The Only Way Forward

We spent the past weekend working on the issues facing the MDC in Zimbabwe. We have come a long way in five short years - we have a national network of over 8000 branches, elected executives in all 120 districts and 12 provinces and permanent offices in all major centers. All this from zero in 2000. We are one of the best-known opposition movements in the world and certainly hold the position of the most significant parliamentary opposition in Africa.

Despite being up against people "who have degrees in violence" and who have had hundreds of our members murdered, thousands tortured and imprisoned and with the whole State machinery lined up against us - we have not only survived, but remain the greatest threat to the ruling Party in 25 years of dominance in Zimbabwe. Not only have we survived, but also we have steadfastly kept to our principles of non-violent political action as we sought political change through the ballot and normal legal procedures.

Many regard the latter position as being "weak" and accuse our leadership of being spineless. Many in the media would love to see a bit of action here - with people being gunned down on the streets and thousands throwing stones and more at the armed forces. In fact all of our leadership has gone to jail for their principles in the past 5 years - some on several occasions, including our President, Morgan Tsvangirai. Others have paid with their lives for their principles.

This weekend we agonized over what to do following the third defeat in 5 years at the hands of a corrupt and sterile regime which will do anything to stay in power, no matter how great their failure. At the end of it we agreed - without exception - to stand firm on our principles and not to endorse calls for violence and extralegal activity. We also agreed to go to our congress in January 2006 and to set in motion the process of holding elections in all the branches, districts and provincial assemblies that precede such an event. It will be a significant event for us in the MDC - we will renew our mandate as leaders, share pain and joy with 14 000 delegates and celebrate our faith in the ballot box as a means of securing a better life for all our people.

What I find so remarkable about the MDC is the fact that although we are a Party of the poor and disadvantaged, we share a belief that only democracy and the rule of law can offer us a better life. It is awe inspiring to see simple peasant people taking a principled stand on issues that were once the preserve of the rich and the west.

But what is the way forward - more of the same? No! We agreed that it could not be business as usual, we simply cannot afford to wait either for the " old man" to die or for the next election. We agreed there was only one way forward and that was to go back to the issue of the constitution.

Our present constitution was not home grown; it came out of our colonial past as a bi-product of the Lancaster House process, which preceded elections and independence in 1980. The present political turmoil has its roots in the campaign started in the mid 90's for a new constitution. This culminated in the referendum in March 2000 which the government lost - simply because they ignored what the people had demanded of any new dispensation.

With the emergence of the MDC in 2000, the issue of the constitution has been put on the back burner in the expectation that democratic elections would usher in a new administration more sympathetic to the call for new home grown constitution. This has not happened and with the failure of elections in Zimbabwe, due to electoral fraud, to yield any kind of real change, the MDC decided it was time to go back to the issue.

We are told that Zanu PF intends to table three amendments to the current constitution in the next sitting of Parliament - formation of a Senate, entrenchment of the Electoral Commission in the constitution and a new provision which will allow the State to take over any land which it chooses to designate for acquisition.

Such changes do nothing to improve the present situation - the Senate will not broaden political representation in Parliament, ZEC will remain an instrument of the State controlled by Zanu PF functionaries and the land provisions will simply compound our economic and political difficulties. We resolved to reject such piecemeal amendments to the constitution and instead to call for a national conference to develop a new constitution which will embrace the ideas and desires of the nation as a whole. Such a conference would make decisions on a consensual basis and the final product would then give us the legal framework required to guide us back into the regional and global community of nations.

The leadership of the MDC is now consulting others in Zimbabwe and leaders outside the country about the way forward and resolved to throw its weight behind a demand that Zanu come to the table for such a debate with representatives from the whole country. After a new constitution has been adopted we would expect a period of time to lapse while we restore confidence in electoral procedures and organise ourselves for new, free and fair elections in an environment that was also free of fear.

In the meantime we are reminded daily of the collapse of the economy in the form of long queues for fuel, food and transport. Government seems to be frozen in its tracks - like someone who finds themselves on thin ice and freezes, scared to move forward in case they fall through the ice and unable to go backwards. Export industries are crumbling, the services to the cities and towns are in dire straights, the exchange rate at 824 to 1 is wildly out of kilter with the real market rate of 22000 to 1 and the Mozambique currency now buys more than one Zimbabwe dollar!

Faced with the need to feed half the population and unable to procure the resources required to keep the economy going, the State is going to have to move soon. Its options are few and to my way of thinking it is deeply significant that the Secretary General of the United Nations is coming here at the month end. He would not do so unless it was the view of major UN power blocks that action was needed to resolve the crisis. There is also a peculiar silence in South Africa about the impending implosion of Zimbabwean society and the serious consequences for the region as a whole and South Africa in particular.

With Mr. Blair and his team back in the drivers seat and also occupying the position of Chairman of the G8 and President of Europe and a resurgent Bush changing regimes across the globe by one means or another, the regime here has every reason to be nervous. By rejecting change and renewal within Zanu PF they have committed the fatal mistake of restricting their own team to those who are at the end of their careers. By insulting everyone who has any capacity to help resolve our crisis, they have cut off all other options. If they were wise, they would take our offer of a chance to come back to the shore and off the ice before it engulfs them.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 12th May 2005