Recent Developments

There is so much going on at present that it is quite difficult to keep up with what is happening and to consider just how all these developments feed into the crisis in Zimbabwe. Lets just take a few and examine how they are likely to impact on our immediate future.

The governing alliance in South Africa is made up of three organizations - the Confederation of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party as well as the African National Congress. Of the three, the ANC has the smallest direct membership, Cosatu, the largest, with its membership running to millions of workers. The SACP is a relic of the past but still commands a significant following - probably larger than the Pan African Congress. It also supplies some of the main players and thinkers in the SA government.

Both Cosatu and the SACP have been moving away from support for the position of Zanu PF in Zimbabwe for some time. They have developed a better understanding of the position of the MDC and are now actively supporting political strategies that will secure some form of democratic transition here. The recent visit to Zimbabwe by senior delegations of both organisations were undertaken in the spirit of fact finding tours to confirm their own understandings of the situation here. The SACP visit went off without hitch, but the Cosatu delegation was given the boot - literally.

As a consequence of these developments the two major players in the ANC camp, are now firmly committed to supporting the effort to secure free and fair elections next year. How the South African government will play this new development is difficult to see through the mist of all the spin that is going on, but there can be no doubt that this represents a major diplomatic set back for the Zanu PF and for those who support them in the SA administration.

Mbeki will have to take these developments into consideration or face the prospect that he will lose some control over events as they affect the SA/Zimbabwe relationship. Cosatu has the power to put significant autonomous pressure on Zimbabwe and the SACP simply cannot be ignored inside the South African corridors of power. The recent improvement in the relationship with the MDC has shown that Mbeki is moving his own position. The treatment of Morgan Tsvangirai when visiting African Heads of State in Africa is also revealing. These things do not happen in Africa without serious decisions being taken. In South Africa Morgan was given substantial status for the first time - and Mugabe was furious. Morgan has now been received by the Presidents of 6 countries, with full honors that such visits normally attract to significant visitors and this again reveals a changing climate in Africa.

Commentators in South Africa who have criticised Morgan's diplomatic offensive are simply mouthing the views of the Zimbabwe propaganda machine who are enraged that having let the lion out of the cage, he has gone hunting.

There can be no doubt that we are now in for a second Bush term - one in which the conservatives in the US will be very much in the driving seat. Regime change in Afghanistan is now almost complete and represents an astonishing military and diplomatic achievement. The Iraq situation is getting the same treatment. In the Ivory Coast, the French are doing their own bit of political surgery.

There are no signs of any shift in the Bush administrations strategies in Africa. This means that although we will not be a top priority, we will not be ignored. Just look at the global team that now confronts the Mugabe regime. In the USA, Bush; in the UK, Blair; in the SADC, Mauritius and Botswana hold the key leadership positions. In the AU, Obasanjo of Nigeria is in charge. In the G8, and the EU, Blair will be in the key leadership role next year - when it matters. Heavens, if the MDC was to choose a team to confront the regime here diplomatically, we could not have done a better job.

This translates into even more pressure on Mbeki. How he will react is difficult to tell, but he has moved his position and it is difficult to see how he cannot keep on moving if he is to maintain his own position as the major crime buster and fixer in Africa.

Next week on Tuesday the Agriculture Portfolio committee in Parliament is going to table a report which we understand will completely contradict Mugabe's claim that "we have grown 2,4 million tonnes of maize and do not need your food." The committee was the product of a slip up by the Zanu whip who failed to get a majority into parliament when the debate on the food situation initiated by the MDC shadow Minister of Agriculture Rensen Gasela took place. The resolution proposed by Rensen was passed and the Committee, chaired by a rather decent Zanu MP, has now completed its investigations - with the grudging participation of the Ministries and the GMB.

The committee concluded that only 600 000 tonnes of maize was in fact produced this past season - less than in 2003 and only a quarter of the Mugabe estimate. With opening stocks of about 200 000 tonnes we had enough food for about 5 months. Since then we have been importing steadily from the region and further abroad. Fortunately for us, South Africa has a 2 million tonne surplus and if we need food in a hurry it is not far away. Maize is also a cheap product and we can always find the money to import stocks if the need is there.

But what this confirms is that it is the objective of the Mugabe regime to restrict basic food supplies to government controlled channels. This situation will be in place by the end of the year and the whole system is ready to be used in the Zanu campaign in 2005. We have seen some signs of how they will do it - in Chipinge they stopped all stores carrying the basic staple, maize meal. Then they allocated maize to the Zanu PF candidate for the area (Zanu has not won a seat in Chipinge in recent years) who sold it through groups of young Zanu thugs who took a margin. Both the candidate and the "Green Bombers" made money. If you wanted maize, you had to become a member of Zanu and attend Zanu functions.

If anyone wanted confirmation that the Mugabe regime was not wiling to change its ways in any way, you only have to read Hansard, the daily verbatim record of proceedings in Parliament. The action taken against Roy Bennett - a clear violation of the regulations controlling Parliament and also Zimbabwe law, just to remove a political thorn in the flesh of Zanu PF, is a clear indication of how far they are prepared to go. Chinamasa's remark to Dave Coltart the "he was next." Is a chilling reminder of just how narrow-minded and vindictive these people are. Well, they need to remember "what goes around, come around."

But if you examine the proceedings right now - the Zanu machine is in full swing - changes to AIPPA to give the Minister more power, Changes to the electoral Act to further entrench the Zanu monopoly of control over the whole process - deliberately flaunting the agreements Mugabe signed just 2 months ago in Mauritius. Then the statements by Ministers in response the MDC questions - "we will never allow the MDC access to the State controlled media, never!" Democracy, they do not understand the word, let alone the practice.

So what does this all mean for those of us on the ground in this firefight? The Bennett story plus the failed votes in Parliament and the tightened grip on food, shows that we continue to lose battles, but the overall message is that we are winning the war. And in the longer term, that is what counts. The Chinese saying "he who rides a Tiger, cannot get off!" Certainly applies to the Mugabe regime. It's good to belong to the Tiger.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 10th November 2004.