Well here we are - facing another year in Zimbabwe. No one I have spoken to is at all optimistic that this coming year will be any better than the last. In fact most - especially business persons say they think it will be worse. The question that arises is therefore what are our options? Some might say "what options" but we always have options from which we can choose those we feel might pave the way for our own security, prosperity and future.

One such option is to pack up and leave. Millions have done so and now about a quarter of our population lives in other countries. I say our population, as if there was some prospect of these migrants returning to the country of their birth, but we must be realistic and say that the great majority will in fact never come back. It's not an easy option - the break with the past is painful and expensive. Relocation to a strange country and living amongst strangers is never easy. But it remains an option and unfortunately for those of who choose to stay, many are taking up this option and the flight of our human capital continues apace.

The other option is to stay - if you do you have two new domestic options - you can fight for a better future or compromise with the regime and maybe even join the gravy train. Many have taken the latter route - and some white Zimbabweans have gone that route. The rewards can be considerable, although the risks are also significant. If you take this route you better keep a low profile or run the risk of attracting international and domestic opprobrium.

If you chose to stay and fight then what are your options? Not many. There is still the MDC - damaged by the recent infighting over options - the choice between compromise and cooperation to secure progress. But now there is also a new group gradually emerging - Zanu and MDC renegades currently coalescing around what is being called the "Potato Party" because it's symbol looks like a potato. There are some significant people in this new grouping - Moyo, Mabaleka perhaps Munangagwa eventually - perhaps Dubengwa.

The infighting within both the MDC and Zanu PF is in fact forcing people on both sides to choose perhaps this "third force" as some of its supporters might call it - among them the owner of the remaining independent national weekly newspapers in Zimbabwe and the Mail and Guardian in SA. While this goes on the effective maneuvering of the two main political leaders - Mugabe and Tsvangirai, is frustrating the efforts being made to change the course of events inside both Zanu PF and the MDC.

As everyone well knows, Mugabe is a wily old devil and still has the levers of power firmly in his hands - even though he is being forced to rely on his security and military chiefs for decisions and initiatives - like those that led to Murambatsvina. The young Turks and others who dreamt of removing Mugabe and then rebuilding what was left of Zanu PF as a Party and with it the Zimbabwean economy, are not winning the struggle going on inside Zanu PF. Likewise the group led by Welshman Ncube in the MDC is finding itself being expunged from the MDC and their support base within the Party across the country being marginalized and shrunk.

This represents a major failure of South African foreign policy in the past six months. Given the responsibility of securing change and progress on the political front by the G8 leaders in July 2005, Mbeki chose to try and manipulate the Zimbabwean political scene to persuade Mugabe to step down early, persuade what was left of Zanu PF to then pick up the pieces and with Western help, start work on an effective political and economic recovery plan.

This is very important to Mbeki - Zimbabwe remains his most important foreign policy issue and he well knows his peers in the west are judging him by his success or failure to deliver what he has undertaken to deliver. At the same time he fears the emergence of an MDC government here which might then encourage COSATU and the other elements on the left of the ANC alliance, to go it alone and challenge ANC hegemony in South Africa itself. This is going to happen eventually but Mbeki knows he must postpone the emergence of such an opposition alliance while he builds the center in SA politics and makes sure that the ANC straddles that position.

Such strategic imperatives in SA politics have been dealt a severe blow by the failure of the initiatives taken in the second half of 2005. The growing impatience of the UN system also now poses a threat and Mugabe's belligerent attitude both the need for a change in direction and in the approach to the humanitarian crisis here is a real problem. The impending visit to the region by a senior UN official to follow up the recent debate on Zimbabwe in the Security Council is an immediate challenge.

But back to options. When Kissenger took up the cudgels on behalf of western Governments in 1976 and undertook to remove Ian Smith as an obstacle to progress and change in Rhodesia, he did so with consummate skill and the effective use of the power and influence that his position gave him. The US had nothing at stake and it was a cheap and relatively easy task. Mbeki has the power to do the same thing - and just as quickly but fears the fallout in his own backyard - he cannot have both.

The hard-line position adopted by Mugabe is yet another example of the options available - not a very sensible one, but it is an option and unfortunately it has the effect of determining the shape of other options that are in front of us. Can we take another four years of Mugabe? There can be little doubt that Zanu PF is going to extend the life of this presidency to 2010, early in 2006. Can we take yet further economic collapse and the continuing decline in the quality and level of services that are available to us and are essential to our health and welfare?

The answer to both these hypothetical questions can be both yes and no. Yes, if we feel there is really nothing that can be done about Mugabe given the fatal strictures on SA foreign policy towards Zimbabwe and the low priority we attract in international circles even though we are a polecat. No, if we feel we still have the capacity to take matters into our own hands and effect change.

The MDC is steadily moving towards its second national congress. 12 000 delegates are expected drawn from 1900 Ward Committees and 120 Districts and 12 Provinces. The Party still has majority support across the country and it can organise and hold major political rallies at will in almost every part of the country. With 2 million paid up members it is without doubt the only opposition grouping that can command national support and grass roots muscle. The question is what direction to take after Congress? When we launched the Party in 1999, we set out to change the government by legal, democratic and peaceful means. We have stuck to that until now. Now we know that elections are never going to yield change, what other options do we have? Some would say that if we abandon the electoral route then only violence remains. The question is what sort of force can be employed?

History is riddled with examples of people who have thrown off the mantle of tyranny by peaceful means - Gandhi in India, recently the Orange revolution in the Ukraine - the overthrow of Marxist dictators in Europe in the late 80 's and early 90's. But here we are up against a formidable opponent - one with degrees in violence. But he has never been weaker or more isolated. He is also getting older by the minute.

When the MDC meets in early 2006, it will know that Mugabe has decided on "four more years". That might be enough - just enough - to finally bring out the fighting spirit that we know exists in Zimbabwe. We know that because we have all seen it before, it takes a lot of provocation to bring it out - but when it does finally emerge not even their "degrees of violence" will save them. What option will you choose this day, I have bought mine!

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, January 2, 2006.