A Big Step Forward

After so many disappointments and delays we should not be surprised when we get very little response to developments that take place in the long drawn out saga that is meant to resolve the political crisis in Zimbabwe. Also, because of the complexities and the secrecy that always surrounds such developments, the media does not always pick up its significance.

What happened this past week is that the negotiators resumed discussions on Wednesday in Harare and after two days settled on a draft of constitutional amendment number 19. It was then printed in the Government Gazette on Saturday and will now face 30 days of debate at national level before going to Parliament in mid January for possible acceptance and adoption by a two thirds majority.

Few of us expected such a smooth passage of this significant and substantive change to the constitution and it seems clear that it was achieved only because the South African government - at last - grasped the nettle and told Zanu PF to get on with the task and stop any procrastination. I have always argued that the only government in the world that Zanu cannot say no to is South Africa and I think this view was again confirmed by these events.

The amendments proposed are far reaching. They will restore citizenship to many thousands who were stripped of their citizenship for political reasons. They make it possible to hold dual citizenship. They create the post of Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers and make this new structure responsible for government. They stipulate that the President will remain Head of State and in charge of the security Ministries but it also creates a National Security Council to replace the JOC and gives the MDC a major role in the Council and the ability to block any unlawful activity.

The amendments also provide for the President to make senior appointments only after he has consulted and agreed on those appointments with the Prime Minister. Best of all the deal includes a specific time table to be followed in the drafting of a new constitution that in two years time, will replace the existing one and permit the first truly free and fair democratic elections in 30 years.

We still have a few things to get out of the way before the new legislation can be passed into law. MDC is demanding that these be dealt with before the new legislation comes before Parliament in January. These are the legal basis of the National Security Council to be agreed and drafted for consideration by Parliament in January at the same time as the constitutional amendments; the equitable allocation of Ministerial portfolios between the three Parties; the rescinding of the appointment of Governors and their replacement by new appointments representing the Party that holds a majority of Members of Parliament in each Province; and, the return to Zimbabwe of all Diplomats and their replacement by new appointments agreed in terms of the GPA.

These are not minor issues and we would have wanted them out of the way first but we are quite happy to see them resolved while the main legislation goes through the process required by the constitution. This should not be difficult if the South Africans remain engaged and involved. Mbeki, even if he notionally remains the formal facilitator, will not play a significant role. The major player is the new State President in South Africa.

South Africa called for the swearing in as soon as possible for the new Prime Minister. MDC is not enthusiastic about that proposal because it does not trust the incumbent administration in any way. We want all the aspects of the Global Political Agreement set in concrete before we go into the transitional government.

MDC is already working behind the scenes to address the immediate emergency - it is working on food supplies, water systems and needs, the health crisis and is trying to put many aspects of the stabilisation and recovery programme into a form that will allow swift action once the new government is in place. But there are limits to what we can do before being sworn in and this is a problem which concerns the South Africans.

The South Africans have always been the key to this process and recent experience has given us more confidence. It's such a pity that Mbeki wasted all these intervening years when at any time he could have ended the Zimbabwe nightmare and saved thousands, maybe millions of lives. Perhaps we were just victims of the same idiosyncrasy that gave rise to the myopic views that he held on the Aids crisis. Anyway, its water under the bridge and there is little to be gained by mourning the lost opportunities.

While all of this goes on, the crisis in Zimbabwe deepens. Inflation has now broken all historical records - we are the worst case of hyper inflation in history. Its consequences are visible everywhere - destitute people, closed factories, empty shops and silent cities and towns. I drove into Harare of Thursday at 16.30 hrs - peak traffic time. Rotten Row was empty; no signs of any traffic build up.

The health crisis has grown in intensity - Cholera joins the epidemics of Aids and Tuberculosis and perhaps 1,7 million cases of Malaria a year. Its visibility and the transmission to our neighbours have suddenly concentrated minds. The schools are closed - all State schools and all Universities and Colleges show no sign of being able to reopen in mid January as scheduled. What teachers remained on duty to the end of term in December, are saying they will not return to school in January.

I think that any country that cannot feed its population, cannot provide basic security of person and property and cannot provide even the most rudimentary health services or education for its children, is, by definition, a failed State. Not even the most ardent supporter of Zanu PF can deny that today and they resort to blaming every one else for our ills. The best we saw of this syndrome was this week when the water crisis in our cities was blamed on Ian Smith and the British were accused of infecting our people with Cholera in a form of biological and chemical warfare! And these guys think they should be taken seriously!

Eddie Cross
Harare 15th December 2008