To Participate or Not?

In March this year the government of Zimbabwe announced that they were going to hold the next scheduled parliamentary election in March 2005. They said they were giving the country a year in which to prepare itself for this event. They also made the snide remark that they thought it would give the MDC time to get ready for the election.

Since it was formed the rationale of the MDC has been to fight elections - we have said from day one, that we believed in a democratic transition that was peaceful and lawful. We have strictly adhered to those principles despite 4 years of extreme provocation. However, when we came to consider what it would mean to go into another election under present conditions, we paused for thought and eventually came out and said "unless the following 15 demands are met, we will not contest the election". Since then we have come under intense pressure from the regional and international community to run again. We have not moved our position and continue to say that until our demands are met, we will not contest the election.

Hope rose when the SADC summit of regional leaders agreed to a clear set of principles by which they would manage the democratic process in their countries. Mugabe signed and the region breathed a sigh of relief. We watched, suspicious and cautious from the sidelines. What would that wily old devil, Mugabe do?

Well now we know - he has bulldozed through Parliament new legislation that will further weaken the democratic process and tighten his own grip on the administration of elections. He has made some token concessions in the direction of free and fair elections but these steps have been totally overwhelmed by the tightening of laws governing the electoral process, the role of civil society and the media. On the ground there is no relaxation of any of the other instruments of suppression that he holds. There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of association; the legal system is still being used every day to suppress opposition activity and to maintain their total grip on all civil activity.

The food weapon is in place and ready to be used, the message that "you cannot do anything without us" is being spread across the country. Business is being told to stay in line or else. The slightest threat of public protest or dissent is greeted with overwhelming force.

But just as serious is the total lack of regard for Parliament. Serious questions asked by the opposition are treated with distain. Opposition MP's are threatened in public by Zanu PF Ministers and MP's who are quite sure they will face no recrimination. New legislation that is in conflict with the Constitution is simply rammed through Parliament and a compliant Supreme Court can be relied upon to back up the actions of the State. Even the standing rules of Parliament are abused daily so that nothing stands in the way of the State.

The reality is that Mugabe has no intention of holding a free and fair election in Zimbabwe any time in the near future. We are in effect seeing just another form of the classic African coup - carried out under the very noses of the region and the global community. The question is do we dignify the process by our continued participation?

The answer is clearly no! Not while this farce is being played out. We do not live in a democracy, we live under a dictatorship. We do not live in a free market economy; we live in a kleptocratic State. We do not have a functioning Parliament - that is simply expensive camouflage for the States real activities and it is time we brought the masquerade to a close.

I know we have not yet made that decision but it is clear that few of our 15 key demands are going to be fulfilled. It is also simply too late to even contemplate an election in March 2005 when certain of these fundamental reforms have not been put in place. So if Mugabe sticks to his guns on the issue of timing and Mbeki on his stance of non-intervention in the affairs of another African State (unless it is in West Africa or the Great Lakes region or at war with itself using military arms), then I simply cannot see the MDC contesting next year's election.

What does that mean? We have already been joined in our stance by two minority Parties who have also said they will stay out of the process. The UN has not been asked to help with the election because that would open up the process and it is already too late for UN intervention. Will Zanu simply declare itself the winner of all 120 seats - Mugabe then appoint another 30 seats and then declare that Zanu is re-elected for another 5-year term?

Such an outcome would be a disaster for everyone. It would close the door to any sort of democratic process of change, cast a pall across the whole of Southern Africa, keep all forms of international and multilateral aid shut down and give NEPAD a crushing blow. Zimbabweans would continue to flee the country as economic and political refugees and living standards and life expectancy would continue to shrink.

We all know this - and yet we search in vain the international press for any sign, that we are even a discussion point. So far I have seen no sign that the global community is concerned or has any sense of urgency about the crisis in Zimbabwe. If we got hold of a few AK 47's and shot a few people that would change overnight. So long as we do not prepared to start shooting - we are a problem that can be ignored. The fact that 5 million people have died or fled the country is not an issue. That life expectancy has crashed from 59 years in 1990 to 35 years today. That half our population is hungry and malnourished. That our hospitals are mortuaries and our schools, day care centers simply does not matter.

South Africa continues to stand on the sidelines, Pagad, the deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs says "show me the bodies and we will act", his boss, Zuma, says they are "not taking sides." OK - if that is how you want to play the game, so be it, we hope they can live with the consequences.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 17th November 2004.