Mugabe still scares the hell out of Zanu-PF politicians

Amid the welter of Zanu-PF gaffes and double-speak, one is still able to make the bold statement that there are still wise people in its hierarchy.

Amid the welter of Zanu-PF gaffes and double-speak, one is still able to make the bold statement that there are still wise people in its hierarchy.

This is a difficult conclusion to come to after a cursory examination of the party's performance in the lead-up to this week's agreement with the MDC.

The logical assessment would be that the geriatric element in the party is incapable of pronouncing rational strategies to safeguard Zimbabwe's most vital interests.

As Robert Mugabe has been its chief spokesman since the talks started, we must conclude none of them has had the guts to stand up to him.

His closing remarks last Monday signalled that he has been the main spanner in the works towards an early resolution of the political and economic crisis his party created.

To hark back to Cold War rhetoric was vintage Mugabe, the context smacking oddly of an old man stuck in a rut in the past.

What Zanu-PF must recognise, as we enter the implementation phase of the agreement, is to have enough cojones to tell the old man: "Gushungo, it is time for you to go. Let someone else take this ship to port."

Mugabe's remarks must have grated on the nerves of every Zimbabwean listening. That he still has any role to play in the next phase of salvaging the country from his disastrous policies must rate as a pyrrhic victory for him.

The next logical step for his party is to ask him to step down as president of the country and of his party, while he still has some of his dignity intact.

Any further delay could result in utter humiliation and disgrace. The wise people surrounding him must ram this point home, by whatever means necessary, if they are to salvage a shred of dignity for their party.

At the beginning of the talks, there was a powerful argument in favour of providing Mugabe with an exit package. The monetary element was not the most important, though some of the figures would have bankrupted an economy already in terminal mode.

This was inspired by his role in the struggle. Mugabe did not deserve a kicking and screaming departure, his usually immaculate suit in tatters, half his moustache shaved off, wearing only one shoe with greasy smudges.

Many Zimbabweans, though itching to avenge the departed souls of murdered relatives, would have preferred a serene exit to what Zanu-PF is almost forcing the MDC and its supporters to resort to - a snarling, booing and cat-calling march to State House.

Morgan Tsvangirai struck a conciliatory note but was visibly disappointed when Mugabe ignored all that and stuck to his old script: Everybody - you can go to hell!

Most people engaged in the talks had once spoken of providing Mugabe with a dignified exit from power. That they all failed might not be due to any feebleness in their powers of persuasion, but to Mugabe's misguided grasp of the Zimbabwean political psyche after 2000.

He had let hired thugs kill people, bash them and terrorise them. Yet when the time came for them to decide who to vote for, they rejected him.

His response to Tsvangirai's speech showed that whatever faults the MDC had committed in welcoming Western political support, the impediment was one man, who had scared the hell out of his party.

l The writer is deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe