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Big Man - Is the Mugabe era near its end?
Joshua Hammer, New Yorker
June 26, 2006

One recent morning, accompanied by an employee of a local residents' rights group, I drove my Opel Astra rental car about six miles south from the center of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, to a squatter camp that had sprung up last year: a cluster of shanties made of road signs, radiator grilles, and other scrap. A dozen people were standing or sitting in front of the hovels, cooking over small fires, beating laundry against rocks; a tall young woman, who introduced herself as Nancy Mugova, was kneeling in the dirt with a baby tied to her back, hammering rivets into the handle of a frying pan. She invited us to sit with her in her dwelling -four feet tall, twelve feet long, and made of corrugated tin, with a flat tin roof held down by rocks. There was just enough room in the airless interior for a double mattress (on which all five members of the family slept), a cheap cabinet filled with ceramic plates and cups, a box of clothes, three pairs of men's shoes, and two sacks of sadza, or mealy meal, the Zimbabwean staple, which cooks into a thick porridge. Just in front of the structure, the Mugovas had propped up an iron grate over two stones; this served as their kitchen.

Mugova, who was wearing the white robe and white headscarf of a local evangelical church, told us what had happened. Early one morning in mid-June, 2005, hundreds of armed officers of the Zimbabwe Republican Police and the city police notified the Mugovas and their neighbors that their houses were "illegal," and gave them thirty minutes to remove what they could. Nancy Mugova, her husband, Israel, and their children stood in the cold and watched a bulldozer demolish the five-room brick cottage that had served as both their home and their workplace, a metalworking shop. By the end of the day, bulldozers had knocked down every structure in the area, destroying the homes and the livelihoods of a thousand people. Most eventually found shelter with relatives, or in rural areas, but about a hundred and fifty people, I was told, had nowhere to go, and had built shanties on or near the ruins of their homes.

The project that forced out Mugova and her neighbors was called Operation Murambatsvina, or "Clean Out the Trash." It began without warning on May 19, 2005, when police swept through street markets in downtown Harare, ripping down stalls and beating and arresting hundreds of vendors. The next day, the chair of the city's governing commission declared that all "unauthorized" structures in the city would be destroyed, claiming that they had become eyesores and centers of criminal activity. The project, though, was a pretext for remaking Zimbabwe's political map. Two months before Operation Murambatsvina, the circle of security advisers who surround Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, had warned him that the United States and the European Union were planning to rally slum dwellers and small traders, the backbone of the pro-democracy opposition, into a "Ukranian-style revolution." Operation Murambatsvina spread through Harare's slums, then to other cities; as many as seven hundred thousand people were made homeless in three months. The United Nations Special Envoy, in a report last August, rebuked the regime for destroying homes and businesses. The operation unfolded with such brutal speed that it became known simply as "the tsunami."

Then, just before the release of the U.N. report, the regime announced a scheme to build thirty-one thousand houses and small factories and shops for those uprooted by Operation Murambatsvina. The plan, called Operation Garikai, or "Stay Well," quickly collapsed, amid allegations of favoritism and corruption. A parliamentary investigation revealed that fewer than five hundred houses had been completed in Harare, where nearly half a million of the displaced live.

In the most notorious case, senior military officials and civil servants loyal to Mugabe-s party were given dozens of the houses which were supposed to have gone to those who had been forced out. In May, days before the first anniversary of Operation Murambatsvina, according to the Herald, a state-owned newspaper, the police in Harare arrested another 10,244 "vagrants, street kids and other disorderly elements." A police spokesperson said that they would be "relocated" to "homes" in rural areas.

