The Consequences of Failure

Sitting here on a Saturday morning in the first days of spring in southern Africa, we must all contemplate the possible consequences of the failure of the negotiations launched by the SADC States in March 2007. At that time the concern of South Africa was the protection of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, which was being threatened by the decision of Mugabe to delay the March 2008 elections to June 2010.

That concern led to a secret meeting between Mbeki and Mugabe in Accra when Mbeki told Mugabe that under no circumstances could he accept a controversial electoral process in Zimbabwe at the same time as the World Cup. He also informed Mugabe that when the elections were held in March 2008, they would have to be credible and based on the SADC guidelines for elections. To create those conditions the SADC sponsored negotiations were launched.

They were expected to last for three months and then leave 9 months of preparation for the first free and fair elections in Zimbabwe for two decades. It was not to be; Mugabe procrastinated, allowed the process to continue and accepted limited reforms in October followed by a flat refusal to do any more. Even so, the limited reforms had the effect of giving Zimbabweans the chance to vote under reasonable conditions and Zanu PF was defeated in the subsequent elections in March 2008.

What then followed was a complete farce - aided and abetted by Mbeki who knew full well that Tsvangirai had beaten Mugabe and had in fact garnered more than the 50 per cent required for outright victory. He allowed the run off and when this was accompanied by politically inspired and managed violence against the MDC he had to then deal with a run off election that was not recognised by the African observer teams present for the elections on the 27th June. He then allowed Mugabe to continue with the farce and declare himself President with unseemly haste even before the final results of the electoral farce were known. Mbeki then had to live with the consequences.

Confronted with the clear evidence of electoral fraud made public by the African observer missions and spurred on by massive international outrage at the behavior of the Mugabe regime, Mbeki lamely began to pick up the pieces of his flawed process. He called for the negotiating teams who had been involved in the 2007 process to reconvene as if nothing had happened and was faced with demands by a bruised and battered but far from defeated, MDC. He was forced to concede these and when finally talks got under way it was with a new agenda and broader based teams than had been the case in 2007.

By intervening, Mbeki stopped Zanu PF from simply forming an illegal government and carrying on as before. Zimbabwe slid into a form of suspended reality, without an effective administration and Cabinet and no Parliamentary process. That was five months ago. In this time the economic and social crisis in Zimbabwe has intensified significantly.

Despite the consequences Mbeki still tried to use what remaining space he had in this process to secure the position of Zanu PF - a Party he once referred to as the 'Party of the Revolution'. He guided the talks and when it came to the final hurdle - he simply drafted a version of the agreement that would have left Mugabe in power and given Tsvangirai an empty chalice with responsibility and no power. Even worse, he crafted a deal that he knew full well, would not be acceptable to the international community and would not therefore attract the support it needed to succeed.

Had Morgan signed, the only winner would have been Mugabe and Mbeki - Zimbabwe would have continued to slide into anarchy and poverty.

But Tsvangirai did not sign, desperate, Mbeki called for Parliament to be convened to demonstrate that Mugabe did hold a majority - with the help of Mutambara. That failed. Even so Mbeki held onto his belief in the rightness of his cause irrespective of the consequences. He appealed to the SADC leadership to support a last ditch attempt to get an agreement - afraid to act on his own and be labeled as a bully.

On Monday the President of Tanzania, Mr. Kikwete visited Washington DC and held talks with the President G W Bush. They talked about Zimbabwe and if I know anything about these things, Kikwete was told what was acceptable in terms of an agreement at the SADC talks. He would have been given clear guidance on the minimum criteria that had to be satisfied if the agreement was to attract international aid.

Kikwete came home and traveled to Lusaka where he met with the SADC leadership. Mbeki was told that if he was to do a deal on Zimbabwe that had any chance of international acceptance that it had to conform to certain requirements. The issue is now clearly back in Mbeki's court. He is expected to fly to Harare at any time - probably on Monday, for a final attempt to get an agreement.

I personally am convinced that he simply has no alternative now but to do what is needed to get Mugabe to agree to a deal that will essentially lead to his eventual political demise. The consequences of failure are 'too horrific to contemplate'. At stake is the Soccer World Cup into which South Africa has already poured R5 billion, the social and political stability of South Africa and the continued growth and expansion of regional economies.

The battle for the Presidency in South Africa in next year's elections is spiraling out of control as the ANC fights itself and attempts to force through a violation of the rule of law as it tries to protect Jacob Zuma from prosecution. If Mbeki cannot stem the flood of economic and political refugees into his country and cannot control and manage the succession issue he will run the risk of doing South Africa serious damage. A deal in Zimbabwe that creates a workable transitional government and permits international aid, would go a long way towards achieving that. Failure will plunge not only Zimbabwe, but also the entire region into a crisis that will be very costly in the long run.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 6th September 2008