The Big Saturday Read: Reflections on the Maputo Summit in Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections
Alex T. Magaisa
Located close to the southern tip of a vast country which stretches down the south-eastern coast of Africa, the city of Maputo’s architecture tells a heavy story of a slow recovery from a difficult and tempestuous start to life after independence. The very old and dilapidated sits uncomfortably with the new and promising. In this regard, it is probably a fair reflection of the rest of the country, which suffered the calamity of years of civil war after independence in 1975.
Yet, for a Zimbabwean, there is something deeply alluring about Maputo and Mozambique in general. You feel a strange kind of familiarity even though you have never been to the place before, a feeling of being at home. It might have something to do with the close history of our nations, the fact that at some point in the distant past we were one people under the vast Munhumutapa Empire which, at the zenith of its glory, stretched all the way to the Indian Ocean. But the proximity is much closer in time. This was the place that hosted a generation of Zimbabwean nationalists under ZANU and ZANLA, its guerrilla army. From here, they prosecuted the struggle against colonial rule in the 1970s. Many sons and daughters of Zimbabwe who never returned home lie buried in Mozambican soil. To us Zimbabweans, it is also home.
I’m in awe of what the people of Mozambique did for us, the great sacrifices they made on our behalf. I was in awe of Samora Machel, the charismatic leader who was tragically killed in an air crash in 1986. The memory remains firmly etched in the mind’s archives. And so, when we landed in Maputo in the evening of 14 June 2013, it was a moment to savour, a personal milestone. Finally, I was in Mozambique. I took in the air. It was warm and humid, thick with the scent of the vast Indian Ocean. In the silence of the heart, I said thank you to the people of Mozambique.
But there was work to be done. I was not here as a tourist. That would be for another time, a promise still unfulfilled but not forgotten. There were serious political matters at stake. The irony was that the country which had played such a crucial role in Zimbabwe’s liberation was yet again playing host to an important summit, specially convened to help resolve the long-running crisis in its western neighbour. And one of the key actors from back in the day, Robert Mugabe, was still part of the political equation and was returning ‘home’ to resolve a political dispute.
The importance of Maputo
The Maputo Summit was an important occasion in the diary of events leading up to the July 31 elections in Zimbabwe. It was a tense occasion, held on 15 June 2013 in the Mozambican capital, just six weeks before the seminal poll. Maputo demands a chapter of its own because it reveals a great deal about the political dynamics of the time and around the July 31 elections. The story of the July 31 elections is one that needs to be recorded, if anything for the sake of adding to the current versions of the nation’s political history. But as I always say, it is not idle history: there are lessons to be drawn, even as Zimbabwe prepares for yet another election in 2018. Why was the Maputo Summit convened by SADC? What did it achieve? Was it really a success for the opposition? What really happened? What lessons can be drawn from that occasion?
To my mind, Maputo was one of those occasions that command a simultaneous description of beautiful and ugly. I realised even before we left the conference centre that we were treading on very slippery ground, principally because, although our position had gained the support of SADC, our adversaries had retained control of the process. The devil was in the detail, which we did not control and it gave us a victory that was destined to fail. The outcome did nothing to alter ZANU PF’s power and influence in the process leading to the elections. The politics of the day warranted a positive tone, but deep down, as we flew back home, I felt that Maputo had cheated us. I saw little cause for celebration and subsequent events were to prove that this pessimism was not misplaced.
How the Maputo Summit was convened
It is useful to give some background to the Maputo Summit. It was largely the result of intense lobbying on the part of the MDC parties in response to ZANU PF’s push for early elections without proper electoral reforms. President Mugabe and ZANU PF were not interested in a SADC Summit. In fact, they were not interested in the involvement of SADC at all, even though the regional body − as guarantor to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) − had a key role in ensuring Zimbabwe was ready for credible elections. South Africa, appointed by SADC, had been the political curator for Zimbabwe since the 2008 GPA. A key objective of the GPA was that it would work towards a “lasting solution” to Zimbabwe’s political troubles. In our view, it was imperative for SADC, as political curator, to oversee the winding up of the GPA and ensure that the principal long-term objective had been achieved. What’s more, the election process was a critical part of this winding up process.
