Hard Choices

Zimbabwe is back at another crucial junction in its short history. At home the economic and political crisis intensifies by the day. Inflation in April was probably over 8 000 percent year on year, the currency has slipped to new lows and is trading about 30 000 to 1 against the US dollar. Severe food shortages are evident and prices have skyrocketed.

Internationally there is a new global consensus on the Zimbabwe issue. The global community is more united on the way forward than it has ever been and recent political changes in Europe have made this consensus even firmer. Regionally there is a sea shift taking place as leaders review their stance on Zimbabwe in the light of new evidence that the continuing crisis here is impacting on their own countries.

In South Africa, the ruling alliance - the ANC - is increasingly divided over the Zimbabwe issue - Cosatu and the SACP calling for action, the ANC itself unsure about what it wants and the way forward. But for South Africa, time is an important element as their own internal leadership struggles intensify and the flood of economic and political refugees from Zimbabwe intensifies social pressures. The time bomb of a possible review of the decision to stage the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa remains a potential threat.

Internally the ruling Party, Zanu PF is imploding and various factions are engaged in a struggle for ascendancy that could lead to real violence and even open conflict. Mugabe remains an impediment to progress and a spoiler and despite all the evidence does not seem to appreciate that control is slipping away from him and that the net of the inevitable consequences of his past is now closing in on him.

The MDC, still to recover from the damaging split in its ranks in 2005, remains divided on its own future and strategies for change. It remains the only significant opposition in the political arena but needs to clear up the confusion about its identity and intentions.

For all these players there are hard choices ahead. The international community has at least made some decisions - they declared their hand recently by saying that 'any' new government in Zimbabwe must satisfy 5 conditions to secure their endorsement and assistance. Change in Zimbabwe would be meaningless without both. They want: -

1. Free and fair elections.
2. A return to the rule of law.
3. Respect for human and political rights.
4. The adoption of comprehensive economic reforms.
5. A new constitution for Zimbabwe based on a national consensus.

The SADC States want a solution. They want this long standing sore healed so that everyone can get on with the task of national and regional development and nation building. They are past the place where they are picky about what kind of a solution - they just want this situation 'fixed'.

For South Africa the choices are harder - they have most to win or lose. They want an outcome that will strengthen, not weaken, their own political and social cohesion. The ANC wants an outcome that will help it get through the next 18 months without a major bust up that will impugn the reputation of the country, perhaps undermine its stability and threaten the ANC alliance. At one time they might have been able to dictate such a solution, but those days are gone. Like all the other players they have to commit to the white water rapids of political change and just pray that the outcome will be to their satisfaction.

The hardest choices lie with the domestic players. For a civil society that has struggled, perhaps as hard as any other player to secure a decent social and political environment under a sound constitutional dispensation that protects human and economic rights and will provide a foundation for future development and progress. They must now accept compromise and to some extent, spectator status as the very players they have created play the game on the field in a contest that is very much weighed against their home side.

As for the MDC, it has to decide what it is and what it wants to do and it must do so under considerable pressure from all sides. The MDC must also decide if it is prepared to walk onto this particular playing field for a contest that looks like a rerun of David and Goliath. A political contest in which Goliath chooses both the weapons of combat and the playing field itself. They know this is a fight to the finish under a team of referees that have never shown themselves to be neutral and may in fact want a certain outcome.

For Zanu PF the stakes could not be higher. They know that victory will not be certain - as it was in 2002 and 2005, they know that defeat in this particular game will mean utter defeat, obscurity and uncertainty as to their own future. They despise their opponents but know they cannot avoid a showdown and that this time the whole world will be watching in the stands. They have won many previous battles with similar opponents - but never under these conditions and with their own team in such disarray. They are universally nervous and anxious about what is likely to be the outcome.

Hard choices are only made under pressure. Today we all being faced with choices we cannot avoid any longer. The economic and political situation is driving all of us to a common destiny. I think we can all sense that and none of us can really be certain of the outcome - that is where faith comes in. When we walk out onto that field with our simple weapons in our hands and face up to that giant of our own history and making for a final showdown, we will need faith.

Faith that ultimately good will triumph over evil. Faith that we are not alone in this - that there are millions who wish us well and want us to win, they have watched our struggles, the arrests and beatings and political murders. The chicanery and falsehoods spread about us and the false allegations made about our capacity and our intentions. They have stood by us and now anxiously wait the outcome. Faith that we will win and then we will then be able to deliver what we have promised.

All our training and work has led us to this point. We must not shy away from the hard choices or the clash that is coming. I for one am glad it is here and that this long nightmare might soon be over. What I am expecting next is the imposition of a new set of rules for the coming combat by the SADC leaders. These will be reluctantly adopted and implemented by a recalcitrant Mugabe and the preparations for the political duel will begin soon. The aspect about this situation that most observers do not see, is that this time no one can walk away from the hard choices that have to be made. It is crunch time - for all of us.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 12th May 2007