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Dynamics of the GNU principals’ meetings

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Book Excerpt from: In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream, Volume III (Ideas & Solutions)

By Professor Arthur G.O. Mutambara

EVERY Monday afternoon at 2:00 pm, a day before Cabinet, which takes place Tuesday morning, we meet as the three GNU [Government of National Unity] or GPA Principals – President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and me.

We are running the country as a trio – a threesome.

There is no such platform as a meeting of just the President and Prime Minister, as the MDC-T propagandists and overzealous Tsvangirai advisers would want the nation to believe.

Three Principals signed the GPA; hence we govern the country as such.

Mugabe and I occasionally pour derisive scorn at documents that Tsvangirai sometimes brings to our discussions titled “For the Meeting of the President and Prime Minister”.

In fact, one day, Mugabe directly chastises him: “Why don’t you tell your surrogates that there are no such meetings?”

Tsvangirai sheepishly giggles in utter embarrassment.

The worst aspect of the Prime Minister’s advisers is that they give him complete documents to read in our meeting of only three Principals.

They neither trust the Prime Minister with mastery of the material nor the ability to articulate the relevant issues.

Hence, they neither adequately prepare him nor give the Prime Minister talking points.

No.

They give him long documents in complete prose and paragraphs that he is not conversant with.

He literally reads the material to us, clumsily and incoherently, for that matter.

One of my saddest lingering and abiding images of those Monday meetings is Morgan Tsvangirai, with his glasses on, reading to an audience of two.

Shame on the MDC-T handlers.

Sometimes, the MDC-T publicity operatives and their sympathetic media outlets, such as DailyNews and NewsDay, go overboard in referring to our weekly discussions.

They have misleading headlines such as: “Tsvangirai to confront Mugabe on Monday” and proceed to presumptuously predict what will happen in a ‘bilateral’ meeting between the Prime Minister and the President.

First and foremost, such a platform is fictitious. It is not a bilateral forum but a trilateral one.

Secondly, in the five years of the GNU, there is never an occasion where Tsvangirai robustly challenges Mugabe in our threesome meetings.

Because Morgan physically reads material drafted by handlers, when Mugabe challenges an assertion presented, he sheepishly recants and does not defend the argument or position in the document.

Why?

Because he is just reading and has not internalised the content and arguments.

On most occasions, when it is a critical matter whose efficacy I also share, I aggressively barge in and say:

“No, no, Mr President. The Prime Minister is right.”

I then comprehensively defend the proposition at play.

I can engage in such interventions and support more effectively if the Prime Minister and I share his material before our threesome meetings.

However, this does not always happen. The Prime Minister does not consult or share with me in advance most of the time.

Maybe it is because: “After all, it is a meeting of the Prime Minister and President,” as his inept and incompetent handlers occasionally posit.

Their affinity for a fictitious bilateral platform blinds them to the detriment of the GNU and the Prime Minister’s effectiveness.

There are other insightful aspects of our GNU Principals’ discussions, which not only take place on Mondays but as and when necessary.

We meet just the three of us – the President, the Prime Minister and me – without a notetaker or secretary.

This creates an interesting dynamic.

How do we keep records of our deliberations? How do we communicate our decisions?

We must address these logistical matters at the beginning of the GNU. 

“Ah, you are the youngest – the energetic Professor – of course, you will take the minutes,” Mugabe bellows in his distinctive baritone.

Tsvangirai joins in: “Indeed, who else can minute our discussions? That is your task, DPM Mutambara. You will also communicate on our behalf, as and when it is necessary.”

We then officially agree that I will document and share the deliberations with the other two for verification.

I will also speak on behalf of the three Principals on specific issues when the matters to be communicated are agreed upon and unambiguous.

Of course, this is a lot of work for me, but also a source of significant power and undue influence.

Light-heartedly, I would mischievously joke later in some setting: “Well, I can just write what I want and communicate what I fancy!”

Another aspect is the issue of who is more influential among the GNU Principals in their discussions.

Who is driving the agenda?

