What on Earth is going on?

Few decisions by the MDC have caused such an outcry - we are betrayed, one group said, others said that the opposition has been dealt a fatal blow, still others said that it is now clear that Zanu PF will win the next election and receive a clean bill of health from regional leaders. The reality could not be further from the truth. Firstly, in making the decision to co-operate with the SADC initiative, the MDC very clearly understood the risks it was and is taking. Secondly, we know the nature of the beast better than anyone. Thirdly, we are now satisfied that the SADC States have changed their views on both the MDC and its potential role in any future government and also the nature and true intentions of Zanu PF and its beleaguered President.

Lets start with the last point, the changes in the SADC region since 2005/06. Up to now the SADC States have argued in private that an MDC victory in an election in Zimbabwe would not be in the wider interests of the region or their individual countries. They have used their diplomatic capacity to lobby this point of view in Africa and beyond and have even supported actions to reinforce Zanu PF’s position inside Zimbabwe and its hold on power. The reasons are many and I will not bother you with them at this juncture, but this perspective and assumption has exerted considerable influence on the ability of the MDC both to press its point of view home and to make itself heard.

Inside Zimbabwe, observers now know that the SADC States and South Africa in particular, have been pursuing, not a regime change agenda in Zimbabwe, but a reform agenda with the present regime remaining substantively in power. The truth of the matter, is that had Mr. Mugabe cooperated with his colleagues as they sought change, Zanu PF might have actually survived this storm and been able to maintain its grip and ride into the sunrise with at least some dignity.

But he has not done so and stubbornly hangs on to power at any cost. Jesus said once 'He that will lose his life for my sake, shall find it!' Mr. Mugabe is about to discover that 'he who hangs onto power too long will lose it.' For many reasons - again too many to be described here, the SADC has now decided that regime change through democratic means might be the only way to restore some sort of dignity to Zimbabwe and to stop the hemorrhaging that the entire region is experiencing. In doing so they have lost patience with Mr. Mugabe and are demanding fundamental changes to the way in which elections are managed and relations with the opposition structured. Those who have been engaged in this process from the beginning have observed this first hand and have no criticism of how South Africa has managed its role as the facilitator in this process. Even a superficial understanding of the process shows that the region is bringing major pressure to bear on the Zimbabwe regime to change its ways or else!

When I explain to people the process that is underway in South Africa, they look at me in disbelief and astonishment. They simply cannot believe that Zanu PF is engaged in serious dialogue with the MDC and is granting concessions - major concessions in the process. I agree, it is astonishing, but it is happening and the reason is that at last, regional leaders, not least of all, Mr. Mbeki, have been using their leverage and power to secure new conditions for the next elections.

The second major point I think needs to be made is that this process is the only game in town. There is simply no other way we can solve the crisis in Zimbabwe except by this route. The recent ZCTU stay away just illustrates that point, it was a near total failure. Despite all the recent publicity about the situation in Zimbabwe and the pressure being brought to bear on the UK government by the clerics - Mr. Brown simply has no solution that he can offer. All he can do is what he has already done, say that the situation here is intolerable and that the friends of Zimbabwe must keep that candle burning in the window and be prepared to help us out of the hole we are in once we have made the required changes to the way our country is governed.

Mr. Brown’s decision not to attend the EU/ACP summit is not very helpful. In my own personal view, he should go to the summit and allow Mr. Mugabe to attend, but only on one condition - that the Zimbabwe crisis and its urgent resolution be placed on the agenda and debated in open forum by the leaders present. As it is, all that will happen is that Mr. Mugabe will attend and strut onto the world stage - completely undermining the main reasons for the summit itself and further eroding the credibility of African leadership. Mr. Brown’s empty chair will simply say to the less informed in Africa and perhaps elsewhere that Mugabe continues to be a slayer of colonial ghosts!

But back to the present situation; against the backdrop of the changes that have taken place in the region, the MDC has been negotiating since mid June, a detailed and comprehensive review of the conditions under which elections are managed and held in Zimbabwe. These negotiations still have some way to go and have not been easy or without pain - on both sides. We are not getting all we wanted but in our view (and I hope of all those who are being briefed into the process) we are on the right side of change and what is being forged on this anvil, is a workable solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe.

On Tuesday we permitted an interim piece of legislation to go through Parliament unopposed because it contained the required clauses that will allow the new Independent Electoral Commission to start work on voter registration, the voters roll and the subsequent delimitation of electoral districts. This will take time and we felt that by allowing these elements of the agreements being thrashed out in the talks to go through the required Parliamentary steps, we might save time - after all if we stick to March 2008, we only have 6 months to go - not a lot of time to get everyone on the voters roll, including all those who are at present, disenfranchised.

When the talks are finally concluded - perhaps in 6 to 8 weeks time, a comprehensive agreement will emerge that will deal with all aspects of the electoral process and will bring Zimbabwe into line with the SADC principles for democratic activity. Our main concern at present is that Zanu PF is behaving as if it is business as usual. The onslaught on the MDC and its structures continue unabated. A simple application to hold our 8th anniversary celebrations in Masvingo have been denied by the Police and the mass exodus of MDC supporters and activists continues driven by fear, the siege of the urban areas where there is now little work, food and water and every day is a struggle to survive.

These were the strategies evolved by the Zanu PF regime after March 2007 when they were forced by regional pressure to bring the election back to March 2008 and to accept electoral reforms. Clearly if we are to have free and fair elections and slow down the exodus of people to neighboring countries, this has to stop. At our Friday Executive meeting we resolved to request that the regional leadership take this matter up with the regime here and demand that they start behaving as if they were real democrats, as they have claimed all this time.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 23rd September 2007