Robert Mugabe came to power in April 1980, after waging a thirteen-year-long guerrilla war against the white-supremacist regime of what was then Rhodesia. For his first ten years in office, despite a pattern of repression and the creation of a de-facto one-party state, Mugabe was widely praised as one of the post-colonial eras most progressive leaders. He guaranteed educational opportunities for Zimbabwe's blacks, who had no access to most secondary schools and universities. High-school enrolment, which had been about two per cent at the time of independence, grew to seventy per cent by 1990, and Zimbabwe's literacy rate rose from forty-five per cent to nearly eighty per cent in the same period. Mugabe also tried to persuade the country's two hundred thousand whites, including its forty-five hundred commercial farmers, to stay. In the mid-nineties, when I was based in Nairobi as a correspondent, a visit to Zimbabwe, with its game reserves and prosperous cities, served as a welcome escape from the ramshackle kleptocracy of Kenya's President Daniel Arap Moi.

The climate changed a few years later, when the National Liberation War Veterans Association, a group of self-proclaimed ex-fighters, pressured Mugabe into giving its members cash, medical care, free education, and, finally, land. In 2000, the government began forcibly redistributing commercial farms and ranches owned by whites: thugs armed with clubs, machetes, and rifles terrorized, assaulted, and, on at least a dozen occasions, murdered the owners. Later, Mugabe told thousands of supporters at a rally that his policy of reconciliation with white Zimbabweans had been an error. "When you show mercy to your former enemy . . . you think you are being noble. But, if you ask me now how I feel about it, I think we made a mistake," he said. War veterans and Presidential cronies took over most of the farms, fired the black laborers, and, in many cases, ruined the enterprises. The dismantling of Zimbabwe s farms, which had earned about half of the country's foreign ex- change, precipitated the collapse of the economy.

During the past five years, thousands of businesses have closed. At least seventy per cent of Zimbabweans are unemployed; up from twenty-five per cent fifteen years ago, and in April the inflation rate soared to over a thousand per cent, the world's highest. As many as thirty per cent of secondary school students have dropped out, because they cannot afford tuition. Mugabe's critics charge that funds destined for H.I.V. treatment and education are routinely diverted to government ministers and other high-ranking officials. One-fifth of the population is infected with H.I.V., and an average of four hundred people a day die of AIDS-related illnesses. The life expectancy of a Zimbabwean woman has dropped from sixty-one years, in 1991, to thirty-four years, the lowest in the world, according to the World Health Organization. "What Mugabe has done to this country is despicable," Peta Thornycrbft, a Zimbabwean journalist, told me. "He has destroyed the second-most-industrialized country in Africa. He has wrecked the infrastructure, wrecked education and health care. His only concern has been his own safety, his own power. He is a vain man, so it's a mystery why he is not trying to do something about his legacy. He must know there's nobody left who can write him a good obituary."

I met Thornycroft in a coffee shop on the outskirts of Harare. She is a gray-haired woman in her fifties who has spent most other adult life reporting from southern Africa. For the past four years, she has been working in violation of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, passed in 2002, which has stifled most public criticism of Mugabe and requires all journalists to be accredited with the Media and Information Commission or face imprisonment. Following passage of the Act, the government, prodded by its hard-line Minister of Information, Jonathan Moyo, has jailed scores of re- porters and closed three newspapers. Thornycroft was arrested in 2002, on charges of impersonating a journalist, and now she has to be especially cautious. "I can't take photographs, I can't interview people with a microphone," Thornycroft, who files reports for newspapers and radio in South Africa and Great Britain, told me. "Instead, I'm always thinking, Oh, God, if I do that I'll wind up in the slammer." The Daily News, which exposed corruption within the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU- PF), and the torture and beatings of anti-Mugabe activists, was attacked three times; no one was killed or injured, but printing presses and other equipment were destroyed. The Supreme Court shut down the paper in September 2003.

Meanwhile, other critics have got bolder. The U.S. Ambassador, Christopher Dell, gave a speech to Zimbabwean university students last November in which he accused Mugabe of "gross mismanagement of the economy and corrupt rule." African leaders who once ignored Mugabe's corruption and human-rights abuses killing dissidents, withholding emergency food aid from the regime's opponents are starting to lose patience. Last August, the South African government offered Zimbabwe a desperately needed loan of hundreds of millions of dollars, provided Mugabe agreed to implement political and economic reforms. After Mugabe rejected the conditions attached to it, South Africa withdrew the offer. The refusal prompted an angry warning from Mugabe to President Thabo Mbeki, who for years had pursued a much criticized policy of "quiet diplomacy," to "keep away" from Zimbabwe's internal affairs.