This role had become more urgent and necessary in light of the fact that President Mugabe and ZANU PF were acting unilaterally and without regard to their GPA partners in the push for early elections. It was important for the GPA’s guarantor to carry out an audit of the GNU to ensure that Zimbabwe was ready for an election that would deliver a lasting solution. However, once President Mugabe and ZANU PF began the relentless push towards early elections, ignoring reforms required under the new Constitution, we believed it was necessary for SADC to get involved. We felt ZANU PF was being arrogant and stubborn in an effort to avoid the constitutionally mandated reforms after the new Constitution was adopted at a referendum on 16 March 2013. ZANU PF had opposed a lot of the constitutional reforms which affected the political environment. But once they had lost that battle and conceded to the new Constitution, they shifted the fight to the next phase, which concentrated on avoiding the effects of those constitutional reforms. This could only be achieved by holding an early election, before the reforms could be implemented to change the election machinery and infrastructure and the broader political culture.
It might be said that we were over-relying on SADC, but those were the political dynamics of the day: SADC was an important player in our politics at the time; it had led us into the GNU and now that the GNU was coming to an end, it was only natural that the regional body should be involved. Besides, SADC was also the guarantor of the GPA, alongside the AU. It was necessary, therefore, for SADC to get involved in the situation because we were sure a rushed election would be controversial and would produce a disputed result, which would not provide a “lasting solution” to Zimbabwe’s problems. Given Zimbabwe’s collapse over the past three years, hindsight tells us that we were not wrong in our assessment. We had foreseen the costs of an election that lacked credibility and communicated them to ZANU PF and to SADC. We had written a detailed letter to SADC and outlined the reasons why we thought an election by July 31 was improper, citing the legal and practical reasons for this impossibility.
We strongly believed that ZANU PF had a hand in the constitutional application by Jealousy Mawarire which had led to the Supreme Court setting a deadline for the elections. ZANU PF’s strategy, we thought, was to take the matter of setting election dates away from the political arena, which was controlled by the GPA parties acting collectively, into the arena of the courts, where other parties had no control. With a favourable decision, ZANU PF would plead deference to the courts of law and even cite the rule of law. As it happened, the Supreme Court had given them a favourable judgement setting a deadline for elections, using reasoning that we believed was severely flawed and disagreeable. One of the great ironies of the time was seeing ZANU PF, a serial violator of the rule of law, waving the same rule of law argument as justification for an early election, arguing the government could not disobey a Supreme Court judgment.
It was on this basis that SADC convened the Extraordinary Summit in Maputo. There was a lot of concern in the SADC region over the escalation of tensions in Zimbabwe and it was not surprising that the requests for an extraordinary summit were eventually accepted and the summit was convened on 15 June 2013. Since this was a result of lobbying by the MDCs against serious ZANU PF opposition, simply convening the Maputo Summit was a diplomatic coup for us.
To bolster ZANU PF’s position ahead of Maputo, President Mugabe had, in the week leading up to the Summit, unilaterally set election dates and amended the Electoral Law using the authoritarian tool of the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act. Using this draconian law from the old constitutional order demonstrated the headstrong and unilateral approach that ZANU PF was taking towards elections, showing that they were in no mood for negotiations with their GPA partners. The unilateral setting of election dates by President Mugabe in the week before the Maputo Summit came as a complete shock to MDC ministers, who had agreed to the Electoral Law reforms just a day before in the belief that they would be taken through the normal legislative process. This trust in Mugabe and ZANU PF had been misplaced.
Personally, I had anticipated this scenario, in which President Mugabe would use the Presidential Powers Act and avoid the normal legislative route for electoral reforms. Unfortunately, advice on this issue was not received and once MDC ministers had agreed in cabinet to the Electoral Law amendments, Mugabe had carte blanche to do as he pleased. This is why he went on to use his powers under the Presidential Powers Act. It was unlawful and unconstitutional for him to do so, but I had advised that this illegality would not deter him. At it happened, President Mugabe behaved precisely as I had anticipated he would do. We could have pre-empted this move, but the opportunity was missed because politicians trusted Mugabe to follow the correct legal process. Since I strongly believed that President Mugabe could not be trusted and would use a decree, I had circulated a paper entitled “Why the use of the Presidential Powers Act to amend the Electoral Law would be unconstitutional”. This paper remains on record. Later, when colleagues asked, I said, when you deal with Mugabe and ZANU PF, you must always think of the worst possible thing they might do because they are most likely to do it. This is what I had done in this case. It is an approach that allows you to pre-empt ZANU PF; to think ahead. I hope this lesson has not been lost.
