A Political Tsunami

A few weeks ago I stood in a small house in a local high-density suburb addressing a meeting of about 150 people crammed into every corner. I said to them that what we needed to end the crisis in Zimbabwe was a political Tsunami. I said a Tsunami could not be detected on the open sea (during the campaign) and when it reached the shore and rose up like a mountain of water, those on the beach got little or no warning. It was silent and totally destructive, sweeping away everything in its path.

Right now (17.00 hrs on Sunday the 30th) the semi official tally is 103 seats to MDC and 5 to Zanu PF. The outcome of the election has been a stunning victory for the MDC and Morgan Tsvangirai. Many of the strong holds of Zanu PF have fallen to overwhelming MDC majorities. Makoni has performed more or less to expectations - in fact did better than we anticipated - especially in Matabeleland where he seems to have garnered about 30 per cent of the vote. Nationally it looks like about 10 per cent.

It also looks like a first round victory for Morgan with over 50 per cent of the national tally. Even here in Matabeleland where Makoni took votes away from him, his margin was 2 to 1 against Makoni and 10 to 1 against Mugabe. The Police have said to us in the MDC - you may not celebrate until the official results are known. In one of my polling stations when the returning officer announced 452 votes for Morgan Tsvangirai and 14 votes for Robert Mugabe, one of the policemen in the Station made a sort of gurgling sound and collapsed!

Yesterday was extraordinary - as I have said before, no more than 2,8 million voters were active in Zimbabwe and I think we will see when the final tally comes out that a very high turnout was achieved. We knew from our own research that a high turn out would favor the opposition. Observers are saying that the turn out was low - but that is because they are looking at the voters roll against the turnout. In the rural areas the numbers were small - but still gave MDC a clear majority.

The Mutambara group fared poorly - at this stage I know of only a few candidates who won their seats - David Coltart in the Khumalo senatorial seat. He will be insufferable - but it is good that we are not losing his talents and experience. Otherwise it looks as if the ratio of votes Mutambara group to Tsvangirai was at least 2 to 1 in Matabeleland and they got nowhere in the rest of the country. Both Welshman Ncube and Gibson Sibanda lost their seats. I am sure Mutambara will have been annihilated in Harare.

In my long career in opposition politics - first in the Smith era and then later in the last 20 years of the Mugabe era, I have never voted for a winner before! Quite an experience for me therefore to vote for 4 candidates and have them all romp home. But I am the first to acknowledge that the circumstances were exceptional. This was, as Morgan stated, a referendum on the leadership of Mugabe.

What turned this election from a silent surge of feeling in mid ocean, into a tsunami? For a start it was the Mbeki factor. Right from the start of 2007, Mr. Mbeki played a crucial role in persuading his SADC colleagues to recognise the MDC and to back reform of the electoral process. They forced Zanu PF to come to the negotiating table and in 9 months of negotiations, got a number of concessions agreed and implemented. Frustrated at the very end of the process, Mbeki then turned to Makoni and sent him in to joust with Mugabe. It was a clever and fatal move and sunk the Mugabe ship in mid ocean. But even Mbeki could not have anticipated the size of the subsequent MDC victory.

Meanwhile the effects of the reforms agreed and implemented in Zimbabwe - even though they were limited, had started to work through the system. Here the law of unintended consequences came into play. The shift of electoral power from the Registrar Generals Office to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission seemed to Zanu PF to be a move that was without risk. After all, had they not appointed the Commission themselves and was not George Chiweshe, the chairman, a loyalist? In fact they completely underestimated the dynamics of the shift from Civil Service control under Mudede to the ZEC under a civilian Commission.

The Commission has played a crucial role - sticking to its mandate to administer the election within the guidelines of the Electoral Act. They actually frustrated several attempts by Mugabe to implement last minute changes to the electoral system and insisted on the counting at the polling stations - this opened the door to the MDC vote count and reporting system and prevented many of the rigging efforts that had enabled Zanu PF to dictate the outcome of previous elections.

Then came the MDC state of preparedness - the consensus of the media and many other commentators was that the MDC was a spent force. Divided and confused, weakened by a year of relentless onslaught by the authorities and the departure of thousands of their key activists to South Africa and elsewhere. In fact, it stunned Zanu when the MDC was able to field 2000 candidates at short notice and then come out fighting with a well prepared and financed campaign. The key to that was the support network built up over several years in the region and these hidden hero's are very much responsible for the activity everyone has seen in the past few weeks - the adverts, the flyers, the poster war and the funding for our candidates.

Finally the anti rigging operation. We knew how they had rigged previous elections and we set out to try and stop a recurrence. The whistle blower campaign was a key part of that and we have had hundreds of calls from all quarters and several key 'hits'. The many people who climbed in and said 'one more time' and spent days in the bush helping with the count and the reporting system are unsung heroes.

Then the people - they had just had enough, had enough of arrogance and being taken for granted, enough of the suffering and destruction of the economy. Their steadfast faith in the electoral process and their refusal to take to violence. They chose to suffer in silence and then go out and vote. For me they are the real champions and I hope they will never again be taken for granted. I also hope they will hold their new leadership accountable for the trust they have given us.

Eddie Cross
30th March 2008