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
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
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.
Bulawayo, 1st June 2007