The Political Crisis in Zimbabwe

Last week President George Bush widened the net of "smart sanctions" against the principal elements of the Zanu PF administration in Zimbabwe. In so doing he reiterated his view that the crisis in Zimbabwe was no nearer a solution than it had been in 2000. He again alluded to the crisis here as essentially one of political leadership and corruption.

That this tiny central African state should command such attention when Mr. Bush is dealing with major problems in dozens of other spheres is a testimony to his commitment to see real democracy upheld throughout the world in conjunction with respect for human and political rights.

But the question remains - what are the origins of this crisis, what is its essential character and how can it be resolved? It's origins lie in the very foundations of our political establishment. The white settlers who controlled the country until 1980 did not do a great deal to prepare the black majority for power. They repressed the main political movements, detained their leaders for many years and then drove them into exile and into the arms of those who offered them military help to overthrow the regime.

The external supporters of the different nationalist movements during that time are just as responsible for the present shambles as they did little to prepare the future leadership of the country for their new responsibilities. Instead the exiled leadership found themselves living in luxury hotels in Europe while they directed a savage, low intensity guerilla insurgency by remote control in Zimbabwe. Their political education came not from the democrats of Europe and America but from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Maoists in China and the ideologues in Russia and East Germany. They did not have to account for the money they spent and they were feted by the left as the only hope for a new dawn in Africa. How to bring that about when they were actually in power and had responsibility was not considered.

When came the actual day on which power came into their hands they were not really in control at all. That responsibility vested with the former colonial power and those who had engineered the final solution for Zimbabwe. When finally they took over, they had, for a short time, the benefit of the former settler administration but within 5 years this had gone, to be replaced almost completely by new political appointees loyal to the faction that was now controlling government most of whom were ill prepared for their responsibilities and had little of no experience.

The western power brokers of that era had a single, simple political objective in mind. "How to effect a transfer of power to the people who could deliver peace after the transitional authorities had been withdrawn." They chose Zanu PF because it was the majority party and represented the majority Shona speaking people, they chose Mugabe as the "point man" for many reasons - he was well educated, was not by any means a dominant figure like Joshua Nkomo and would be more dependent on the transitional authorities to survive and therefore more malleable. Josiah Tongogara was a stumbling block and was assassinated just before independence in Mozambique.

There is talk that the first election was in fact manipulated by the transitional authorities to ensure that Mugabe got his majority. Whatever the truth of that, once this was achieved the transitional authorities moved swiftly to ensure the Rhodesians co-operated and that Zapu and Soviet influence was marginalized.

The reality is that Robert Mugabe never was a democrat - it was a role he was forced to play by circumstance and as soon as he was able he threw off the mantle and assumed total control in Zimbabwe by violently subjugating the political opposition and subverting the whole democratic process. He has brought this process to the point where Zanu PF can hold an election in Zimbabwe today and virtually deliver whatever outcome they desire. The past 26 years are littered with the carcasses of political parties that have attempted to confront and overturn the Mugabe regime by democratic means - Zapu, Zum, The Forum Party, Margaret Dongo's brave experiment in the early 90's. When the MDC was formed in September 1999, everyone who had been involved in previous political movements knew what was in store for them and braced themselves for the onslaught.

In fact Mugabe had been so successful in his previous efforts at subverting the whole democratic process that he underestimated the new Party and the mood of the people. It was an error he did not repeat. Once he realized what he was up against he simply let loose all the weapons in his vast armory. Since then the MDC has been subjected to massive political violence, it's activists murdered and imprisoned in their thousands. Hundreds of thousands have been tortured and the electoral process has been completely revamped to ensure that Zanu will never be unseated by democratic means.

The MDC has stated and remains committed to what it calls "a peaceful, democratic, legal transition of power". In fact it has become clear to all over the past 6 years, that such a transition was and is a futile dream because Zanu PF (not just Mugabe but the entire leadership of Zanu PF) is totally committed to preventing such a transition and has taken the required steps to ensure that this can be achieved. Democracy in Zimbabwe is dead, has been for some years - may have in fact been still born at independence in 1980. So the problem facing the MDC leadership has been to try alternative means of dislodging Zanu from power, without resorting to illegal or violent means. They have worked hard to persuade the international and regional community that the country needs help if it is going to see a return to the ballot as a means of effecting change. This has resonated well in the traditional democracies but not in Africa where Mugabe is actually admired for his stance and secretly for his skill in subjugating the feared electoral poll.

The effort to try and secure change in the same way that the settler regime in Rhodesia and the Afrikaner regime in South Africa were unseated has not been successful. We are grateful for the efforts of the EU and the USA to put pressure on the regime but until South Africa comes to the table on this agenda, there will be no progress. In fact the President of South Africa has done everything in his power to frustrate the political ambitions of the MDC. There is now ample evidence that South Africa may in fact be behind the present shambles in the MDC and in so doing may have been attempting not only to get Mugabe out of the way, but also to secure the head of Morgan Tsvangirai as the price of compliance by the military and security structures in Zimbabwe who now effectively control what happens here.

In this scheme of things, the theory runs, once Morgan Tsvangirai is out of the way and the MDC is no longer a serious threat, the real power brokers in Zanu PF will comply with the conditions attached to the G8/SA loan agreement for the resuscitation of the Zimbabwe economy. These reforms will include the early retirement of Mr. Mugabe, the appointment of his successor by the Party rather than the people and the absorption of elements of the MDC into a new transitional government. In this way, frustrated by the failure to get progress through conventional electoral means and failure to secure a popular uprising on a scale that would effect real change, key elements in MDC may have thrown their lot in with Mbeki and the "reformers" in Zanu PF.

The outcome of tomorrows Senate elections will be informative in this respect, because if the "MDC" candidates are returned in a significant number of seats it will signal that Zanu has used its hidden hand to rig the election in their favor. It may also signal an interesting outcome of the Zanu congress in early December. For the majority of Zimbabweans who still support Morgan Tsvangirai and his cherished goal of a new constitution and a new beginning, it will signal more agony and delay. But it may be the only way forward at this time.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 25th November 2005.