Better late than never

The damage done by the split in the ranks of the MDC in October last year is now almost fully repaired. The reasons for the decision of a small group of leaders to leave the Movement and form a new political grouping are still unclear. But whatever the motivation I think they now realize that the exercise has taken them into a cul de sac.

MDC has regrouped and restructured around Morgan Tsvangirai and the newly elected leadership is beginning to function well. There are some very significant new players drawn from the academic world and the team of 15 policy portfolio secretaries is starting to work together to craft appropriate and effective new policy positions to assist in the eventual rehabilitation and reconstruction of our society and economy.

This process has not been easy or without pain. We continue to miss certain of the leadership that hived off into the new group and we eventually hope they will join the 30 or so leaders who have returned to the main wing of the MDC under its new leadership. These are now gradually being integrated into the structures of the Party and hopefully, this process will eventually heal the wounds in the ranks of the opposition.

Perhaps events in the past week will accelerate that process. On Saturday a broad coalition of Churches called the Christian Alliance, called a national convention to debate the way forward. They invited everyone - including the ruling Party and all other political parties. The Trade Unions were well represented, civil society in the form of representatives of dozens of civic groups and organisations also attended.

At the Convention, all of the major players were invited to give their own views of the crisis facing Zimbabwe and the way forward. Needless to say, Zanu PF did not attend with one or two Ministers making disparaging remarks about the event - Nathan Shamuyarira said that they did not want to be told what to do. Another Minister remarked that 'Zanu faced no crisis and there was nothing to talk about'! That pretty much sums up the position of the ruling Party.

Another interesting development was a peculiar press advert in the newspaper on Friday saying that the organs representing the main traditional Churches were not idle - they were meeting all stakeholders and were trying to negotiate a solution. I thought the tone of this advert was a little plaintive!

All the same, when I sat down in the large tent with several hundred other delegates on Saturday, I was delighted to see a row of dedicated local Christian leaders - many of whom I know well, occupying the top table. We prayed and sang hymns and were subjected to a real 'hot gospel' sermon before we were allowed to get on with the business in hand. One of the early presenters said that it was good to see the Church taking a stand - but they were 'too late'. The Church leaders apologized for the dilatory response to the Zimbabwe crisis and to the abject suffering of the people under the current regime. There was great emphasis on the need for the Nation to repent of the crimes committed against the people under the Gukurahundi and Murambatsvina campaigns.

All five opposition Parties were represented by their main leaders. Each was asked to speak in turn and when the opportunity came for the leader of the break away faction of the MDC to speak he raised the issue of opposition unity and pledged to facilitate that process. Following this statement he was subjected to a barrage of comment from the floor and shouts of 'when' and 'now'. He then gave a caveat that such unity could only be found on the basis of adherence to the fundamental principles under which the MDC had been formed in 1999. No problem with that.

When Morgan spoke there was a hushed silence except for heckling from Job Sikhala who was attending as a part of the Mutambara group. He was silenced by the crowd and Morgan then called all the leaders of the opposition parties to the podium where he said that they were committing themselves to unity of purpose in confronting the regime and that he hoped that we would now see action and less talk to give this new unity expression. He then went on to outline the way forward and the 'road map' that the MDC was proposing and supported the ‘Democracy Charter' that was being tabled at the Convention by the Crisis Coalition. He said that when the MDC had been formed in 1999, it had been given a mandate by the Working Peoples Convention to fight for change through peaceful, legal, democratic means. The MDC had carried this banner for 6 years with many successes but it had to be accepted now that these means could not deliver change and a new tactics and strategies were required.

It was, Morgan stated, for this reason that the MDC was proposing to the leadership of all democratic forces in the country, that we now move towards democratic resistance strategies designed to secure a negotiated settlement of the political crisis and to chart the way forward.

The Convention divided up into 6 working groups and when these came back together in the late afternoon, the Convention adopted a series of resolutions unanimously to give effect to the creation of a 'Broad Alliance' , coordinated and led by the Christian Alliance, to confront the regime and force negotiations. Organisations represented at the Convention were given 7 days to accept the resolutions and to join the Alliance formally - the next meeting of leadership was scheduled for the following weekend.

This is a major step forward in the struggle for a new dispensation in Zimbabwe. It was very good to hear a clear, principled statement from Church leaders in support of peaceful mass action to force the Zanu PF led regime to come to the negotiating table. In a very real way this meeting marks the begining of a new phase in the democratic struggle to bring about real change in the way Zimbabwe is being governed.

I am waiting to see who emerges as full participants in the new Alliance. The MDC National Council met on Sunday - within 24 hours of the Christian Coalition meeting and resolved to adopt the resolutions of the Alliance and to join in its activities immediately. We hope that this will lead to an upsurge in the level of activity designed to get negotiations going as soon as possible.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 2 August 2006.