Zimbabwean
university students last November in which he accused Mugabe
of "gross mismanagement of the economy and corrupt rule."
African leaders who once ignored Mugabe's corruption and human-rights
abuses killing dissidents, withholding emergency food aid from the
regime's opponents are starting to lose patience. Last August, the
South African government offered Zimbabwe a desperately needed loan
of hundreds of millions of dollars, provided Mugabe agreed to implement
political and economic reforms. After Mugabe rejected the conditions
attached to it, South Africa withdrew the offer. The refusal prompted
an angry warning from Mugabe to President Thabo Mbeki, who for years
had pursued a much criticized policy of "quiet diplomacy,"
to "keep away" from Zimbabwe's internal affairs.
is eighty-two, recently indicated that he will step down when his
term expires, in 2008. He is putting the finishing touches on a
retirement home: a ten million dollar, pagoda style villa, designed
by Serbian architects. But Mugabe appears very much in control;
he is still buying the allegiance of military and police commanders,
and the internal security apparatus, the Central Intelligence Organization,
keeps close watch for any signs of dissent. The country is widely
believed to be riddled with C.I.O. agents and informants. "Every
attempt at protest has been decisively crushed by the state,"
Raymond Majongwe, the leader of the Progressive Teachers' Union,
a syndicate that has supported the opposition party, the Movement
for Democratic Change, told me. "Mugabe has won it. He has
won it big time.
seemed to be the case on a blazing hot afternoon in April, when
Mugabe attended the annual Independence Day celebration at Harare's
National Stadium. Fifty thousand people were in the seats when Mugabe
appeared on the field, two hours after his scheduled arrival. Joined
by his second wife, Grace, who is some forty years his junior, and
his three children, Mugabe looked serene, in a crisp gray suit covered
with medals and draped in a green sash. He may have beggared his
country, but he is still the Big Man, the independence hero, the
African leader who had brought down the white elite; for the moment,
at least, the people were with him. He watched a parade of Zimbabwe's
Air Force, Army, and police, and, overhead, a precision formation
of Chinese-made Zimbabwean Air Force fighter jets. Then, for an
hour, he lectured the cheering spectators. He disparaged countrymen
who had gone to seek a better life in England, where many have found
jobs as low-paid private nurses. They were "the BBC,"
or "British Bum Cleaners," he said, provoking laughter
from the crowd. He shook his fist as he declared; "Anyone who
dares go against the security and stability of our country will
be inviting the full wrath of the law to descend mercilessly on
him or on those who follow him."
determined to retain influence after his retirement. The Joint Operations
Command - the military, police, and intelligence chefs who are Mugabe-s
most trusted advisers - is focused on insuring a smooth transition.
A possible successor is Joyce Mujuru, one of the country-s
two Vice-Presidents and a Mugabe favorite. Mujuru, who is in her
early fifties, joined Mugabe-s guerrilla army as a teenager,
in the mid-nineteen-seventies, and achieved a measure of fame during
the independence war by shooting down a Rhodesian Air Force helicopter
with an AK-47. "I lay on my back, aimed and fired,"
she recalled in a recent newspaper interview. "Bullets hit
the machine and it fell out of the sky." This feat earned
her the nom de guerre Spillblood. In recent years, she has compared
herself to Winnie Mandela. "My war experience changed my entire
life," Mujuru said recently. "I became very, very strong
and learned to make decisions and not to wait for men to decide
everything." Her husband is Solomon Mujuru, the former commander
of the armed forces and a Mugabe confidant. The Mujurus own three
commercial farms seized from white Zimbabweans, as well as the majority
stake in one of Zimbabwe-s richest mining conglomerates.
ascension, and the continued dominance of ZANU-PF, is not assured.
She must win the next Presidential election, scheduled for 2008,
and voting in Zimbabwe is not always predictable. The monitoring
of polling stations by human-rights groups and other independent
observers has made it difficult, especially in urban areas such
as Harare and Bulawayo, for the regime to engage in its traditional
methods of vote manipulation - ballot-box stuffing and intimidation.
Moreover, the Joint Operations Command is said to consider Mujuru
incapable of winning even a partially rigged election. The Command
may press Zimbabwe-s parliament to pass a constitutional amendment
that would delay the vote until 2010. Then Mugabe, just before retiring,
would appoint Mujuru as Interim President, after which the power
of incumbency would more likely allow her to win the Presidency
by a popular vote.
