Amendment Number 19

The actual events of this past week are still shrouded in secrecy. The negotiation teams are sworn to silence and the press has had to subsist on rumor and the odd leaks, none of which are that accurate. If you are watching the media as we are - skimming the daily press from across the globe for anything on Zimbabwe, you can however get a picture of what possibly transpired last week.

It started of course with the visit of the Elders, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and Graca Machel. They had planned their visit some weeks before and although the American Embassy tried to keep a low profile on the visit, when a American Secret Service detail arrived in Harare to prepare for the visit (Carter gets protection for life) the game was on. They were coming to assess the humanitarian crisis, they stated - did not have anything to do with the talks on the future or the political crisis.

Terrified of their own shadows, Zanu PF reacted in a panic by denying them entry visas and what would otherwise have been a low profile visit by three elder statesmen turned into a political circus. It was the best thing that could have happened as far as Zimbabwe was concerned. The media gathered and the human rights fraternity in Zimbabwe traveled south. In South Africa the powerful human rights movement - honed by years of opposition to apartheid, swung into action.

As a consequence the visit not only achieved all they had set out to do but also focused attention on the tyrannical regime in Harare and the linkages between the political crisis and the humanitarian crisis, the very fact that the one has created the other. Another aspect that I only appreciated later, was that having three such experienced leaders on tap, meant that they very quickly grasped the core issues and were able to elucidate these in later interviews and opinion pieces. Jimmy Carter in particular, was very clear.

It helped of course that the credentials of the trio could not be challenged. Zanu PF would have been better advised to have welcomed the team and afforded them every facility - except the presence of the pesky media who then get into the dark corners where an official delegation cannot go on their guided tours.

Then the US slapped further personal sanctions on four individuals who have had extensive dealings with the Mugabe regime. Two were local and two were Asian. The most important aspect of this action was the message it sent to all those who are doing deals with the regime - I can think of a few, who must have shivered in their shoes at the thought that they might be next! I especially appreciated Carters clear statement on this issue on television - Zimbabwe faced no sanctions of any kind, he stated, the sanctions were all personal and aimed at those responsible for the economic and political crisis.

The impact of this flood of media attention and the new information gathered and released on the South African mediated talks are not known, but it must have been significant. Perhaps this explains why the South Africans threw such a blanket of silence and secrecy around the talks. The two teams arrived on Monday evening and exchanged documents. On Tuesday they made no progress and on Wednesday, Morgan Tsvangirai issued a statement that the talks were going nowhere and he felt that the MDC should leave the process until a new mediator was appointed.

This threat seems to have brought in the South African government who up to then had been preoccupied with the ongoing political struggles taking place in South Africa ahead of the 2009 elections. There was a brief flurry of statements from the leadership on the talks and Miranda Strydom - often a spokesperson for the ANC on SABC 3, made several disclosures. What annoys me about her interventions are her persistent remarks to the effect that MDC is holding up progress by 'squabbling' over power. As if that is what this is all about.

Then came the astonishing news - not made public by the participants or the mediator that agreement had been reached on the wording of Amendment number 19. The news just slipped out, first a whisper and then more open disclosure. Nothing more. MDC had clearly stated in advance that this was not the whole subject of these discussions - we wanted to settle the many other issues still outstanding.

But it was not to be - Zanu PF was not mandated to talk about such matters, was the argument behind closed doors - the mediator simply gave in and closed the session and the teams returned home. What next?

Mugabe in the meantime went off to the Middle East where he attended a UN sponsored meeting on development finance - The UN trying to maintain focus on the Millennium Development Goals that have been much neglected of late in the middle of the global financial meltdown and the American elections. There he trundled out his old mantra - the melt down in my country is due to the fact that I can no longer shop at Harrods or send my children to fancy schools and Universities in the West. That explains 10 years of negative growth and the total collapse of the country's social system.

He did not say it quite like that - but what he did say meant just that.

In the struggle to establish a transitional government that might just work, under near impossible conditions, the next step should be for the two parties to agree on an official version of Amendment number 19 and to then publish this in the Government Gazette - possibly next Friday. Then the people of Zimbabwe have a month to study this and to analyse its implications and content.

In the second week of January, Parliament will convene to debate the amendment and agree on its contents and pass it into law. On paper then, at least, the Global Political Agreement signed by the parties on the 11th September will be law. In Zimbabwe that may not be very much as the law is seldom observed or upheld where politics is concerned. But still, it will become the law of the land.

On paper this will mean that now we can form a new government - Mr. Mugabe can be sworn in as President, Mr Tsvangirai as Prime Minister. But most significantly, the Junta that has run Zimbabwe into the ground in the past decade, will be replaced by a democratically elected Council of Ministers, who will have responsibility for government. This new government will run the country until a new constitution is agreed and adopted and fresh elections held under free and fair conditions - perhaps in mid 2011. That is what is possible - on paper. Turning it into reality is another thing altogether!

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 1st December 2008