Although I am very hopeful and optimistic about SADC’s lame efforts to bring a solution to the Zimbabwean problem, any casual observer can see there is no way there is going to be a ‘negotiated settlement’ to the Zimbabwean issue. Too many factors militate against it.
Not that the principals are incapable but because the man at the center of the putrid state of affairs is not going to let a solution be found. It is clear that Mugabe is safer without a solution to the problem.
Mugabe is not going to retire or leave office. He is going to die in office to save himself from humiliation and prosecution. Everyone knows and can see that; so why Mbeki and SADC want to fool the world into believing that something might come out of their efforts remains a mystery. Already, Mugabe is setting preconditions for the talks and attendance by his proxies at the talks is getting erratic.
But Mbeki is not a fool either.
Mugabe needs the Zimbabwean presidency for his own personal security. Vacating that position leaves him open to arrest or, God forbid, even assassination.
Mugabe has caused the deaths of too many people; he has abused many more and is responsible for atrocities that are well-documented even by his own commissions of enquiry.
He cannot retire and live in Zimbabwe simply because there is absolutely no way he can be safe there and no amount of guarantees will change that.
Besides, he would be a serious liability to any person who takes over from him.
There is no doubt as to the amount of pressure that would be brought to bear on the sitting president to “do something about Mugabe.” That president would have the most difficult of times with the Zimbabwean people pressurising him and crying for justice. It would also be difficult for anyone to be seen protecting him from the people’s demand for justice.
There are also enemies outside Zimbabwe, and he knows it, which is why he avoids certain countries even without the travel ban on him. What happened to the late dictator Augusto Pinochet is still fresh in Mugabe’s memory. And guarantees of no arrest should never be taken seriously because other countries have what is called ‘the rule of law’ where such flimsy assurances do not stand a chance in court. Wherever he goes, the laws of that country would get him faster than vengeful Zimbabwean citizens.
No one should waste time discussing Mugabe’s immunity from prosecution. There is no immunity. Period.
The so-called Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) worked for South Africa but it will not work for Mugabe under any circumstances. South Africans were polarised and there were racial overtones. Much as we may deny it, the fight in South Africa was a racial fight, although politicians are fond of saying they were fighting against a system not a race.
A TRC will not work for Mugabe because his malevolence is deliberate. Who is he fighting in Zimbabwe? It’s just Mugabe versus the people. Like a cow in a maize field, he has been munching away at the citizens for no other reason than that they hold a different opinion from his own. Is he not fighting Zimbabweans, his own masters? Is he not abusing and killing the very custodians of independence and freedom; the owners of the land? Is he not maiming people because the people are telling him they don’t want him anymore? How will he explain his starving of old men, women and children because he suspects them of belonging to the opposition party? And if they do belong to the opposition party, so what?
And there are plenty of other things we don’t know about yet. They will become known the minute he folds his presidential sash and leaves State House. His ministers will talk; no problem there.
Then there are issues and incidences from the liberation struggle that will throttle him the minute he relinquishes power. He has a lot of explaining to do and many a grave will be dug up in and outside Zimbabwe. The man has no chance, for goodness sake. It’s just payback time and that cannot be avoided.
Going into exile leaves him wide open to arrest. Exile is not a guarantee because ‘if they want you, they will get you.’ It is as easy as that. It would be just a matter of time as Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio (“Tachito”) Somoza Debayle, found out. He was assassinated in Asunci├│n, Paraguay, at the age of 54, by a commando team led by the Argentinean Enrique Gorriar├ín Merlo. He was blown up and it is doubtful if they recovered every piece of him after that attack.
And, in spite of providing heavy security, how many times has Mugabe himself apprehended Ethiopian would-be-assassins near the secluded Gun Hill (Harare) premises of Mengistu Haile Mariam and wondered how they got so close with arms?
In short, there is no safe place for Mugabe; once he leaves the presidency he is a dead man. Because, unfortunately, too many people want to see him dead while more want to see him pay for his crimes. There is no such thing as a “former dictator”, only dead dictators and Mugabe is no fool.
Mugabe is also aware that no one can rule Zimbabwe with him alive and that is why he is going to die in office, unless his army removes him, which is unlikely, given the caliber of his generals and military leaders.
Mugabe is aware that no one can guarantee his safety and that nobody can really guarantee him immunity from prosecution in or outside Zimbabwe. If they do, they’d be lying, just to get him aside till they grab him.
Not only Zimbabweans but many people around the world would like to see Mugabe in the dock. His arrogance has guaranteed very few friends and the country of exile might cause to be a problem.
In Africa, South Africa appears to be the safest, in spite of its proximity to Zimbabwe. But would South Africans accept Mugabe to live in their country? It is not going to be an easy decision to arrive at and Mbeki is aware of that. Mugabe is not Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Exile is running away from your own people, isn’t it?
And does Mugabe himself want exile? Is he na├»ve enough to believe he can actually be safe away from Zimbabwe State House? The answer is ‘no’ and I dare Mbeki to prove me wrong.
In the meantime, Mbeki is having it both ways. Why should he hurry to solve the Zimbabwean crisis? Even without outside help, the Zimbabwean situation is reaching ‘saturation point’ and will inevitably straighten itself out. But the vultures are circling.
Many big companies in Zimbabwe closed down and relocated to South Africa and other countries in the region. Supermarkets are closing down because there are no suppliers. There is no food in the country. There is no fuel or spares. Zimbabwe does not even have money; it uses paper money like Monopoly and has no coins. There are no chemicals for water reticulation. Hospital beds, like supermarket shelves, are empty because there are no medicines in the hospitals. Patients are asked to bring their own food which they can no longer find in the empty shops. And South African business is watching, don’t you see?
Mugabe is going to go, one way or the other. He is about to expire, both physically and politically, and South African business is best poised to rush in and set up shop. They have the money; they have the means and they are nearest.
So Mbeki is not losing sleep over Zimbabwe. Either way it goes, he and his country come out winners.
We hear so much about the SADC initiative, spearheaded by Mbeki. Hogwash. SADC, with its united inadequacy, is too cowardly and unwilling to solve problems that directly affect it.
There is nothing to negotiate in or about Zimbabwe.
Robert Mugabe is the redundant culprit. If SADC is serious about solving this problem, they should just impose sanctions on him, just like the US and the EU did. Yes, people will suffer because of such sanctions but people have been suffering for a long time and there is no end in sight. Suffer we will because of the sanctions but the pain I feel while a troublesome aching tooth is being removed is much more welcome than the prolonged, drawn out torture of the decayed tooth.
SADC must do something to show a collective serious resolve in protecting and promoting the region.
*Tanonoka Joseph Whande is a Botswana-based Zimbabwean writer.