Meeting Morgan Tsvangirai
Sep 16th 2010, 17:11 by A.R. | JOHANNESBURG
RARELY does Zimbabwe's prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, speak so frankly in public about his relationship with his old rival, President Robert Mugabe, as he did on Thursday September 13th at an Economist conference in Johannesburg. Describing his weekly Monday meetings with Mr Mugabe as cordial ("he's as human as you are") he argued that the president is willing to contemplate a graceful exit from power within the coming years. Why? "Because he will want to secure his legacy, he will not want to be remembered as a villain. Robert Mugabe believes he has left Zimbabweans talking across the political divide. And as a victim of his repression, I can say reconciliation is the only solution. Some say we must have instant justice, an eye for an eye against those who did us wrong, but an eye for an eye may leave Zimbabwe blind".
The prime minister is criticised in some quarters as weak, with Mr Mugabe and his powerful colleagues who control (among other things) the armed forces and security forces running rings around the leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who won the 2008 election but were only able to form a power-sharing government in 2009. Mr Tsvangirai retorts that a gradual process of co-operation and reconciliation has already brought considerable benefits—Zimbabwe's economy grew by 4% or so last year and may do better this year, with inflation low and investment partly returning. The problem is that reconciliation may soon fall apart, if an election, which is likely late next year, causes sharp divisions and a return to thuggish violence against MDC supporters. Mr Tsvangirai, however, argued that "benchmarks" could ensure a fairer election next year. He meant a new voters' roll, more monitors, an independent electoral commission, an outcome to be announced promptly. Maybe so. But would Mr Mugabe (and would neighbours such as South Africa) meekly accept an outright MDC win, which polls suggest is most likely?
Mr Tsvangirai concluded that Zimbabwe is a "post conflict" society, one where locals and foreigners have to give up on old confrontation and think about recovery. "The nation's destiny is not to be held to ransom by Robert Mugabe. He's going to move on. We must think of the 55% of Zimbabweans younger than 15". That would be nice, but the last time this correspondent interviewed Mr Mugabe, the 86-year-old said he would only be standing down "when I am one hundred years old". So just 14 years to go then.