One of the universal truisms in life is that nothing comes for free. Everything has a price. This is especially true in politics, where politicians are masters of negotiation and exerting a high price for what they have to offer.

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And there is no more practiced or experienced politician then Robert Mugabe. Whatever our individual views on him (and as you may be able to tell, mine are far fromcomplementary), we can all agree that Mugabe is no fool. When he makes a deal, he has thought through all the angles. He certainly doesn’t give anything away for free.

So this morning, after waking up to front pages announcing that his NPF is supporting Nelson Chamisa for president, the question we should all be asking is what did he get for his support? Why did Robert Mugabe turn against the party he founded and embrace the opposition he spent his life battling?

Let’s start by ruling out the overly simplistic and lazy explanations that have been doing the rounds this morning. First, some have claimed that this is because the Old Man has been wowed by Nelson Chamisa and seen that he is the best leader for Zimbabwe. This is patently nonsense. Had the people not ousted him, Mugabe would be determinedly fighting Chamisa and the MDC today. And as for ‘the national interest’, it has been a long time (if ever) since Mugabe put anything before Robert (and Grace) Mugabe. I somehow doubt that a boyish smile and some press ups on the street would be enough to turn Mugabe into an MDC supporter.

Then there are those who claim that this move is out of revenge against Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man Mugabe blames for his ouster. This is slightly more convincing, and clearly Mugabe does feel resentment towards his former protégé. However, Mugabe is far too seasoned a politician to be driven purely by irrational emotions. His only focus now is on protecting his interests: his liberty, power and wealth.

The only rational conclusion is that Mugabe feels that his own personal interests would be best served by a Chamisa presidency. There can be no other explanation. “Since nothing is free, to each his price” (Gore Vidal).

So we must ask, what has Nelson promised him to make him conclude this? Immunity from prosecution? Guarantees about the status of his assets? Business opportunities? Or worse still, that Mugabe, Grace, Jonathan Moyo and all the old gang will be given roles – official or otherwise – in a Chamisa government. After all, both Moyo and Mugabe now seem to be actively campaigning for Chamisa, while the rumours that Grace is backing him refuse to go away. Surely none of us are naïve enough to believe this is all purely altruistic.

For Chamisa’s most diehard supporters, none of this matters. They are wedded to their go-to (and by now tiresome) talking point that “there are no permanent enemies in politics, just interests”, and are indifferent to any concerns some have about their hero. To borrow a line from Donald Trump, Chamisa could shoot someone live on TV, in the middle of Africa Unity Square, and he wouldn’t lose their support.

But for the remainder – and majority – of his supporters, this is a big issue. We spent our lives fighting Mugabe, and simply will not abide any alliance (even a tacit) one with him. For we know that for Mugabe, this is just the first step. He will not give us his support just for Chamisa to win power and then leave the stage. Like an aggressive loan shark or mafia boss, once Chamisa owes him he will never let go willingly. His influence on a Chamisa government would grow and grow, and who knows where it would stop.

We have fought Mugabe and his allies for too long to let them back into State House through the back door. I will not be on the same side as Robert Mugabe and Jonathan Moyo. And so, as a lifelong MDC supporter and with a heavy heart, I must say that the moment Mugabe gets on the Chamisa train is the moment that I get off it. I cannot vote for the party of Robert Mugabe.

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