Would Zanu-PF accept Tsvangirai as president?

Morgan Tsvangirai (L) and Patrick Chinamasa (R) photographed in 2002 Image copyright AP
Image caption Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC has spent four years in government with Patrick Chinamasa (R) of Zanu-PF

Zimbabwe's Justice Minister and Zanu-PF negotiator Patrick Chinamasa is a tall, urbane lawyer with a fantastically messy desk and a self-deprecating cartoon on his wall about greedy lawyers.

As Zimbabwe inches towards a new constitution and a crucial new election designed to end four years of power-sharing between Zanu-PF and the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Mr Chinamasa is at the heart of the negotiations.

When it comes to the tussles over constitutional drafts, stakeholder conferences and the finer points of organising elections, Mr Chinamasa offers an encouraging narrative of progress made, of gentlemanly disagreements overcome or put to one side and of law and decorum observed.

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Media captionZimbabwe's Justice Minister and Zanu PF negotiator Patrick Chinamasa talks to the BBC

It is an enticing picture of a country that has, undeniably and against steep odds, made impressive progress in some respects over the past four years.

The economy has been saved from collapse, schools are functioning, and - for all their public disagreements and the heavy-handed efforts of the security forces - Zimbabwe's political leaders are still talking.

But the picture is incomplete.

Towards the end of our interview in Mr Chinamasa's office, I raised the seemingly innocuous issue of the theoretical possibility that the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai, whose party won the 2008 parliamentary election, might win the presidency.

Senior Zimbabwean military officials have publicly stated that they would not accept Mr Tsvangirai - currently prime minister in the power-sharing government - as head of state, and it seemed appropriate to ask Mr Chinamasa whether that was Zanu-PF's official position or whether he would like to state, for the record, that the will of the people would be respected, whatever the outcome.

'Asking for trouble'

Mr Chinamasa's answer, which I have transcribed below, is highly revealing.

"He [Tsvangirai] cannot win. He has been campaigning and mobilising against the interests of Zimbabweans on many issues, whether talking about land, seeking to reverse the gains of the liberation struggle.

"And this is where the military comes in…. Young people participated in the liberation struggle to gain control over our resources.

"Many friends died and are buried in unmarked graves.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Zimbabwe's military do not want to see Morgan Tsvangirai as head of state

"Now if anyone is going to say: 'When I come into power I'm going to reverse that,' they [the military] have every right to say: 'Please - you are asking for trouble. You will be asking for trouble.'

"He [Tsvangirai] will be asking for trouble to seek to reverse the land reform programme.

"There is no-one who is going to accept any enslavement."

I asked the minister what he meant by "trouble" and if he was suggesting that he would not accept a Tsvangirai presidency under any circumstances.

Initially he said: "You could put any interpretation on it that you want."

But when I asked him for his own interpretation he said: "I know he [Tsvangirai] is the front of (sic) the countries that impose sanctions.

"And if those countries impose for him to win, that result will not be acceptable.

"We will not accept it. We will just not accept it. Isn't that clear?"

So there you have it.

If Mr Tsvangirai wins - and I am not suggesting that is either likely or certain - and if Zanu-PF claims he has done so because of foreign support, then Zanu-PF's justice minister will not accept the result.

Is that a fair interpretation, and what does it say about the prospects for a democratic election in Zimbabwe next year?

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