Mugabe, who is eighty-two, recently indicated that he will step down when his term expires, in 2008. He is putting the finishing touches on a retirement home: a ten million dollar, pagoda style villa, designed by Serbian architects. But Mugabe appears very much in control; he is still buying the allegiance of military and police commanders, and the internal security apparatus, the Central Intelligence Organization, keeps close watch for any signs of dissent. The country is widely believed to be riddled with C.I.O. agents and informants. "Every attempt at protest has been decisively crushed by the state," Raymond Majongwe, the leader of the Progressive Teachers' Union, a syndicate that has supported the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, told me. "Mugabe has won it. He has won it big time.

That certainly seemed to be the case on a blazing hot afternoon in April, when Mugabe attended the annual Independence Day celebration at Harare's National Stadium. Fifty thousand people were in the seats when Mugabe appeared on the field, two hours after his scheduled arrival. Joined by his second wife, Grace, who is some forty years his junior, and his three children, Mugabe looked serene, in a crisp gray suit covered with medals and draped in a green sash. He may have beggared his country, but he is still the Big Man, the independence hero, the African leader who had brought down the white elite; for the moment, at least, the people were with him. He watched a parade of Zimbabwe's Air Force, Army, and police, and, overhead, a precision formation of Chinese-made Zimbabwean Air Force fighter jets. Then, for an hour, he lectured the cheering spectators. He disparaged countrymen who had gone to seek a better life in England, where many have found jobs as low-paid private nurses. They were "the BBC," or "British Bum Cleaners," he said, provoking laughter from the crowd. He shook his fist as he declared; "Anyone who dares go against the security and stability of our country will be inviting the full wrath of the law to descend mercilessly on him or on those who follow him."

Mugabe appears determined to retain influence after his retirement. The Joint Operations Command - the military, police, and intelligence chefs who are Mugabe-s most trusted advisers - is focused on insuring a smooth transition. A possible successor is Joyce Mujuru, one of the country-s two Vice-Presidents and a Mugabe favorite. Mujuru, who is in her early fifties, joined Mugabe-s guerrilla army as a teenager, in the mid-nineteen-seventies, and achieved a measure of fame during the independence war by shooting down a Rhodesian Air Force helicopter with an AK-47. "I lay on my back, aimed and fired," she recalled in a recent newspaper interview. "Bullets hit the machine and it fell out of the sky." This feat earned her the nom de guerre Spillblood. In recent years, she has compared herself to Winnie Mandela. "My war experience changed my entire life," Mujuru said recently. "I became very, very strong and learned to make decisions and not to wait for men to decide everything." Her husband is Solomon Mujuru, the former commander of the armed forces and a Mugabe confidant. The Mujurus own three commercial farms seized from white Zimbabweans, as well as the majority stake in one of Zimbabwe-s richest mining conglomerates.

But Mujuru-s ascension, and the continued dominance of ZANU-PF, is not assured. She must win the next Presidential election, scheduled for 2008, and voting in Zimbabwe is not always predictable. The monitoring of polling stations by human-rights groups and other independent observers has made it difficult, especially in urban areas such as Harare and Bulawayo, for the regime to engage in its traditional methods of vote manipulation - ballot-box stuffing and intimidation. Moreover, the Joint Operations Command is said to consider Mujuru incapable of winning even a partially rigged election. The Command may press Zimbabwe-s parliament to pass a constitutional amendment that would delay the vote until 2010. Then Mugabe, just before retiring, would appoint Mujuru as Interim President, after which the power of incumbency would more likely allow her to win the Presidency by a popular vote.

There are other plausible scenarios. If unhappiness with Mugabe and his party grows, the pro-democracy opposition could gain seats in parliament and, given the right candidate win the Presidency. There is also a slim possibility that popular anger will result in an organized campaign of large street protests. John Makumbe, a professor of politics at the University of Zimbabwe, believes that Mugabe has realized belatedly that, "he has run out of solutions" and has started to panic: "People see a paper tiger and they think it-s real. In fact, it-s scared, wetting itself, with its tail between its legs."

