The Dip Tank Scenario

If you are a farm boy like myself, you will be very well acquainted with the dip tank. It's a concrete lined rectangular tank - quite deep at the 'plunge' end rising rapidly to the 'walk out' end with a long drainage shute to a holding pen on the other side. The purpose is to remove the accumulated parasites off the skin of the cattle and to give them some protection from reinfection for a few days out in the veld. It is filled with water and dosed with an appropriate insecticide.

On dipping day the cattle are brought together and herded into a holding pen that leads via a short shute to the dip tank. They have been through this before and although it is not a pleasant exercise they seem to get used to it and when pressured from behind they leap, one by one, into the tank and swim to the others side where they then climb out dripping wet from head to toe.

In the past week we have heard from several commentators that the MDC/Zanu PF talks are on track. Because of the secrecy surrounding this process we do not know exactly what that means but words along those lines have come from President Mbeki, Union Buildings in Tswane, the German Parliament and yesterday from Tony Blair in South Africa. By now you will know that these talks are the first ever between the two political movements (both fractured into several pieces) since the MDC was formed in 1999.

We also know that the talks are expected to lead to an agreement about the required conditions for a 'free and fair' election in March 2008 by the end of June. Today it is the 1st of June so in four weeks time we should know what is happening and can postulate what will happen next.

I was very skeptical about this whole process at the start, but the more I have seen, both on the inside and the outside, has persuaded me that this time we might just have some chance of success and get a shot at real change. It is the dip tank process that persuades me of this.

To be successful the process requires a number of things. First you have to muster the cattle. That means you send out into the field several men who are familiar with the land and the cattle and get them to herd the players towards the dip tank and then finally into the holding pen. In this particular exercise, this has been achieved. Dipping was set down for March 2008 and then the SADC States set about getting the cattle involved into the pen. This has been done and not without a bit of cussing and cracks of long whips made from good African rawhide.

The pen on this occasion is an interesting one. I have worked with wild cattle in Matabeleland and can recall one scene where some Brahman animals were being penned for handling and I saw an animal sail over a gate that was at least 6 foot high. Once free we never saw him again and the Rancher told me that he had to actually shoot the animal later as ration beef as they simply could not pen him for handling and loading.

The walls surrounding this dip tank pen are too high for any of the participants to get over. On the right hand side we have the position of the international community. They met earlier this year and told those responsible for this operation that they wanted five basic benchmarks to be met before they would recognise a new government in Zimbabwe and provide the resources required to get the country back on its feet. These fundamental demands have been set out with great clarity and in specific terms, if they are not met then what is the purpose of any agreement? We have to have international support to climb out of this deep hole we are in at present. Rescue is impossible without a rope!

The very people herding the cattle - the leaders of the SADC, crafted the other side of this pen some years ago. They sat down and agreed that a 'free and fair' election had certain common characteristics. These were defined and laid out in the SADC Protocols or principles for democratic activity. All the leaders at the time agreed that they would conduct their own elections on this basis and this decision laid the groundwork for much of the progress in the SADC that we have seen since then.

This side of the pen cannot be broken out of, as they would be allowing one of their numbers to violate the very rules they prescribed and adopted for the region as a whole. Indeed they can legitimately say that the one bull in this holding pen actually had agreed to these conditions when they were drafted and has been in violation of them for some years now! They know this bull well and they know that given half a chance he will break out of the pen and run. He is therefore the target of a specific containment exercise and a big whip is being used to bring him into line if and when required.

So this weekend we are about to close the gate on the cattle herded into the holding pen. Once in there they must decide how they are going to approach that dip tank. I am told that those with the whip are saying that no one will be allowed to leave the pen until all have been through the dipping process.

For those of us who have been demanding just such an intervention, the dip tank holds no fears. Lets get it over with, we say. For those who fear the dip tank, they do not know what lies ahead and they are deeply apprehensive. The talks that will start in the next few days will be about how to translate conditions on the ground in Zimbabwe into the clear requirements laid out by the international community and the SADC. They will not be about the requirements for a free and fair election - these are known and predetermined. It is what we have to do to satisfy those requirements that is at stake.

There is no way the cattle can avoid going through the dip. Behind are a number of herdsmen with cattle prods - battery operated machines that deliver a powerful shock to the rear end of any reluctant animal. From the sides of the pen you cannot see the prod being administered because of the dust and the heaving bodies, but you can clearly see the effect! Once in the dip, the liquid does the rest. We can expect that if we can get to a free and fair election, that the people will deal with the parasites in our midst. Those that survive the dip can then get on with the task of rebuilding our suffering land.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 1st June 2007