What is going on?

In my last letter I said that progress was being achieved at the talks in South Africa. My main reason for saying so was that we had not walked out of the talks and this signaled that our core demands were being met. MDC promptly walked out of the talks the next day!

Because of the complete embargo on what is going on at the talks we have very little information. However there was one leak which basically said that Zanu PF had tabled a demand that the status quo prevail, Mugabe remains President until he finishes his 5 year term but that MDC join a Zanu PF led government with Morgan Tsvangirai as one of three vice Presidents.

I can only assume that when they did that the MDC simply said that there was no point in continuing with the dialogue and walked out. Mr. Mbeki was at pains to say that the talks were going well and there was no impasse but I think that was purely for public consumption - in fact the deadlock was not resolved for a week and the talks only resumed on Sunday. A week was wasted as a result and the mediators had to intervene and get the problem sorted out.

Clearly it was sorted out or the talks would not have resumed. Last night a journalist on the Star newspaper in South Africa informed us that he had a draft agreement - all 50 pages of it and that this showed what was on the table. I have looked at the article this morning and it appears to be a draft proposal from the mediators to both Parties.

The draft has a titular Presidency - occupied by Mugabe, an executive Prime Minister - to be Morgan Tsvangirai, with two deputies - one from Zanu and one from MDC. One aspect that will prove difficult is a blanket amnesty for all who have committed human rights violations in the past. That will be a tough call to make - especially as we have thugs still inflicting terrible injuries on people and the State withholding food from the people - itself a recognised crime against humanity.

The Star reports that Mbeki is traveling to Harare to hold talks with the main principals on the draft. These talks are expected in the next day or so - then the final draft will go to the Parties for their OK and then to the SADC summit on the 16th August - after that I would expect Parliament to be called and for the required legislation to be passed and the process of implementation started.

These developments are totally consistent with what we have felt were the fundamentals - the final deal may well stick in our collective gullets but so long as the MDC takes the drivers seat and is clearly in control, we should be able to live with it. Talks are taking place on the sidelines to decide what will happen to the key players in the present regime. This collection of monsters should in fact simply go from their offices to the ICC in the Hague. Then what about corruption?

Despite the talks, the regime has still not lifted the ban of the distribution of food aid - some 200 000 tonnes of aid are locked up in warehouses around the country. More is stored at the Ports and still more is at sea and due to arrive shortly. The NGO's who have been handling this vast operation (feeding nearly 5 million people) have all been idle - staff on full pay and doing nothing for two months. The suffering among the people is horrific - many children and elderly are dying from hunger.

To me this is a clear crime against humanity and should be treated as such. Goche - the Minister responsible should be told that if the ban is not lifted immediately he would be the subject of an ICC prosecution. I am sure that would get his attention. With the UN as one of the mediator team, this should not be difficult.

While all of this is going on we are watching the circus in South Africa with increasing apprehension. At the moment the spectacle of Jacob Zuma trying to evade justice for a whole range of criminal acts, is hardly credible. The case against him is solid, no one, not even Zuma, disputes that - but he is using the legal system to try and delay the process until he can get into Union Buildings and then deal with the problem from that lofty perch. In any other democracy Mr. Zuma would not get within a 100 kilometers of the Presidents office.

Its got nothing to do with his ability or popularity - I think he might make a good President and help unify a deeply divided country, but the charges of corruption, racketeering and other misdemeanors mean that in ordinary circumstances he should go to jail for a long time. That alone should eliminate him from the position of a contender for the highest post in the land. Instead we are faced with demonstrations outside the Courts and the support of many key ANC leaders for the campaign to squash the charges. The ANC is maintaining its commitment to the rule of law - but only just.

While all this is going on the Zimbabwe economy continues its downward spiral. Inflation is running at 18 million per cent. It is difficult to maintain any sort of understanding of what that means in the markets. Somehow the informal sector keeps up and they seem to know, almost by osmosis, what prices and exchange rates are doing. Many people are simply working in US dollars or Rand. Business that relies on the local markets is not coping and many are almost closed down.

In tandem with the rapid inflation in prices, all services are in a very poor state. Urban roads have all but collapsed, water supplies in the urban centers are very short and their quality dubious. Public transport is very expensive and in short supply while all basic foods are virtually unobtainable. Our schools and hospitals are barely functioning and hundreds of thousands of our people are on the move to greener pastures.

The decision last week to chop another 10 zero's off our currency and to issue a new currency was simply an act of desperation. The Reserve Bank had run out of paper to print money and had no choice but to issue the new notes - manufactured actually in 2006, to meet the demand for cash. They brought back the coins - suddenly everyone was scrambling to find the coins they had in every drawer.

I guess that will last a week and the new currency will be totally devalued in a month. What does Gono do then? Rumor has it he has decided to retire - not a day too soon in my book. But he better retire somewhere far away and very quiet, because you can be sure, his recent past is going to catch up with him.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 7th July 2008