So, when we arrived in Maputo on 14 June 2013, ZANU PF not only had a Supreme Court judgment in hand to support their case for an early election, but they also had a date for elections and purported electoral reforms. This was supposed to convince the SADC Heads of State that the situation was irreversible. The SADC Summit would have to contend with a court judgement as well as legal instruments purporting to comply with that judgment and the new Constitution. These were significant barriers for the MDC parties and it was necessary to be sufficiently prepared with solid arguments to persuade and convince the SADC Heads of State to understand our case.
Preparing for the Summit
Once the date of the Maputo Summit was announced, we began our preparations. It was our last opportunity to lay the case before Zimbabwe’s political guarantors. One of the things I had tried to do since my arrival was to cultivate a good working relationship with African diplomats. In my previous life as a political analyst, I had often observed that the opposition’s weakness was its weak relationship with African countries, especially in the region. By contrast, its relationship with Western countries was much stronger. This had been exploited by ZANU PF’s propaganda machinery. It remained an area of weakness that required some work and I was determined to address this imbalance. It was important for African countries, especially in SADC, to understand our cause and to dispel the “Western puppets” tag which had long been used in the ruling party’s propaganda.
During my short period in office, I had managed to build strong communication links with some of the diplomats from key African countries. In return, they expressed appreciation for our efforts, pointing out that communication had improved. I realised these diplomats were very important people because they reported directly to their governments and we could use them as channels of communication so that our side would also be heard. We had a bigger burden of proof than ZANU PF, whose relationship with the liberation movements still in charge of most of these countries went back years. Before our arrival in Maputo, my team and I had prepared a paper entitled “The Legal and Practical Impossibility of July 31 for an Election Date”, which had been shared with key actors in the region. It detailed the principal reasons why it was impossible to hold the elections on July 31 without violating the new Constitution, which was our principal argument. This meant that by the time we got to Maputo, the Heads of State were already aware of our main objections and arguments.
Going to Maputo: a tale of two journeys
The travel arrangements were yet another indication of the imbalance of power and unfair advantages between the principals of the GNU, who were supposed to be equal. In theory. President Mugabe travelled, as usual, with his large entourage on a chartered Air Zimbabwe flight. His fellow principals, Tsvangirai and Ncube, had to make do with ordinary commercial flights and as there was no direct flight to Maputo on the day, they had to connect via South Africa. It was a short and easy trip for Mugabe but a long, inconvenient and tiring one for his rivals. Tsvangirai and Ncube each had small delegations, mostly comprising technical and security staff.
Due to the logistical challenges and having to follow the schedules of commercial airlines, we arrived in Maputo very late in the evening. The short flight from Johannesburg to Maputo was very uncomfortable, probably the most uncomfortable flight in my flying experience. We used Mozambican Airlines and the aircraft was small and cramped. Tsvangirai was there with the rest of us in those tiny seats, chatting cordially with fellow passengers. There was a hilarious incident when one of his aides was allocated a seat next to Tsvangirai. It gave the young man a great deal of discomfort to sit so close to his boss in those cramped conditions. He approached me and asked if we could exchange seats. However, if the rest of us were concerned by the flight conditions, Tsvangirai himself was unfazed. In the time that I worked with him, he struck me as an easy-going character who grew up living a simple life and was unbothered about the minor things that many around him worried about. He was going to an important meeting and that was all that mattered.
But the weather conditions were not good for the small aircraft and for some reason there was a very long delay in landing, which meant that we stayed up in the air for an uncomfortably long period. As we circled almost endlessly above Maputo, it did cross my mind, and I am sure many others’ too, that we had a fellow passenger who was disliked by many people. Those were worrying moments. It was such a relief when the little flying machine finally landed at Maputo. Soon, we were escorted to the hotel, where we were happily served by fellow Zimbabweans who were working there. It was always a pleasure to see fellow countrymen and women working very hard in neighbouring countries, but also rather pitiful to see the vast loss of talent to Zimbabwe.
We were shocked when we read a story in the state weekly, The Sunday Mail, reporting that Tsvangirai and his Secretary-General, Tendai Biti, had fought over a hotel room. According to that report, Biti, who had arrived earlier, had taken the hotel suite allocated to Tsvangirai. Apparently, this had led to a fight for the room between the two men. The report was complete nonsense; a ridiculous fabrication. I was present throughout Tsvangirai’s arrival and there was no fight over the suite. The story was a piece of propaganda designed to drown the bad news from Maputo. But this was not new. We were now used to this kind of propaganda. It was nauseating but it demonstrated how biased state media was against the opposition and in favour of ZANU PF – a position that continues to this day.
