Playing zero-sum games

2010-10-13 00:00

THE 2008 elections in Zimbabwe that led to the signing of the unity agreement almost exactly two years ago between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai are well documented.

Philip Barclay’s book is all the more valuable because he had the dubious privilege, as second secretary in the British embassy, of observing the events in intimate detail from 2007 to 2009. His account of how the euphoria of Tsvangirai’s victory on March 29 gave way in a matter of weeks to the horror of the bloody campaign to overturn the results of the presidential election, is a brave and compelling record of a diplomat’s journey into Zimbabwe’s heart of darkness.

The two most depressing chapters deal with that brutal and cynical campaign: how Zanu-PF hardliners persuaded Mugabe not to step down and then unleashed the party’s youth militias against Tsvangirai’s MDC party. By the end of the rerun presidential election, Mugabe was firmly back in the saddle and an estimated 40 MDC supporters had been murdered, countless others tortured and 40 000 driven from their homes.

It’s a chilling picture of the best and worst of African democracy in a country where voting is a matter of life and death. There’s also a lesson for South Africa here in the ease with which a ruling party favoured with a media monopoly, a corrupt judiciary and a fanatical youth militia can keep itself in power and drive its people to ruin.

The book is a sad read, and the faltering steps of the new unity government hardly inspire confidence. Barclay describes as misleading the efforts of the MDC to play “the unity game as if a win-win outcome were possible”. As he so rightly observes, “Zanu-PF knows only zero-sum games and always plays to win them absolutely.”

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.