27 April 2014

Dear Mr Big Man aka Morgan Tsvangirai

Dear Mr Tsvangirai

Let me set the scene for you. It's 5am where I am and I am supposed to be sleeping but here I am sitting at my desk thinking about you. Please disabuse yourself of the notion, I am not thinking of you in that way, God forbid. No I am thinking about you in a more banal and more realistic way especially now that I read you have been suspended from your own party. I am thinking of all your successes and failures. Especially the failures. Yes, to be quite honest, I am having a very difficult time coming up with the successes.

Let us see dear Sir, let us count them off one by one. You founded Zimbabwe's biggest opposition party and for what seemed like the first time it had ever happened, you stood up to Robert Mugabe and his party, ZANU PF. I remember the strikes, the protests and the stayaways you organised in those forgotten years of Zimbabwe's history, that autumn before the winter that would find us holding the remnants of a country. But how were we to know back then that the dollar would collapse, that we would wind up in queues queuing for our own currency, for sugar, for bread, for water, for dignity. Yes, perhaps in that autumn of our country you were the only one who could see that far ahead. You led, you protested, you told us to vote for you and those few that saw your vision voted with you for what you said would be change and a brighter future.

Change did not come.

Through no fault of your own Mr Tsvangirai. Understand this, we saw you beaten, we saw you holding your bloody head in front of the camera's. We read about your MP's who would be dragged out of their homes in the middle of the night only for their remains to be found days or months later. Or never found at all. We saw the offices of the Daily News bombed and then closed down, we read about your offices being raided and we saw the horrors you went through Mr Tsvangirai. How could we fault you? You more than anyone knows what it is like to sit within the walls of a Harare jail for having spoken truth to power. But already the tendrils of your downfall were planted back then. You see Mr Tsvangirai, people saw you as a plaything of the West, a puppet and not your own man. You know how hard it is to convince Nationalists in any country and any era to see beyond the borders of their country.

Even then there were whispers that you were not that clever a man, that your deputies fought with you and more. But we were entranced bythe image of our country go up in flames like rabbits caught in the headlights of a car hurtling at it. Some of us left. Some of us stayed. You stayed and you vowed to fight. And you fought.

And change did not come.

By then things got worse Mr Tsvangirai. Your own party had split into two distinct pieces, ostensibly over the issue of contesting the Senate elections at the time but there were whispers of tribalism and authoritarianism. You failed there. You failed to provide leadership in your parties greatest test against no other than itself. It would only get worse from there on. Confusion on exactly where your party was heading, your own leaders who seemed at times to contradict themselves, and just the general malaise that somehow Robert Mugabe seemed the more skillful statesman all 'other things' discounted. Even Ambassador Dell in his email to Barack Obama, which Wikileaks so helpfully provided the world with access to, described you as:
Tsvangarai is also a flawed figure, not readily open to advice, indecisive and with questionable judgment in selecting those around him
He ended his scathing analysis with the summation: "Zimbabwe needs him, but should not rely on his executive abilities to lead the country's recovery." You laughed it off but as The Guardian put it, those  "... cables were written by Americans, to be read by Americans and they form the undigested raw material of American policy." What should our policy have been then as we saw you raise your clenched fist for us to follow?

Then change almost came.

The 2008 elections failed to follow the normal course of elections. People vote. One person wins. One person loses. In our case, people voted and you and Robert Mugabe for all intents and purposes won and became the strange bedfellows that was ingloriously referred to as the Government of National Unity, though united you were not and governing was a side hobby to your principal pastime: fighting. Much has been written on how you could have handled an impossible situation better and I will not rehash it or even pretend how it must have been to work in a partnership with a partner who made every effort to pretend you were a nuisance that would go away if they closed their eyes and pretended hard that you did not exist.

But I will note that you spent those crucial years criss crossing the globe, meeting world leaders and making speeches from the podiums that stand at the centre stage of global politics. Unfortunately Mr Tsvangirai those podiums did not stand at the centre of Zimbabwean politics. You left a fractured party at home which you seem to have never tried to heal. You left voters to themselves and off you went on taxpayers money to beg for more money. You also spent those years embroiled in one scandal after the next. Someone was pregnant by you, another claimed to have married you and there were rumours of yet others. If you do not have the panache of the French, where Holland can be photographed on a scooter on the way from a night of pleasure with his mistress and still not only survive politically but be admired, I would have advised you to keep your laundry clean. Nothing riles a good Anglophone like the stench of a scandal in a politicians bedroom. Just ask Bill Clinton.

And there was more Mr Tsvangirai; the mansion, the perks, the money and grandstanding over what I called a flawed constitutional process. Mr Dell's words seemed to have become prophetic; you had become an albatross around our necks and as I listened to Freshlyground's Big Man, I thought of you: "Wear fancy clothes, drive big expensive cars...You do for you, just what you want to do.What's the solution? Material pollution!" Those suits fitted you quite well Mr Tsvangirai but perhaps they fitted you too well. No longer did we see the man who had raised his fist to the heavens in fury and promised change to the masses. No longer did we see any change at all. Instead we saw more of the same. A party riveted by fighting, an opposition that failed to present a united front in any sense of the word, we saw and heard fights between yourself and your deputies and we wept. How could you unite a polarized country when you failed to unite your own party? Perhaps when you met Angela Merkel you should have asked her how she united the opposition in Germany and swept into power. And perhaps asked her why she still refused to live in the Chancellors residence but remained in her modest home. There is power in symbols Mr Tsvangirai. You seem to have missed all the lessons.

Then change finally came.

But it wasn't the change you had promised Mr Tsvangirai. It was a change back to the way things were. A change that saw Robert Mugabe tell Grace to start redecorating because they were not moving out of State House any time soon. You lost the elections. Again. And those who had voted for you wept. And those who had believe in your promises wept. And those who had listened to you turned to you and preached to you what you had preached to us for so long and so consistently.


And you refused. You dug in your heels and refused. You blamed everyone from heaven's gate to the foundations of hell. Everyone except yourself. There was some brouhaha where people were beaten up in your party's headquarters. Yet more brouhaha saw those people suspended from your party for asking for a change in leadership. It has been a remarkable and spectacular failure of leadership Mr Tsvangirai. You failed to unite your party. You failed to lead it. And now that it was breaking apart you stood and looked surprised. Unfortunately Mr Tsvangirai, we are not. How can we trust you to lead us through the finer points of our country's great constitution when you seem not be able to agree on the broader points of your own party's constitution? What is change if it is not what you act? What is wisdom if you fail to learn tomorrow from today. What is leadership if you have failed to lead.

Bigger men have resigned over smaller things. Germany's President resigned over using his credit card while on holiday. What action do you propose for wasting the political capital you had gained and using it to beat Mr Mangoma to a bloody pulp? Bigger men have resigned over things distantly related to them. South Korea's Prime Minister today resigned over the ferry disaster that claimed the lives of at least 187 people. What action do you propose for drowning the dreams of millions of people Mr Tsvangirai?

Nelson Mandela stepped down to let those who followed him to continue his struggle for him. Mr Tsvangirai, follow his footsteps, gigantic though they must be for you. Resign and let us finally see the change you have promised to us for the better part of two decades.

Africa needs Great Men not Big Men.


Bongani Ncube-Zikhali
A concerned Zimbabwean citizen

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