Elections in Zimbabwe

On Tuesday last week I listened to a SABC Africa Service program (their broadcasting arm into Africa as a whole) when they ran an extract from the latest press conference of Thabo Mbeki. It was very interesting and encouraging for me to hear the South African President stating that: -

1. The MDC and Zanu PF have no option but to talk so that the problems of Zimbabwe could be resolved.
2. POSA and AIPPA (the two bits of more recent legislation that are used to control and manipulate local media and political life) had to be dealt with.
3. The only way forward was through an internationally recognised and respected electoral process.

Any senior MDC leader could have made this statement. It is and has been for some years now, the official position of the MDC on the way out of the mess we are in. Mbeki went on and said that he had spoken to both the leaders of the MDC and Zanu PF and that "they had agreed" to hold talks. He then said he had suggested that when talks were held that they should aim at resolving all outstanding constitutional issues and the timetable for new elections, which should be held before the end of March 2005.

Mugabe promptly responded by announcing that elections for a new Parliament, already scheduled for June 2005, would be brought forward by three months to March 2005. He also said he had no intention of talking to the MDC. In several other speeches Mugabe failed to refer to talks in any way.

In a fascinating exercise, Chinamasa - the Minister responsible for Legal Affairs then wrote to the UN and asked them for financial assistance in running the 2005 elections. I am no admirer of the UN system but this time their response was spot on. They responded by saying that before they could do so they would send a high level delegation to Zimbabwe to investigate the electoral process and then they would act on the basis of the recommendations made. A list of those in the proposed delegation was enclosed together with a clear statement of their terms of reference. With astonishing speed the Minister responded by saying hurriedly - that is not what we had in mind, we will do the elections ourselves, thank you!

If that is not a public admission that what they have in mind as an electoral process, will not stand up to scrutiny, then I do not know what is! We (MDC) responded by saying that if the March 2005 elections are held under the conditions that prevail today in the country, then we will not grace the process with our participation. We will not legitimize what will be another huge exercise in wholesale electoral fraud.

UN and other diplomatic representatives here have stated that they support the MDC view and that if elections are held without major reforms in the process and the general political environment, then they will not recognise the outcome. The Zimbabwe government will continue to be an outcast in the global community. So fresh elections are now scheduled but they will solve nothing - only make things worse.

I read Ian Smith's book, Betrayal, this past week. Never could get up the effort required to do so before, but wanted to remind myself of what happened to Smith when he was in a similar situation to Mugabe today. In the book, Smith rightly devotes a chapter to the Kissenger intervention in September 1976. He had traveled down to Pretoria with several of his more conservative Cabinet Ministers and first saw Kissenger. HK outlined to Smith his plan to get Rhodesia out of the mess it was in and said that this was the best deal he could get for the Rhodesians in present circumstances. Smith accepted that HK was sincere and trying his level best. But his best was not good enough and in private discussions the Rhodesians resolved to turn the deal down.

At this juncture, B J Vorster came into the picture and in a short butemphatic intervention he told the Rhodesians that it was over. If they did not accept the American package South Africa would withdraw all support. The Rhodesians had no choice and Smith came back from Pretoria, told his Cabinet the outcome and then went on television to announce that they had accepted majority rule. It was the end of Smiths regime. It started the process that brought Robert Mugabe to power 24 years ago - with aggressive and positive British support in the process.

The players are different, but the situation is very similar and if anything the relative strengths of South Africa as the regional superpower and Zimbabwe are even more accentuated. Mugabe can not say no to Mbeki if Mbeki puts his foot down in the manner that Vorster did 28 years ago. In 1976, Vorster was acting in the best interests of South Africa. If Mbeki acted against Mugabe, he would again be doing so in the best interests of South Africa.

It took the South African Communist Party this week to set the record straight in South Africa. They had sent a small team to Zimbabwe to investigate the situation and when they returned they published a short report. They confirmed all that we have been saying about the situation in the country and reminded their ANC colleagues that Zimbabwe was violating all the human and political values that the ANC had fought for for 75 years before they gained real democracy in 1994. They said that it was Zanu PF that was stalling on the talk's front and called for more effective action by South Africa to break the deadlock.

The question now is where to next? I am afraid the ball is in your court, Mr. Mbeki, after all - you did accept the role of "point man" on the Zimbabwe issue. I once caused a furore in Johannesburg by stating that if the South African Government did not know how to do it, they should consult those furry old Afrikaner nationalists in Hermanus.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 25th February 2004