Small Steering Wheels

Have you ever noticed how small the steering wheel is in a Formula One car? It's tiny by comparison to the conventional car, even though the power under the bonnet is much greater and the speeds and handling are that much faster and dangerous. Sometimes history is like that - a seemingly small incident or event can turn the tide and signal a new development that is enormous by world standards.

The assassination of a minor Duke in the Balkans in 1914 was one such event. It led to World War 1. A speech by an unknown teacher of Philosophy in German in a small University at the end of the 19th Century would have gone unnoticed except that it led to the creation of two monsters of the 20th Century - Social Nationalism in Germany under Hitler and the advent of Communism under Stalin and Lenin.

The vote on Monday last week that gave MDC control of Parliament was perhaps just such an event. Certainly it changed the way the region looked at the crisis in Zimbabwe and gave the MDC greater leverage in dealing with Zanu PF at the SADC sponsored talks in South Africa. The first sign of this was the warning from the SADC to Zanu PF not to form a new government and the call by South Africa for the talks to resume in Pretoria.

Another sign of the new importance of this process was the composition of the Zanu delegation to the talks - did you notice, that for the first time Munangagwa was there! This signals that they are at last taking the process seriously, they know that if the region decides that power should now pass to the MDC in the form of the Prime Minister that this would be the beginning of the end for Zanu PF.

There are no signals coming out of the process - another indication that this time the game is deadly serious. Zanu finds itself trapped by a process they had thought would lead MDC into a cul du sac. They have allowed negotiations to develop an elaborate agreement over the past 18 months which provides for a complete overhaul of the State including a new constitution, an agreement that if implemented and managed properly would deprive Zanu of the very means that they have used for the past 28 years to maintain their hold on power.

All that is left is literally one clause in this massive agreement - just a few short lines on a piece of paper that would transfer effective control to Morgan Tsvangirai. Zanu would continue to have influence - half of all Ministers would be from Zanu and the Head of State would still be Mugabe, but the steering wheel, would be in MDC hands.

So now we wait, the Herald printed a silly story yesterday about Tsvangirai and Mugabe sharing the role of Chairman of the Cabinet - but that is twaddle. We have no choice but to wait for the outcome of talks now under way in South Africa. Only one person can control the steering wheel - if its is MDC it means we are going in a new direction, if its Zanu it means we are going nowhere.

I am convinced that Mbeki has no alternative but to get a deal. Whatever his personal feelings are, he has to now accept that there is no realistic alternative to giving the steering wheel to Tsvangirai. I watched the President of Tanzania meet with George Bush this morning in Washington. They talked about Zimbabwe. Kikwete is firmly on the side of the MDC and so are the major western powers. SADC has little alternative but to give MDC what it is demanding in the talks now that we have firm control of Parliament. That was the reason for convening Parliament after all, to decide who held the balance of power in the House.

But on another subject - do you recall that young Senator in 2004 walking up to the podium at the Democratic convention and then making a speech? I do, so do a lot of Americans because it was the start of the Obama campaign for the Presidency of the United States. A few nights ago he was back at the Democratic convention - this time as the candidate giving his acceptance speech. Wow, what a speech. It was deeply moving and powerful and in 10 weeks time, Americans are going to have to decide between McCain and Obama. It will be close - but I think Obama is the man of the moment.

It all started with that minor speech in 2004. My belief in Obama is not just based on his oratory it's also based on his record as a Senator, a husband and a father. Of course I support him because he has African roots but also because he embodies everything that the American dream stands for. That a poor, mixed race kid with a single mom can rise out of obscurity and claim the leadership of the most powerful country on earth. He also offers a new way for America and this is a challenge that we all must grasp.

MDC has its roots in the poor of this country, not in the cloistered corridors of power and privilege but in the back allies of our towns and cities, the villages in the rural areas and on our factory floors. MDC was not started in the boardrooms of this country but in the kitchens. Tsvangirai does not have even a high school diploma; he had to leave home to work when in his young teens to help his parents with the cost of raising his siblings. He started out working on a machine in a textile factory and then in a mine.

His parents live in a mud hut near the Save River and he goes home regularly to catch up with his family. When there he sleeps on the floor like millions of others who must struggle every day to make a living out of the ground. Somehow this man has captured the trust and faith of millions who now depend on us to bring them back to sanity in a world gone insane in the pursuit of power and privilege.

We have a common heritage with Obama - we represent the dreams and aspirations of our people, we represent the hope of a better, more just and equitable future. It is an opportunity and a responsibility and one that we dare not fail in. Obama may get his hands on the steering wheel in November. Tsvangirai may get his hands on this steering wheel next week. The challenge then will be to win the race that follows and deliver a better life to the people who depend on us.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 31st August 2008