By Paidamoyo Muzulu
SEPTEMBER 2008 became a watershed date in Zimbabwe’s post-independence political history. Zanu PF signed a political agreement, Global Political Agreement (GPA) with the opposition MDCs to protect its stranglehold on power.
The agreement was facilitated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki. It was a difficult process but was delivered. However, a recent book — The Thabo Mbeki I Know, Picador Africa (2016) edited by Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu and Miranda Strydom — reveals some behind the scenes developments in the GPA negotiations.
There was no doubt that the opposition had won the 2008 harmonised elections. The MDC formations had a parliamentary majority (combined 109 seats) with independent Jonathan Moyo holding on to his Tsholotsho seat. Zanu PF was on the ropes and many sources confirm the late former President Robert Mugabe was about to throw-in the towel were it not for the junta that intervened.
However, since March 2007, Mbeki had been working to avoid Zimbabwe falling into a regime change for fear the same may befall South Africa.
Mugabe had offended the West by his haphazard land reform programme, and the big powers were ready to see him off the political stage.
Mahmood Mamdani writing in the foreword of the book says: “It was possible in Zimbabwe that the Western powers fine-tuned an alternative strategy for regime change — linking up with domestic forces in a pincer movement that would take full advantage of an internal crisis.
“That strategy called for building a grand coalition of three different oppositions, one within the regime, the second outside the regime, and the third within civil society.
He adds: “Welile Nhlapo point out that the Movement for Democratic Change was being sponsored through the so-called freedom/democracy programmes and that Britain was one of Morgan Tsvangirai’s main sponsors through the Freedom House.”
It is conceivable Tsvangirai had ceased to exist in Mbeki’s thoughts as a nationalist wanting to right the wrongs of Zanu PF. He had become a Trojan horse for the imperialists.
Minister of Presidency in Mbeki’s government Essop Pahad shares some behind the scenes developments about the GPA.
“They had decided they wanted regime change in Zimbabwe, especially the British. One of Thabo’s strength — or what others might regard as a weakness — is that once he is convinced that a position is correct, it does not matter who brings the pressure or how powerful are they or it may be, he will not be browbeaten or blackmailed into taking standpoints just because relationships with certain powerful people need to be maintained.”
Pahad significantly adds: “We all understood why a regime change in Zimbabwe would have devastating consequences for us in South Africa; they could do the same thing to us if they did not like our policies: they could initiate a regime change.”
This seemed to have been proved true when a year later after brokering the “unsatisfying” GPA in Zimbabwe, Mbeki was unceremoniously booted out of office after the ANC Polokwane conference.
It can be argued, Mbeki tried hard to protect the region, Sadc, from Western influenced-regime change agenda and the derailment of his African Renaissance project.
Mugabe ex-minister and opposition leader Dumiso Dabengwa contributed a chapter to the book, The Thabo Mbeki I know. He thinks Mbeki was outwitted by a sly Mugabe.
Dabengwa writes: “But unfortunately, I personally think that to some extent Mbeki was too trusting and did not realise that he was dealing with a cunning old fox, meaning that President Mugabe would listen with one ear and let some of Mbeki’s constructive suggestions fall through the other ear and continue with his manipulations.”
Dabengwa may have missed the growing tide of Western influence on Africa or may have underestimated Mbeki’s pan-Africanism. Mbeki had sat with UK premier Tony Blair and US President George Bush Jnr where he heard it direct from the horse’s mouth about the need for regime change.
One important lesson for the opposition in Zimbabwe is the perception and image outsiders (regional leaders) have of them. It is clear in the book that they are seen as stooges for the West, ready to reverse the land reform programme and above all be a bastion for neo-liberalism.
Secondly, the opposition is not seen as organic but made in London, France or Washington and exported to Africa under the guise of democracy.
Many who contributed in the book are of the view “regime change has brought disaster wherever it has been attempted, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria”.
It is interesting to note that Libya was attacked by Western powers with the support of South Africa under the leadership of Jacob Zuma.
Libya has never known peace since then, but at the same time the imperialists are busy looting its oil. After the heavy bombing, Libyans were left with a huge bill to fund reconstruction of infrastructure destroyed.
Zimbabwe was lucky that there was no military intervention even as records show — the matter had been considered.
September, therefore, becomes a month that Zimbabwe look at and see three things, the signing of the shortlived GPA in 2008, Mbeki’s sacking as South African President in 2009 and last but not least the death of Mugabe in Singapore in 2019.
Each of these events has significant lessons on regime change agenda to the region and Zimbabwe in particular.
The imperialists are not sleeping, they have unfinished business in Africa but the stature of emerging leaders has to be scrutinised. Are they ready to stand up to imperialists/neoliberals or they would acquiesce?
Unfortunately, acquiescence seems the easier way out and many are willing to take the softer route.
Looking back, Zimbabwe needs a serious debate on regime change, opposition and democracy.