PRESIDENT Mugabe’s speech at the opening of parliament on Tuesday attracted the same kudos from trusted praise singers who were quick to attach tags such as “progressive” and “groundbreaking” to it but overall he said what we generally expected him to say.
That is to say the Presidential speech was the same old monotonous monologue promising hope, food on the table for the poor, enhanced social services, provision of water and electricity, dealing with corruption, fighting HIV and Aids and improving foreign relations. It basically promised a better livelihood without changing fundamentals on the ground.
As usual Mugabe trained his guns on the West and other enemies whom he accused of trying to effect illegal regime change in Zimbabwe. All in all this was a speech we have heard before and whose supposed punchlines have become empty clichÃ©s because listeners now find it hard to believe anything promising prosperity, especially coming from the Zanu PF government.
In concluding his speech, Mugabe tried to put his best foot forward to set the tone for national recovery and healing. He said: “I wish to urge all Zimbabweans to rekindle the spirit of national pride and self-belief as we strive to build a strong and united prosperous Zimbabwe. Let us exert our full effort towards raising our country and its flag in the manner our Olympic team has done in Beijing.”
Unfortunately for Mugabe, he cannot marshal the collective strength of the nation to rebuild this country as he did with state resources to protect his throne after his defeat in March. The attempt to rally the nation to support a recovery programme under his leadership will fail as it has done in the past because Mugabe today is not the epitome of social progress and trailblazer to national recovery.
There is however still the false belief that our political leadership despite a myriad of shortcomings is joined at the hip with the whole nation. It is primarily about the relationship between, on the one hand, the leader promising a pot of gold and on the other hand, followers who want nothing so much as to just believe.
Not any more. The sinews of attachment have been severed and no blandishments of electoral victory, legitimacy of the throne and conspiracies of neo-colonial plots can restore this engagement with the people. We have a nation that is now determined to defy Zanu PF’s administration at every turn and the evidence is abounding.
We tend to think of defiance in openly hostile terms, the way MDC MPs barracked Mugabe during his address on Tuesday or street demonstrations and other more visible forms of resistance. These the state can put down easily through the use of concomitant force.
But the biggest resistance to Mugabe’s regime has been refusal by Zimbabweans to conduct themselves as required by his policies. The illegal trade in foreign currency, corruption in government, bureaucratic truancy among civil servants and people charging rentals, goods and services in foreign currency all point towards a silent revolution that cannot be put down. Has Mugabe not spoken strongly against all these ills? It is not just his opponents who have raised the sceptre of resistance but his supporters and lieutenants are on board —— indeed leading the way.
In parliament on Tuesday rowdy MDC deputies sang and interjected. They did not want to give Mugabe a chance to speak. But at various fora Mugabe has been given the opportunity to speak without any interruption but the evidence is abounding that his calls for national recovery and healing no longer resonate with national sentiment. Instead of drowning out the president’s voice with a cacophony of disapproval many have simply looked the other way.
The country, I believe is crying for an alternative voice to communicate strategy and unite the nation. Mugabe’s voice alone can no longer achieve this. The faltering dialogue process was a unique opportunity to retire the voice of Mugabe and to introduce a fresh tone to rally the nation forward.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai provides that alternative voice notwithstanding his moments of weakness and errors of judgement. He needs to start talking to the nation as leader of a party which controls the nation’s principal democratic institution, the House of Assembly. This is what the people are waiting for and not the soporific adverts on radio and TV expounding Mugabe’s virtues and pleading with the nation to support his efforts for unity. Not many have been recruited into Mugabe’s fight.
It is important to note that people follow a leader when they have confidence in his plans. They do not just follow, they work, they sacrifice and they won’t give up. Leaders have two important characteristics; first they are going somewhere and secondly, they are able to persuade the people to go with them. As an old Chinese axiom says; “he who thinks he leads when no one is following is just taking a walk”.
By Vincent Kahiya