A Cliffhanger

We never said it would be easy - yesterday and 14 hours of intense negotiation and still no agreement. The talks resumed this morning and it is quite clear that Morgan Tsvangirai is holding the line on the demand that the MDC emerge from these talks with a mandate to form the next government and to control the State with effect from the 1st of September.

In the final analysis this is a straight fight between Thabo Mbeki and Zanu PF - the former has to secure an agreement that is acceptable to the MDC and also to the international community. The MDC has to accept the deal if it is to secure the approval of the general population and the latter if the international community is to then agree to fund the stabilisation and recovery of the Zimbabwe economy.

The position of Zanu PF has always been quite clear - if they accept such a deal it means two years of working with the MDC in a junior capacity - with the MDC holding the reins of power and then at the end of the transitional period facing an election under free and fair conditions with a free press, no violence or intimidation, an independent election commission and international observers.

In such an electoral process it is likely that Zanu PF would cease to exist as a political party - at least in the House of Assembly and perhaps in all local government Councils. Like the National Party in South Africa at best they would end up as a minor player. More immediately and of great concern to all of their leadership and many hundreds of others, they would face a independent Judicial system and possible prosecution for either human rights abuse, political violence and murder or corruption.

When viewed like that this always was going to be a power game. After all that is politics. We will know today what the outcome has been and I remain convinced that Mr. Mbeki will have to get a deal - he simply cannot go back to South Africa without agreement and must therefore use his very considerable power as President of South Africa, to force Zanu PF to accept its fate.

What happens if he fails? That has always been a possibility - many have said a probability. Those skeptics have argued that he simply does not have what it takes to exercise power at this level. That he does not have the moral authority or the leverage to force compliance. I disagree - he has always had the power to do so and has chosen not to use it up to now. I agree with Tony Leon when he said on SA television this morning that this thing could have been fixed 8 years ago and the long nightmare of the past decade avoided. But that is easier said than done. Right now its high noon on Main Street.

If he fails this test then what happens to the rest of us? If I was on the Zanu side I would not come out of this with any optimism - if anything I would be tempted to start to pack my bags and leave. If they do not sign today, Zanu PF is really finished. They have no legitimacy; their administration will not be accepted by anybody of significance. The SADC and possibly the AU will ostracize them. Sanctions will be further tightened on their leadership and the collapse of the economy will continue - eventually making it nearly impossible to live here.

Millions will flee to other countries - 80 per cent to South Africa where they will destabilize a fragile social system and security. The local security forces will disintegrate, eventually threatening the security of what remains of the regime. Capital will flee the country and little or no investment will come in to replace it and starvation and hunger will haunt what remains of the local population.

Most commentators would predict that the regime could not last more than a few months under such conditions. I am inclined to agree but we could simply slide into anarchy and chaos with Zimbabwe becoming a pitiful failed State of the worst kind - unable to feed or care for the majority of the people and only a small minority remaining at home.

What are the chances of a violent end to the regime - in this country I think minimal. We do not have any neighbors who might allow bases for an armed rebellion, we have no arms and even if the armed forces took matters into their own hands the result would not be recognised or accepted. It would be futile. Biti was about right when he was asked what MDC would do if they could not get what they wanted - he replied 'we would let them stew in their own juices'.

What if Mbeki does put his foot down and gets a deal? Then I would expect the leaders to clear the deal with their respective parties and then a final agreement to be prepared and ready for signing in South Africa at the SADC summit on Saturday. After that we would have the opening of Parliament on the following Wednesday followed by the House voting on the legislation to give effect to the agreement and then the new Government being appointed by the 1st of September.

If the transitional arrangements are acceptable to the international community then I would expect things to happen quite fast - by the end of September the basic outline of things to come would be in place - the Reserve Bank would have acted to start to stabilize the economic and monetary system, the emergency programme to get recovery under way would be in place and people should begin to see real things happening on the ground.

In six months I would expect inflation to be down to single digits and the economy should start to exhibit real growth for the first time since 1998. The dollar will strengthen and exports begin to recover. Investment inflows would be positive - again for the first time in a decade and tourism would begin. The contrast between these two scenarios is so great that I find it difficult to believe that Mr. Mbeki can do anything behind those closed doors in Harare except tell the Zanu delegation that their future is sealed and they have no option but to sign.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 11the August 2008