I take the fact that the MDC has not walked out of the talks in South Africa as a very positive sign. They must be making progress and despite the propaganda put out by both the SABC and the Zanu PF in recent days, I think this progress is towards a transitional government that will be led by the MDC. Another feature of this situation that people are not picking up on, is that for the first time the AU and the SADC have guaranteed the implementation of the agreements reached in the talks.

We will have to wait for the final outcome - no one is talking about what is going on behind closed doors and that might be a good thing, providing the final outcome is acceptable to the rest of us after all our sacrifice and pain.

While focus is on the talks (and rightly so) we must not lose sight of what is going on here at home. After 4 months the local government councils are being sworn into office and as I write, the MDC has taken over the administration of all urban councils in the country. Since 60 per cent of the population lives in the urban areas, this means that the majority of the people now live under an MDC controlled administration.

We still have to contend with Chombo who continues to pretend he is the Minister and in charge. He was defeated in the elections on the 29th March and holds his portfolio only because the Zanu PF leadership has tried to hold onto power for as long as possible - illegally. At best he is a caretaker administrator waiting for a new Minister to be appointed in the talks. Most probably the new Minister will come from the MDC.

We also control a significant number of the Rural District Councils and in all hold 700 of these posts throughout the country. Where Zanu PF controls the councils in the rural areas they will soon discover that they are under new management from a central government point of view.

This is a very significant shift in power and gives the MDC its first real chance to start to make a difference in peoples lives. We are taking the first steps to make that a reality and our Secretary for Local Government is about to go full time with a small staff to start coordinating what the councils will be doing. Local government in many ways, is almost more important to peoples lives than central government. It is the local authority that delivers water, effluent and waste management, housing, electricity and roads. It is the local authority that manages primary health care and educational and social amenities.

The MDC is a Party of the poor - I am sure I have often stated that. So many urban areas find themselves with councilors who are drawn from street vendors, blue-collar workers and even the unemployed. In my district I have two councilors - one a retired lady with very sparse resources and no transport and the other a vendor also with few resources. They are, however both excellent individuals, with integrity and a real commitment to their communities and I am looking forward to working with them.

We have huge challengers - many urban centers are short of water, roads are in an appalling state, mass transit systems non-functional, effluent systems broken down and a threat to public health. 40 per cent of the urban population is not properly housed; we have a backlog of a million housing units let alone any future growth in demand. Staff are demoralized, financial systems have broken down, assets looted and there are many political appointees who are not going to welcome the new administration.

But at least we can now start to tackle these issues and do something about them. Once the transitional government is in place (in August?) then we can really start to do things - especially if the new arrangements reflect the March elections and are accepted by the international community as having some legitimacy.

In anticipation of a new day dawning, we are now working on how to mobilize the collective energies of our much-diminished community to start to make things happen. What I would like to say to every Zimbabwean - at home or abroad, get involved.

This morning I went to a local picnic site - Hillside Dams. There a group of local businessmen plus a motley collection of volunteers are cleaning them up - they have been given a lease over 45 hectares and are building a restaurant, picnic sites and cleaning up the gardens and the amenities such as toilets. The roads and paths are being repaired. When I left there were many cars in the parking area, hundreds of kids and adults playing in open areas and many braai fires going with a smell of wors and steak.

If you are outside the country - adopt a councilor and support him or her with funds to run a small office and meet their expenses. Small sums of money can make a huge impact in this area and is critical to making democracy work for the people and to improve their lives.

A group of businessmen are right now forming a Trust to mobilize the whole business community behind community development and the strengthening of the democracy we are building. Making democratic practice work for everyone - creating servant leaders who will be honest and accountable. They are identifying projects - small and large, that can be tackled by the public and the private sector to their mutual benefit. One group in Bulawayo is doing a joint venture with the City to manage and recycle wastewater.

We have a country to rebuild - not had a chance to do anything up to now because of the crazy politics and the imbecilic economics. This is both an exciting and a challenging task. The international community will help us get back on our feet and after that it is up to us - we are a rich country made poor by bad leadership. That must never happen again.

Democracy and development are the key to this. Democracy to hold leadership accountable to the people they serve and development to lift everyone out of the cycle of poverty and deprivation that has been our lot for too long.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 27th July 2008