Tsvangirai ghostwriter spills the beans


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The logistics of writing for Tsvangirai were difficult. There was no reliable email in Zimbabwe at the time and all communication had to be done by phone, which itself was unreliable and often failed. I never actually spoke to Tsvangirai or went to Zimbabwe. I operated through a figure in the MDC-T (the Tsvangirai-led breakaway from the rump of the MDC), recommended by a number of pro-democracy sources and who was later to become a government minister. At the time, this contact asked not to be named, for safety precautions.

He would, he told me, check with Tsvangirai and approve the article, or note where it needed editing.

I would call him and read drafts over a scratchy line. His voice was often tense; his tenor told me that our work must be done in the strictest confidence.

Due to the eight-hour time difference, these calls often took place at odd hours. Sometimes I would sleep on the floor of my office in anticipation of our next appointment.

In May 2008, on this basis, I had written a piece that had been published in the Australian newspaper The Age, with Tsvangirai’s byline. The piece was critical of lax action on the part of the international community regarding the result from the national elections in March, in which Tsvangirai received more votes than Mugabe, but not enough, according to the local electoral commission, to win the presidency. As a result, a “presidential run-off” was set for June 27.

“What we call for is a means to remove the defeated Mugabe,” it read. “This is a job for the UN, above all.

“It may seem odd that we are calling for what sounds like a peacekeeping operation in Zimbabwe, but this is in effect what we seek. For Zimbabwe is under attack from within. It is being eaten away by the forces of the former government, and what peace there is needs to be nurtured and developed. There is no hope for Zimbabwe otherwise.”

The formal call for peacekeepers was in the air, and here, it was intended to focus the minds of the international community, to press for actual action, and to protect innocent Zimbabweans.

Tsvangirai and the MDC-T maintained the case for peacekeepers in subsequent interviews and press conferences.

But as a rotten situation turned putrid, and more lives were lost to the violence, Tsvangirai pulled out of the race days before the June presidential run-off, believing that voters were at risk of violence when attending polling booths. He holed up in the Dutch Embassy in Harare and was more or less incommunicado.

As the June 27 date approached, I knew Tsvangirai needed to keep his voice heard. Having pulled out, he no longer had a formal position, but his presence was required across the media to highlight Mugabe’s outrageous usurpation of democracy.

I was on vacation with my family in Cambodia at the time. I had been trying to call my contact in Harare from our hotel in the northern city of Siem Reap, but failed to get through. Time was running out and the election was approaching. At last, late one night, I reached him. He agreed we needed to get something in the press just before election day.

As my wife and daughter slept, I called The Guardian in London and was commissioned by then-Comment Editor Libby Brooks—who I had worked with before—to write something for the paper with Tsvangirai’s byline.

Continued next page

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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