Yesterday I was down near the Botswana border trying to locate the scene of the killing of two MDC activists. We called in at a small store and spoke to the people there to ask if they had heard anything. I spotted some bread and asked what the price was. '30 000' they replied and a young man lounging against the counter chipped in 'Z$30 million'!

He was right because we have already cut three zero's off our currency (10 months ago) and in the old currency it would have been 30 million dollars. Prices are now doubling every week and soon the regime here will have to repeat the exercise and chop another three zero's off the currency while issuing new notes. I am told they are ready to do so and are threatening to make the change without notice.

In this situation life is becoming more and more difficult although I am always astonished how ordinary, simple people adjust. I asked a peasant farmer trying to sell a chicken on the roadside how much and he responded with a wave of his hand '60 or 70'. He was of course saying 60 to 70 thousand dollars. Quite a realistic price at the time. Then there is the ubiquitous parallel market for foreign exchange. In a country where such transactions are illegal and foreign exchange is not legal tender, you can ask anyone on the street what the price of the Rand or the US dollar are and get an answer. In fact the rate changes every half hour or so and somehow this is communicated across the country.

The herdsmen were finally able to get the Zanu PF into the pen in front of the dip tank. Much mooing and kicking up of heels. But they got them into the pen and we are now looking at them and deciding what to do next. I understand the actual talks went well and it has been agreed just what the next talks will be all about. Detailed positions are now being worked out including specifics and a further round of talks is planned for the near future.

It appears that Mr. Mugabe opened this Pandora's box himself. He asked at the December SADC Summit for the region to intervene in the Zimbabwe crisis and asked them to 'mediate' between Britain and Zimbabwe. Alleging at the time that all of Zimbabwe's problems were caused by 'sanctions' imposed by the international community co-ordinated by Britain. SADC engaged and soon discovered what all of us already knew: the crisis in Zimbabwe is home grown.

Then as the crisis deepened the SADC leadership became increasingly agitated. This led to the emergency Summit in March and the agreement with Mugabe that he would participate in multiparty negotiations to bring the crisis to a close. The SADC is now holding Zanu PF and Mr. Mugabe to that agreement.

The crucial issue is what would constitute a 'free and fair' election in Zimbabwe? If that is defined and then interpreted into the Zimbabwe situation then Zanu will face its first challenge on a level playing field since 1980. Clearly you cannot even imagine such an electoral process at present.

For a start all opposition forces are regarded as enemies of the State and treated as such. On a daily basis opposition activists are beaten, abducted and even killed. The majority of planned opposition activities are banned, either officially on one pretext or another or simply stopped by brute force.

Then all State controlled media - the electronic media and television and all daily newspapers are tightly controlled and directed. They pour out a daily diet of propaganda that is designed to denigrate the leadership of the opposition and promote the political interests of the Zanu PF. One of the three weeklies is now owned and controlled by the CIO and the other two are less than aggressive in their pursuit of the truth.

The whole electoral process is controlled by the State and is also directed by the military; from the registration of voters to the issue of identity documents. The voter's roll is manipulated and used to strengthen the Zanu PF position in all areas where they think they might face a serious challenge. Supporters of the opposition are regularly disenfranchised and denied access to the voting system.

The boundaries of voting districts are manipulated in classical fashion by state appointed delimitation Commissions and voters are transferred from one district to another. The postal ballot is managed and controlled and the military required to vote under supervision. The votes of those who live abroad are simply excluded.

All essentials for life are in short supply and are tightly controlled by the State. So basic staples and food aid are used throughout the country to intimidate whole communities and voters in particular. Traditional leaders are used to reinforce this situation by demanding that the people in their districts vote for the ruling Party or face penalties of one kind or another - even threatened with expulsion from their homes.

Then the State uses all its power and resources to foster a system of patronage that can turn a penniless peasant into a Mercedes driving billionaire in hours. Cars and perks are dished out like confetti and anyone who dares to oppose the regime is denied any official support. Candidates for the opposition are ambushed in their districts and burnt out of their homes. They are kicked off irrigation plots and denied housing stands in urban areas. Men in dark glasses watch their every move and they can never rest at night in their own homes.

Free and fair elections are impossible under these circumstances. The problem is that any relaxation of the system of oppression will open the floodgates and Zanu knows full well they will be swept away by popular dissent and a tidal wave of electoral activity. I do not think they will be able to walk away from this challenge this time and I am just waiting to see who is going to run first. If I were in their shoes I would be planning my own exit!

Eddie Cross
20th June 2007