There are other
plausible scenarios. If unhappiness with Mugabe and his party grows,
the pro-democracy opposition could gain seats in parliament and,
given the right candidate win the Presidency. There is also a slim
possibility that popular anger will result in an organized campaign
of large street protests. John Makumbe, a professor of politics
at the University of Zimbabwe, believes that Mugabe has realized
belatedly that, "he has run out of solutions" and has
started to panic: "People see a paper tiger and they think
it-s real. In fact, it-s scared, wetting itself, with
its tail between its legs."
For the past
six years, hope for a democratic transformation have rested on Morgan
Tsvangirai, a high-school dropout, former nickel miner, and trade-union
boss from south-central Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai became a visible political
figure in 1998, as the chairman of a coalition of labor leaders,
lawyers, academics, church officials, and students which worked
to revise the country-s constitution. The reform effort was
stymied by Mugabe, but in September, 1999, its leaders created the
Movement for Democratic Change, which, chaired by Tsvangirai, has
mounted an unprecedented challenge to the dictatorship.
a charismatic speaker, and Peta Thornycroft described him as a gifted
campaigner, especially among the rural poor. "He arrives in
his red bakkie [pickup truck], and the crowd goes wild. For people
who have no lives, no hope, he brings a rush of excitement,"
she said. In June, 2000, the M.D.C. shocked ZANU-PF by winning fifty-seven
of a hundred and twenty contested seats in parliament. In the 2002
Presidential election, Tsvangirai, too, demonstrated that he had
strong popular backing. Opposition supporters were attacked, and
days later Tsvangirai was charged with being part of a conspiracy
to assassinate Mugabe. His trial for capital treason, lasted nearly
two years, and ended with his acquittal, in October, 2004.
who is fifty-four, lives in a modest ranch house set behind high
walls in a leafy neighborhood in northern Harare, several miles
from the city center. When I arrived, the house was crowded with
advisers, supporters and members of his security staff. A stocky,
moonfaced man, Tsvangirai met me just outside and led me to a bungalow
at the rear of his property. The office was lined with books - David
McCullough-s "John Adams," Nelson Mandela-s
autobiography, Rudolf Giuliani-s "Leadership"
- and was dominated by a poster of Mandela, which bore the legend
"There Is No Easy Walk to Freedom Anywhere." He was
eager to talk about the good health of the M.D.C. Eighteen thousand
people had shown up at the Party Congress in March, he told me,
one of the biggest turnouts in M.D.C. history. He was about to launch
another "massive" civil-disobedience campaign, he said.
At a funeral the previous day for Mugabe-s chief bodyguard,
who had died at fifty-two, possibly of an AIDS related illness,
the dictator had issued a blunt threat to Tsvangirai. "Just
eat your mealy meal and keep quiet," he said. "If you
really want to die, then [protest] and we will definitely kill you."
Tsvangirai was unfazed.
He was less
comfortable talking about a feud that had recently divided the Party
into two factions, which had raised questions about Tsvangirai-s
ability to effectively lead the opposition. The M.D.C. was always
a shaky coalition - a "giant umbrella," one opposition
leader told me. About two years ago, rumors began to spread that
a group of academics and lawyers, most of them from the country-s
largest minority tribe, the Ndebele (Tsvangirai belongs to the majority
ethnic group, the Shona), were plotting to remove Tsvangirai as
chairman and install a rival from their group. Members of Tsvangirai-s
personal security force assaulted suspected plotters, and although
Tsvangirai disciplined some of those involved, several opposition
figures charged that Tsvangirai had allowed "thugs"
and "criminals" to take control of the movement.
When I asked
Tsvangirai about the allegations of violence, he scowled and said,
"There was a single incident and I dealt with it decisively.
