President Emmerson Mnangagwa visited MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is battling colon cancer, at his residence in Highlands yesterday where they held private discussions for close to an hour.
Tsvangirai made public his health condition last year and ever since he has been in-and-out of hospital – a development that has triggered divisive succession talk in his party ahead of crucial elections this year.
Accompanied by his deputy, General (Rtd) Constantino Chiwenga, Mnangagwa addressed the media soon after the meeting, saying the MDC leader was on the mend.
“He is fine and recuperating very well and he says he will soon be going back for further medical check-ups in South Africa,” Mnangagwa said.
He brushed aside speculation that he had gone there to discuss the possibility of an inclusive government, insisting the situation in the country did not call for such.
“What’s the cause to form an inclusive government?” he asked. “You are allowed to lobby, it’s a democratic country. People are allowed to lobby for anything. Currently, there is no need,” he emphasised.
The Daily News reports that the meeting was at the MDC leader’s request.
Tsvangirai had been eager to meet with Mnangagwa to discuss the way forward on elections and the worsening economic plight.
Mnangagwa then seized on the request to also check on Tsvangirai’s health, more so given that they are related.
Highly-placed sources familiar with the visit said the meeting was conducted in a friendly atmosphere so much that one would have confused it for an engagement among brothers.
They said Tsvangirai’s visitors pledged to materially support the frail opposition leader in his battle with cancer, which has drained the family’s savings.
Mnangagwa also undertook to look into the MDC leader’s long-standing grievances about his outstanding pension, accrued when he was prime minister in the inclusive government between 2009 and 2013.
It will not be the first time that Tsvangirai has been assisted by his rivals in Zanu PF.
Under Mugabe’s regime, Tsvangirai received about $70 000 to pay for his medical expenses.
Sources said Mnangagwa repeated his commitment during his meeting with Tsvangirai that the forthcoming polls would be free and fair, and even pledged to work closely with the opposition in the event that he is re-elected.
Analysts were unanimous yesterday that by taking time to visit Tsvangirai, Mnangagwa scored key political points to boost his political ratings.
They were, however, divided on whether the timing was right for the MDC leader to accept such a cunning gesture, considering it has a double-edged sword effect of showing Zimbabweans that Tsvangirai was too sick to be a factor going into the 2018 polls while at the same time projecting him as an empathetic leader.
Piers Pigou, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, said Mnangagwa has made an appropriate and powerful gesture but reckoned Tsvangirai was visibly unwell and needs to focus his energies on himself and his family.
Pigou urged the MDC leader to get on with the business of facilitating the process for his succession.
“There will be understandably cynical interpretations of the photo opportunity this provides to the president, but much depends on how it is played. His visiting … Tsvangirai, however, reflects a level of respect and political maturity rarely afforded an opposition figure; especially by the head of a party that had done its upmost to destroy Tsvangirai and his MDC,” he observed.
University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunugure concurred saying the president has demonstrated a high level of statesmanship; that he is a national leader and not just head of Zanu PF.
He said while his visit could well have been for other reasons, it was possible that he genuinely wanted to lend moral support to someone not feeling well.
“The fact that he was with his deputy also shows that Chiwenga too is moving in to assume the status of a national leader. So they have shown maturity and that is something that should be commended. They have shown Tsvangirai that he is not alone in his battle and that the nation empathises with his situation.
“It’s also possible that ED wanted to lend financial support to a former prime minister in terms of his package that he so much deserves,” said Masunungure.
Professor of world politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Stephen Chan, said there was a sense of seeking to offer Tsvangirai some place in the new government.
Chan said Mnangagwa has sent a signal to foreign governments that his administration is looking at the opposition with respect unlike before.
“It may be rare in Zimbabwe, but in the United Kingdom, the prime minister and leader of the opposition often confer together,” said Chan.
“Tsvangirai certainly looks frail. Cancer can be very difficult and he should release the clinical reports on his condition as a reassurance to his supporters. Again, that would be the usual step in the UK where … (Theresa) May’s diabetes condition is fully known by the voting public,” he added.
Gladys Hlatywayo, a political analyst and civil rights campaigner, said it was normal for leaders across the political divide to constantly dialogue and share ideas.
“In this respect, the meeting of the two leaders might be seen as an attempt to build a new political culture predicated on political tolerance and maturity. Nevertheless, the genuineness of the visit is now tainted by the pictures of the opposition leader that are now circulating. It now appears the visit was to score a political point more than anything,” said Hlatywayo.
Addressing the media after the meeting, Tsvangirai’s deputy Nelson Chamisa described the development as positive.
“It’s a welcome thing, it’s African to care for one another; it’s very Zimbabwean, it shows the spirit of Ubuntu is still in us,” Chamisa said.
He added: “This is the new politics we want to see, the politics of peace, the politics of working together, the politics of feeling for one another. This is the direction and we hope it is the kind of talk that will be walked and talk that will be sustained. Going forward, we want this to be cascaded to the communities so that as we go into elections, people don’t fight each other especially when their leaders are able to sit down and converse like this”.
In a statement released after the meeting, Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka said Mnangagwa’s visit came just as Tsvangirai was about to leave the country for his routine medical check-up.
“We thank president Mnangagwa for his gesture to come and pay a visit to the former prime minister of the land. We thank him for his gesture, which is in keeping with our African culture,” he said.
Tamborinyoka said the two leaders discussed the current dire situation in the country, the plight of the people, the cash crisis afflicting the country, the urgency of free and fair elections to ensure a return to legitimacy as well as the need to engage the international community so that the country rejoins the family of nations.