Once more into the breech

Morgan had lunch with a group of local business leaders this week. During the conversation he made the point that he would never have predicted that the Nationalist government in South Africa in 1989 would have accepted the changes that were about to break over the heads of all who lived in South Africa. They controlled all the instruments of the State, huge resources, the electoral system and the media. Domestically they seemed to be unassailable. Five years later they were defeated, out of power and the Party that had dominated South Africa for the previous 45 years had disintegrated.

It happens. Never say the word 'impossible' in politics. Suddenly there is a new consensus in the international community about Zimbabwe. This replaces the assumed approach sculptured by Tony Blair at the G8 summit in mid 2005 when the G8 renewed its commitment to helping put the Zimbabwe economy back on its feet and its support for the approach proposed by the South Africans. After the Gleneagles summit, Thabo Mbeki has had a go at getting Mr. Mugabe to step aside and allow reform and recovery on three separate occasions and on each occasion he was frustrated by the local leadership.

We, in the MDC were never happy with the approach being adopted for the resolution of the crisis over the past year and are quite happy that the Blair/Mbeki approach has failed. In its place a much more principled and robust approach has now been crafted and seems to have suddenly gained acceptance across the globe.

In response we have modified our own approach and this is now synchronized with the new UN crafted proposals and is currently being given some flesh by experts and legal draftsmen. As soon as this process is complete we will be ready for what might be coming in the near future.

The reasons for this new consensus are not hard to understand. It is now 4 years since George Bush stood with Mr. Mbeki in Pretoria and stated that Mbeki was now the 'point man' on the Zimbabwe crisis. A logical choice - he has the power to coerce the Zimbabwean leadership if this is required, he has the experience and his own country had just been through a dramatic transition assisted by the global community.

In fact Mr. Mbeki accepted the role but then tried to use his position to secure an outcome that would have left a so-called 'sanitized Zanu PF government' in power. The reasons for this were purely domestic and had little to do with what was best for Zimbabwe. Had the Zanu PF leadership recognised this and co-operated with Mr. Mbeki then he might have made progress and we (the MDC and the people of Zimbabwe) would have had to learn to live with new leadership, perhaps modified policies, but with most of the same problems that beset us right now.

The leadership of Zanu PF did not see this as a way out and instead they blocked all Mbeki's efforts to resolve the crisis. In fact they have insulted and slandered the South African President and must now finally face the new consensus without his support and protection.

The second reason for the new consensus is the acceptance that Zimbabwe is now close to collapse. I have often said this before - countries do not collapse like companies, but in this case I may in fact be wrong. We are now close to the very real threat that we may not be able to sustain our economy as a functional entity. Coal supplies are down to critical levels, electrical energy needs are no longer being met and our own local crisis is being exacerbated by a growing deficit in electrical energy supplies regionally. Our railways are no longer capable of moving more than a small proportion of our national transport needs and we no longer have the foreign currency to support essential imports - this week saw Air Zimbabwe suspend flights because it simply cannot keep its aircraft in the air.

A country like the Congo can survive these sorts of pressures - the majority of its economy is informal and can survive these chaotic conditions. Its inherent riches have enabled the Congo to survive under a succession of corrupt, even criminal, elements since 1960.

Somaliland has seen half its total population leave the country since its own collapse began. Other African States that have failed have seen similar numbers of migrants fleeing the country for greener pastures. The great difference here is that our own millions of fleeing citizens have in the main 'gone south'. A correspondent told me just this week that they now think that up to 4 million Zimbabweans may be living in South Africa - only 15 per cent as legal residents.

The continued, even accelerated collapse in the Zimbabwean economy this year has scared a lot of people - in the region and abroad. It has suddenly given new impetus to the search for a solution.

Perhaps another reason for the new consensus on the way forward and the need to throw some weight behind the initiative, is the new sense of the fragility of the South African situation. The SACP and Cosatu are talking about breaking away from the ANC and if they did the political spectrum in South Africa would change overnight. A leftist Party would emerge from the new dispensation that could challenge the hegemony of the ANC in South African politics. It is Mbeki's nightmare scenario.

Under these circumstances he needs to narrow down the focus of the South African administration and reduce the number of fronts on which they are dealing with serious problems. Zimbabwe is one place where they could effect such a reduction and at the same time perhaps draw the interests of the ANC alliance parties together.

Whatever the reasons - there is suddenly a new consensus on the way forward. Like a clearing in deep, dense fog at sea - suddenly we can all see how a transitional government might open up the situation here - allow the international community in with resources and open up the possibility that free and fair elections could be held in a year or so. So watch the meeting in the Gambia next week very closely. It is perhaps another turning point in southern African history - one that will echo the events in September 1976 when Ian Smith was forced to cede to a transition and 1989 when the South Africans faced the same scenario and succumbed to a combination of domestic and international pressure. Perhaps, just perhaps, this time is our turn - again.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, June 17th 2006