The Struggle for Democracy

10 000 years of human history has shown quite clearly that of all the systems tried by mankind as a means of governing his collective welfare, the modern mix of a social market economy and democratic institutions of State is probably the only ones that work. You can refine that definition by adding the 'separation of powers' and defining what are now regarded as 'universal human and political rights' but you do not achieve much more by doing so.

But whatever system you adopt, you simply cannot get away from democracy as the basic means of determining who holds power and has responsibility for the State and the welfare of its citizens. Fundamental to this understanding is the truth that we must accept the flawed nature of mankind. Dress up humanity any way you want, history clearly shows that he is basically unreliable, corrupt and dishonest - left to his own devices mankind turns oranges into lemons every time.

This has been our experience in Africa. Not just Zimbabwe, although that happens to be my concern because it is my home. Leaders with little understanding and no commitment to democracy came to power in country after country on the back of the cry 'one man one vote'. Once in power they then subverted everything they had stood for in the pre Independence days when they were struggling for power. Nothing unusual in that - it happened in Europe and in South America and the experience of the US was only different because of an unusual group of men and women who drew up the early US Constitution on the basis of hundreds of years of negative experience in Europe.

Here of course we have Mugabe et al and their determination to use the State for all the wrong things and to then hold onto power at all costs because, in the words of a Chinese politician 'he who rides the Tiger cannot get off' . Those of you who have seen the pictures doing the rounds of a home in Harare owned by one of Mugabe's close associates, will know what we are saying when we point out that while the economy of Zimbabwe has simply crashed, a minority here has accumulated vast wealth. It is no doubt that some of the wealthiest people on earth are found in Africa.

But again that should not come as a surprise - how did the landed gentry in England build those huge houses that no one can afford to maintain today. Look at the Palaces of France and Germany. When they were built those countries were impoverished feudal states.

But back to Mugabe and his crew. When we decided in 1998 to form the MDC and began working on the project, we had no idea that 10 years later we would be in the trenches and fighting an enemy that was so determined and ruthless. We should have known better. What is disappointing is that so few modern leaders are clear about what is needed to put things right.

When South Africa finally decided, after 6 years of collusion and protection of the regime in Harare, that it was not in their interests to continue with the status quo, they never knew just how devious and determined their adversary would be. They set out very clearly in March 2007 what they wanted - free and fair elections that cannot be disputed in March 2008. What could be so difficult in that? After all Mugabe said he was a democrat!

What then followed was 8 months of tortuous negotiation - forced on the regime by persistent South African pressure. Then at the final hurdle Zanu began to fight back. This is, after all, a fight to the finish for Zanu PF. Mbeki tried gentle persuasion and then not so gentle, finally Mugabe put his foot down and said no to the reforms that would have restored our democracy and given us a reasonable environment for an election in 2008.

When we tested even the modest reforms we have secured and had passed into law this week, we found that they meant nothing and our political environment was just as skewed as ever. 'We told you so' we heard all over the place - but really what alternative did we have but to try and do everything in our power to preserve our democracy?

Mr. Mbeki is now trying the garner support from his African colleagues for a final attempt to force the issue of reform in Zimbabwe. I doubt he will be successful because he has to secure a consensus on the issue and corrupt leaders such as dos Santos of Angola simply will not go along with a campaign that might ultimately threaten his own position. The price of that would be about US$1 billion a year to the Angolan ruling clique - too much to concede at this stage.

So we might have to just face reality and continue the struggle to restore our democracy. There is simply no chance of a free and fair campaign and conditions for the vote in this country in March. We must weigh up our options.

It has been my view for more than two years that the greatest threat is the Myanmar syndrome - Mugabe just abandons any pretext of being a democrat and cancels elections altogether and runs the country through a military Junta. One of the greatest achievements of the past year has been the fact that Zanu has been forced to hold an election in March 2008 and to institute some, albeit very limited, reforms. We do now have an election on one day, we have a reformed ZEC and the Police and Military are not directly involved in the management of the election system. We have reforms to the media and will see some international supervision of the elections.

But in the end it's going to be up to us - do we participate? Lots of people are saying no. But that means abandoning the only peaceful route to change. My view is that we must pick up where Mbeki left off, take what changes we have so far secured and fight this election together as a combined opposition. The key is how to control the vote and the counting and reporting - as Kenya has just shown very clearly. Can we do that? Yes, if we have the resources and equipment.

We have put the electoral alliance together now - it is being wrapped up as I write, so this is going to be a straight fight between Zanu PF and the MDC led alliance. There may be other minority parties - even CIO sponsored parties but they do not count in the final analysis.

What we need are people at every polling station and the means to report the results of the count as they come in from each station. We need to get the word out that every vote will count and people must register and then vote. We then need to trust the people and God and prepare for what could be the most important election in our history. There is just too much at stake not to do this one more time.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 24th January 2008