The Morning After

It is quite interesting being in South Africa for a few days recuperating and waiting for clearance from my doctors. I have watched Mbeki speaking to the national assembly on Zimbabwe and listened to the debate in the country at large. I am struck by the fact that there is little or no debate or discussion about what will happen after the election on the 27th June.

Newspaper reports talk of discussions to try and get a government of national unity, they argue that a free and fair election is impossible and that therefore the only answer is a GNU with Mugabe as President and Tsvangirai as Prime Minister. They talk about emulating the Kenyan solution. I have said to anyone who asked, that the MDC would not accept such a solution at any price. We want the run off to take place and whoever wins then picks up from there, forms a government and we go on.

But of course it is not as simple as that ? just yesterday the Vice President in Zimbabwe said that a vote for Morgan Tsvangirai is a vote for war. He said they would not accept a MDC government and those same sentiments have been repeated in recent weeks by all sorts of people in the Mugabe administration. So what is this election process all about then? Even last night I heard Mbeki saying that they were not seeking regime change via their facilitation process! But he also said that it was important that the run off take place and that the people of Zimbabwe enjoy the right to choose their leaders.

So we have an election on the 27th June. An election run by the security establishment which has now taken over the running of the Zimbabwe Election Commission, after a campaign characterized by political violence instituted and managed by the military and the State, a campaign during which the MDC has not been able to campaign freely, has received no exposure in the State run media and has had its leaders harassed, beaten, detained and denied all the rights taken for granted in true democracies. Yet on these matters Mbeki and others remain mute.

But what happens if, against this background the MDC wins by a wide margin and its victory cannot be disputed? What then? It is clear at this point that the administration and security chiefs in Zimbabwe will simply not accept such an outcome. They only have one choice and that is to act illegally against the will of the people, override the outcome and force the continued administration of the country by an illegal regime. Can you really imagine that, after all they have stated and their own behavior in recent weeks, that they will accept an MDC victory?

I think this is the most likely outcome and predict that Morgan Tsvangirai will receive a huge majority on the 27th June. A political commentator with whom I am staying asked what if Mugabe and the security establishment simply bulldoze a victory for Mugabe ? succeed with their campaign of violence and intimidation and then rig the outcome. Mugabe would be declared the winner and the region would accept this, including South Africa and Mugabe would then govern with a minority in Parliament.

In either event we need to think through the consequences for the region and for South Africa in particular. A Mugabe led regime in Harare will not be accepted by any of the major western nations. The country will have to get urgent help to meet its needs for food imports, urgent help to stabilize its economy and bring inflation under control and immediate assistance with fuel and other essential imports. Only South Africa could do so and if it was to avoid a complete collapse in Zimbabwe it would have to act to meet these essential needs very quickly.

But even if it did so, the added burden to the South African fiscus might be all that is needed to put the South African economy into a tailspin. The Rand is trading at 8 to 1 against the dollar, inflation is up and rising and growth is sluggish at 3 to 4 per cent. Whatever they do, we must accept that this year the winter crop in Zimbabwe is already a casualty of the delays in a transition, preparation for the crop in the summer of 2008/09 has not even started and therefore there is unlikely to be any recovery in food supplies this year. Inflation is out of control at over 2 million per cent per annum and a wide-ranging economic collapse is well under way.

Under these circumstances any outcome on the 27th that leaves Mugabe in charge will trigger a mass exodus of economic and political refugees into South Africa. Estimates put the net arrivals in South Africa from Zimbabwe at 750 000 in the past year. In my own view a victory for Mugabe in any form in June, will lead to an exodus of not less than an additional 2 million people in fairly short order. Do I really have to spell out the consequences of such an event on South Africa? Yet there is no debate here about such a possibility after June 27th. It is a nightmare scenario.

The tragedy of this situation is that it need not be like that. If the SADC and South Africa stated right now that they would respect the outcome of the election and would expect everyone else to do so as well ? including the present leadership in Zimbabwe, this would help. It would reinforce the role of democratic elections as the only means for effecting regime change and respect for the views of the people when it comes to the selection of leadership.

Despite their reluctance to intervene in any active sense, South Africa has little or no choice when it comes to reigning in those in Zimbabwe who blithely talk of ?war? if Tsvangirai wins. Such rhetoric is simply unacceptable and the Mugabe team in Harare needs to be told that.

If Tsvangirai wins and is then allowed to take power as is his right, then the situation can be turned around in short order. The international community has made no effort to disguise the fact that they would back a new democratically elected government in Harare. They would step in and feed the country, they would back a stabilization program to curb inflation and get the economy onto a recovery path. Most importantly the flight of people to South Africa would stop and be reversed as people decide to come home and participate in reconstruction and development. This would reduce pressures on the South African social system and economy and give much needed breathing space.

It is not too late to get this right, but South Africans need to recognize that they have as much at stake in Zimbabwe on the 27th June and its immediate aftermath as every Zimbabwean.

Eddie Cross
Johannesburg, 13th June 2008