Tsvangirai’s Botswana connection
So what was Morgan Tsvangirai doing in Botswana? Mmegi’s Zimbabwean correspondent BILLY MAGEDI looks at the Movement for Democratic Change-T (MDC-T) leader’s close relationship with Gaborone and its implications for Botswana-Zimbabwe relations and Zimbabwean politics.
HARARE – Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe shares a strained relationship with Botswana’s Ian Khama. What upsets Mugabe and his party is that Khama has warmed up to Mugabe’s rival in that country’s power sharing government, Tsvangirai.Botswana, a close ally of Zimbabwe during the country’s liberation struggle, shared a cordial working relationship with ZAPU, which in the post independence politics of Zimbabwe became the opposition.
When Zimbabwe plunged into a civil war that resulted in more than 20 000 defenseless civilians being maimed by a Zanu PF military wing in the 1980s known as the Fifth Brigade for allegedly being ZAPU followers, Botswana gave refuge to ZAPU leader, the late Joshua Nkomo.Decades later in 2008 when Mugabe lost an election for the first time in his political career, violent scenes reminiscent of the 1982-7 civil war resurfaced. The state machinery was used to suppress Tsvangirai’s supporters ahead of the presidential election runoff. At that point, when MDC-T supporters were being persecuted, Tsvangirai also fled to Botswana just like Nkomo – hence proving how much Botswana’s ruling party despised Mugabe’s tactics.
President Khama has been outspoken over the Zimbabwean situation and in most cases finding Mugabe at fault to an extent that the Harare leader at one time said he respects Khama’s father, Seretse and not the son.But acrimony at this point in time does not do Mugabe any good, especially since the two major rivals in the Zimbabwean political landscape are looking for regional support as Harare wrestles to put a new constitution in place to usher elections that would lay the foundation for a legitimate government.
In June this year, Mugabe dispatched his Vice President John Nkomo to lead a 10 men delegation on a charm offensive to Gaborone ahead of a SADC troika meeting on peace, defence and security affairs. But the team did not succeed in luring Botswana to its corner. Thus Mugabe remains with Zambian leader Michael Sata as his only steadfast ally in the region.
However, on the other hand, the MDC-T has been registering success with the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).At the MDC-T’s 13th anniversary celebrations, BDP sent a delegation comprising of deputy secretary general Malebogo Kruger and executive secretary Thabo Fanu Masalila. The delegation re-assured its support to the MDC-T’s fight for democracy in Zimbabwe.
“We deeply recognise the role played by the MDC in the political landscape of Zimbabwe over the last decade and commend you for your inspiring and emphatic growth. The BDP has followed and has been encouraged by the outstanding achievements of the MDC,” read part of the message from Khama.
Last week Tsvangirai was on a weeklong visit to Botswana much to the disgust of Zanu PF. It was reported in the state media – which is the mouthpiece of Zanu PF that Tsvangirai had gone to Botswana to ask for funding for his party, an allegation that the MDC-T violently refutes. Under Zimbabwe’s Political Parties Finance Act, foreign funding for political parties is illegal. In other words, the propaganda being pushed is that the MDC-T seeks the assistance of Botswana to get rid of Mugabe.
It is not a new trick. In 2008, there were allegations that the MDC-T was training bandits in Botswana for purposes of overthrowing Mugabe. The allegations did not stick at the time. Zimbabwean political analyst Zama Mkhwanazi believes Botswana stands to benefit economically if Tsvangirai beats Mugabe in the next elections.
“It is strategic for Khama to support Tsvangirai because in an event that he takes over in Zimbabwe there would be a lot of business opportunities for Botswana because Zimbabwe is a sleeping economic giant,” he said.It is not a secret that the relationship between Khama and Tsvangirai goes beyond government business. On his last visit to Botswana, it was reported that Tsvangirai briefed Khama on progress being made and challenges faced in Zimbabwe’s constitution making process. This issue is of interest in the region for economic and political stability.As one of Zimbabwe’s neighbours, Botswana has a role to play willing or unwilling.