The Mnangagwa voters should know

SPEAKER of parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa often creates an impression of an astute politician who appreciates the basic tenets of democracy and the rule of law.

No matter what misgivi

ngs people had about his democratic credentials, as Justice minister Mnangagwa contributed immensely to the discourse on press freedom, law reform and other issues.

He always supported the need to safeguard press freedom by removing undue legal fetters on our statute books to allow everyone to seek, receive and impart information through a media of their choice.

Although it is often said he has an authoritarian streak running through his political persona, Mnangagwa also seemed to respect our inalienable rights and civil liberties.

After all, that is what the liberation struggle, to which he contributed significantly, was largely about before it was hijacked by the current opportunists around the president.

We always hoped after discussing issues with people like him that the press — the barometer of other freedoms in society — would in the end be freed from rigid political and legal shackles.

Even as Speaker of parliament, Mnangagwa has fared well by the admission of all parties, including the opposition MDC. In this poisoned political climate, he has remained one of the few level-headed Zanu PF politicians.

He has avoided becoming part of Zanu PF’s reactionary cabal that has now become an agency of repression and constitutional violations. He also appears amenable to a negotiated political settlement of the crisis engulfing the country.

Given this record, it was not difficult to understand why he was seen by many as a worthy successor to President Mugabe.

However, we were dismayed by remarks attributed to him in an interview carried by a local weekly last week.

Taken as a package, the meaning of the interview, which has inevitably triggered controversy, was disturbing because it had undertones of emerging authoritarian instincts.

It revealed the side of Mnangagwa that might all along have been concealed by his ostensible attachment to democratic fundamentals.

In the interview Mnangagwa came out — unfortunately so — as an intolerant and shallow politician who is not only dangerous to himself but to others as well.

In some cases, he sounded unusually clumsy and unenlightened, leaving us wondering if indeed he had said some of the things attributed to him.

In one instance, Mnangagwa exposes what might be seen as wafer-thin democratic credentials.

“It is a crime to conceive the exit of the head of state. I love my leader (Mugabe) and I am committed to him,” Mnangagwa reportedly said. “I would love him to continue until death.”

Leaving aside this toadying bootlicking, which even by the standards of Mugabe’s fawning hangers-on was appalling, it was scary to realise he considers the succession debate, and by implication democratic discourse, to be criminal.

If Mugabe himself has said people can discuss his succession, why should Mnangagwa find it unacceptable? Is this not dangerous political intolerance?

If Mnangagwa becomes president, will people be free to debate issues relating to the political future and economic interests of their country?

Mnangagwa also re-ignited controversy over the Matabeleland massacres. In a bid to pass the buck, he claimed he “only supplied intelligence” and was not involved hands-on in the killing fields.

“I never carried a gun. I never commanded any section of the police, army, or support unit. I only supplied intelligence to where arms caches were,” he said.

This is about as disingenuous as it gets. How does he evade responsibility when his so-called intelligence, which included the thoroughly discredited Zero Hour Option document, led to the atrocities?

Zapu leaders, including Dumiso Dabengwa and the late Lookout Masuku, were arrested and tried on trumped-up treason charges based on his suspect “intelligence” which the victims claimed was gathered with the help of relics of the Rhodesian spy network.

Dabengwa, and Masuku who died due to the effects of detention, were acquitted by the courts although they remained in jail on political orders.

Mnangagwa’s “intelligence”, whi-ch was either profoundly flawed or simply fabricated, was thrown out as unconvincing.

It is debatable whether the arms caches that Mnangagwa refers to were really “discovered” or planted by the system in a sting operation.

There is no doubt at all there was a dissident menace — mostly against civilians in Matabeleland and Midlands, which had national security implications — but blaming Zapu leaders for allegedly not accepting “democratic decisions” after the 1980 election when they joined government and denounced rebels defies logic.

If Mnangagwa wants open debate, why did he recently refuse to have reports on the Matabeleland massacres published so that the facts can be tabled for public discussion? Let’s hope he is not trying to have his cake and eat it.

In the end, with his maladroit interview Mnangagwa simply inflicted political damage on his candidacy. Given his political standing, we sincerely hope that it was just a case of miscalculation and not a reflection of a politician so compromised by patronage he is now obliged to reflect the hardline mantras of the discredited power-brokers he has hitherto kept at arm’s length.

It would be a recurring nightmare for this country to allow politicians who frown upon democratic fundamentals, accountability and human rights to remain in the highest office. Zanu PF reloaded is not what the country is crying out for.

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