We actually converged in Biti’s hotel room in the same hotel to prepare our principal’s presentation. We worked on it through to the early hours of the morning. It was the best piece of teamwork that I had ever experienced working for the principal and the MDC. Apart from me, there was Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma, who were the party’s chief negotiators, and Jameson Timba, who was the party’s secretary for international affairs. Timba was also a Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office. We enjoyed a close working relationship and he had been very supportive from the very beginning. He also often provided the bridge between my work in the Prime Minister’s office at Charter House and the political team at Harvest House, the party’s headquarters. There was also Luke Tamborinyoka, who was the Prime Minister’s spokesman. It was a good team with very different characters that complemented each other very well. Everyone was fully engaged and there was mutual respect all round. The principal’s speech was dictated collectively by all present. It gave me great pleasure to see people working together so well – another poignant reminder that the opposition politicians are better working collectively rather than separately.
The day of the Summit itself, 15 June, was a tense one. I did not have the privilege of sitting in the conference room where the deliberations took place, but those who did were full of praise for the performances of Tsvangirai and his counterpart, Welshman Ncube, from the other MDC formation.
Ncube, who had joined politics in 1999 after a distinguished career as a law professor, handled the legal issues exceptionally well, while Tsvangirai delivered the political dimension with excellence. By the end of the Summit, word among observers was that the two adversaries in the MDC formations had formed an impressive tag-team. This prompted a senior diplomat from a SADC member state to ask me during the lunch break why those two could not set aside their differences and work together. “If those two gentlemen perform together like they did in there [the conference room], you guys would not have a problem,” he quipped. He was effusive in his praise. I heard similar comments from other observers. Although the team effort was not planned, the events in Maputo demonstrated what could be achieved if the two MDC formations worked together. Maputo certainly added to the growing chorus urging the MDC formations to unite and contest the election as a coalition.
There was a certainly a lot of camaraderie the next day as both teams flew back home. At Maputo International Airport, while waiting for our flight, Tsvangirai invited Ncube and his team to join us in the lounge, which he had been allocated in his capacity as Prime Minister. We all sat there chatting like old friends. An observer would not have noticed that we were different teams. It was particularly interesting for me: Ncube was my old professor from university. He had taught me constitutional law and now I was Tsvangirai’s adviser. So, there I was sat between two adversaries, one my old teacher and the other my current principal. It was a symbolic moment that promised much. But sadly, in the end, it delivered very little. This was not for lack of trying but that’s another story for another chapter.
Back to the Summit…
As we waited for the deliberations in the conference room, we were able to mix and mingle with colleagues from Zanu PF and the media. The previous night, Chris Mutsvangwa had been on the same flight with us. Mukoma Chris, as I respectfully refer to him, had always appeared to me to be one of the more sober voices in ZANU PF. I found him respectful and open to dialogue. He was keen to suggest that it would be better for us Zimbabweans to solve our problems on our own without the interference of outsiders. I recall meeting with the likes of Reuben Barwe, the long-serving ZBC journalist. Caesar Zvayi from The Herald was also there. We shook hands, joked and laughed as countrymen tend to do when they meet in a foreign land whatever the circumstances or differences. I also met an old colleague from high school. He was working for the state and based in Maputo. I thought it might be awkward for him to be seen in my company, but we were old mates and we could not possibly pretend that we did not know each other. We had not met since our days at university. So, after almost 20 years, it was a moment to exchange pleasantries even in full sight of all our workmates. We spoke for a while but steered clear of politics except to say we both hoped the matter would be solved amicably and that the country would move forward. Those were the lighter moments of an otherwise tense day.
The delegates emerged later in the afternoon, after the second session. The first to emerge was President Mugabe. He did not look amused at all. He did not even stop to talk to the scrum of reporters who were keen to get a word from him. Only Patrick Chinamasa and Simbarashe Mumbengegwi spoke briefly. They were defensive, defiant and belligerent. Their demeanour showed that things had not gone very well for them.
