Are we making progress?

I am constantly amazed at the number of people I speak to who say they are determined to stick things out - but ask, are we making any progress towards finding a resolution to the current economic and political crisis? Amazed at the numbers because I really expect most people with options to throw in the towel and decide to move to greener pastures.

The facts are that we are making progress. Looking back, much more progress than I think any of us expected 18 months ago. In March 2006 the newly divided MDC had just held two Congress's - one in Bulawayo for the Mutambara led group and another in Harare for the group led by Tsvangirai. Zanu PF had just settled yet another challenge to the succession issue and Thabo Mbeki had thrown in the towel - fed up with the infighting in the main political parties and in the lack of progress and consensus.

The international community had likewise decided to sit on their hands for a while - they were deeply disappointed in the split in the MDC ranks, the apparent bickering and also in the seemingly intransient nature of the Zimbabwe situation. Nothing much happened for the next nine months except that the economic crisis deepened and our gradual slide into some form of a failed State accelerated.

Then came the fateful decision in December 2006 by Zanu PF to try to postpone the election to the same time as the Soccer World Cup - June 2010. Mbeki was galvanized into action and moved to try and establish a new strategy for resolving the Zimbabwe crisis. He swiftly moved to secure the basics of the new strategy - get the elections moved back to March 2008 and try to get Mugabe to hold then under free and fair conditions. The preliminary steps seemed too easy to be true - Mbeki spoke with Mugabe in Ghana on the 7th March and Mugabe said yes to both issues.

Mr. Mugabe then made a serious error of judgment - he ordered his security Chiefs to 'crush the MDC' so that they would not be capable of fighting an election in March 2008. Four days after he accepted President Mbeki's suggestions to resolve the crisis, the leadership of the MDC was arrested and beaten in custody. Television footage of the incident was somehow captured and released and a media blitz ensued which in turn galvanized the leadership of the SADC region to sit up and eventually demand action to settle this dispute once and for all. Mbeki got his multilateral approach to the crisis and Mugabe lost a critical regional support base.

On the 29th March 2007, the SADC leadership met in an emergency session and resolved to work with President Mbeki in seeking a resolution to the crisis. Ten days later the details were thrashed out in Harare and formal talks between the MDC (this hated 'puppet of the West') and Zanu PF eventually got underway and have been going on for the past 8 months.

That they have taken place at all is a remarkable victory for the MDC and its allies. That the region has supported the process and insisted that the MDC was a key player is equally astonishing. 18 months ago no one in Zanu PF would have said that this would happen - not in a 'thousand years' to recall the words of another tyrant in another era!

Then came the key decision by the MDC to walk out of the process if certain fundamental principles were not recognised and worked into the final agreement. These were principally centred around the issues related to the electoral system and its management, together with the fact that despite the commitment to the talks and to trying to resolve the crisis in leadership democratically, the Zanu PF regime and its thugs had continued to rain down on the MDC and its structures political violence on a scale that threatened the whole process.

The MDC action stirred the South African leadership back into action and last week President Mbeki made a short stop over in Harare to see the main leaders and to resolve the logjam in the talks. The talks resumed immediately after his visit and a revised deadline for the final outcome was set as the 15th of December.

I remain convinced that no one can walk away from this process. The continual praise that Mr. Mugabe heaps on the SADC leadership and South Africa for its role in the process is a smoke screen for what is a very difficult situation for Zanu PF. They simply cannot afford to alienate the SADC and are being forced to accept reforms that endanger their grip on power and their ability to dictate the outcome of the next election. To their fury, the MDC has been given a veto over those issues and we have now used this to force through changes that suddenly make the near impossible seem possible.

We are going to have an election and I still think it will be in March 2008. We will not have anything like normal conditions for the campaign leading to the elections but at least we will be able to say to the people of this country - you can all vote, vote in secret and the recording and reporting of your vote will not be tampered with this time. Perhaps, just perhaps, we will have a chance to change our government democratically.

In March 2006 there was no way we could have envisaged this situation. It is a real victory for the democratic forces here and for the friends we have across the globe. It is also a victory for African leadership and if we can pull it off, it will help put Africa's image back on track as a continent of democratic change and hope. But for this to happen we still have a lot to do and a way to go. On our part we will stick to our position without compromise, prepare for the elections by selecting candidates (over 2000 of them) and putting our policies in place and in front of the electorate.

Then its up to you out there - vote and vote wisely. Do not waste your vote on anyone who cannot deliver change and whose policies and stand is not absolutely clear. We have struggled to get us all this chance to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe - without violence, legally and within a recognised political framework. The rest is up to us - all of us who live here and hold citizenship.

Eddie Cross
Bulaway0, 27th November 2007