Have they done enough?

The SADC summit has come and gone. Mugabe did his thing - a dramatic entrance, full of bravado and an entourage that included Mogadishu type pick up trucks with mounted machine guns and security thugs with dark glasses. The despair of the international community and others around the world was palpable.

The reality on the ground however was very different. This time there was a united position on Zimbabwe, friend and foe, Mugabe faced his toughest SADC summit ever. Behind closed doors his fellow regional Presidents told him in no uncertain terms that the crisis in Zimbabwe had gone on long enough, was damaging the prospects of the region and impacting on their own economic and social situations.

In addition they looked at a serious proposal from the region to step up to the plate with an emergency stabilisation package worth several hundred million US dollars (paid for by the region itself) - a first and very encouraging. This was attached to tough conditions - complete the negotiations taking place under the South African facilitation process and then abide by the agreement and carry it out before any assistance is made available and even then not to the Zimbabwe government directly. Mugabe has few who trust him any longer in the region.

Behind closed doors and with tight security in place, the talks between the MDC and Zanu PF continue. On its own this is a remarkable achievement as there is no way that Zanu PF would be talking to the hated opposition if they had any alternative options.

So the stage is set for some fairly dramatic developments - what and when is not clear or even available. Even the aggressive SA media machine has not been able to crack the SA blanket of secrecy about the situation - just those periodic remarks by Mbeki that the situation is under control and the process making progress, not as fast as they would have liked, but progress.

I am the eternal optimist and suffer for this when it comes to trying to set out a possible future scenario. But there are a few things we can set our compass to. The first is that in the end we (the democrats and those who want the best for Zimbabwe and her people) will win this struggle. That has been true throughout history, even though it might take longer than anticipated. Eventually the good guys win. It took England several centuries to overthrow the Feudal system that kept its people in chains and servitude. It took the Russian people over 70 years to throw off the savage yoke of Communism. It took South Africa over 40 years to dismantle the Apartheid machine. If we can do it in 10, we will have done well historically.

Secondly, we know this situation is not sustainable and the regime here simply does not have the resources or the environment to sustain itself. For Zanu PF this is a terminal situation, they have no where to go from here on; they are facing a blank wall with no alternative escape routes. Africa is moving on and with West Africa having dismantled the regime of Charles Taylor and then seen him delivered to the Hague, they know that this is a very real prospect here. The region of the SADC has also moved on - SADC is a fast growing block of democratic States who are proud of their new status in the global community. They know they have to deal with the bad apples in this basket or be tainted as a whole.

Thirdly, the international environment is much more hostile to rogue regimes than in the past. Look at the pressure piling up over the behavior of the Sudan, Somalia, North Korea and Burma. New governments in France, Canada and the UK are all going to be principled and uncompromising towards the Mugabe regime. That also goes for even places like Portugal. The new members of the EU are almost universally hostile to political tyrannies - they know all about what they do to the people they control (I avoid using the word govern).

No one gives a damn for a small country like Zimbabwe, but they do have concern for the region as a whole. We have struggled to get where we are - South Africa after a century of struggle against racial oppression, Angola and Mozambique after decades of struggle against a colonial past and then civil and regional wars. Zambia after decades of failure under UNIP, Malawi after Banda, the Congo just emerging from the nightmare of the post colonial era. All these gains are threatened by the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy and the very real threat of instability and violence.

I saw an article in a major South African newspaper this week saying Zimbabwe could collapse by Christmas. Define collapse please? Does it mean that the country no longer can feed, clothe and house its people? Does it mean that energy and water systems are collapsing and are unable to meet even basic needs? Does it mean that 70 per cent of all jobs are lost, the people affected forced to flee in order to survive? Does it mean that telephone systems are now so run down that you cannot dial out to another country in the region or make a local call without great effort and considerable time?

If it does, then we have collapsed. Our modern economy is no longer functioning. Many, if not most firms are now living on their reserves and face imminent collapse. If they do, putting Zimbabwe back together again is going to be tough and expensive. In my own small group I have had 8 employees quietly pack up and leave for South Africa. They see no future. We lost nearly Z$3 billion in the past two months and an executive in the largest food company in the country told me today they were losing Z$2 billion a day. We are fighting back and striving to hold things together, others are just quitting. In company after company staff are just sitting around - idle and concerned. Will we have jobs next month? The feeling of despair is everywhere.

No - this situation simply cannot go on. Has SADC done enough this past week to rescue us from ourselves? My own judgment is maybe just enough, but they cannot do it alone. We need everyone to make that final effort that will get us through this nightmare. Battles are won in the final stages of conflict, before that it's just a fight. We are on the winning side, we will win, we are nearly there, make the effort.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 23rd August 2007