Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 16:11 UK

Old foes enjoy 'Team Zimbabwe' trip

Victoria Falls

By Brian Hungwe
Victoria Falls

As venues for a team-bonding getaway go, Zimbabwe's opulent five-star Elephant Hills Hotel, near Victoria Falls, seems hard to beat.

The luxury resort is nestled between the mighty River Zambezi and a lush golf course, where waterbuck and impala roam the green.

In the distance can be glimpsed the soaring curtain of mist, often girdled by a rainbow, churned up by the magnificent waterfall, which is the seventh wonder of the world.

But a three-day getting-to-know-you trip to the hotel by ministers in Zimbabwe's power-sharing government has incensed many Zimbabweans.


Dinner in its restaurant costs about $20 (£14) a plate, one fifth of a civil servant's monthly salary - in a country where half the population needs food aid.

Children in a slum on the outskirts of Harare
Zimbabwe's people have suffered from the economy's meltdown

Critics derided the retreat, which was opened by President Robert Mugabe and funded by the World Bank, as little more than a junket.

But Public Service Minister Professor Eliphas Mukonoweshuro said it had helped thaw tensions in the six-week-old unity administration.

It was an attempt to foster a culture of teamwork among Zimbabwe's former political foes and get Zimbabwe "moving again", he added.

The organiser of the retreat, Professor Mandivamba Rukuni, of the Wisdom Afrika Leadership Academy, said it had achieved its two major objectives: Team building and agreeing a 100-day working plan of clear targets designed to revive the economy.

"This inclusive government is six weeks old, and they really need a way of having a unity of purpose and bonding across party lines to a level that will allow the government to be both effective and efficient," he said.

'It was magic'

During the retreat, Zanu-PF ministers were paired with their colleagues and former bitter enemies from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and encouraged to have clear-the-air chats.

"It was magic," Mr Rukuni said.

In one such face-to-face discussion, Energy Minister Elias Mudzuri, of the MDC, met his former rival, Zanu-PF Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo.

File pic of Jonathan Moyo
If you call this a bonding retreat then you really need a reality check, sooner rather than later
Jonathan Moyo

In his former role as mayor of Harare, Mr Mudzuri was beaten up by the police and then fired during a fierce power struggle with Mr Chombo.

But after meeting his Zanu-PF colleague, Mr Mudzuri said: "We managed to get a good conversation, it was like a healing process, with what transpired in the past. It worked."

Zanu-PF executives at the retreat are also said to have looked in a new light upon Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a senior MDC member and long-standing critic of President Mugabe.

"I didn't quite understand him [Biti] before," said Mines Minister Obert Mpofu.

"I realised that there was a lot that I missed about him. I found him to be a vibrant, intelligent, an intellectual and constructive lawyer."

But some commentators were not impressed.

"It was a waste of time and money," says Independent MP Professor Jonathan Moyo, who complained that some key officials, such as central bank mandarins, had not joined the retreat.

He said: "They are not supposed to bond, they are supposed to work. What we will remember this retreat for is that they went on helicopter rides, riding horses, while others were cruising along the Zambezi in luxurious boats, with the country reeling under an economic meltdown.

"If you call this a bonding retreat then you really need a reality check, sooner rather than later," Mr Moyo said.

Cracking jokes

During the trip, the ministers also set benchmarks on restoring the rule of law, normalising relations with the international community, building infrastructure and promoting a free media.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai (L) and President Robert Mugabe in Harare on 14 March 2009
Donors demand proof of power-sharing before they will open their wallets

Many Zanu-PF bigwigs were particularly concerned by Zimbabwe's international isolation.

President Mugabe and his inner circle are the target of international sanctions which involve travel bans and restrict them from doing business in the West as well as curbing non-humanitarian financial aid to Zimbabwe.

There was resentment at the retreat among Zanu-PF executives that while their movements remain restricted, MDC officials are able to roam the world with ease.

Many in President Mugabe's party urged the MDC to do more to get the sanctions removed.

Zanu-PF lawmaker and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said: "We need them to lift sanctions, in whose interests are these sanctions being imposed. We are now working together."

But analysts say the sanctions are not likely to be lifted anytime soon, given that nothing noteworthy has actually been done yet on promised reforms.

Professor John Makumbe, of the University of Zimbabwe political science department, said: "Nothing significant or brilliant came up, except that they bonded.

"They went there without boxing gloves, it's a big start, which will give the sceptics, particularly the donor countries, that crucial impression that they can work together for the common good."

Inside the bars, the politicians mingled and cracked jokes.

As the retreat drew to a close, a musical show was staged by a popular local Sungura musician, Tongayi Moyo.

After feasting on a buffet, the ministers took to the dance floor, outside the elegant pool gardens of the hotel, next to the golf course.

And Tongayi Moyo belted out his song "Things Must Change / Political Violence", which is banned by the state broadcaster.

The lyrics say: "You can't continue practising violence for long, it will come to haunt you."

"The most decorated of military officers have their time, they won't be saluted forever," the song goes, adding "violence has its time, things must change".

Zanu-PF ministers may not have been paying much attention to the lyrics.

But they danced along anyway.

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