When the MDC teams emerged the faces were much happier. Indeed, one could say there was some euphoria in the success of the moment. Things had gone well for us, or so it seemed at first. The Summit had expressed concern over July 31 as the date of the election. By recommending that the Government of Zimbabwe must approach the Constitutional Court to seek an extension of the deadline, SADC was effectively stating its position that July 31 was not a viable date for elections.
In view of the fact that President Mugabe had set July 31 as the election date, the SADC resolution on this matter effectively disapproved of that proclamation on election dates. Remember: President Mugabe had gone to the Summit armed not only with the judgment of the Supreme Court, but also with a proclamation that he had issued on June 13 – two days before the Summit – setting the nomination and election dates. SADC acknowledged the judgment but resolved that an extension of the deadline was needed because it was legally and practically impossible to fulfil that election, which had been our argument all along.
SADC had two choices after the submission of the principals’ reports: either to accept that the judgment was immutable and an election must be held by July 31 or to acknowledge the judgment but reject the deadline by recommending an extension. The Summit was sufficiently persuaded by the argument that it was legally and practically impossible to hold the harmonised elections by the deadline set by the Court and, therefore, called for an application for an extension.
SADC’s intervention was necessary to defeat the culture of unilateralism that has affected the implementation of the GPA and the setting of the election date. In addition, SADC adopted the recommendations of the facilitator on issues including media reforms, security sector reforms and the role of JOMIC – the GPA’s Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee.
A key outcome of the Maputo Summit was its recommendation on the validity of electoral regulations. The MDC had contested the manner in which the Electoral Act was amended because President Mugabe had invoked the Presidential Powers Act to enact the amendments. SADC agreed with our submissions that there were problems with the validity of the electoral regulations, which therefore need revisiting because failure to do so would expose the elections to the risk of illegality. It was therefore important to regularise the amendment of the Electoral Act.
All this seemed really good and positive for us. But as I explain below, this apparent success was highly deceptive.
The trouble with Maputo
Politically, the Maputo Summit had seemed like a major success for us and a big blow for ZANU PF. They had never wanted SADC to be involved in the electoral process and the convening of the extraordinary Summit was in itself a setback and an embarrassment for them. They left Maputo disappointed and angry at what had happened and President Mugabe’s subsequent threat to leave SADC was an indication of their frustration. On our side, some colleagues were quite euphoric. However, it was evident from the start that these celebrations were premature. Personally, I was very sceptical and circumspect about the outcome of Maputo and my reasons were as follows:
First, my cautious approach was informed by my suspicions of what ZANU PF would do after its Maputo setback. I knew the party’s reaction would not be to comply but to strike back by undermining the outcome of Maputo. They would find a way to circumvent the Summit’s recommendations, without necessarily appearing to be disrespecting SADC. They would put up an appearance of compliance when they wouldn’t actually be complying at all. My approach to ZANU PF was that in dealing with them, you should always put yourself in their position and think like them: what would I do if I were ZANU PF after Maputo? Again: preparing for ZANU PF means thinking of the worst they can possibly do, and that is usually exactly what they will do. It was obvious that ZANU PF desperately wanted early elections to avoid the commitment of fulfilling electoral reforms and they would do everything to make sure the elections were held by July 31. In other words: they would do their best to avoid the Maputo effect.
Second, my fears were confirmed as soon as I read the communique of the Maputo Summit – the official document that records the issues discussed and the resolutions. In politics, as in much of life, the devil is always in the detail. I was not satisfied that the communique’s terms were strong and robust enough to achieve the Summit’s intention. The terms were too loose and left gaps that ZANU PF could easily exploit to avoid compliance. The worst thing was that the communique left the entire electoral process where it had been before the Summit: at the mercy of ZANU PF. Take this crucial recommendation as an example:
“8.5 Summit acknowledged the ruling of the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe on the elections date and agreed on the need for the Government of Zimbabwe to engage the Constitutional Court to seek more time beyond 31 July 2013 deadline for holding the Harmonized Elections Zimbabwe government to approach the Constitutional Court to ask for an extension of the election deadline”.
The Summit had agreed with our submissions that there was need for an extension but it had not actually compelled an extension. Rather, it had placed the ball in the court of the Zimbabwean government to “engage” the Constitutional Court to seek an extension. The only formal way to “engage” would be to apply to the Constitutional Court for a variation of their earlier judgment. This implied that ultimately, the extension was in the hands of the Constitutional Court, the same body that had set the earlier deadline. But why would the Constitutional Court change its decision because of a SADC Summit?
