Total Onslaught

In the dying days of the apartheid regime in South Africa, those of us who lived in the "Front Line States" were subjected to a wide range of attacks on our well being and security. It was a no holds barred effort by the South African regime to protect itself from the growing influence of regional states and the international community.

Infrastructure was destroyed; schools, clinics and food production systems were undermined and sabotaged. Hundreds of thousands of people died - many from hunger and the effect of the collapse of normal social support systems. Rebel movements were financed and armed and even given clandestine logistical support by a rogue regime that knew it was against the ropes. The regime justified the operation saying they were being subjected to "a total onslaught" that required a "total response".

In Zimbabwe, we have seen a similar last-ditch effort by the Mugabe regime to defend itself by reckless attacks on a very wide range of targets. The commercial farmers, the independent media, targeted industrialists, bankers and others who were perceived as being potential sources of opposition activity. Now the independent schools and remaining pockets of commercial agriculture.

The result. Death rates have soared to over 300 000 people a year - three times the "normal death rate". Some 8 million people have been critically short of food for most of the past 4 years. A third of all children of school going age and two thirds of all girls, are no longer in school. The economy is in free fall - declining 40 per cent in 6 years and foreign exchange earnings are down by two thirds. Over a third of the work force has lost their jobs in the formal sector and only 8 per cent of the population are now employed. A quarter of the total population has fled the country for political and economic reasons.

Right now the pace is accelerating even further - a new Reserve Bank Governor is herding all available foreign exchange towards the State coffers, selected targets in the financial sector are being picked out for "special attention". No one is exempt from attack. If you are perceived as being less than reliable in this conflagration, you are neutralized. All State organs are being mobilized for one last-ditch effort to protect the status quo at any cost.

They know full well that pressure for free and fair elections are growing steadily - both in the international realm and here in the region. They know that time is running out, they feel that they have the upper hand over the MDC which they see as exhausted and short of resources and barely able to stand up after 4 years of pummeling in the ring. What they need now is a knockout blow - if this match is allowed to run to the end of its allotted rounds, they are scared of a point's loss to a more nimble, disciplined and principled opponent.

So the talk is all about a snap election in September or October this year. Zanu PF is racing to complete its preparations - candidates selected, a rigged voters roll, and gerrymandered constituency boundaries. The opponent beaten and exhausted by constant attacks and restrictions on its access to essential resources. What is intended is much the same as the final scene in the film "Gladiator" where a severely wounded Maximus is pitted against the wily Caesar. Caesar intends to take his life in an unequal contest witnessed by thousands who are unaware of the injury done to Maximus just a short while before.

I am sure we are going to see a relaxation of some the restrictions that we have been operating under in the past 4 years - Sky Television is here right now - so is Kenya Television - both carefully supervised and being shown what they can and cannot film. Oh yes, they were allowed to see Morgan Tsvangirai - locked in his cage and unable to move freely before the contest. I am sure we will see some concessions to a free and fair election - not fundamental enough to permit Zimbabweans to vote freely and secretly for those they wish to govern them. But enough to allow Zanu PF to claim victory after the contest supported by their acolytes in the stands from the region.

The preparations for this final round (final for Zanu PF) are almost completed. The local media is cowed and nearly totally controlled by Zanu PF, sources of support for the MDC are also cowed and suppressed. MDC structures have been severely damaged by a campaign of terror and arbitrary arrest and detention. The voters roll is being manipulated on a massive scale - MDC has not been able, despite repeated requests and Court decisions in our favour, to get a copy of the roll - in any form. From the limited access we have had over the past two years we know that there are 2 to 3 million-ghost voters on the roll. We also know that hundreds of thousands have been taken off the roll or had their votes transferred to another constituency.

We also know they are preparing to again reduce the number of urban constituencies despite the growth in the urban population. Squatter camps are in existence on the outskirts of all the cities and towns and are being settled under Zanu PF supervision and control.

Now we also have clear evidence that they are going to use the food crisis to the maximum extent that they can in the election. Last year they carefully built up a stock of maize - 250 000 tonnes. This is being held by the GMB in silos. They know there is at the very most 800 000 tonnes of grain from the present harvest - enough for 4 months. This gives the country enough food for human consumption up to August.

In August real food shortages will appear. Alternative foods such as rice, bread, potatoes will all be prohibitively expensive for the majority. Dependency on maize as the basic affordable staple will be at its peak. The maize purchased in 2003 will be cheap enough to give away - already paid for and in the hands of a parastatal controlled by the military.

Zanu PF will make maize available through its systems - at low prices and on a strictly rationed basis - both in urban and rural areas. They will then say - "any constituency voting for MDC will lose its food supply. If you do not vote for the government, why should the government feed you?"

Voting in the rural areas, resettlement areas and in Zanu PF controlled shanty towns will be under close supervision. Headmen will line up their people and tell them who to vote for. The penalty for not doing so is made quite clear - expulsion from the village or shanty town or your patch on a confiscated commercial farm.

All polling stations will have their associated camps of green bombers or militia. State agencies linked to the military will be everywhere. The threat of force and violence constant - even if unspoken. This weekend, as the people of Lupane vote in a bi election they will do so under a threat from Zanu PF that if they vote MDC "the 5th Brigade will come back". This, in a community that saw the brunt of the killings and genocide in 1983/85. The first order of business for a peasant family or a family in a squatter camp is to survive.

That is the whole point of the "total onslaught". The question is, can we, like Maximus, get up enough courage and strength to go back into the ring and beat this monster? We can - that is what makes a competitor a champion in every competition.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 10 May 2004