It's Just a Question of Time

A few things are now absolutely clear; the State is determined to destroy what is left of the MDC by the end of the year. They are determined to force what remains of the urban economic infrastructure into servitude to their priorities and give their key supporters even larger stakes in the economy and they are going to try and control the delivery of all essential needs to both urban and rural populations.

The scope and scale of violence against the MDC and those in the economy whose independence and autonomy are viewed as being potentially dangerous, is very concerning. A staggering 25 000 business persons have been arrested, detained and charged by the Police since the so called 'Price Control' strategy was implemented. The numbers of MDC activists who have likewise been arrested, detained and beaten since March the 11th when Morgan Tsvangirai and 70 other senior MDC leaders were savagely beaten in Policy custody in Harare must also run to many thousands.

When the global reaction to the beatings on the 11th March became clear, the regime turned its attention to our lower structures and they have been working these over in a systematic and brutal way. Just in the past week we have had 4 activists so savagely beaten that they have either died or required hospital treatment. One is paralysed for life and another is on dialysis because of kidney damage. Many are unknown or unrecorded. On Friday I heard of a grandmother who has two children from her sons family living with her after he son was beaten and died at home after his release from prison. We are now helping with the expenses of the Grandmother.

In rural areas our structures are in tatters, many are in hiding or have fled to the urban areas or to South Africa. This is exactly what the regime wishes to achieve. Our capacity to fight back is very limited. We have little money available to us, we have even fewer things such as functional vehicles and fuel and our staff is poorly paid and often go hungry. When a driver brought his pick up to my home for safety last week, a battered old vehicle followed him with shaded windows occupied by several young people who slowly drove by when the driver left on foot to catch a bus home.

The attacks on the remnants of the private sector are also relentless. Farmers are being forced off their farms, large segments of the retail trade are nearing bankruptcy, manufacturers are idle and finding it impossible to operate with shortages of electricity, fuel and water, the high cost of transport, and the scarcity of both orders and inputs. Thousands of workers have left their jobs and fled south to try and make a living. Hundreds of the remaining skilled and experienced people in all sectors are making plans to move when the schools close at year-end and exams are over. Despair and helplessness are almost universal.

We have raised this at the SADC sponsored talks but there is no evidence that either the region or South Africa (as facilitator) have taken this situation seriously and raised it with the regime. Our leadership that had been earlier charged with treason for allegations of violence and planned military style attacks on Police Stations has now all been released. All were beaten in custody and are recovering slowly. Many have lost their jobs and their families have suffered while they have been detained. The evidence led against them in Court was laughable.

The question is what do we do about all this? We are expected to negotiate in good faith with Zanu PF at the talks while there is no evidence that they are also negotiating in good faith. In fact quite the contrary. We understand from the press that both the regime and the facilitators are determined to hold the elections as soon as March 2008 as scheduled. This can only be done if the electoral machinery is left very much as it is and simply co-opted into the new legal framework being negotiated.

What our friends need to understand is that Zanu PF has been working on the voters roll for 5 years. They have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of people who will now be entitled to vote - if they can register. They have left the dead on the roll and thereby created hundreds of thousands of opportunities to vote against the names of dead people using these ID documents. They are denying us any opportunity to campaign or even organise properly, we are given no access to the media and independent media is totally controlled and cowed. Foreign media is tightly restricted.

Almost all basic foodstuffs come under political control. If you are a known MDC supporter you find it difficult to buy food, secure land for housing in urban areas, access to fuel, imports of any kind. If you swear allegiance to Zanu PF you are given all these things and at prices that would stun an outsider. A new pick up will cost in real terms US$6 to US$ 7 dollars ( I am not exaggerating) fuel costs half a US cent a litre. Just on Saturday a Zanu PF office in Harare was handing out maize meal at 23 US cents for 10 kilograms.

It goes beyond that - support MDC and your license is cancelled, your leases abrogated and your right to a plot on an irrigation scheme withdrawn. Your right to live in your rural village can be withdrawn at the whim of your local traditional leaders. Become known as an MDC activist and you will have to live with the dread of a knock on the door at 3 am in the morning. Your family may not be safe, your children victimized. Get arrested and if we cannot find you, you will disappear into the labyrinth of State prisons and police holding cells. Once there you will not get food unless your relatives bring you meals. Water to wash is unavailable and even drinking water is scarce. Tuberculosis and malaria are endemic.

So we are being told that this election is already decided - in Zanu PF's favor. I do not agree, If the SADC talks give us half decent conditions and allow people a secret vote that is counted and reported independently then the only vote these guys can rely upon is one filled in by a soldier under supervision or one cast by a robot. If the body filling in the ballot can breathe, it will vote MDC. This time I think that no matter what Zanu does, their ship is sunk. It's only a matter of time.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 16th October 2007