Within five weeks of coming to power in November 2017, President Mnangagwa did the unthinkable.
He drove to ailing opposition MDC-T leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai’s place of residence and held a face-to-face meeting with him. They spoke at length in mutual respect.
The President made a magnanimous gesture to ensure that Mr Tsvangirai’s worries were addressed and needs catered for — about the latter’s health and what would happen to his family in the event that he failed to recover from his illness.
The President undertook to assist Mr Tsvangirai with his medical bills and promised to pay off the pension for his four-year service as Prime Minister of the Republic (2009-2013 in the Inclusive Government).
He had waited for more than three years for this to happen and had never imagined seeing that day, considering the bitter brickbats he had exchanged with the establishment in the First Republic. There was more.
The Highlands house Mr Tsvangirai was staying in (even then with uncertainty) was going to be transferred to him, which essentially guaranteed his family’s financial security.
By this simple gesture, President Mnangagwa had reached across the political aisle and generated a sense of togetherness and renewal to Zimbabweans. There was no foreigner involved in this.
It was a Zimbabwean President and a Zimbabwean opposition leader finding each other, and Zimbabwe’s poisoned political climate, which had obtained hitherto, was detoxified just like that.
Unfortunately, Mr Tsvangirai could not make it as he succumbed to illness on Valentine’s Day in South Africa.
However, following his demise, Government took over the responsibility of bringing the body of the former trade unionist back home and accorded him a dignified rest. This episode is full of enduring lessons.
Credit has to go to President Mnangagwa for his efforts to bring in a new type of politics to the country, where a contestation for leadership is humanised and dignified, underpinned by respect and Ubuntu.
Again, we all know the kind of personal and toxic politics Mr Tsvangirai tussled with his previous bête noir.
Path of dialogue
President Mnangagwa continued on this path of dialogue. Towards the critical elections of July 2018, he reached out to all leaders of contesting parties and underscored the need for dialogue and peace, with the key message of non-violence.
The President led the way in pursuing cleaner and civil contestation, something that went down to his humility of character and temperament.
Sadly, this was not reciprocated, especially on the other side of the huge divide: grossly impertinent, uncivil, divisive and provocative language poisoned the atmosphere.
This was the beginning of the polarisation of the Zimbabwean politics post-Tsvangirai.
July 2018 and beyond
Zimbabwe experienced its most peaceful pre-election period since Independence in 1980, and it all boiled down to President Mnangagwa marshalling an environment of peace and tolerance.
The elections came and President Mnangagwa won those elections cleanly and fairly.
A petition challenging his election was filed with the highest court in the land pronounced itself in full view of the whole world.
Being confident that there was nothing to hide, this petition hearing was streamed live on TV for all to see.
The allegations of electoral malpractice were so weak, frivolous and vexatious that the court had no option but to assert the will of the people. Anyone who believes in the rule of law would have accepted the judgment of the court and start regrouping with 2023 in mind.
The most regrettable smudge on the electoral process of 2018 was that singular incident of August 1, when post-election violence rocked the country.
Some interests had vowed not to accept a result that would not favour them.
And when they failed to get power through the ballot, they could get it via the back door. This is where a particular concern about foreign powers comes in.
They are agitating for another Government of National Unity (GNU). Never mind they are the same people who lecture us that legitimacy is conferred by an election.
After an election has conferred legitimacy, they then turn around and say that legitimacy should be now be conferred through negotiations between winner and loser. Isn’t that the height of perfidiousness?
Why do we have elections in the first place? What is being asked of Zimbabwe is never asked of any other country in the West. Which Western country has ever been asked of this?
In Britain there is a hung parliament. This could be an ideal case for GNU between Labour and the Conservative.
But the mere suggestion of that would sound so ridiculous that some may ask the suggester to have a Mental State Examination.
