For Whom the Bell Tolls

Last week Witness Mangwende died. Someone wrote to me and reminded me that he and I were at University together. He was not one of Zanu PF's most outstanding characters. Perhaps he was the worst Minister of Agriculture this country has ever had - before the present incumbent of course, who is in a league all by himself.

But it was a useful reminder that the clock ticks and that one-day the bell will toll for all of us without exception. Tyrants do not last forever, in fact when you look back in history they seem to have been around for just a short time while they lived and terrorized their countries and regions. We will be no different.

The big question in peoples minds here - is this the moment of truth for Zanu?

The MDC is not short of critics both here at home and outside, but I personally think they have handled the past year with consummate skill and enterprise. The decision to suspend participation in elections in August was a strategic decision and it achieved what was intended. Zanu fell apart as they fought each other for what they imagined were "safe seats". The region and the international community were forced to examine in detail the conditions for elections in Zimbabwe and this gave a new clarity to the situation and more understanding. The SADC electoral protocols were one outcome.

While the suspension lasted we lost a number of seats we had won in the previous 4 years as Zanu PF candidates were ushered in without opposition, but this just exacerbated the competition for power in Zanu itself. The 5 months gap in political campaigning was not wasted by the MDC - the Party rebuilt its structures in areas where the government had tried to destroy them, it cleaned up its accounts and wiped out its debts and it started preparing for re-entry to the political campaign arena.

So when Mugabe finally announced a date for the elections - March the 31st 2005, he was stunned to be faced, within 48 hours, with a resurgent MDC. 120 MDC candidates in the field, many of who had already been campaigning for months, a Party manifesto ready and even a campaign programme on the table and now rolled out for implementation. Secretly we were even pleased that the election was in March, even though we protested and demanded a delay! It just goes to show - do not ever take what a politician says in public as what he or she really intends!

I think even our most vociferous critics must now be asking if they were right? The MDC campaign has so far swamped that of Zanu PF. Zanu rallies are meager affairs compared to the 20 rallies a day being held by MDC teams across the country. The country is ablaze with red posters of MDC candidates from Kariba to Beitbridge.

When Zanu planned this whole thing they thought that a weakened MDC would not be able to field more than 80 candidates. They felt confident that with up to 40 Zanu candidates unopposed plus the 30 appointed seats, Zanu would already be nearly there for a two-thirds majority. They also prepared up to 2 million false ballot papers in readiness for a massive ballot stuffing exercise facilitated by a new electoral Act that allows ballots without the stamp of the polling station to be admitted to the count and by the fact that nearly all polling stations would be staffed by the military and secret service agents who can be relied upon to do "whatever is required" to ensure victory.

In fact back in August 2004, Zanu was actually debating just how many seats they would allow the MDC to take! They thought that 15 to 20 seats would be sufficient to maintain the fašade of democracy in Zimbabwe while giving them a free hand to alter the constitution so as to allow a hand picked successor to the man at the top. They should never have forgotten that a week is a long time in politics.

So now Zanu faces the ultimate nightmare for tyrants - an electoral test which may or may not be under his control.

They certainly are running scared - the Daily News, expected back on the streets in February, has still not seen the judgment handed down even thought it was finalized some months ago. After coverage of one MDC rally and 10 minutes of time on national TV for the MDC Secretary general and the Chairperson of the MDC Women's Assembly, the State radio and TV stations have reverted to a stony silence on all MDC activities except for shrill propaganda and even that has lost its edge since Moyo was sent into exile in Tsholotsho. The State controlled newspapers will not even accept MDC paid adverts.

Internationally things are even worse for Zanu PF. The MDC "Protocol Watch" relentlessly lists and publishes for all to see, the continuing violations of democratic principles by the State in every sphere. The US has renewed sanctions and has harshly criticised the whole process, the EU has toughened its stance and major new initiatives for Africa launched by the leaders of the G8 have become conditional on Africa taking appropriate action to curb the excesses of some of its leaders - Mugabe as the number one culprit. No matter where Zanu turns, the spotlights bring out every wrinkle and gray hair, every flaw.

Even Mbeki is slowly turning against his former stance of being unquestionably pro Zanu. Reluctant but realistic, he is beginning to realize that he may have to change his stance. I watched his interview last week when he said he expected the Zimbabwe elections to be in accordance with the SADC protocols and be declared free and fair. He was immediately faced with a barrage of criticism at home and abroad but what he actually said could be interpreted very differently. I watched him closely, it was firstly, a one on one interview with SABC - therefore it was a planned action. Secondly, what he actually said was that he expected all SADC countries to adhere to the protocols and that Zimbabwe was no exception. It could have been a pubic warning to Mugabe that he was not to over step the mark, as he had done in 2002 when the Zimbabwe elections had embarrassed the leadership of Africa and forced them to suspend us from the Commonwealth.

Just today, SADC has stated that their observers will have "real power" in the electoral process. Does this mean they actually are going to try and stop the rigging? Because if they do and are successful, then Zanu is finished.

The world has said that our future is in our own hands and that Zimbabweans have to do what is necessary to remove Mugabe from power and effect change. Well we are doing just that in the form of a massive nation wide programme of poll supervision and control. Reinforced by an effective regional effort in the form of poll observers this could make the difference. I have no doubt about how the people are going to vote, the question is will their vote be subverted for the third time in front of the watching world by a desperate regime operating behind a curtain raised by its neighbors?

Well we have just 22 days to go - you can help by sending us some money or volunteering to help in your constituency. This is our chance to rescue our country and our future from those who have shown they are only concerned for themselves and their own comforts. For all of us the bell tolls, for some a rallying cry, for others a warning that the end is nigh.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 9th March 2005.