For the past six years, hope for a democratic transformation have rested on Morgan Tsvangirai, a high-school dropout, former nickel miner, and trade-union boss from south-central Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai became a visible political figure in 1998, as the chairman of a coalition of labor leaders, lawyers, academics, church officials, and students which worked to revise the country-s constitution. The reform effort was stymied by Mugabe, but in September, 1999, its leaders created the Movement for Democratic Change, which, chaired by Tsvangirai, has mounted an unprecedented challenge to the dictatorship.

Tsvangirai is a charismatic speaker, and Peta Thornycroft described him as a gifted campaigner, especially among the rural poor. "He arrives in his red bakkie [pickup truck], and the crowd goes wild. For people who have no lives, no hope, he brings a rush of excitement," she said. In June, 2000, the M.D.C. shocked ZANU-PF by winning fifty-seven of a hundred and twenty contested seats in parliament. In the 2002 Presidential election, Tsvangirai, too, demonstrated that he had strong popular backing. Opposition supporters were attacked, and days later Tsvangirai was charged with being part of a conspiracy to assassinate Mugabe. His trial for capital treason, lasted nearly two years, and ended with his acquittal, in October, 2004.

Tsvangirai, who is fifty-four, lives in a modest ranch house set behind high walls in a leafy neighborhood in northern Harare, several miles from the city center. When I arrived, the house was crowded with advisers, supporters and members of his security staff. A stocky, moonfaced man, Tsvangirai met me just outside and led me to a bungalow at the rear of his property. The office was lined with books - David McCullough-s "John Adams," Nelson Mandela-s autobiography, Rudolf Giuliani-s "Leadership" - and was dominated by a poster of Mandela, which bore the legend "There Is No Easy Walk to Freedom Anywhere." He was eager to talk about the good health of the M.D.C. Eighteen thousand people had shown up at the Party Congress in March, he told me, one of the biggest turnouts in M.D.C. history. He was about to launch another "massive" civil-disobedience campaign, he said. At a funeral the previous day for Mugabe-s chief bodyguard, who had died at fifty-two, possibly of an AIDS related illness, the dictator had issued a blunt threat to Tsvangirai. "Just eat your mealy meal and keep quiet," he said. "If you really want to die, then [protest] and we will definitely kill you." Tsvangirai was unfazed.

He was less comfortable talking about a feud that had recently divided the Party into two factions, which had raised questions about Tsvangirai-s ability to effectively lead the opposition. The M.D.C. was always a shaky coalition - a "giant umbrella," one opposition leader told me. About two years ago, rumors began to spread that a group of academics and lawyers, most of them from the country-s largest minority tribe, the Ndebele (Tsvangirai belongs to the majority ethnic group, the Shona), were plotting to remove Tsvangirai as chairman and install a rival from their group. Members of Tsvangirai-s personal security force assaulted suspected plotters, and although Tsvangirai disciplined some of those involved, several opposition figures charged that Tsvangirai had allowed "thugs" and "criminals" to take control of the movement.

When I asked Tsvangirai about the allegations of violence, he scowled and said, "There was a single incident and I dealt with it decisively. Twenty-eight people were expelled from the Party." That may have been so, but the incident deepened conflicts within the M.D.C., and by the end of last year it had split. Tsvangirai is still widely admired, though, and, despite many threats, he continues to defy Mugabe. "He has overcome all the hurdles they have thrown in his way, including sabotage charges, treason charges," John Makumbe, one of Tsvngirai-s strongest supporters, told me. "He has refused to compromise."