It also meant the application depended on the attitude of the government, which was entrusted with “engaging” the Constitutional Court. This recommendation was based on the assumption of a normal government that would act as a collective and with a common purpose. The reality was quite the opposite because the Zimbabwean government was by this time very dysfunctional. The three parties that made up the GNU were already in active election mode and at cross purposes, particularly on the election issue. The party that held the Justice Ministry, which would handle the “engagement” with the Constitutional Court by way of a court application, was in the hands of ZANU PF, the party that was most strongly opposed to the extension. The Minister of Justice, Patrick Chinamasa, was part of the ZANU PF delegation to Maputo and he was unlikely to co-operate. He had already vehemently resisted attempts to extend the deadline yet he was now expected to make a case for the extension to the Constitutional Court.
I thought Chinamasa’s application to the Constitutional Court would be designed to fail. He would submit a nominal application merely to tick the box of compliance with the SADC recommendation, but the application would be so weak and non-committal that no court would ever be persuaded by it. And, as it happened, this was precisely what Chinamasa went on to do.
The third factor was that SADC had thrown the matter back into the court arena, where ZANU PF was stronger and the MDC parties did not have much confidence. The MDC parties had long complained about the judiciary’s lack of independence. During the constitutional negotiations, they had proposed to overhaul the higher courts and to submit all applicants for judicial posts, including existing judges, to a public interview process. This position had displeased the judges, who were represented in the negotiations. The judicial arena was hardly the place where the MDC parties could expect a sympathetic hearing for an extension to the election date. In any event, the same court had already made the dubious ruling in the controversial Mawarire case, which had precipitated the rush to elections and the Maputo Summit. It would be expecting far too much to think that the same court would effectively reverse its decision. This was about the MDC seeking to reverse a judgment through the agency of SADC and the court was unlikely to play ball unless, perhaps, the principals had made a joint and strong application showing that President Mugabe was part of it and committed to the extension.
These three factors meant that ZANU PF had no incentive to support the SADC recommendation and yet it was expected to lead the process of applying for an extension. This is what tempered my celebration of the Maputo Summit. What looked like a victory was actually not a victory at all because it depended very heavily on ZANU PF’s co-operation. SADC appeared to have provided a solution, but that purported solution had merely taken the matter back to the arena that had caused the problem in the first place: the court. It was the court that had set the deadline and it was the same court that was now being asked to change that deadline. Worse still, the party that had a dominant role in seeking that extension was not interested in an extension at all. To my mind, we were back to square one. I immediately began to think of ways to prevent ZANU PF from dominating and leading a process they had no incentive to promote.
One way to do this was to ensure that the principals met immediately upon returning to Zimbabwe to draw up a joint submission to the Constitutional Court. This collective statement from the political principals would carry greater political weight and would probably be more persuasive than an application from a disinterested and conflicted Justice Minister acting on his own. Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Ncube would write a collective statement backed up by the SADC resolutions and the GPA in terms of which the GNU was founded.
The second approach would have been for the application to have been made by the Attorney General in his capacity as legal adviser to government. This would have meant Tomana, not Chinamasa would have submitted the application to the Constitutional Court. I was not persuaded that this would make a difference given that Tomana had already publicly declared his allegiance to ZANU PF, which made him partial and partisan. In any event, the MDC parties had long objected to Tomana as Attorney General and he wouldn’t have been a suitable candidate to make an application that supported the demand for an extension.
Chinamasa’s weak application
The plan was to secure a meeting between the principals on the first Monday after the Summit, at which they would agree on a submission to the Constitutional Court. However, efforts to secure this meeting with President Mugabe failed. Clearly, there was no appetite for such a meeting in ZANU PF.
They had already resolved to go it alone.
Accordingly, just as I suspected he would do upon his return from Maputo, Patrick Chinamasa submitted the application to the Constitutional Court, seeking an extension to the July 31 date. It was a weak application made by a conflicted person who had no interest whatsoever in achieving the result he was supposed to be seeking in the papers. In fact, when our legal representatives attended the court hearing, they reported that the representatives for Chinamasa had behaved as if they were opposing an application whose cause they were supposed to advance and support. In addition to the weak application, they stated that they were not seeking an extension but that they had merely submitted the application at the instigation of SADC. In other words, Chinamasa was not at all committed to the application and had no reason to support it.
