Let Down or the Last Quarter?

I was in two minds on Friday - drink the whole bottle myself, or put it back on our wine rack. That ... SADC communique was the just about the worst bit of pure African politics I have ever seen. They covered all the bases. Mugabe was 'democratically elected in free and fair elections in 2002!' 'The International Community should lift sanctions and allow the recovery of the Zimbabwe economy', President Mbeki is to 'oversee the initiation of dialogue between the MDC and Zanu PF so as to get the process of reform and reconstruction underway'.

We expected that the leaders of the region would never criticize Mugabe in public. Behind closed doors we understand they gave it to him with both barrels - 'he was endangering their own progress', he had to 'deal with the crisis or retire', and 'this situation could not be allowed to drift for any longer'.

In the final communique there was at least one major new development - the last time they had met they had asked Mkapa - the former President of Tanzania and a personal friend of Mugabe to mediate, they had specifically said that the mediation should be between Zimbabwe and Britain. At least this time, they recognised that the crisis was home grown and that the resolution lay in domestic dialogue. I guess that is a step forward, it was also the first time that they had formally acknowledged the key role of the MDC in any resolution of the crisis.

I understand that they made two specific demands of Mugabe - either retire in March and allow new leadership to step up to the plate or start the process of reform yourself and get Zimbabwe back on track. It is Mr. Mbeki's role to make sure that he does one or both.

Mugabe did not loose any time in giving regional leaders and Mr. Mbeki a clear view of his intentions. He came home and using his considerable resources and the support of the security machinery here, he brushed aside the internal challenge he has been grappling with inside Zanu PF and simply got himself nominated as the Presidential candidate in the March 2008 elections. He then also forced a resolution to the effect that the Party would increase the number of seats in the Parliament, elect the Senate under a system of proportional representation and hold elections for Parliament and all local urban councils at the same time.

His assumption in all of this is that he will be allowed to hold the elections under the same system that delivered 'victory' to Zanu PF in 2002 and 2005. Just to give emphasis to his distain for the SADC leaders and Mbeki in particular, he intensified the crackdown on the MDC - sending in his thugs to carry out about Z$40 million worth of damage to the MDC head office and taking another 50 MDC people into custody - raising to at least 200 the number of MDC leaders taken into detention in the past ten days. There was no attempt to follow proper legal procedures - it was just pure thuggery and vandalism, carried out in broad daylight.

Hate speech invoking the history of Zanu PF as a liberation movement and his own personal vendetta against all his perceived opponents, promising more violence and even death if anyone dared to stand against him, poured out of his mouth. The State press simply parroting his words. Joining in the chorus of crude propaganda and lies about the MDC and its associated institutions.

On Saturday we faced yet another spectacle of the human suffering engendered by this outpouring of hate and intimidation. After dragging their heels for several days over a Court decision instructing the Police to produce detainees for Court hearings, a group was finally produced at the Magistrates Courts in Harare. On seeing the men and women in his Court the Magistrate ordered them to be taken to hospital. When they came out of the building to be loaded into ambulances, people standing by wept openly. Ian Makoni, a quiet local businessman who had been Chief Executive of two major organisations, struggling for his life, gave a MDC hand wave as the paramedics outside the Court put him onto life support on his way to hospital. Defiant, even as he faced possible death from his injuries.

You only realize the extent of these beatings in custody when you hear the story of William Bango. A small man, who is a professional journalist and was the Editor of the Daily News, is the PA and personal spokesperson to Morgan Tsvangirai. He was beaten savagely in detention along with Morgan and the others, had his glasses smashed and went home after his release and an examination by a doctor. He subsequently collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital in South Africa where he has undergone surgery for extensive internal injuries. Do you know how hard you have to hit a person to do that with a police baton?

The MDC National Executive met on Saturday and after we had cleaned up the Boardroom so that we had somewhere to sit after the police vandals had been through the building, we opened with prayer and a minute's silence in remembrance of those who had died in the past two weeks and those injured and disappeared. Then we went on the deliberate on what to do next.

We resolved not to respond to violence with violence in any form, we further decided that we would prepare to contest every seat, every city council ward and Mayoral post in the country when the elections were held in March next year. However we also decided that unless there were radical and far-reaching changes in the whole electoral environment and system, we would simply boycott the whole exercise as a waste of time. Zanu can run unopposed in another sham of an election.

We also resolved not to let up on our campaign to maintain pressure on the Mugabe regime and that this coming week, we would not only support the call by the ZCTU for a two day national strike, we would instruct all our supporters and members to participate fully in the strike action. Silent cities speak loudest.

We welcomed the SADC resolutions despite their obvious shortcomings and accepted that the appointment of President Mbeki as the point man of the SADC on Zimbabwe crisis could signal the start of a new initiative. After all, he alone has the power to resolve this crisis and to bring Mugabe to heel. Political leadership is all about the exercise of such power to achieve identified goals. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is the start of the end game.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, April 1st 2007