One Step Forward?

It seems like a year since the SADC brokered deal was eventually signed. The ceremony itself was an opportunity to see into the future. It was not encouraging, in fact daunting in every way. Coming after the opening of Parliament where it was clear to any observer that the gap between the MDC benches and Zanu PF was enormous. The MDC team generally young, poor and angry, the Zanu benches arrogant, fat, aging and apprehensive.

I said last week that the new transitional government would place a huge burden of responsibility for leadership on the part of Morgan Tsvangirai. Nothing made that more clear than the signing ceremony itself. When Ian Khama arrived the crowd outside (90 per cent MDC and numbering several thousand) gave him a rousing welcome. In the hall he was greeted with a chant of 'Khama, Khama, Khama!' When Robert Mugabe arrived he was greeted with derision and the singing of songs from the struggle of the past 10 years. Inside the hall he was booed and heckled.

The speeches were instructive - Mr. Mugabe leaning on the podium for support, ranted against the British and Americans and spoke for maybe 40 minutes in a rambling, confused historical diatribe. Mr. Mutambara demonstrated, yet again, that he is totally out of his depth in this political game - even the BBC, covering the event secretly in the hall, switched him off. Mr. Tsvangirai spoke for about 15 minutes, a clear outline of the way forward and a call to work together for the sake of the country. There could have been no doubt in the minds of any of those present as to who the real leader was on that stage.

It was a moment of triumph for Mr. Mbeki - one that came many years later than it should have, mainly because of his own reluctance to deal with the issues surrounding the resolution of the crisis in Zimbabwe, but eventually, it was here. He then flew home to run into the media storm that followed the Zuma Judgment the week before. At the subsequent gathering of the ANC leadership he was forced into a humiliating resignation. After a lifetime of struggle against apartheid and leadership responsibility from 1994 to 2008 - 14 years, it was a shame that he should go like this - but he had created the conditions for his political demise. Despite that, it must be acknowledged that the new South Africa - a remarkable creation knowing the background; is largely his work and he will always be remembered for that achievement.

When Mr. Mbeki left Harare he must have thought that his job was done and he could now concentrate on his own back yard. He had put many days into the negotiation and had left his home turf neglected at a crucial time for him. No sooner had he departed however, than Zanu started to play their old game. Always adept at seeming to accept the situation that confronted them and then turning back on their word and doing the opposite. That happened in 2000 when they lost the referendum - Mr. Mugabe came on national television and radio and stated that he 'accepted' the will of the people. He then unleashed a campaign of terror and intimidation that has lasted 8 years and claimed hundreds of lives and brought the economy to its knees.

This time he signed the deal after 18 months of tortuous negotiations and many set backs. He did so in front of the whole world and in the presence of his colleagues in the SADC region. We expected talks the following day to form a government, a swearing in ceremony on Thursday and to start work on Monday. Remember we have not had a proper government for 6 months so we thought the question of speed would be paramount.

It was not to be - the MDC leadership had cleared the deal that had been negotiated with their national leadership on Sunday and then signed, Mr. Mugabe took the deal to his leadership the day after he had signed. The Politburo was furious and what was meant to be a short meeting turned into a daylong marathon - all else forgotten. The Service Chiefs (the much feared and despised JOC) did not attend the signing ceremony on Monday and we heard rumors of troop movements and the mobilisation of recently disbanded militia camps. The atmosphere in Harare tensed significantly.

When Wednesday came and went with the Zanu PF Central Committee in session all day and no attempt to hold discussions on the formation of a new government with their new partners in Government, Mr. Mbeki was forced to step into the ring again. As a result, the talks on forming a new government started at about 11.00 hrs on Thursday. By mid afternoon it was clear no deal with possible at the level of the three leaders. Mr. Mugabe, threatened by the harsh reaction of his own Party to the deal, tried to recover some political ground by demanding that Zanu PF take the key Ministries. That was never a possibility and eventually Mr. Tsvangirai told the other two that he was referring the matter to the regional mediators. The South African leadership was briefed and it is hoped that the three negotiating teams will meet shortly to pick up from where the Monday ceremony had left them. There is the immediate problem of mediation with the SA government in chaos and the likely resignation of both Mbeki and the Minister of Labour who has been so instrumental in the negotiations so far.

Oblivious to the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe and the escalating economic and social crisis, Mugabe then simply packed his bags and departed for the UN General Assembly in New York with an entourage of 40 plus his wife and taking with them a pile of US dollars to spend on 10 days of luxury and completely unproductive personal extravagance. A last chance to feed his ego and we dread what he will have to say in New York, probably just more of the same old diatribe. That will do nothing to help us get the situation here under control and the country back on track.

So now we wait for the allocation of Ministries to be agreed and then - we hope at the end of this coming week, we will have the swearing in of the new Council of Ministers and Cabinet and on the following Monday we can start work.

We are confronted with a crisis in every sphere of national life. Cities without water, roads falling apart, railways not functioning, empty grain silos and no preparations for the new cropping season, a restive and badly paid army with guns and ammunition, collapsed and bankrupt firms in the private sector, a malfunctioning finance system with teetering banking institutions and a bruised and battered population that is bitter and angry.

And it all hangs on a small team of 34 individuals - many of whom have never been in government before and who have been at each other throats for much of the past 20 years. Even more it depends on the skills and leadership of one man - Morgan Tsvangirai. I think it is quite clear that the other two leaders, Robert Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara have nothing to offer in this situation, they are really part of the problem, not the solution. It is an awesome responsibility. Pray for him and his team as they start out on this difficult and hazardous journey.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 21st September 2008