Realising what Chinamasa had done when he submitted his weak application, Tsvangirai applied to be joined into the matter in his capacity as Prime Minister and GPA principal. This would provide an opportunity to bolster Chinamasa’s weak application. However, this was too late as negative signals had already been given to the court by Chinamasa’s application. The fact that the Prime Minister had to latch on to an application made by the Justice Minister was itself a sign of a dysfunctional government that was following conflicting paths. SADC had recommended that government should engage the court, but here the government was doing so from two different angles. This dysfunctionality would not have impressed the court. It was not surprising that the court threw out the application and insisted that the election had to be held by July 31. The application was designed to fail − and it did. The whole court engagement process turned out to be a non-event. It was a box-ticking exercise merely done to fulfil a SADC recommendation but without any intention to meet the actual purpose.
In the end, therefore, the joy of Maputo had the lifespan of a candle flame in the wind. For the MDC parties, the “victory” had been highly deceptive. It appeared to have upheld our request but, in fact, it had left matters in the hands of ZANU PF, naively relying on the party’s good faith. Maputo proved to be a mere irritation for Mugabe and ZANU PF. For the MDCs, there was also another consideration: continuing to fight the election date might give the impression that they were scared of ZANU PF and the elections. ZANU PF certainly played that card in their propaganda machinery, arguing that the only reason the MDCs were resisting an early election was that they feared defeat and were too comfortable in their government positions. The fact that the conditions were clearly not conducive enough to holding a credible election became less of a priority. Instead, it was overshadowed by the fear of being cast as timid competitors.
In addition, after Maputo, SADC lost its grip and even the South African Facilitation Team came under serious fire from President Mugabe. There was an incident just before the elections when Lindiwe Zulu, one of the South African facilitators, was heavily attacked by President Mugabe, who referred to her as a “street woman” after she had been quite vocal in calling for electoral reforms. President Mugabe even threatened to leave SADC if it continued to pressurise him. His bullying and threats seemed to work as SADC was timid in its reaction. Indeed, Zulu appeared to have been hung out to dry by her own government.
In the end, we went into an election at the will and pace of our main adversary. They had prepared for this early election but we had not. They had managed to determine not only when the election would be held but also the terms and conditions under which they would be held − without the key reforms that we had been demanding. Maputo seemed to deliver a great result, but actually, it had simply left Mugabe and ZANU PF in control of the electoral process. It relied on the good faith of Mugabe and ZANU PF, believing in the impartiality of the courts. Again: this was naïve.
Boycotting the election?
I must end with one issue that has often been raised and has been subject to all sorts of speculation: boycotting the election. Why didn’t the opposition boycott the election in light of all these events? I have heard suggestions that SADC or some of its leaders had communicated to the MDCs that they expected the parties to boycott the election if ZANU PF did not comply with the SADC request and electoral reforms. To be sure, the boycott option was one that I personally backed. But this view was held by a small minority. Most of the politicians were convinced that the party had the numbers to overwhelm the rigging machinery and the impending irregularities. However, I must state categorically that I did not hear any communication or suggestion from SADC or individual leaders to boycott the elections. If it came, it never reached my ears. If it had come, I would have known because I worked very closely with Tsvangirai and handled most of his communications.
What I will point out, though, is that if we had boycotted the elections, I believe SADC would have understood our position. By participating in an election that was so obviously skewed, hoping numbers would do the trick, we had legitimised a severely flawed election. Maputo had given us some hope, but once we caved in after ZANU PF’s clear refusal to obey and uphold SADC’s recommendations, we had squandered our chance and placed ourselves at the mercy of a ZANU PF-controlled election process. It is easy to see why SADC was frustrated not just with Zimbabwe but with the opposition. But we had a challenge because some strong believers in the faith believed that our fate lay in the hands of God. Some even pointed out that that God had ordained that we would win and that these things had been revealed in dreams. Such faith-based approaches stood in the way of rational decision-making.
After Maputo and the refusal to implement it, SADC leaders would not have been surprised if we had pulled out of the election. None of the reforms they had called for had been implemented. Mugabe and ZANU PF had effectively snubbed their communique from the Maputo Summit and the ones before it.
After all is said and done, Maputo provided some useful teaching. The hope is that opposition parties reflect on these moments and draw some lessons from them as they prepare for 2018.
This work is part of a larger work reflecting on the 2013 elections. It is not to be reproduced without the author’s permission. All views expressed here are my own and should not be attributed to any other person.