Twenty-eight people were expelled from the Party." That may
have been so, but the incident deepened conflicts within the M.D.C.,
and by the end of last year it had split. Tsvangirai is still widely
admired, though, and, despite many threats, he continues to defy
Mugabe. "He has overcome all the hurdles they have thrown
in his way, including sabotage charges, treason charges,"
John Makumbe, one of Tsvngirai-s strongest supporters, told
me. "He has refused to compromise."
urged his supporters to focus on Mugabe, "our common enemy,"
but the divisions in the opposition are clear. The next day, I went
to a rally of Tsvangirai-s faction in southern Harare. Several
thousand Tsvangirai supporters had gathered in a green square flanked
by the General Post Office and an OK Supermarket. The subject of
the speeches was supposed to be Mugabe-s abuses, but the rally-s
organizers had a different agenda. "We now have other people
who claim to be the M.D.C.," one local Party leader declared.
"We have to deal with such people before we tackle ZANU-PF."
He finished his speech with a vow in the local tribal language:
"Tinotanga tavagobara"- "We will stamp them out."
announcements of a new civil disobedience campaign attracted some
surprising support. A couple of days later, I went to see Jonathan
Moyo, the former Minister of Information, who in the past year has
turned from acting as Mugabe-s mouthpiece into being one of
his harshest critics. I was wary of announcing my presence to a
man who has put dozens of reporters in jail. (I had entered the
country on a tourist visa, and was working without accreditation,
a crime punishable by two years in prison.) But a Western Diplomat
had suggested that Moyo would be grateful for the media attention
- "He needs friends now," he said. Moyo was trying to
befriend Tsvangirai and organize a coalition of anti-Mugabe forces,
but he was regarded with little enthusiasm. "Moyo is lambasting
ZANU-PF, but he is in it up to here," Makumbe told me. "He
has never said, 'It was a mistake to belong to that party.-"
Moyo, a tall,
skinny man with wire-rimmed glasses and an owlish visage, met me
in the driveway of his large home, off a busy thoroughfare in northern
Harare. He proffered a stiff handshake and a nervous smile, and
escorted me into a sunlit lounge beside his house. He was wearing
a dark jacket and a white shirt, and he looked professorial; there
was nothing about him to suggest the ZANU-PF official who had terrorized
the press. He directed me to a sofa at one end of the room, then
sat at the other end, about thirty feet away. His teen-age daughter
poked her head in to ask about a family matter and he excused himself.
He returned minutes later with an apologetic look.
from the University of Southern California in the early nineteen-eighties,
earned his master-s degree in politics there, and became a
popular lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. In 1993, he moved
to Nairobi, as the program officer of the Ford Foundation, but he
left after four years to take a teaching post at the University
of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. (Moyo was subsequently accused
of embezzling eighty-eight thousand dollars of Foundation funds.
The charge is making its way through the Kenyan courts; he faces
similar charges in South Africa). In 1999, he returned to Zimbabwe;
a year later he was appointed Minister of Information, and quickly
turned into the regime-s most ardent apologist. (Makumbe and
others speculate that Moyo, having run into legal troubles related
to the alleged embezzlement, was desperate for powerful allies).
Moyo wrote jingles for state owned radio, praising Mugabe and his
land seizures as well as the national soccer team. He oversaw the
expulsion of foreign journalists, denied accreditation to others,
and threatened to charge several Zimbabwean reporters with espionage.
In return Moyo enjoyed many privileges, including a lodge near Hwange
National Park, the country-s most popular game reserve, and
thousands of acres of ranch land seized from a white Zimbabwean.
became too ambitious. In the run-up to the parliamentary elections
of March, 2005, he asked Mugabe to let him run as the ZANU-PF candidate
in his home district. Mugabe refused, having promised the candidacy
to an unknown female competitor. Moyo decided to run as an independent,
and Mugabe fired him, accusing him of plotting a coup. Moyo underwent
a sudden conversion: the regime's "spin doctor"
became a champion of democracy. "Mugabe was infuriated with
Moyo, and their relationship degenerated into name-calling games,"
Makumbe told me. As the parliamentary candidate of the United People-s
Movement ("We will rock them!" is its slogan), Moyo,
who had already made himself popular in his district by donating
computers to public schools, won the seat. On the campaign trail,
Moyo declared, "We are a young, dynamic society led by an
old, stagnant clique." After the election, he called the house-demolition
program "barbaric" and said that it was making Mugabe
a pariah in Africa.
Moyo told me
that he had intended to push Mugabe toward "genuine reform,"
but he realized after five years that the dictator was "incapable
of change." He went on, "He believes that the people
are still with him, that the only ones who do not support him are
those in urban areas who come into contact with Western propaganda
- the BBC, CNN. He lives in his own world." Mugabe-s
closest advisers, Moyo told me, were "tired people who have
failed to pass on the baton to a new generation. They have no ideology.
