Now What?

I was stunned today when I watched Morgan Tsvangirai pull out of the June 27th election. I had not expected this but since then have had a couple of calls from Zimbabwe that made the situation a bit clearer.

You must first understand how big a decision this was for the MDC. We are a Party committed to a democratic outcome of this struggle. Elections are our game - we do not want to take to the streets or to pick up weapons to make our point. We are democrats. We won the March 29th election by a wide margin - 73 per cent of the population voted against Mugabe. The regime was forced to simply lie about the result to get a run off and only the protection of the SADC States prevented an outright MDC victory.

We were and are quite satisfied that in any free and fair contest the MDC would have walked away with the run off. In the event, what we have witnessed over the past two months since the run off was announced, has been a nation wide campaign of violence and intimidation, the closing down of all democratic space inside Zimbabwe, intensified restrictions on the media and the complete militarisation of the functions of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

Today armed militias were allowed to attack a MDC rally in Harare even though it had been given permission by the High Court and was entirely peaceful. The MDC leadership meeting in crisis session reviewed the overall situation and finally, reluctantly, decided they had no option but to withdraw from this farcical process.

Having done so the way is now open for the new ZEC to declare Mugabe as State President and for him to resume office.

The MDC decision, although painful and difficult for everyone, is in fact a very strategic move. It gives Thabo Mbeki the floor by virtually canceling the run off and opens the door to SADC intervention. Any government that now includes Mugabe - in any capacity, will not get recognition from the international community. It will not therefore attract any international assistance and will be unable to deal with the humanitarian and economic crisis now facing Zimbabwe. Both leave no room for maneuver and both demand immediate action.

On the humanitarian front we need to import 150 000 tonnes of basic foods every month just to feed the country. Without external help Zimbabwe faces the very real prospect of starvation on a large scale. Currently the country has no stocks at all. On the economic front with inflation raging at 2 million percent or more and run away macro economic fundamentals, a complete economic collapse is not far off and could be triggered by the magnitude of this new political crisis.

The UN is bracing itself for a new flood of refugees - both political and economic into neighboring States and in my view South Africa must prepare itself for a fresh influx at the worst time of the year. Millions of Zimbabweans are preparing to leave the country and the only option for 90 per cent of them is South Africa.

From a political standpoint the global consensus is clear. The Mugabe regime has gone too far. There is now talk for the first time of the possibility of charges of crimes against humanity at the ICC. The US is calling for the Security Council to meet urgently on the Zimbabwe crisis. The UN Secretary General has become more vocal and outspoken on the situation and demanded action on several fronts. In the SADC it really looks as if a new consensus is emerging on the crisis - Angola and Swaziland becoming new critics of the Mugabe regime in the past few days.

The Zimbabwe crisis team - Mafumadi and Gumbo were both in Harare over the weekend and I cannot imagine this decision by the MDC being taken without their input. It would seem to me that the stage is set for another emergency SADC summit, that at such a summit the region will at last decide what to do and that the only way forward is the formation of a transitional government that will include all Parties elected to the new Parliament and that will then take the country through a period of stabilization and recovery before holding new elections.

It is quite clear that Mugabe simply cannot play any role in such a government - he was clearly defeated in the March 29th elections and is simply no longer acceptable to anyone except the Joint Operations Command (JOC). The only person who can head up such an interim administration, unless it is on a caretaker basis and will function for only a few months until new elections are held, would be Morgan Tsvangirai. The rest would be up to negotiations sponsored by the SADC and the UN. Clearly South Africa cannot continue in its role as a mediator and must step aside for someone more distant from the region and the current regime. This would allow South Africa and the SADC States to assume the role of enforcer rather than a mediator.

One of the phone calls I had today spoke of widespread violence in Zimbabwe. People being forced to do things against their will and children not attending school for security reasons. It is quite clear that not only do we have a rogue regime in Harare, but also it is a rogue out of control. That wounded buffalo of mine is just staying in the Jesse and destroying what is left instead of coming out and facing his hunter one last time. In effect the MDC as the hunter has prudently decided to seek help rather than try to deal with the old bull on its own. It may well prove to have been the right decision.

For all our friends all over the world, do not despair, I think you can clearly see that our first shot was fatal - it is just taking a bit of time to take effect. Whatever happens now, Mugabe is no longer capable of governing Zimbabwe. He said on Friday 'only God can remove me from power'. He must know that his challenge would have been heard where such things matter and that his plea is being attended to.

Eddie Cross
Johannesburg, 22 June 2008