Review of Citizen of Zimbabwe - Gift Mambipiri
Inside Tsvangirai’s Philosophy
Citizen of Zimbabwe, Stephen Chan, Weaver Press, Harare, 2010.
Review By Gift Mambipiri
The book consists of serious conversations between Morgan Tsvangirai and Stephen Chan, a professor of International Relations. The conversations are not in the ordinary journalistic fashion of merely seeking political sound bites, or of jumping from topic to topic ‘to amass an anthology of short quotes. (25)’. Tsvangirai was taken through concrete issues that varied from reconciliation to national healing and from internationalism to HIV/Aids. The author was concerned with finding out if Tsvangirai was more than “merely a charismatic leader of the opposition”; if he had his own intellectual agenda and political philosophy that he wanted Zimbabweans to believe in.
Tsvangirai first opens up to why he broke ranks with Zanu PF and Mugabe in particular “the greatest betrayal was my first arrest … and the reasons given really shock my confidence in Mugabe. I would have forgiven him before that, but after that I realized that the man I had held in a very high esteem could actually turn out to be the anti thesis, the real opposite of what I believed the whole struggle was all about.” (26) This was after Tsvangirai had spent six weeks in detention after ZCTU had supported students who had expressed disquiet over the Willowgate scandal as well as moves to create a one-party state. Tsvangirai is also taken to task on his party’s position regarding Pan Africanism to which he snaps back “one of the weaknesses that can be noticed in the post independence era is that African governments… have taken to heaping blame on the whites, on colonialism, without accepting their own shortcomings. That is why I think pan African solidarity has had a weakness.” Tsvangirai is often accused of being too close to the West, mostly referred to as the ‘Imperialist’, and neglecting to embrace the African solidarity and mechanisms in trying to help Zimbabwe.
The conversions also meander to the discourse on the value and duty of intellectuals in the Zimbabwean and African struggles. Tsvangirai is not satisfied with the current crop of intellectuals whom he accuse of lecturing workers and peasants through journals published from their mansions in low density suburbs. He argues the intellectual discourse on the continent is still misdirecting the true focus of African renaissance. Their talk of African renewal is still based on blame, on complaint, on the victim image. He thinks the new intellectual thrust for a renewal of Africa should be based on offering alternatives, to move people from the past. (35)
In dealing with plunder and violence which are asymptotic of Zimbabwe today Tsvangirai proposes a truth and justice commission which should go beyond what the truth and reconciliation commission of South Africa did. This is because “we need not only truth to be told but at some stage we need justice.”(49)
Tsvangirai also spoke of the various land mines that came with being opposition leader in Zimbabwe. “I have to miss death by a whisker a couple of times in my political carrier over the last five or six years” (53). But has always found inspiration whenever he ventures out to talk to the people and “I see they have invested their hope in me as an individual and the movement as an organization”. He also appreciates the role a supportive family plays when the chips are down. “I have found that having a loving family, a loving … supportive wife” can mean a lot when under persecution. The interview took place a few days before judgment day in his treason trial at the high court. He faced capital punishment if convicted on charges of seeking the services of the Canadian Ari Ben Menashe to eliminate President Mugabe. He sounded unperturbed and resigned to fate: “when I joined politics against Robert Mugabe I knew exactly the risks and he pitfalls, and I prepared myself for any consequences of this political struggle. So, should capital punishment be the ultimate… so be it” (57)
The conversations took place in 2004, more than a decade since HIV/Aids first manifested itself in Zimbabwe. This was a time when living standards in the country were declining – meaning lower nutritional levels and lower immunity to various infections by an HIV –sufferer. Morgan Tsvangirai, who first got to know about HIV/Aids in 1986 whilst studying in England, believes Zimbabwe has a high rate of HIV infections because it lacked “public awareness, public acceptance and political leadership over how to deal with this epidemic” (63)
Normally at political rallies, politicians bombard us with political rhetoric on carefully chosen party policies we are left believing they are the political messiah’s we have long waited for. If the statements are made via the press, we see a deliberate tread on populist party ideas set to win political converts. Rarely do we see politicians sit to defend and enunciate on the fine prints within and outside their campaign manifesto. But in these conversations Stephen Chan had with Morgan Tsvangirai just before his acquittal on treason charges in 2004, the Zimbabwean Prime Minister is challenged to reveal his view on many pertinent issues around Zimbabwe, besides the usual “Mugabe must go” opposition slogan. His intellectual grasp of issues and his political philosophy are brought to the test.