What they think about is their own security, about keeping the succession
an in-house affair."
Moyo is quick
to describe his falling-out with his former boss. "Mugabe
called me in and he said, 'If you leave the Party, that is
going to bring a lot of negative consequences on you and your family.-
He meant that he would unleash the Party and state machinery against
me, and make it difficult for me to operate, to live." Moyo
went on, "He didn-t specify what he meant, but his demeanor,
his disposition, the look on his face all said, 'You are finished.-"
But despite Moyo-s estrangement from Mugabe, M.D.C. leaders
shunned him in parliament, ridiculed his supposed change of heart,
and berated him for having served in the cabinet.
I asked Moyo
if he felt any regret about being part of Mugabe-s system
and sharing in its benefits. "The record will show that the
farm I got, I-m struggling with," he told me. "I
got derelict land, previously used for ranching, that did not have
a single building on it." In fact, Moyo said, Mugabe had offered
him a far better farm than the one he accepted. "I asked myself,
What would it mean if it came out in public that I had gotten a
huge farmhouse, with huge infrastructure? The house wouldn-t
be mine. It-s not God-given; people put their sweat into this."
Now, he said, he was working the land that the regime had allocated
to him, building it into a productive enterprise.
When I asked
Moyo about his role in suppressing dissent, he seemed to speak carefully.
"Various people who were part of the system, who were making
decisions, made mistakes," he said. "Responsibility
falls on everyone." But his antipathy toward the press remained
intact: "The foreign media acted irresponsibly. They made
a bad situation worse. In the 2000 elections, many news organizations
staged events. They believed their role was to expedite the downfall
of a dictator."
On a recent
rainy night in Harare, I joined a group of students from the University
of Zimbabwe who had gathered clandestinely to meet the country-s
newest would-be savior. The encounter took place in a drafty garage
at the home of an opposition member of parliament, and the seventy
young people in attendance were both excited and anxious. Political
meetings of more than four people without a permit have been banned
in Zimbabwe since 2002, by the Public Order and Security Act, and
although the odds of being caught were slim, everyone faced a possible
one-year jail term and a heavy fine. As helpers carried in bottles
of Bollinger beer, Coke, whiskey, and brandy and set them on a table,
Trudy Stevenson, a diminutive, gray-haired woman who is one of two
white members of parliament, said, smiling, "Grab your drinks
now, because it-s possible you will be spending the rest of
the night in a cell."
The man they
had come to see, Arthur Mutambara, is a tall forty-year-old, with
a high, sloping forehead and a skull so elongated that it calls
to mind a Giacometti sculpture. Mutambara became prominent in the
late eighties, when, as the president of the student union at the
University of Zimbabwe, he organized early protests against Mugabe-s
one-party rule. In those days, Peta Thornycroft recalls, Mutambara
was a straight-A student and a "hooligan," who tossed
tear-gas canisters back at riot police. In 1989, after weeks of
violent protests on campus, Mugabe ordered the University closed
and had Mutambara arrested and jailed for two weeks. "He was
gorgeous, articulate, humorous, warm, and he couldn-t have
cared less about the consequences of his actions," Thornycroft
told me. "He was everybody-s dream of a student leader."
Mutambara-s bravery was proved when he refused to kneel at
Mugabe-s feet as he received his diploma, in 1991 - the only
student in the history of the University who failed to show Mugabe
such obligatory respect. After his graduation, he went to Oxford
on a Rhodes scholarship. Then he moved to the United States, where
he worked as a visiting professor of engineering at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and as a consultant for McKinsey & Company,
among other jobs.
Four years ago,
Mutambara moved to Johannesburg, joined the Standard Bank as a director
for new technology, and introduced electronic cash payments and
Internet banking to a dozen countries in Africa. "My aim was
always about expanding my value proposition," he told me,
before the student meeting. In 2003, he quit the bank and started
his own consulting firm, the African Technology & Business Institute.
"I have the pedigree," he said. "I-m an
African, so why can-t I set up a consulting firm for Africans?
Why can-t I leverage my wisdom in an African environment?
