Have we got a plan and will it work?

An elderly man stopped me as I parked near a supermarket this morning. 'Have you got a plan?' he asked. 'Of course' I said. Behind me a queue stretched around the corner as people waited in line for bread. Inside the shop we bought 20 kilos of coarse salt and the last bag of dog meal plus four bananas. There was little else to buy.

In a sense our plan has not changed since 2000. We are planning to effect a change of government by peaceful, legal and democratic means in one of the periodic elections that are held for this very purpose. We are bloodied, beaten, vilified and subjected to every sort of tactic you can imagine, but we are not defeated, not by a long way and the regime here knows this. Will it work? Well maybe, this time.

It seems to me quite clear now that the SADC process, facilitated by the government of South Africa, is about to yield some sort of an agreement. There is still too much confusion about the talks and the leaks that we are being fed to know what this agreement will contain but I can state, with certainty, that it will be a giant step towards the goal of our first free and fair elections since Independence in 1980.

I can state that because I know the people negotiating on our side and they will not be brow beaten or intimidated into accepting anything less. I am certain also because unless it meets the criteria laid down in SADC's own standards for elections and the benchmarks prescribed by the international Community, there would be little merit in the whole exercise anyway.

The devil lies in the detail and we just have to wait for that before we can comment. There is also the other issue of implementation and holding this rogue regime to the agreement - none of which is going to be easy. In the meantime I can assure everyone that both Zanu PF and the MDC and its allies now think that we are in for a real fight, not a one sided contest where the opponent of the Zanu PF has his hands tied behind his back, is denied food and water for a week before the fight and is then expected to stand up and slug it out for 12 rounds with a thug armed with a baseball bat.

Today we took delivery of some new vehicles - I think they are the first new vehicles that we have had for at least 5 years. It was good to see the MDC logo on the side of each and to greet the drivers back from training and raring to go. Just plain, 4x2 pickups but they are tough and reliable and will help us immensely as we set about this campaign. Now we have to find fuel! That is another mission.

We will only commit ourselves to the election after we have seen and had the opportunity to debate the agreement. This process is anxiously awaited and in the meantime the situation in the country just goes from bad to worse.

The cocktail of measures taken by the regime in recent weeks has been a potent mix designed to decimate what is left of our formal economy, liquidate established firms and drive a significant portion of the population out of the urban areas into the rural districts and across the borders into South Africa. They are well on their way to achieving this goal and it occurred to me last night that for this reason alone, one of the most critical aspects of any agreement must be the right of those driven out of their homeland, to vote where they are.

We have at least 4 million or more adult Zimbabweans living outside the country. Their numbers swell by the day as this economic and political crisis deepens. The objective for Zanu PF is to reduce the voting capacity of those who are independent of the State and free spirits politically inside the country to a level where they can be overwhelmed by the vote that they can control and direct. This was clearly enunciated by Mutasa in his statement about reducing the population to no more than 6 million people who can be relied upon to vote Zanu. They are well on their way to achieving this extraordinary objective.

How the vote of the Diaspora is captured if they are allowed to vote is another key issue and as I mused over this in bed this morning at about 5 am, I thought that there is only one way to do that without administrative chaos and leaving it open to manipulation and fraud and that is to treat the centers with major Zimbabwean populations as extensions of the election process with their own polling stations set up and supervised by an Independent Electoral Commission and voting on the same day as the election here at home. The exercise would be massive and would require significant assistance from resident governments. The resulting ballot boxes would be flown home for counting.

Potentially there are more voters outside Zimbabwe than within - even today, let alone after the full impact of the present collapse in the economy works it's way through our society. By forcing such a mechanism down Zanu's throat we would be negating the essence of the present strategy they are following.

But this aspect is only one of many that we are going to have to take into account. The one thing that is sure, there is no way that a free and fair election can take place against the backdrop of these disastrous economic policies. We simply will not get to an election if the situation does not improve shortly and unless Zanu PF is forced to stop this mad dash to destruction.

I had lunch with some foreign friends this past week and I said to them that there were three key issues to be addressed in the period after the agreement is reached in South Africa - implementation of the agreement with significant international support for the whole electoral process; the normalization of the situation in the economy; and the restoration of the faith of the security forces that there is life after Zanu PF and that in fact it might be quite good!

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 31st August 2007