In the United States, there is so much bitterness which goes back to the elections; that’s why there has been this shut down over the building of the border wall. But nobody has made a suggestion for the Democrats and the Republicans to have a GNU. Why then do we get that suggestion whenever there is some crisis in Africa? Isn’t this the type of attitude which makes African leaders accuse their Western colleagues of condescension and double standards?
Why is a country forced to defy the will of its own people to appease spoilers because they have powerful friends? Are we now getting this argument from the paragons of democracy that having an opposition party divides our people? Doesn’t it depend on the quality of the opposition and how grounded it is in the philosophy of national interest?
We are told Zimbabwe’s problem is not sanctions, but economic. The two are not mutually exclusive. But how is a GNU meant to suddenly fill Zimbabwe’s coffers with forex? The Financial Times even said: “The only possible solution is to form a government of national unity with which the international community could engage. An injection of money and a new programme monitored by the IMF could begin to restore economic credibility. The West could even consider lifting sanctions, in place since 2001.”
The West should just lift the sanctions now. Why should that be predicated upon a hybrid government?
President Mnangagwa has bent backwards and more in an effort to ensure engagement is a success. Why then are some people ready to pour money to support an undemocratic arrangement by disregarding the choice made by the Zimbabwean people?
Bringing meaning to dialogue
As outlined at the onset, President Mnangagwa values dialogue (and peace and tolerance).
Dialogue has been at the centre of his Government and leadership – and it is for all to see as a definitive feature of the Second Republic. The President has met different stakeholder groups in Zimbabwe. He has met captains of industry and commerce. He even invited these for breakfast at State House and they spoke freely to him on their views of what they believed he was doing right and where they felt he was not doing right.
They made suggestions and they criticised. They asked questions and he answered a lot of them and directed his ministers to respond to others.
In the same vein, President Mnangagwa has also met with teachers’ unions and students’ groups. They again were given a platform to speak to him with candour, and they did.
He has dialogued with religious groups and other different kinds of groupings in Zimbabwe. He has always been prepared to dialogue with political leaders as articulated earlier on.
Recently, he met with those that took up his invitation to come for dialogue.
Different political parties and entities freely criticised his Administration and him in person.
He sat quietly for four hours listening to his political rivals censuring and lampooning his Administration in the name of their different constituencies.
There was grandstanding; there was political posturing; but there was also positive engagement by different leaders. Outside this group some decided not to come.
The President defended their democratic right to spurn his invitation.
This was a hallmark of statesmanship.
President Mnangagwa is leading a truly national and broad-based dialogue. He is willing to hear different voices in this country.
Dialogue should inform political reform, economic reform and other forms of democratic reform.
But we should be very clear that dialogue is NOT a power-sharing negotiation. That would be undemocratic and against our constitution.
Our constitution legislated for every scenario and event.
It has no provisions for those who win political mandate from the people to be forced to surrender that power after a few months under pressure from foreign powers.
It has no provisions where those that have been elected to negotiate themselves out of that power.
What it provides for is for Zimbabweans if different political persuasions to speak to each other and reason together in the interest of peace and reconciliation.
It doesn’t provide for the subversion of the will of the people.
Dialogue should lead to the enhancement of the democratisation process.
It should lead to political depolarisation and the bringing of the Zimbabwean people together and the mobilisation of critical mass behind national interests.
It should give voices to all players inside and outside Parliament.
But it is key for everyone that the Presidency is an elected institution. It is not a product of negotiation. It’s an incumbency derived from the people. That was settled on the 30th of July 2018.
It is clear that President Mnangagwa has always believed in the politics of inclusion. But inclusion means not marginalising any grouping or entity.
It surely is not about someone deliberately engineering a crisis in order to force their way into power. The duplicity of those who advocate for such a position is there for all to see.
In the interests of constitutionalism in our young democracy, dialogue is a yes.
But it is not a roadmap to sharing power with those that lost it at the ballot.
Everyone should enjoy the dividends of democracy. But only those elected to do so should have executive authority and should not be leveraged into surrendering or sharing it.
The writer, Ndavaningi Nick Mangwana, is the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services