SADC in the Firing Line

It is a month since I last wrote one of these weekly letters and I do apologise for the gap but we have been flat out here and a lot of what is going on is very sensitive. But despite all the nonsense being talked about in the State controlled press, I think we have made progress.

I think people have short memories and it is important to keep recent events in perspective when trying to interpret what is going on. In February 2007 the South African Cabinet met in Cape Town to consider the decision by Mr. Mugabe to shift the March 2008 elections to June 2010. They decided two things - firstly, that the new election date was unacceptable and, secondly, that the March elections should be held on a basis where no one could dispute the outcome.

As a consequence, the President of South Africa (Mr. Mbeki) met with Mr. Mugabe on the 6th March in Ghana and secured agreement to reverse the decision to defer the election and obtained his agreement to start negotiations with the MDC on the conditions under which the March 2008 elections would be held.

The rest is history - the talks started in June, struggled on to the end of the year when Mr. Mugabe stopped the process saying they had done enough. The elections were held and although they were by no means free and fair, the MDC won convincingly and after 5 weeks of trying to reverse the loss, Zanu simply falsified the results of the Presidential election and Mr. Mbeki approved a run off between the two leaders.

The subsequent election campaign was so violent and one sided and so manipulated that no SADC or African country was prepared to say that the election of Mr. Mugabe with 85 per cent of the vote was legitimate. That gave rise to a further round of negotiations and the imposition by the region of an inclusive government to manage the country while a new constitution was drafted and fresh elections held. The path towards the instillation of the new Transitional Government was not easy or straight forward. Zanu had lost the election but was not prepared to relinquish power and control. SADC wanted a government that included the three parties but was not prepared to enforce power sharing on the basis of the outcome of the March elections.

Eventually when it became apparent that Zanu was not prepared to concede more to MDC, the region persuaded MDC leadership to go into government and promised that they would ensure the signed agreements and the amendments to the constitution were respected and enforced. They also agreed to review this arrangement after six months.

MDC went into the new government with its eyes wide open and fully understanding the nature of the organisation we were dealing with. However, out of respect for the region, the MDC leadership lent over backwards and tried to make the government work. Despite this Zanu PF has steadfastly refused to cooperate in those areas that affect the conduct of future elections or in any way inhibit the residual power and influence of the hard liners in the JOC.

The list of violations of the signed agreements between the three parties grows by the day, but there are several hundred at this stage and as a result the process of economic stabilisation and recovery is being retarded and the restoration of constitutional and written law is completely stymied. No progress has been made in the restoration of basic freedoms and in violation of the agreements all senior appointments to government have been made unilaterally and in the majority of cases been used to entrench the power and influence of Zanu PF in the State.

Calls for the MDC to withdraw became more and more strident and eventually the Party called for a period of national consultation with its grass root structures on the issue. As this consultation nears its conclusion the results are overwhelming - from Beitbridge to Binga, people have said stay in the government to protect the gains made but fight on for the full implementation of the GPA and the holding of new elections as soon as conditions exist for a free and fair contest.

When the State moved to imprison Roy Bennett ten days ago and then put him in shackles it was a move too far for the leadership. The President of the MDC called for talks with the other principals to the agreement but was refused by Zanu PF. He then decided to disengage from Zanu PF in the inclusive government, virtually paralysing the State in the process.

During all this, the guarantors of the deal, SADC remained silent and disengaged. The originators of the whole process, South Africa was also silent. SADC failed to hold the planned review of Ministerial portfolio allocations as promised and instead requested the Troika on politics and security to handle the problems in the Zimbabwe government. When the most recent crisis in the State arose, Mr. Tsvangirai decided the time had come to take the case to regional decision makers.

He did that last week and today meets with the other two Party leaders in the GPA while we wait for the Troika to come to Harare on the 29th to hold joint consultations with the leadership of the Parties to the agreement on the way forward. I do not think the agreement is threatened but there is no doubt in my mind that the region should insist on all parties to the deal meeting their obligations.

This past weekend has seen a flurry of activity driven by the JOC - dozens of homes torched in rural areas, people beaten and injured - some very severely and leadership of MDC and civil society arrested and imprisoned on flimsy grounds. A guest house owned by MDC in Harare was raided on Saturday night by 50 armed men and trashed in the process. Road blocks searching for 'arms' were thrown up throughout the country - I was in Lupane 172 kilometres from Bulawayo on Saturday and went through 5 road blocks on the main road.

While all this was going on Mr. Mugabe was outside the country and when he came back he made a clear statement saying that they were not going to move on any of the issues raised by the MDC. He made the tired and puerile claim that MDC has not delivered on the lifting of 'sanctions' and the banning of 'illegal' radio stations and therefore Zanu was not obliged to adhere to the agreement either.

The fact is we have no influence over who is subjected to a travel ban by certain countries or restrictions on certain companies that are considered to be part of the problem of the rogue elements in the State in Zimbabwe . These restrictions have no influence over the economy and do not affect the great majority of our people. As for the argument on 'illegal' radio stations - that is a laugh. For a start they are not illegal, they are also the most popular media in Zimbabwe and are the main source of information for the majority. That is precisely why Zanu wants them banned.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo , 26th October 2009