No Independence Before Majority Rule

Remember that? I certainly do because this was the policy position that eventually brought about the end of the UDI experiment in Rhodesia - it led to the transitional government of Abel Muzorewa and then Lancaster House and finally the first (and perhaps the only) majority rule elections in the new Zimbabwe in March 1980.

It looks pretty innocuous as a statement but it was not in those days. What it said was quite clear, no lifting of sanctions, no peace, no economic recovery, no future - without majority rule. For those of you who are in Zanu PF I had better define the latter. How you define it is a mystery to me, but in those days and perhaps in all sane countries, the definition is quite simple - it means that every adult who is a citizen or a permanent resident, has the right to vote.

For my community (the white Africans who had governed the country since 1896) it meant the end of our dominance in all spheres. For the majority black community it meant opportunity and freedom. I can still remember Ndabaningi Sithole saying to me in 1975, 'there can be no real opportunities and fundamental freedom until we have Independence' (majority rule). Unfortunately I knew then as I do now that that was probably true.

What we need now is another similar statement of principle from the international community. I suggest 'no recognition without free and fair elections'. Again a rather innocuous statement - looks harmless enough on the surface and people might wonder what all the fuss is about. Perhaps not after watching the shambles in Nigeria!

But for the tyrants in our midst and for our detractors in the region and abroad, the meaning is quite clear. It means no end in sight for the present downwards economic spiral, no end to the flight of millions into other countries, no end to the human misery and suffering, no international recognition, no relaxation of international opprobrium and no political recognition unless we hold a genuine free and fair elections in March 2008.

For those in the world who think that we do not know what is required or that we are incapable of meeting such a condition, let me tell you that the shambles we saw in Nigeria is carefully contrived and managed. We know how to rig elections - we also know what is involved to make them free and fair.

If we can persuade the major democracies of the world - no point in talking to the others, they do not believe in democracy anyway (they regard it as a dangerous and futile exercise in political suicide for themselves), to adopt such a simple principle then we have to go a bit further and define what it means in practice.

The requirements can be divided into two periods - the run up to the election itself (which is already under way here) and then the period covering the actual voting and counting and then the reporting and adoption of the outcome.

In the initial phase we need to get on top of the devils of violence and intimidation in our society. The political parties that have traditionally been contenders here ever since they were formed have used these as political tools in their campaigns for power. As Mugabe said once 'we have degrees in violence'. The campaign here has started and Zanu PF has unleashed against the MDC (mainly against the formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai) a campaign of violence that is designed to 'downgrade' the capacity of the MDC to compete in the March 2008 elections. They are carefully targeting the structures and leadership of the MDC throughout the country.

Mbeki has made no move to stop this violence and by not doing so we must assume that Zanu PF feels that it has his implicit approval for the operation. It fits with the hypothesis that Mbeki is going along with the call for a free and fair election but wants to give Mugabe the best possible chance to actually win the contest by using these means.

In addition to the issue of violence we also have the use of POSA to restrict our capacity to campaign anywhere in the country. We plan a series of rallies this weekend and I will be speaking at one in Hwange stadium - if we can get approval. There are other problems - we cannot get a printer to print our materials. Any printer who does so immediately finds himself the target of the CIO or worse.

In the case of the media - four radio stations, two television stations and seven newspapers - all State owned and directed. Two others - the Mirror and the Gazette that are CIO owned and managed. These all pour out, on a daily basis, a flood of State directed propaganda against the MDC and its leadership. Our people know this but it still sticks - I can tell when someone is speaking to me and has only access to the local media - they have a completely distorted understanding of things here. Both the local independent weeklies are compromised at this point and of little use in a campaign. That leaves us with the external radio stations and newspapers published in South Africa. These radio stations are all jammed on a regular basis by the regime in Harare.

Even if we were to imagine that such conditions could yield a 'free and fair' election we have the other twin evils - food rationing and the use of traditional leaders to control the rural peasant population. In every election since 2000 the regime here has used both with devastating effect. Vote for us or starve is a pretty potent slogan in poverty stricken Zimbabwe.

In the actual election (and it is here that we expect to see Mbeki act) we face a formidable machine - the boundaries of all MDC stronghold constituencies will be gerrymandered, the number of rural constituencies where the people are most vulnerable to pre election intimidation and supervised forms of voting, will be increased and we would expect that they will deny the millions of our people who live in other countries, the right to vote.

The election system is currently managed from A to Z by the military with some assistance from the Registrar General who has done a splendid job for Mugabe since 2000. We can expect this manipulation team to work full time on the election itself, massaging results, falsifying ballots, denying millions of citizens, let alone permanent residents, the right to vote.

Free and fair? It's a joke, a sick joke at that. But what we need right now is a clear definition from the major democracies of the world as to how they will define the conduct and expression of an election in March 2008 that they will then recognise this process as yielding a new, legitimate, democratic government. If regional leaders and Mugabe fail to measure up, we need a clear signal, as was the case in Ian Smith's days, that there will be no recognition for a government elected under current conditions. That must mean no assistance with our economic recovery, no easing of the targeted sanctions.

This would at least give Mr. Mbeki a checklist against which he can measure the changes that are required to the MDC some sort of a chance of winning in March 2008. We are realistic about what can be gained in terms of essential reforms - but if we cannot even get those, there is little point in getting involved in another farcical exercise in so called 'democracy' and get beaten and jailed in the process.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 24th April 2007