Tsvangirai has urged his supporters to focus on Mugabe, "our common enemy," but the divisions in the opposition are clear. The next day, I went to a rally of Tsvangirai-s faction in southern Harare. Several thousand Tsvangirai supporters had gathered in a green square flanked by the General Post Office and an OK Supermarket. The subject of the speeches was supposed to be Mugabe-s abuses, but the rally-s organizers had a different agenda. "We now have other people who claim to be the M.D.C.," one local Party leader declared. "We have to deal with such people before we tackle ZANU-PF." He finished his speech with a vow in the local tribal language: "Tinotanga tavagobara"- "We will stamp them out."

Tsvangirai-s announcements of a new civil disobedience campaign attracted some surprising support. A couple of days later, I went to see Jonathan Moyo, the former Minister of Information, who in the past year has turned from acting as Mugabe-s mouthpiece into being one of his harshest critics. I was wary of announcing my presence to a man who has put dozens of reporters in jail. (I had entered the country on a tourist visa, and was working without accreditation, a crime punishable by two years in prison.) But a Western Diplomat had suggested that Moyo would be grateful for the media attention - "He needs friends now," he said. Moyo was trying to befriend Tsvangirai and organize a coalition of anti-Mugabe forces, but he was regarded with little enthusiasm. "Moyo is lambasting ZANU-PF, but he is in it up to here," Makumbe told me. "He has never said, 'It was a mistake to belong to that party.-"

Moyo, a tall, skinny man with wire-rimmed glasses and an owlish visage, met me in the driveway of his large home, off a busy thoroughfare in northern Harare. He proffered a stiff handshake and a nervous smile, and escorted me into a sunlit lounge beside his house. He was wearing a dark jacket and a white shirt, and he looked professorial; there was nothing about him to suggest the ZANU-PF official who had terrorized the press. He directed me to a sofa at one end of the room, then sat at the other end, about thirty feet away. His teen-age daughter poked her head in to ask about a family matter and he excused himself. He returned minutes later with an apologetic look.

Moyo graduated from the University of Southern California in the early nineteen-eighties, earned his master-s degree in politics there, and became a popular lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. In 1993, he moved to Nairobi, as the program officer of the Ford Foundation, but he left after four years to take a teaching post at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. (Moyo was subsequently accused of embezzling eighty-eight thousand dollars of Foundation funds. The charge is making its way through the Kenyan courts; he faces similar charges in South Africa). In 1999, he returned to Zimbabwe; a year later he was appointed Minister of Information, and quickly turned into the regime-s most ardent apologist. (Makumbe and others speculate that Moyo, having run into legal troubles related to the alleged embezzlement, was desperate for powerful allies). Moyo wrote jingles for state owned radio, praising Mugabe and his land seizures as well as the national soccer team. He oversaw the expulsion of foreign journalists, denied accreditation to others, and threatened to charge several Zimbabwean reporters with espionage. In return Moyo enjoyed many privileges, including a lodge near Hwange National Park, the country-s most popular game reserve, and thousands of acres of ranch land seized from a white Zimbabwean.

Moyo eventually became too ambitious. In the run-up to the parliamentary elections of March, 2005, he asked Mugabe to let him run as the ZANU-PF candidate in his home district. Mugabe refused, having promised the candidacy to an unknown female competitor. Moyo decided to run as an independent, and Mugabe fired him, accusing him of plotting a coup. Moyo underwent a sudden conversion: the regime's "spin doctor" became a champion of democracy. "Mugabe was infuriated with Moyo, and their relationship degenerated into name-calling games," Makumbe told me. As the parliamentary candidate of the United People-s Movement ("We will rock them!" is its slogan), Moyo, who had already made himself popular in his district by donating computers to public schools, won the seat. On the campaign trail, Moyo declared, "We are a young, dynamic society led by an old, stagnant clique." After the election, he called the house-demolition program "barbaric" and said that it was making Mugabe a pariah in Africa.

Moyo told me that he had intended to push Mugabe toward "genuine reform," but he realized after five years that the dictator was "incapable of change." He went on, "He believes that the people are still with him, that the only ones who do not support him are those in urban areas who come into contact with Western propaganda - the BBC, CNN. He lives in his own world." Mugabe-s closest advisers, Moyo told me, were "tired people who have failed to pass on the baton to a new generation. They have no ideology. What they think about is their own security, about keeping the succession an in-house affair."

