This was between Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union/
Patriotic Front and Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African Peoples Union.
Unity Day has been celebrated every year to commemorate it.
But survivors and revivers of Zapu are now warning Mugabe's new partners of the dangers of a Unity agreement.
Their own experience was that Zapu was swallowed up in the belly of the
Zanu(PF) python and many people are saying that the same thing will
happen to Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.
But while it is certainly true that the MDC cannot yet protect its own
supporters against the Central Intelligence Organisation, the police
and the army, there are important differences between the two Unity
Put simply, the 1987 event was a fusion of two parties into one. The
2009 event is a coalition of two parties.Some of the same dramatic
transformations have happened on both occasions.
After 1987, for instance, Dumiso Dabengwa Zapu's intelligence chief
went from being imprisoned on a charge of treason to appointment as
Minister of Home Affairs.
After the agreement of 2009, Tendai Biti has gone from facing a charge
of treason in court to become Minister of Finance. So far, so similar.
But the recent agreement is nothing like so much of a triumph for
Mugabe as 1987 when, after years of military and police pressure on his
supporters, in which some 20,000 people died, Nkomo had no alternative
but concede dominance to Mugabe.
A supposedly new party emerged from the Unity agreement but it was
still called Zanu/PF and it still used the same symbols of the clenched
fist and the cockerel. Nkomo was allowed ceremonial status and ex-Zapu
men were allowed to dominate local government in western Zimbabwe, but
Mugabe controlled the central state.
An amnesty was declared for all those who had committed political violence.
The emergence of the single party was supposed to portend the creation
of a one-party state and Zanu/PF totted up the percentages of its
combined voter support.
We worship the majority as Christians worship Christ, said Eddison Zvogbo.
This time round, it is very different. This is a coalition government:
There is an agreed statement of principles, in which Zanu(PF) tries to
bind the MDC to its doctrines of sovereignty and the MDC seeks to
restrain Zanu(PF) by commitments to human rights.
Nevertheless, the two parties remain quite distinct. And both have made
it clear that they look forward to competing against each other in an
election as soon as possible.
In September 2008, when the agreement was first signed, Mugabe called
upon his party to revive itself so that it could achieve a smashing
electoral victory and he would never again have to suffer the
humiliation of working with Tsvangirai. During the long delay between
the agreement and its implementation, Tsvangirai called for
internationally supervised elections as an alternative to coalition.
Those who worship the majority are torn between the parliamentary
majority won by the MDC in March 2008 or the claimed presidential
majority won by Mugabe in the uncontested election in June.
There is no amnesty this time round, which is why police are still able
to arrest a nominated MDC deputy minister Roy Bennett and why many
in Zanu/PF fear prosecution for crimes against humanity.
When there is another election the old Zapu will contest it. If the
1987 agreement was designed to usher in a one-party state, this
agreement seems designed to usher in intense competitive multiparty
The MDC will not be swallowed up and digested by the python. But it may
emerge covered with slime. It is part of the largest and most expensive
cabinet in Zimbabwe's history. Now in charge of the economic
ministries, it may be blamed for failure to bring about recovery.
So, everything will be done with an eye to electoral advantage. And the
most important thing of all is to seek to create conditions in which a
fair election can be held.
Terence Ranger, a veteran historian of and commentator on Zimbabwe,
is an emeritus fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford. Email:
The Zimbabwe ObserverPost published in: News