A Week is a long time in Politics.

Mr. Mugabe must be feeling very uneasy in his bed these days - the comfortable scenario mapped out for him and for Zanu PF has steadily disintegrated in recent weeks. It all started when they held their much-heralded Zanu PF Congress in Harare.

When pigs call a congress in the feeding trough, it's not a pleasant sight. Squeals and honks abound and there are the odd fights while the strong simply elbow the weak out of the trough to make way for themselves and their proteges. Remember these guys had been on the gravy train for a long time so they expected the best - and they got it; 5 star hotels were booked out and gala dinners and cocktail parties were too numerous to count. The bash cost Z$28 billion (US$6 million) and I understand that bills for the majority of this remain outstanding.

But when the party was over it became clear that there had been some major casualties. The majority of the key players who had held the Zanu PF ship afloat in the past 5 years found themselves ousted from power. The reason, a South African funded attempt to get the Speaker of the House of Parliament (Munangagwa) into a position where he could take over from Mugabe and start to pull the strings. He was supported in this perceived coup by a whole coterie of senior Zanu politicians - Moyo, Chinamassa, Chombo and many others.

Mugabe held onto his post at the helm - but only just and at the cost of most of the team that had held his Party together in the previous 5 years. When you take these people out of Zanu - who are you left with - Made, Mutasa and Shamuyarira! A collection of ineffectual people in terms of the actual skills needed in this fight to the finish with the MDC.

But the fight was not over when the mob left the feeding trough in Harare - it continued in every constituency because now Mugabe had to eliminate his enemies in the Zanu PF primaries. This hangover has split the Party and left it in tatters in many districts. Right now - with only 6 weeks to go to the Zanu PF target date for the election of the 18th of March, they do not have nearly half their candidates selected. The Party structures in Matabeleland are in a shambles and are having difficulty in even finding candidates - as is the Party in Manicaland.

And when pigs party - there are no rules in the pen! We have seen every trick in the book. Children lined up to vote for candidates. One story where farm workers, who all hold Zanu cards (but are in fact MDC supporters) got hauled to a meeting where they were told to write their names on a form with their ID numbers and then they were told they had voted for Sabina Mugabe - the Presidents sister. They were then loaded back onto lorries and taken home where they recounted their story with glee to the farmer.

Then came the spy story. A senior CIO operator had lured a South African spymaster from his den in Zambia and was in custody. 5 Government and Zanu PF officials were taken into custody and one diplomat simply disappeared from his post in Europe. What had they been doing? They had been working for the South African secret service and were supplying information to the South African government. These poor guys have appeared in one form or another in court (why do they bother) and have been badly beaten and interrogated. Philip Chiyangwa - the flamboyant Zanu PF chairman of Mashonaland West was one of the players and had been taking US$10 000 a month for his services (Z$85 million), not bad for a days work. I wonder what the whole scam cost South Africa?

The nation was stunned - they had been fed the story that Blair was the enemy and the MDC his stool pigeon. Now it turns out that actually it was Mbeki and his stool pigeons were too numerous to count and all came from within Zanu PF.

Then there was the aftermath of the release from travel restrictions of Morgan Tsvangirai. This has been an ongoing nightmare for Mugabe. Tsvangirai has not only traveled, he has been to see the great majority of the key African leaders and has been making progress. Unlike Mugabe, he was able to travel without restriction to Europe and was able to strengthen his position there as well.

As a consequence the status of Morgan Tsvangirai has risen while Mugabe's own star has begun to set. There has been a significant improvement in African understanding of the struggle here. Today there is less criticism of the West's position that Mugabe is a tyrant and has destroyed his country and more understanding of the suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans.

This was demonstrated by a number of shifts on the African continent - the AU demands that Mugabe explain a negative report on human rights in Zimbabwe. The decision by the SADC States to set up standards for elections to which Mugabe would be required to comply.

Then came George Bush's victory in the States, Blair's election to head the G8 and the EU Presidency. Mauritius and Botswana to the Chairmanship of the SADC, the exit of his remaining friend in the region when Namibia changed drivers. His isolation is nearly complete. The final straw was the nomination of the American "steel magnolia" Ms. Rice, to the post of Secretary of State. Mugabe can well remember that time in the late 90's when Ms. Rice came to Harare to see him and was given a very rude reception and dismissal. He must now squirm at the thought.

Mugabe now faces another test, elections for the Zimbabwean Parliament. Just a few months ago he thought he had it all wrapped up - the rigging in place and I am told they had even agreed how many seats they would allow the MDC to win. Since then his team has disintegrated, his Party is in disarray and the region is starting to talk tough - comply with the SADC protocols or else! He thought that he had the full support of Mbeki only to discover that in fact Mbeki wanted change - not in Zimbabwe, but in Zanu! Now even that relationship is under strain.

In the meantime, MDC has nearly finished the appointment of its 120 candidates - most are already in the field campaigning. The initial reaction from the ground is encouraging. We meet next Wednesday and Thursday to decide what to do about the elections. At this stage it looks like all systems go despite the present non-compliance with the SADC standards. The main reason being that our ordinary members across the country have said they want us to contest the elections.

If we do agree to fight the election then we expect the new Electoral Commission and the SADC leaders to deliver free and fair conditions in advance of the elections. These simply do not exist at present. I hear that the Courts will hand down a decision on the Daily News on the 7th of February and have heard a whisper that it will be in favor of the newspaper. This will be another political decision by the Courts - not a legal one, but all the same, it opens up the playing field just that little bit more.

Even the much vaunted food weapon may yet rebound on Zanu PF. They planned to control food supplies to the country by March 2005. It now looks as if they may have misjudged this and are actually running out of food stocks. Zanu may well have to face a very hungry and angry electorate when they finally drag themselves up to the ballot box hopefully in a delayed election held in June 2005.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 28th January 2005