The Political Outlook for 2007

After I had sent out the outlook for the economy in early January, someone wrote to me and said that a political outlook would be very interesting. Much more difficult of course and probably less reliable as there are so many variables.

The driving force will be the economy. Already the reality of the conditions forecast by analysts is impacting on the consciousness of the majority of Zimbabweans. Inflation has begun to accelerate in earnest. Workers are unable to afford transport and are walking to and from work, doctors in the State sector are on strike and wildcat strikes are taking place in many other sectors.

The State is just making things worse - we have seen certain state controlled institutions buying foreign exchange on the open market and driving down the value of the local currency. The attack on the mining industry has frozen all development and expansion and totally disrupted the informal sector, displacing hundred of thousands of people who were making a living from gold and diamonds. The threat to change the currency over 24 hours (a ridiculous action designed to completely dislocate the smooth change over that is required) will also cause much distress. The announcement that the State social security agency (NSSA) is going to raise compulsory contributions to 16 per cent of gross salaries (an enormous new tax) to pay for State run hospitals is also pending. We are already the most highly taxed community in the region and this will push the situation into the realm of the impossible in terms of tolerance and capacity. Take home pay for many will be reduced to a fraction of their pay by this measure with no significant benefit.

The question is, will this situation push people over the edge? I think it will and it is the deteriorating economy that will be the most significant factor in the political realm this year. This will be made even more significant by the fact that we are in the throes of a very poor agricultural season from every perspective. It is difficult to know what will push people over the edge, but food prices and shortages might well be the trigger, as they were in the late 90's.

I also see growing signs that at last the patience and tolerance of the Mugabe regime is running thin in the SADC region. Its about time and these leaders remain the most effective means of bringing pressure to bear on the present government to put their house in order. I think international pressure will be unrelenting. The targeted sanctions against the leadership of this regime will be renewed in February and the same States that are leading this campaign will increase their pressure on African leaders to 'do something' about Mugabe and the errant leadership of Zanu PF.

But change may also come from another unexpected quarter. Last week a senior Police Officer spoke to a colleague in the MDC and said that if ever the country needed the MDC leadership on the streets, it was now. He is in the Law and order section in Bulawayo (the political unit) so these remarks from someone who spends his days trying to keep the lid on the protests is significant. We are also getting reports from all the other sections of the security forces including the CIO. People are unhappy and the patronage that has served Zanu PF so well in the past decade is disintegrating as the State runs out of money and capacity to maintain the system.

The day that the Police stand by or even join in a protest over living standards, is the day that Zanu PF is finished. They no longer have any significant support among the general populace. That day could be closer than we think and the sole remaining pillars of support for this oligarchy are the police, the army and the CIO.

What of the opposition? I read the reports of commentators and the media every day and the consensus is pretty solid. The 'MDC is divided and weakened and is no longer the threat it once was to the regime'. The truth of the matter is that we were never a real threat to the regime while we maintained the twin pillars of non-violence and democracy for our campaign to wrest power from Zanu PF. They controlled the means of coercion across the country and also voting rights and the way votes were cast and counted in the elections. The only real threat to Zanu PF over the past decade has been diplomatic and the protection afforded to the regime by the SADC and other African leaders has guaranteed that that threat never materialized.

However I dispute the view that the opposition is divided and ineffective. In fact it has never been so coordinated and unified - through the Broad Alliance. This now incorporates all civil society organisations and all opposition Parties. It also includes, for the first time, 1500 Churches from every denomination. Slowly this coalition of opposition forces is getting its act together and raising the funding for effective action. Last year fund raising was virtually impossible. The local business community is totally cowed, the international community tired and discouraged and the rest of us broke! Great environment to raise money for political purposes!

The question is can this alliance get its act together and perhaps spark the popular revolt that will force the SADC to take action rather than just talk and also force Zanu PF to compromise and allow the process of change to get underway? They know that any changes in the electoral realm towards a free and fair election under regional or international supervision will mark the end of the era of Zanu PF dominance, if not even their existence. So that process will not be easy, but it could happen.

The consensus among the people I know and respect in the political realm all say that Zanu will not achieve its goal of shifting the elections to 2010. The political and economic situation simply will not allow that to happen. I have seen scenarios that predict that his own people might even force Mr. Mugabe out of office - stranger things have happened in politics. I doubt that scenario and feel it would not even be that helpful. When we do finally throw off the yoke imposed on us by Zanu PF we will have to get rid of the whole caboodle - root and branch!

My friends pretty much universally predict elections in March 2008. They differ as to under what conditions but I think they may well be right and what we have to concentrate on are the conditions under which such an event might take place. If Zanu is allowed to conduct elections as they did in 2000, 2002 and 2005, then we can expect things just to get worse, and that remains a real possibility.

My great fear has always been that without significant external influence and pressure (possible only from the SADC States) that weary, battered Zimbabweans would be subjected to a chaotic and violent transition - the outcome of which would be anyone's guess, instead of the kind of orderly, negotiated transition to a constitutional democracy such as was achieved in South Africa, largely under the influence and guidance of the British and the Americans.

The world has moved on since then and this sort of neo-colonial action is no longer possible. So it is really up to us. Like mariners approaching the beach through the waves, we know the beach is close - we can hear the surf breaking. What we do not know is what rocks lie under the surf and how much of a soft landing we will get when we get there. A business colleague asked me about my expectations and I said - I have my life jacket on and am ready for whatever this year throws at me. I am sure we will get wet, but I am also sure we do not have that long to wait any longer.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 21st January 2007