The Mad Hatters Tea Party

Events taking place here in Zimbabwe are so outrageous that it seems sometimes to be just like the mad hatters tea party in Alice in Wonderland. In this case the mad hatter of course would be our beloved leader. The rest of us are uncomfortable guests.

Since last Sunday we have seen all those arrested discharged from custody - they went back to Court and were faced with a situation where the Prosecutors and Magistrates simply failed to turn up and the Police told the accused, 'you can go home'! This has happened in Bulawayo where on Wednesday the authorities arrested 15 people for 'planning an illegal rally'. They too were released without charge 24 hours later. In Mutare 75 people detained on similar grounds were also released without charge.

There have been further demonstrations and some violence in various centers and where people have been arrested on those occasions they have been beaten in custody in a similar fashion to the 50 MDC and other activists arrested last Sunday.

Then on Friday the Police and Army arrived at the home of the man shot dead last Sunday, took his father, who was alone at the time, into custody, forced him to sign a consent form, took the body from the funeral home where it was being held until the family could arrange his burial. The Chief in his home District said he would not allow Gift to be buried there, so the family was arranging for the funeral to be held in Glen View.

Now if you want to touch a sensitive part of African culture - mess with a funeral. This is a ceremony that has great significance in our culture and tradition. It is very important to have a decent burial with all the required rites and families go to great lengths to pay for such arrangements and attending funerals takes up a lot of everybody's time in Zimbabwe. So to take the body, illegally and without the permission of the wife and rush to bury it in an unmarked grave away from the public eye without the required ceremony, is a very serious cultural slur. When you do this you touch the very soul of Africa.

That meant nothing to the Mugabe regime - they just did it and to hell with the consequences. The reason? To avoid what would have been a very embarrassing public display of grief and anger at the actions of the State last Sunday.

When we tried to get the most seriously injured people to hospital in South Africa, they were greeted at the airport - on the actual apron next to the aircraft set aside to fly them to Johannesburg, by a team of armed Police who proceeded to deny them the right to leave the country (their travel documents were all in order) and they were then forced to return to the Hospital in Harare where they are now under Police guard. It would appear there is, in addition to an informal curfew in all urban high-density townships and the formal ban on all political gatherings, a ban on the opposition leaving the country - for any purpose.

Just this morning Nelson Chamisa was on his way to the airport to catch a plane to Europe to attend a EU/ACP meeting when his vehicle was stopped by people in plain clothes, he was beaten and severely injured and his personal possessions, including his lap top computer were taken. He is now in high care in hospital with a cracked skull and eye injuries. No doubt this regime will allege this was a criminal attack, but I do not think anyone need be deceived by that - this was the work of the CIO in every way. Of course it was a criminal act - everything this regime does is criminal in that sense!

Then there are the actions of the Mad Hatter himself. His response to the international outcry over these savage and mindless attacks? He takes to the podium at the Party Headquarters - with a selected audience of Party loyalists, to attack the international diplomatic community in Harare saying that if they do not behave themselves they will be kicked out of the country. He went on the blame the situation on the MDC - claiming that we were the perpetrators and that violence would not be tolerated!! Well I guess that attack is the best form of defence!

Everyone is asking - is this the start of the end? Well I am sure it is and so are many others. Mr. Mugabe is 83 and aging fast; his support base is slipping away from him even faster. Increasingly isolated he has just suffered his first defeat inside Zanu Pf in 27 years. We in the MDC gave him his first taste of defeat in 2000. He could retaliate against us because we were pretty defenseless and had few friends. But this time it was his own Party that dealt him a blow.

Many are concentrating on the violent attacks on our leadership as being the main news, but for me the really big news is that Zanu PF and the region said no to 2010. Mugabe must now complete his term, earned fraudulently in 2002, retire as President in March 2008 and worse still, ask his own Party if he can stand again. I can already sense the humiliation of that moment because I am certain, he would not be nominated and, for Mugabe, that would be the ultimate humiliation.

We in the opposition must keep on with the struggle as the final outcome is still far from certain and those with power in the region are not friends. They have an agenda and I could not agree more with the Mail and Guardian, that it was time South Africa stopped meddling in our affairs. For once, stop trying to determine our future, the people know what is best for them - let them decide, is that so hard to accept? It is for some, because they already know the outcome.

As for the Mad Hatter and his associates, it is time they faced reality and accepted that if we are going to find our way back to the road, we have no alternative as a country but to accept that it must be on the basis of a leadership that is voted in by the great majority of our people. A leadership with a genuine democratic mandate to do what is necessary to repair our countries broken body. That is not going to be easy or painless - it will require both medicine and surgery, but we have been there before and we can do it again. Only this time make sure that the new society we create will meet our expectations and our potential. We owe that to ourselves.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 18th March 2007