Truth and Fiction

Just what happened this past week? If you read the media (always dangerous) you get reports that say diametrically opposite things - a 'Deal' is done says the Gazette, the 'Talks a Failure' says the Independent and other South African papers. As for the local State controlled press - well that is just a sick joke. You are as likely to get the truth out of them as you are from a used car salesman.

But for all of that we have to try and sort out what really went on from all the nonsense being written and spoken. What we do know is the following: the South African mediators met with the negotiating teams this past weekend, a set of options were put before these decision makers, the MDC team accepted two of the three options with slight variations whilst the Zanu PF team was unable to come to any conclusion in the absence of Mr. Mugabe who was on holiday in the Far East.

Mr. Mugabe was visiting Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore with his entourage and chief shopping aide, Grace Mugabe. We know that Mr. Mugabe was sent for, dropped everything and hurriedly returned to Harare to take charge. After a couple of days of consultations President Mbeki arrived with his team and went straight into discussions with the Zanu PF leadership. After several hours of discussion Mr. Mbeki saw the MDC leadership and then returned to the discussions with the Zanu PF team before leaving the country to return home.

The only public part of this process was a brief meeting with the media where the South African President said that the talks were continuing and that progress had been made. Neither the MDC nor Zanu PF made any public statement and the MDC leadership left the country for South Africa the following day. The rest of us were just left in the dark with no clear statement on what had transpired.

I slept on the issue and decided to come down on the side of the view that despite all the leaks - a deal was done. There is simply no way that the President of South Africa, who has so much at stake in the process and for whom, for the first time in 7 years, has all his ducks in a row on this issue, would allow the talks to collapse and flounder. The question is therefore what sort of deal?

The rest of this note is conjecture - so you can take it or leave it, as it may not be accurate. My own view has been for some time that we are stuck with a March election. My guess is that nomination day is the 7th of March with the elections taking place 21 days later on the 28th of March. The elections will be in one day and some 2000 seats are up for election. Urban voters in the main centers may have 5 ballots to complete, in the other areas, 4 ballots. At issue is nothing more or less than the future of Zimbabwe as a State.

The devil always lies with the detail. I would agree with a senior diplomat who said to me some weeks ago 'there is no chance of holding a free and fair election in Zimbabwe today, however we will watch the process carefully and if the outcome is one that we feel represents the views of the majority, we will accept it and move on from there'. A sort of resigned acceptance that SA has not achieved enough in the mediated talks but we have no choice but to work with the outcome.

Frankly I think the same thing applies to the MDC - we have little choice but to work with the gains made in nearly 8 months of tortuous and painstaking negotiations with a group, who from the very beginning were in no way sincere or committed to genuine change in the way our elections are run.

Change there has been - not enough to ensure a free and fair election, but is it enough to allow a free expression of the will of the people? Can we prevent the sort of fraud that has characterised the elections in Zimbabwe for many years and in Kenya just recently? Most would say no, but in my view the changes negotiated and now being implemented must not be discounted. They are significant in many ways.

The questions that remain are many - can we persuade eligible Zimbabweans voters to come out on the 28th and vote? Can we then protect their voice and make sure it is reported accurately and without manipulation to the national tally and then finally, will our society and administration accept the outcome? Those are big questions that only time will answer.

But for me I have always viewed this process as a struggle. It will remain a struggle right through to the end. My main fear in the past 18 months has been that we would not have an election. That the regime would simply back into its shell and with the support of the armed forces and corrupt business interests, administer the country via a military/Zanu Junta. Effectively a coup in all but name. That has not happened and one of the main reasons has been the continued belief that Zanu PF has done enough to win the election.

The other factor is simply pride. Mr. Mugabe wants to defeat Morgan Tsvangirai in a straight electoral battle - make no mistake this is the modern equivalent of a 16th Century Jousting competition. He wants to hold an election that meets the minimum conditions that he can get away with and then manage his own semi dignified exit from the stage before things get completely out of hand.

Just look at the constraints on Morgan in this contest - he has been beaten physically, denied funding for normal political activity, restricted in all forms of normal political activity, the bookies are all Zanu PF lackeys and the crowd in the stadium is loaded with Zanu PF supporters. Traditional leaders who have been intimidated and bribed control the field, Morganís horse is denied food and water and his equipment is tampered with.

No wonder Mr. Mugabe is confident! But remember, this is still a contest to be won and lost. At least we are going to get our chance on the field. It is a risk, but one worth taking if this is all we have got. So my view is that we are in for an election and it is up to every one of us to get off our butts and make sure that this time, the real result is captured and reported. We sure can live with the result; I am not sure Zanu PF can.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 19th January 2008