We are sick and tired of being consumers of knowledge. We want to
participate in the construction of knowledge." He married
a Zimbabwean woman who had been raised in France and educated in
England; they have two sons. During his time in South Africa, he
stayed in touch with leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change,
watched Tsvangirai-s treason trial, and tried to mediate between
factions after the M.D.C split. In January, 2006, representatives
of the breakaway group called to ask Mutambara to become the faction-s
chairman and front man. He moved back to Zimbabwe, and the following
month he made his first political appearance, at the group-s
congress in Bulawayo.
had been away for a decade and a half, and establishing credibility
as a leader was not proving easy. His rallies had been sparsely
attended, and his speaking style drifted between stiff and manic.
Some critics portrayed him as a carpetbagger who was out of touch
with financial desperation of most Zimbabweans. "Mutambara
doesn-t even know how much a loaf of bread costs," one
student whispered to me as we waited for Mutambara to start talking.
The Herald, and the Mail, and other organs of government propaganda
were devoting extended coverage to Mutambara-s rallies, playing
up the rivalry between the two factions. "We were a cracked
giant, and now we-ve crumbled in two," Raymond Majongwe,
the chairman of the Progressive Teachers- Union, told me.
The ruling party couldn-t be more pleased."
Mutambara faced the audience. "Mugabe declares himself a liberator,"
he said. "But he now represents a negation of what those freedom
fighters died for." Zimbabwe, he insisted, had the potential
to become "the next Singapore, the next Malaysia," but
the economy had degenerated into one of "buy foreign exchange,
sell foreign exchange; buy fuel, sell fuel; don-t produce
- just be a dealer." Then he addressed the sundering of the
M.D.C. "The jury is out as to which one of us is legitimate,"
he said. "We don-t condemn the other faction, because
we both have the same agenda." A few moments later, however,
he spoke less generously about Tsvangirai. "All the people
around my brother Morgan say, 'He is an ignoramus, an idiot,
but he has the support of people.- Is that the right side
to be on?" Mutambara paused, and smiled. "My brother
Morgan," he said, "is sick in the head."
Zimbabwe, I met again with Mutambara, who had been introducing himself
to ambassadors from the United States, Japan, Canada, South Africa
and Spain. Thornycroft had called Mutambara "the best educated
political leader in Africa," and when I arrived at the house
he owns in northern Harare, which has served as a base during the
past six years, Mutambara led me into a den and pointed to his bookshelves.
He had neatly organized them into sections that reflected his broad
range of interests. There were science and engineering texts, African-American
history books, business manuals, biographies. (Like Tsvangirai,
he had a copy of McCullough-s "John Adams.") In
one corner he had filed the speeches he had given at Oxford and
at universities in the United States; in another he kept a pile
of hip-hop CDs. "Mutambara is not just a scientist,"
he told me, referring to himself, as he sometimes does, in the third
person. Mutambara apparently approached his life as an ongoing self-improvement
course. This methodical pursuit of excellence extended to his own
family. He proudly showed me snapshots of his infant son, who had
been born on January 12th, the month that Mutambara made his latest
transformation, into political leader. The boy-s two middle
names were expressions in Shona, Zimbabwe-s main tribal language,
Mutambara said, which meant "succeed in spite of adversity,"
and "revolutionary courage to self-transcend and live a legacy."
beguiling and smart, but he can also seem glib; and the sense that
he has flitted from career to career undermines his attempts at
gravitas. The role that he played in the late eighties, as a critic
of Mugabe at a time when almost nobody dared oppose the dictator,
had established his courage and integrity. But all this was long
ago. While Tsvangirai, for the past decade, was working for the
cause inside Zimbabwe, Mutambara enjoyed the good life abroad and
polished his resume, Tsvangirai has been damaged by intra-party
conflicts, but he remains the most promising of the opposition figures.
day, I had talked again with Tsvangirai. "Everyone is reeling
under the current regime. The sense of crisis is urgent,"
he told me, but added that he was "reconciled to the fact
that you cannot put a time frame to your struggle." His expression
was frank. "Look, we have had setbacks, but we are confident
we can rebuild the resistance and confront the dictatorship. I-m
an optimist, but I am a realistic optimist. You cannot just wish
people to be on the streets. You have to work for it. You have to
remove people-s fear. Building a movement is not a one-day
wonder. Come back in a year-s time. You will see change in
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