The Future of Zimbabwe

To celebrate 5 years since we founded the MDC in September 1999, MDC held a series of rallies in major cities. In each case the stadium/venue was packed with MDC people - the majority being poor working class. The main topic discussed was the decision by the MDC to suspend participation in the electoral process until the Mugabe regime has implemented their recent commitments to the SADC in full.

Morgan Tsvangirai expressed confidence that the regime would eventually comply. But that they would only do so at the very last minute in the hope that this will not give the MDC enough time to overcome the combined effects of years of propaganda, violence and intimidation plus the use of food shortages as a means of coercion. Morgan said that even if they did this - MDC would be ready and would fight every constituency in the country. For this reason the MDC was completing its plans for the elections, selecting candidates and starting its election campaign.

Mugabe has already committed himself to "implementing reforms designed to meet the SADC requirements". Initial evidence of this willingness is scant - their first round of reforms actually change very little. The same collection of goons remains in charge of the electoral process and they are pressing ahead with gerrymandering the constituencies and the electoral roll. If this is the full extent of their so-called "compliance" then a free and fair election is absolutely impossible and the MDC will maintain its suspension.

So we have two possible scenarios ahead of us: - 1. Little or no significant reforms of the electoral system and a rigged election which the opposition boycotts in March 2005. 2. Comprehensive reforms initiated a few weeks before the election date with the MDC participating. Clearly, if the first is allowed to happen (I say allowed, because it is quite within the power of the SADC States to force Zimbabwe to comply with its obligations), then what we face is a crisis that will become a calamity. The international isolation of Zimbabwe will intensify, the economic decline will also continue - now into its 7th year of continuous decline in GDP. The regime will have to intensify its repression of human and political rights, human flight will accelerate. We can expect all the features of a humanitarian crisis to intensify - hunger, malnutrition, higher levels of mortality and the continued deterioration in all social services.

So far we have been able to prevent the total collapse of Zimbabwe into the category of another failed African State. I do not think we can hold the line much longer if there are no significant changes to our status as a pariah state.

For the region, the impact of such an outcome would be equally devastating -capital flight from the region will again intensify, social pressures brought about by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of economic and political migrants will also intensify. International governments will rightly see this as a failure by the AU and the SADC to remedy a situation that is clearly within the ambit of their responsibilities. Aid flows to the region will continue to fall and international support for measures to address the wider needs of the region will decline.

If the second scenario is achieved (as a result of regional pressure on Mugabe) then the situation is much more hopeful. I would assume that the MDC would be given several weeks of access to the State controlled media, thatthe laws that restrict political activity will be suspended for the election period and that all forms of violence and intimidation are also curbed. It would also be a requirement that food be in free supply at market prices and that aid agencies be allowed to address the serious food deficit, which now prevails in many areas of the country.

Under these conditions, the MDC would enter the fray - seriously hampered by the years of activity by the State against all forms of opposition. Zanu would hope that the few weeks of free political activity will not be enough to turn the tide and they will be able to hang onto their majority.

If then the elections themselves are conducted properly - under regional and international supervision so that the process itself can be assessed as being free and fair, then we might just be able to end up with a government that has some standing - both in the region and internationally. Under such conditions there is a chance that we will be able to climb out of the hole we have dug for ourselves.

These are a lot of ifs and buts - at the rallies I saw lots of evidence that the ordinary people of the country are in support of the MDC leadership's views and current stance. But I also witnessed a lot of anger and frustration.

Democracy may have its flaws, but at least it allows a people to change their leaders if they come to the conclusion that are no longer acting in their interests. That is the essence of the situation in Zimbabwe. It's the question of our freedom to choose those who lead us and control our destiny. Mugabe would like to see this crisis through the perspective of a global conflict between rich western States and poor African States. Its nothing of the sort - this is a 100 per cent domestic matter and is rightly left to those of us who live and work in Zimbabwe.

But to be able to do so we must have normal conditions for elections. The past decade has been characterised by continuous politically motivated violence and oppression. By the use of the legal system as a weapon of control and intimidation, theft and pillage and selective prosecution. The activities of the opposition have been crowded out and virtually all the basic freedoms enshrined in the United Nation Universal Declaration on Human Rights denied. If we are not permitted our democratic rights, then how do we remove this failed and dictatorial regime? You and I know the answer to that and it is not a very pleasant thought. It could become inevitable if the region fails us again.

Eddie Cross Bulawayo
14th September 2004