The End of the Beginning

Yesterday the deal was signed. It has been a tough 8 years to get here, but at last we are there! The reaction to the news has been muted in Zimbabwe - some have celebrated, others have wept with relief and still others have just mused quietly at the cost in lives lost and disrupted and destroyed. I walked into my office the morning after the deal was agreed and one of my senior staff was sitting there looking at our 'Roll of Honor' - the names of all those in our leadership who have died violently since 2000 in the struggle to regain our dignity as a Nation and our freedom as individuals. Many were friends and colleagues; I knew just what he was thinking.

It is sad that the agreement had to be negotiated in this way at the insistence of Thabo Mbeki; there has been no transparency, restricted consultation and no democratic buy in. People do not know any details and simply have to accept what was agreed behind closed doors. Not a great start to a new dispensation. But there was no alternative, we had to have a power broker and we had no alternative.

Today marks the end of Zanu PF hegemony over power. From today every decision on how the government conducts itself and goes about its business has to be by consensus with the MDC. This is not going to be easy for anyone. We in the MDC must now work with the very people who have ordered our arrest, beaten and even killed our colleagues and abused our rights. We have to put the past behind us and work together in designing and implementing a new dispensation for Zimbabwe.

The agreement is very African in character. In many respects it reflects our culture and traditions. On Tuesday last week Morgan Tsvangirai requested a one on one meeting with Mugabe, this was arranged and in the meeting he said that if an agreement was not reached, it would have dire consequences for everybody. He then proposed that to break the deadlock that they look at a revised proposal with a Council of State, headed by Mugabe as State President and supervising the work of Cabinet, and headed by Tsvangirai as Prime Minister.

The concept received tentative acceptance and they then saw Mbeki. He welcomed the idea and Mugabe was given 24 hours to think it through and discuss it with his senior officials. At the next session be baulked at the concept saying it left him in a largely ceremonial position. Mbeki then produced the arrangement that was finally accepted by both Parties.

Under this new set up, Mugabe is head of State and Chairman of Cabinet. However, the concept of a Council of State was retained by changed slightly to a Council of Ministers, Chaired by Tsvangirai as Prime Minister and responsible for the day to day affairs of government. In effect therefore Tsvangirai is Head of Government. All policy and other decisions by the Council - once agreed by consensus, will be then considered by the 'Cabinet' , the same group of people plus the President who sits as Chairman of those sessions with the Prime Minister as co-chair. Cabinet then must endorse the decisions of the Council of Ministers and the minutes be signed by both the President and the Prime Minister before they can take effect and be implemented.

People who know something of Shona culture will immediately recognize the arrangement as similar to the one that is used in traditional society here to manage the affairs of a tribal community or clan. The clan recognizes individuals who become members of the 'Dare'. This group makes the decisions and the Chief is then called in, has the decisions explained to him and he then announces them to the people concerned.

I have been privileged to be allowed to sit in such gatherings - in my own case it was the Dare of Chief Njelele. The old man was a bit of a drunkard and when the Dare (or Council of Elders) met to consider an issue that was quite important or complex, they often ordered the Chief locked up until they needed him or he would be too far gone to perform! There was no disrespect in this and he did not seem to mind the indignity of it all. He would then join the Dare, hear the decisions with great dignity and then explain them to the people concerned. Very democratic, very people centered and a good way to resolve the many issues that confronted the community.

Can this sort of arrangement work with a modern government? I think it can but it will require extraordinary skills of leadership by Mr. Tsvangirai and determination by all the Ministers who will be working with him, to get down to business, recognize that, like or not, they are now in government and must work together. So team building in the early stages is going to be essential.

The only other thing I can say is that our team is ready. We had prepared for victory in 2000, then in 2002, then again in 2005 and finally in 2008. So we have had several 'dummy runs' at this. We know what is needed, what has to be done and have given a great deal of thought as to how to do the operation. I think the Zanu PF people are going to be surprised at the extent and depth of the preparations that have gone into this New Start operation.

The international community will be cautious, but as President Kikwete said to President Bush in Washington a few weeks ago, give us space, allow us to negotiate and then implement an African solution. This is now in place and we on our part must now demonstrate we have the capacity and the will to make it work and to deliver a better quality of life in all respects to the people of this country.

Having just had the triumph of the agreement in Harare, President Mbeki must now return to business in South Africa where he faces fresh challenges in the form of a resurgent Zuma campaign for the Presidency of South Africa. In my own view Zuma is now almost certain to be elected President next year and for us he takes assumes office a critical time. Much more than Mbeki, the MDC has a friend and colleague in Zuma and we might need his help in the rough waters that lie ahead, but at least now, hopefully, we are all paddling in the same direction.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 16th September 2008