13th August 2008

Who said a day is a long time in politics! Last night we all witnessed a somber Morgan Tsvangirai walk out of the talks at 20.00 hrs with a terse comment to the press 'Mbeki will make a statement'. Then finally at midnight, a clearly weary Mbeki came out to say that the talks were being interrupted to give Morgan time to consider certain ideas.

On the sidelines Munangagwa claimed that they had done a deal with Mutambara under which the Mutt would be Prime Minister and a Zanu/MDC (M) cabinet. Mutambara was all over the place - to one set of journalists he confirmed a deal was in the making and to another he denied any such deal. Outside the Conference Centre, the Mutambara faction supporters and their elected Members of Parliament were furious.

I once said to a visitor to our fair land, 'If you are not yet confused, you have not been here long enough!' We continue to live up to this reputation and the secrecy surrounding the talks does not help. I still think that the policy of quiet diplomacy is wrong - it should be a much more open and transparent process with much wider participation. Still that is not our call to make - but to treat the press in such a cavalier way is just not cricket!

Morgan will address a press conference this afternoon and after that things should be a bit clearer but what is already apparent is that little progress has been made in 4 days of intense talks. The main issue remains power - who will exercise power in the transitional government. Morgan is saying that since we won the March 29th election it should be the MDC that controls the reins of government in the transition. Mugabe just refuses to accept that reality.

To bridge this gap requires no skill - just brute strength. It's hand-wrestling time. Mugabe is playing a dangerous game - if he conceded the main issue and then worked on the other matters on the table he might make progress. If he continues to refuse to do so he runs the very real risk that when he finally has to give in he will not have the strength to defend the essential interests of his supporters.

In 1973 I was part of a small group of exceptional young business executives who were all also serving in one capacity or another in the Rhodesian security forces. We were all under 30 years of age, rapidly rising through the ranks in business and all born Rhodesians. We were a patriotic bunch drawn from every possible profession.

We agreed to put our heads together and project different possible outcomes for the war that was then in the second year of real conflict. After a month of work we thought we had it pretty well sewn up - all our predictions were for defeat in the long run and the different ways to get the best deal out of the process of seeking a solution. We drafted a memorandum and sent it to the Prime Minister with a letter asking him to see us.

Within a week we were called to a private home in Highlands where we found a relaxed Ian Douglas Smith waiting for us. We sat on the floor and after we had presented our conclusions to him with supporting argument and facts, he responded by saying 'I simply cannot accept that we are not going to win this war, we are winning the war and I can see no reason for changing course.' Within six months, only 8 of that outstanding group of men were left in the country - the others just packed up and left saying that that they could see no reason to sacrifice their lives on a lost cause.

Three years later Smith was called to South Africa to meet a man called Kissenger and the South African President. It was the end of his political career. When finally he got to Lancaster House to negotiate the end of the war, he had lost the power to dictate anything except a short transition protecting the narrow short-term interests of the white community. In 1973 we had argued to Smith that he should settle immediately - negotiate the best deal he could and if you look at the proposals on the table at that time, had he done so he might have saved all of us a lot of stress and suffering.

The similarities with that situation and the one we face today are uncanny. Mugabe is winning the political skirmishes but losing the war. He is gradually being forced to retreat and lose ground. It's a struggle he cannot win, this is a numbers game and its already lost. The longer he hangs on and tries to defend what he has the less influence he will have over its outcome.

Mr. Mbeki says that the talks will go on and that he will stick at it until a deal is reached. He is probably right to adopt such a stance as to abandon the talks route is to open the door to bloodshed and violence and this can only make the situation much worse. With the economy now disintegrating fast it is unlikely that the regime will be able to pay the civil service at the month end. Tax revenues lag government payments by about two months on average - in two months with 42 million percent inflation; those tax revenues will be worthless.

At yesterdays parade pf the army, Mugabe thanked the Chinese government for a gift of new uniforms for the armed services - if he cannot get them to also pick up the tab on their salaries at month end he might face a real crisis and find himself, like the Rumanian President in the early 90's, ending up a casualty and in no position to negotiate anything, not even where he should be buried.

Kissenger wrote in his autobiography, that it was the saddest day of his life when he had to end the career of Smith in Pretoria. But in doing so he began the process that ended a long and bloody war that was only going to eventually conclude with defeat for the tiny embattled white minority and their supporters. History has laid that mantle on the shoulders of Mbeki. Eventually he will have to pull the trigger or someone else will do it for him. Like all unpleasant tasks it is best not to dilly-dally about what is inevitable.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 13th August 2008