How Long?

In the Psalms David asks God how long he must wait before he sees the evil in his society overcome, how long before the battles are won. As King, David never had a year during his long rule over Israel during which he did not have to fight either a war or fend off an invasion. Zimbabweans are weary - you can see it in their eyes, in the way they go to work and play and how they respond to the daily grind. Tired despair seems to be the most appropriate way of dealing with the seemingly endless stream of problems we are faced with day by day. This coming week some 3 million children will go back to school. The majority have not paid their government school fees that were raised by 1000 per cent last week. A domestic worker now gets a little less than Z$3 million a month - how on earth are they going to afford school fees running to millions of dollars. In industry it is little better, minimum wages are about Z$10 million (and taxed) and daily transport to and from work will cost at least Z$2,5 million.

At our local State hospital - the one in which I was born and later spent three years recovering from a serious accident, there is no bedding or food. A lady who is 76 years old broke her hip at home and was taken there one evening. When the community heard she was there they sent some men to see what was happening - she was lying on a bed without bedding and had only been given a painkiller in the previous 15 hours. They took her out of the hospital and put her into a nearby private clinic where a deposit of Z$100 million dollars was demanded - her pension is Z$35 000 a month.

On Wednesday 170 women and their children took to the streets to protest at the massive increase in school fees. Their protest was totally peaceful and after delivering a petition to the Ministry of Education they gathered to pray and disburse when the Police came and they were all arrested. They have now been in prison for 5 days and nights. The first night when the children were held with them they were held in crowded cells, without food or water and little sanitation and filthy blankets. Some were held in a wire enclosure in cold wet conditions.

They are to be charged 'with activities likely to cause a breach of the peace' and should have been brought to Court within 48 hours. By holding them for 5 days and perhaps more, under these dreadful conditions, the Police hope to intimidate and prevent further demonstrations of this kind. We can expect to hear, when they are finally released, that they were verbally and perhaps physically abused. How long must we wait Lord!

On the 20th May the Churches are planning to mount a series of prayer meetings followed by processions in all major towns to remember those who have suffered and died during the past year under the Murambatsvina programme. The Pastors have been talking to the Police about this and intend to go ahead even if they do not get permission under POSA. This has the potential for further conflict, mass arrests and detention. Despite this the Churches are determined to go ahead and many who have been in jail before - my own wife included, are determined to support the event to remember the millions displaced, made homeless and destitute by Murambatsvina.

I see that the Mutambara group is saying that the only way forward is via elections not mass action. They are claiming that the MDC commitment to mass action to force change in our situation will only lead to violence. That may be true - but violence by who? The agents of the State as in the case of these women and children in Bulawayo? The question is how long do we go on doing the very things that have simply not worked in terms of bringing about real change in Zimbabwe. We tried dialogue in the 90's; democracy in the period 2000 to 2005, progress was totally negated first by the flat refusal of the State to consider any views except their own and latterly by the total subversion of the electoral system.

In at least 12 countries, ranging from Russia to Nepal, mass action has led to real political and economic change and the emergence of new democratic structures. Perhaps it is time to try that here in an effort to stop the suffering. There is no doubt in my mind that South Africa could short cut this process tomorrow if they so choose. They have instead turned their backs on the suffering of the Zimbabwean people and chose to continue to support tyranny even though it is damaging their own economy and political reputation throughout the world.

There are only two options now available to Zimbabweans - Mugabe has stated that he wants to run as President until 2010. He has instructed the Minister of Justice to take legislation to Parliament that will allow Zanu PF to extend his term of office by two more years. His demands to facilitate his early retirement so that the 'reformers' could take charge and start rebuilding the economy and the fortunes of Zanu PF, are so outrageous that even Mbeki and the Secretary General of the United Nations have quietly backed away from their planned strategy for his retirement this year. This means that if we allowed Zanu PF to continue to govern and pillage in Zimbabwe, we would have at least another 4 years of this situation and could look forward to only more poverty, mass migration and indignity. If we accept that we will all become refugees - forced to flee with what we can carry as we swim the murky waters of the Limpopo.

No it is time for mass action - we really have no other choice except flight - and that we are not going to do. The consequences? Well if you listen to the State media you can expect the security forces to shoot us with live ammunition and to beat us senseless with rubber batons, to spray us with Israeli tear gas and paint from the Israeli water cannon. Mutasa's challenge was 'just walk down Samora Machel Avenue, and see what we will do to you'! Well Didymus, get ready, we are coming and when we do - you better be ready for the Limpopo. I think you will be quite safe to use that route - not even the crocs could stand to get too close to you.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 6th May 2006.