Obviously, the President and the Prime Minister have extensive positional power that they bring into the platform, compared to a Deputy Prime Minister.

However, in an open discussion, decisions, resolutions or conclusions are not arrived at by leadership positions.

They are achieved for their inherent correctness and efficacy.

Of course, these outcomes are influenced by the participants’ careful prior preparation, compelling and persuasive argumentation; intellectual rigour and sophistication; and mastery of the issues and nuances.

With that in mind, it is pretty evident that I have inordinate, if not excessive, leverage and sway in our meetings.

Furthermore, I am the Principals’ rapporteur and spokesperson.

However, our colleagues in MDC-T and ZANU-PF are slow in appreciating the impact of a lowly Deputy Prime Minister, who is way more intelligent, prepared and organizes than his two colleagues!

One GNU Principals’ session where Robert Mugabe is so miserable and vulnerable is in 2010 when he brings to our meeting a false internet report saying that his beloved daughter – the apple of his eye – Bona (named after his mother) was raped in Hong Kong.

In a quivering voice, a devastated Mugabe proceeds to read out the entire set of sordid allegations to us.

He is particularly irritated and annoyed because someone in the Prime Minister’s office has re-circulated the untested story.

It is a sad occasion for the three of us.

Mugabe and his people do not talk about this subject in public.

The claims are only rubbished three years later, in 2013, after Bona’s marriage to Simba Chikore, by a visibly upset Grace Mugabe, who asserts that her daughter is still a virgin.

In all our interactions with Robert Mugabe, I must confess that Tsvangirai and I let our guard down security-wise, in particular, concerning the consumption of food and drinks.

“We are jolly good GPA partners, aren’t we? So why the fuss?”

That seems to be our disposition, with hindsight, a foolish one indeed!

We are not careful about eating food or taking beverages at State House or any other venue where we meet.

Given later cases of the alleged poisoning of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, I am a bit circumspect and concerned about our probably naive and carefree attitude.

Eating and drinking at the same table and from the same source as Robert Mugabe might be safe, but accepting food and drinks on our own while waiting for him seems on the reckless side.

On 14 February 2018, Morgan Tsvangirai succumbs to colon cancer.

There is much speculation.

Slow-acting poisons can induce these cancers. Was he poisoned?

Was he poisoned during the GNU or even afterwards?

All these are speculative thoughts that do the rounds among paranoid Zimbabweans, with probably some justification.

As already intimated, in my interfacing with Mugabe during the GNU, he proves to be given to primitive gossiping.

He has rumour-guzzling instincts.

In addition to the ‘lunch paMereki’ story, another compelling and instructive case occurs when Morgan Tsvangirai is going through his women-chasing phase after the death of his wife, Susan Tsvangirai.

For just a week, he marries a woman called Locardia Karimatsenga (Tembo) – a well-known ZANU-PF member – and then parts ways with the poor lady.

At the peak of that drama, in one of our bilateral meetings, Mugabe says to me:

“Eh, ko nyaya yaLorcadia yave papi (What is the latest on that Locardia saga)?”

I just laugh and say:

“Mr President, you have the CIO. You surely have more information on this matter than I do!”

Clearly, I could not dignify that appetite for rumour-mongering and gossip-guzzling with a substantive response.

When Tsvangirai eventually marries Elizabeth Macheka – a daughter of a prominent ZANU-PF member (the former Mayor of Chitungwiza) – Mugabe has a field day.

In one of our GNU Principals’ meetings, he says:

“Vakadzi vemuZANU-PF kunaka, hamuvapedzi (You guys, there are so many beautiful ZANU-PF women. You cannot exhaust the supply)!”

Tsvangirai responds: “Well, we don’t ask for political party membership cards when proposing to these women.”

We all have a good laugh and proceed with the day’s governmental business.

About the writer: Prof. Arthur G.O. Mutambara is the Director and Full Professor of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge (IFK) at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

This is an excerpt from the book: In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream, Volume III (Ideas & Solutions), By Prof Arthur G.O. Mutambara.

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