Moyo is quick to describe his falling-out with his former boss. "Mugabe called me in and he said, 'If you leave the Party, that is going to bring a lot of negative consequences on you and your family.- He meant that he would unleash the Party and state machinery against me, and make it difficult for me to operate, to live." Moyo went on, "He didn-t specify what he meant, but his demeanor, his disposition, the look on his face all said, 'You are finished.-" But despite Moyo-s estrangement from Mugabe, M.D.C. leaders shunned him in parliament, ridiculed his supposed change of heart, and berated him for having served in the cabinet.

I asked Moyo if he felt any regret about being part of Mugabe-s system and sharing in its benefits. "The record will show that the farm I got, I-m struggling with," he told me. "I got derelict land, previously used for ranching, that did not have a single building on it." In fact, Moyo said, Mugabe had offered him a far better farm than the one he accepted. "I asked myself, What would it mean if it came out in public that I had gotten a huge farmhouse, with huge infrastructure? The house wouldn-t be mine. It-s not God-given; people put their sweat into this." Now, he said, he was working the land that the regime had allocated to him, building it into a productive enterprise.

When I asked Moyo about his role in suppressing dissent, he seemed to speak carefully. "Various people who were part of the system, who were making decisions, made mistakes," he said. "Responsibility falls on everyone." But his antipathy toward the press remained intact: "The foreign media acted irresponsibly. They made a bad situation worse. In the 2000 elections, many news organizations staged events. They believed their role was to expedite the downfall of a dictator."

On a recent rainy night in Harare, I joined a group of students from the University of Zimbabwe who had gathered clandestinely to meet the country-s newest would-be savior. The encounter took place in a drafty garage at the home of an opposition member of parliament, and the seventy young people in attendance were both excited and anxious. Political meetings of more than four people without a permit have been banned in Zimbabwe since 2002, by the Public Order and Security Act, and although the odds of being caught were slim, everyone faced a possible one-year jail term and a heavy fine. As helpers carried in bottles of Bollinger beer, Coke, whiskey, and brandy and set them on a table, Trudy Stevenson, a diminutive, gray-haired woman who is one of two white members of parliament, said, smiling, "Grab your drinks now, because it-s possible you will be spending the rest of the night in a cell."

The man they had come to see, Arthur Mutambara, is a tall forty-year-old, with a high, sloping forehead and a skull so elongated that it calls to mind a Giacometti sculpture. Mutambara became prominent in the late eighties, when, as the president of the student union at the University of Zimbabwe, he organized early protests against Mugabe-s one-party rule. In those days, Peta Thornycroft recalls, Mutambara was a straight-A student and a "hooligan," who tossed tear-gas canisters back at riot police. In 1989, after weeks of violent protests on campus, Mugabe ordered the University closed and had Mutambara arrested and jailed for two weeks. "He was gorgeous, articulate, humorous, warm, and he couldn-t have cared less about the consequences of his actions," Thornycroft told me. "He was everybody-s dream of a student leader." Mutambara-s bravery was proved when he refused to kneel at Mugabe-s feet as he received his diploma, in 1991 - the only student in the history of the University who failed to show Mugabe such obligatory respect. After his graduation, he went to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. Then he moved to the United States, where he worked as a visiting professor of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and as a consultant for McKinsey & Company, among other jobs.

Four years ago, Mutambara moved to Johannesburg, joined the Standard Bank as a director for new technology, and introduced electronic cash payments and Internet banking to a dozen countries in Africa. "My aim was always about expanding my value proposition," he told me, before the student meeting. In 2003, he quit the bank and started his own consulting firm, the African Technology & Business Institute. "I have the pedigree," he said. "I-m an African, so why can-t I set up a consulting firm for Africans? Why can-t I leverage my wisdom in an African environment? We are sick and tired of being consumers of knowledge. We want to participate in the construction of knowledge." He married a Zimbabwean woman who had been raised in France and educated in England; they have two sons. During his time in South Africa, he stayed in touch with leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change, watched Tsvangirai-s treason trial, and tried to mediate between factions after the M.D.C split. In January, 2006, representatives of the breakaway group called to ask Mutambara to become the faction-s chairman and front man. He moved back to Zimbabwe, and the following month he made his first political appearance, at the group-s congress in Bulawayo.

