A Postmortem

Its now one month since the elections in Zimbabwe and I thought a quiet reflective post mortem might be timely. One has so little time to give the overall picture some thought when we are in the thick of things, so this might be instructive.

Seven months ago the MDC leadership decided to suspend participation in local elections. (It's only been 7 months!!) This was just after the Mugabe regime had announced that they would hold elections in March 2005 and then celebrate 25 years of independence in April. At that stage they were quite confident that they could win a two-thirds majority and gain acceptance from the international community for a new Zanu PF led government. The consensus among the diplomatic community was not very different - they were saying to MDC leaders that if they were not careful, Zanu PF would regain the initiative in international and regional affairs.

On the down side we lost a number of parliamentary and local government seats during the 5 months when Zanu basically had the field to themselves. But while this was going on we secured a number of major achievements. We focused attention on the conditions under which the next general elections were to be held. This exposed all the shortcomings in the Zanu PF platform for acceptance and ensured that this issue remained center stage the whole time.

On the domestic front we quietly set about rebuilding our Party structures in all those areas where Zanu PF had tried over the previous 4 years to exclude the MDC. We also set about preparing for the March elections - we drafted a manifesto and got it accepted by the Party. We started candidate selection and developed a campaign strategy and campaign materials. We overcame the restrictions imposed on the printing industry, which effectively denied us access to printing capacity in the commercial sphere, by installing our own equipment. We built up our finances in preparation for the campaign.

The suspension also had the added benefit in that it intensified the struggle for power inside Zanu PF. This eventually emerged in the form of a clear schism in their ranks between the new generation of Zanu PF leaders and the old guard. This culminated in the Tsholotsho meeting and the subsequent split in Zanu and the expulsion of a number of leaders.

The chaos in Zanu PF and the consequential bickering led to a delay in the election by two weeks and even then when the date was finally fixed, Zanu still had to select a large number of candidates and was poorly prepared for the bruising political struggle ahead.

To my mind there is little doubt that the MDC won this campaign hands down. It was better prepared, its campaign was slick and professional and I thought it was the best yet. We well knew that the election would not be won or lost in the campaign but in the manner in which the actual vote was taken and counted and then announced. None of which was under the control of the MDC in any way. From start to finish the election was run by Zanu PF loyalists and the military or security services.

Our own forecast was that we had 33 safe seats and 17 possible wins. An estimate that proved all too accurate. It was based purely on our own estimate of which constituencies Zanu PF would abandon to their own devices and where the MDC was overwhelmingly strong.

With so much attention focused on the election - both by the media and the international community, it was always a reality that any rigging would be exposed and the results of the election rejected by serious observers. This proved to be the case and no sooner had the sound of Zanu "victory" celebrations died down (after 30 minutes or so - they were so muted) the major western States rejected the outcome as being rigged in favor of Zanu PF. The media also, by and large, said that this election was not free or fair and that the playing field had been tilted in favor of Zanu from day one. Even Mr. Mbeki was forced to hold back his endorsement of the outcome when it finally came to that point in the SA Parliamentary debate.

The question now arises as to what to do after the election. I said in the days that followed March 31 that Mugabe was in the same position as a rugby fullback who finds himself on the field with the ball in his hands and the entire front line bearing down on him with the intention of doing him real harm if they catch him with the ball! I said that these forwards included tighter sanctions by the international community, increased regional isolation and the domestic problems of fuel, food and the collapse of the economy. The one element in Zimbabwe that he cannot intimidate or cower, is the economy.

This has proved to be the case - made worse by the fact that the Mugabe regime has foolishly spent up to half a billion US dollars on arms and aircraft in recent months. It now has little in reserve to fight off these domestic nightmares.

So now, having gained their goal of a two thirds majority in the House - at great cost to themselves, they must deal with an angry international community which is planning more sanctions and isolation and is threatening aid flows to the continent in retaliation for what they see as complicity with the electoral fraud in Zimbabwe. The international community also recognizes this as a real threat to democratic principles throughout the world.

They must also now deal with the crisis created by Mugabe's own intransigence on the issue of food aid and the near collapse of the Zimbabwe economy. Zanu PF is not made up of idiots - there are a few of those, but most are well educated and experienced people. They know that if they move towards extending Mugabe's term to 2010 or tightening the grip on power of the aging oligarchy in the Politburo that this would ignite an already explosive situation in the country. The army is on full alert and armed roadblocks have been erected across the country and are operating for 24 hours a day. They are nervous and know full well that the ice under their feet is very thin and the water below, extremely cold.

As for us in the MDC - we are just quietly raising the temperature.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, May 2nd 2005