Real Leadership at Last

The past two weeks have seen significant developments in the field of the SADC sponsored talks to try and resolve the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe. We cannot say too much about this, as we are under instructions to keep the lid on things until the facilitators can report progress.

I must say I am surprised by recent developments - and pleased. They represent an example of real leadership by Africa's leaders in powerful positions and if we can keep this up we may actually see an African crafted solution to the Zimbabwe situation. It is about time and watching the international community wring its hands over the situation in Darfur just makes me wish we could act multilaterally on a more constant and principled basis. But then this is politics!!

Various forces have helped in this process, the final outcome of which is still very uncertain, but at least it is under way. Among these forces must rank the economy. Last year the fiscal deficit was over 60 per cent of estimated GDP. Inflation figures just released reluctantly by the local statistical office were 3 700 per cent - over 100 per cent in April alone. It is at least double that in reality but all the same, most commentators still use the official numbers and they are bad enough.

The impact of this on the local economy and on everyone is difficult to describe to anyone who lives in a normal environment. Here business can be literally wiped out in weeks if you do not move with speed. That is impossible with Government and the collapse of all State controlled institutions and organisations are now very rapid. Most can barely function.

For the average person life is a nightmare. Prices change by the hour and you must spend your money as soon as you get it or watch it simply fade away. People on fixed incomes are long since eliminated, as they simply are unable to cope. This week saw thousands of workers in all spheres go on strike - demanding wages that would in a small way reflect what it costs to live. The numbers are just impossible to comprehend.

The regime has finally given in to the realities of the situation and raised the price of maize meal by 600 per cent. Even so 65 per cent of the cost of a bag of maize meal is reflected in distribution and packaging costs. Enough maize meal to feed the family now costs more than the total wages of 70 per cent of all workers. Transport to work will cost as least as much. Talking to strikers last week they said they did not care if they were fired - they would pack up and go to South Africa.

Then there is the food situation. We have grown 20 per cent of our needs - world stocks of grain are down to six weeks supply and prices have doubled in the past year. We will have to import 2 million tonnes of grain under desperate conditions - no foreign exchange, high prices, poor infrastructure and low transport capacity.

The great majority of the urban population is in the position where they cannot feed themselves let alone buy food for 'home'. In rural areas the situation is much worse - there are no stocks in the south at all - a total crop failure from Chegutu south has ensured that. Government sees this food crisis as simply a chance to control the population. Orders have gone out that no food distribution is to take place without political controls being in force. These instructions are being ruthlessly enforced. Free and fair elections are impossible under such conditions.

Then there is the new pressure from the global community. I sense a new resolution to be tough with rogue States like ours. The EU has toughened its stance and last week we got refreshingly frank statements from the Prime Minister of Australia when he took the unusual step of banning the Australian Cricket team from visiting Zimbabwe. He called Mugabe a 'grubby little dictator' and said the he was running a 'Gestapo style regime.' Tough truth from powerful and influential people. At last those countries that are providing shelter to the children of those on the list of targeted sanctions as well and other human rights abusers are now being threatened with eviction and a humiliating return home.

The new approach adopted by the SADC and the AU has also raised the temperature. They have recently made statements that suggest that they are no longer prepared to tolerate the behavior of the Harare regime and are calling on it to reform or face sanctions. At long last the AU Human Rights Commission has debated its own report on human rights abuse in Zimbabwe. Despite a defence put up by Zimbabwe Ministers they adopted the report and called for change. The same happened last week at the Pan African Parliament sitting in Gauteng where a full inquiry was ordered.

Such events were unthinkable a few years ago, even last year. The African block at the UN supported by South American States succeeded in getting Zimbabwe appointed as the Chairman of the Commission on sustainable development - but that simply highlights the weakness of the UN system and its inability to act on a principled basis. Still at least the Commission gets a Chairman who knows what does not work - from personal experience.

Yesterday the National Council of the MDC met in Harare and adopted its basis for action over the next 10 months. We agreed our goal was to 'restore hope', 'overcome fear' and 'make every vote count'. I thought that was a clever bit of work by our National leadership because it really does sum up what we, as a Nation need.

We need hope that all is not lost and some form of a solution is now under way. One that offers us a chance to rebuild our lives and country from the bleak ashes of what we have left. We must overcome fear - fear of being associated with the MDC, fear of what the State will do to me if I join the struggle or step out of line, fear of what the future holds, if anything.

Then we have to reestablish a belief that our votes will count. We have voted in 2000, in 2002 and in 2005 and in each case watched as our desires and wishes were crushed by violence, vote rigging and coercion. We are now in that place where we wonder if our votes will mean anything. That is what the talks are all about and when the outcome becomes know, I am sure there is going to be an explosion of new enthusiasm for the electoral process. If we can persuade people that their vote will be counted and will make a difference, we can trust the rest to the people.

I for one, am looking forward to that day, its now coming soon, do not despair!!

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 18th May 2007