But Mutambara had been away for a decade and a half, and establishing credibility as a leader was not proving easy. His rallies had been sparsely attended, and his speaking style drifted between stiff and manic. Some critics portrayed him as a carpetbagger who was out of touch with financial desperation of most Zimbabweans. "Mutambara doesn-t even know how much a loaf of bread costs," one student whispered to me as we waited for Mutambara to start talking. The Herald, and the Mail, and other organs of government propaganda were devoting extended coverage to Mutambara-s rallies, playing up the rivalry between the two factions. "We were a cracked giant, and now we-ve crumbled in two," Raymond Majongwe, the chairman of the Progressive Teachers- Union, told me. The ruling party couldn-t be more pleased."

At eight-thirty, Mutambara faced the audience. "Mugabe declares himself a liberator," he said. "But he now represents a negation of what those freedom fighters died for." Zimbabwe, he insisted, had the potential to become "the next Singapore, the next Malaysia," but the economy had degenerated into one of "buy foreign exchange, sell foreign exchange; buy fuel, sell fuel; don-t produce - just be a dealer." Then he addressed the sundering of the M.D.C. "The jury is out as to which one of us is legitimate," he said. "We don-t condemn the other faction, because we both have the same agenda." A few moments later, however, he spoke less generously about Tsvangirai. "All the people around my brother Morgan say, 'He is an ignoramus, an idiot, but he has the support of people.- Is that the right side to be on?" Mutambara paused, and smiled. "My brother Morgan," he said, "is sick in the head."

Before leaving Zimbabwe, I met again with Mutambara, who had been introducing himself to ambassadors from the United States, Japan, Canada, South Africa and Spain. Thornycroft had called Mutambara "the best educated political leader in Africa," and when I arrived at the house he owns in northern Harare, which has served as a base during the past six years, Mutambara led me into a den and pointed to his bookshelves. He had neatly organized them into sections that reflected his broad range of interests. There were science and engineering texts, African-American history books, business manuals, biographies. (Like Tsvangirai, he had a copy of McCullough-s "John Adams.") In one corner he had filed the speeches he had given at Oxford and at universities in the United States; in another he kept a pile of hip-hop CDs. "Mutambara is not just a scientist," he told me, referring to himself, as he sometimes does, in the third person. Mutambara apparently approached his life as an ongoing self-improvement course. This methodical pursuit of excellence extended to his own family. He proudly showed me snapshots of his infant son, who had been born on January 12th, the month that Mutambara made his latest transformation, into political leader. The boy-s two middle names were expressions in Shona, Zimbabwe-s main tribal language, Mutambara said, which meant "succeed in spite of adversity," and "revolutionary courage to self-transcend and live a legacy."

Mutambara is beguiling and smart, but he can also seem glib; and the sense that he has flitted from career to career undermines his attempts at gravitas. The role that he played in the late eighties, as a critic of Mugabe at a time when almost nobody dared oppose the dictator, had established his courage and integrity. But all this was long ago. While Tsvangirai, for the past decade, was working for the cause inside Zimbabwe, Mutambara enjoyed the good life abroad and polished his resume, Tsvangirai has been damaged by intra-party conflicts, but he remains the most promising of the opposition figures.

Earlier that day, I had talked again with Tsvangirai. "Everyone is reeling under the current regime. The sense of crisis is urgent," he told me, but added that he was "reconciled to the fact that you cannot put a time frame to your struggle." His expression was frank. "Look, we have had setbacks, but we are confident we can rebuild the resistance and confront the dictatorship. I-m an optimist, but I am a realistic optimist. You cannot just wish people to be on the streets. You have to work for it. You have to remove people-s fear. Building a movement is not a one-day wonder. Come back in a year-s time. You will see change in this country."

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