The Dark before the Dawn

History has a habit of repeating itself and I do not think we are an exception. I recall like yesterday, the situation in September 1976 when Henry Kissinger came to Pretoria in South Africa to hold discussions with the President and then with Ian Smith , Prime Minister of Rhodesia.

On the Sunday night I sat in the lounge of a close friend with several others - mostly from the University of Zimbabwe and watched a statement by Smith on television on the outcome of the South African talks. Up to that point in time few of us believed that Smith would agree to change that would be acceptable either to the international community or to the majority in the country. It looked as if we would fight on until the country was a burnt wreck and derelict from decades of conflict.

As we all know, Smith made the astonishing statement that he had accepted majority rule and that they were going to work towards that objective from now onwards. It was over; the effort to hold back the march of time had failed. But it was to be another three years of fighting and uncertainty before Lancaster House and democratic elections that brought Robert Mugabe to power.

In retrospect I think that Henry Kissinger never saw his role as trying to resolve the crisis, just to get the process under way. He knew that the main obstacle to progress was represented by Mr. Smith and his colleagues and that to get movement their grip on power had to be broken. Politics, after all, is all about the use of power to secure agreed objectives.

In later years I was a regular visitor to the United States and came into contact with many of the leaders in their government. I was given privileged access to many parts of the US administration and discovered what the meaning of being a 'super' power was. I then realised that if the United States , or any major power, had the will to do so, their reach was enormous and their capabilities astonishing.

The reality is that we are not just a minnow in global politics but absolutely insignificant in geo political terms. Even South Africa only has the punch of a medium sized western City. I therefore understand that if a regional power like South Africa chooses to use its regional clout, they can do a great deal. So I have always believed that South Africa has the capabilities to do to Mr. Mugabe and his cohorts, just what they did to Mr. Smith in 1976.

It took just 15 minutes to clear the logjam in 1976; it would take no longer in 2009 if they chose to do so. If you read the communique issued in Maputo after the meeting three weeks ago, you can see that at last the region has decided to get tough. The reaction of Zanu PF was the same as Smith's in 1976 - 'you ask too much of us'. But while it took just a few more hours to get them to see sense in 1976, here it took 17 days this time. But in the end the outcome was the same, we had no alternative but to go along with regional demands.

So talks began reluctantly on Monday and have continued all week. They are shrouded in secrecy but I think we can all guess what is going on behind those closed doors. In the end I think the outcome will be the same as in 1976 - agreement to enough concessions to get the process of reform and progress back under way after months of stalemate.

After September the 23rd 1976, Mr. Smith played only a peripheral role in the management of the reform process. New players came onto the scene - Bishop Muzorewa, and others in the transitional government and then finally the main leaders thrashing out a final deal with the British Government having to resort to all sorts of shenanigans to protect the tiny white population that was left in the country. Final change came in 1980, but the power of the white population was basically broken on that September day in Pretoria .

So it is today. If Zanu PF is finally forced to concede the reforms and changes to which they agreed in September 2008, then irreversibly their power will begin to slide away and real change is then only a matter of time. This process is already underway and all that they are now doing is trying to buy time and delay the inevitable.

Being on the wrong side of history is never easy - it was so for the white minority in the 70's and so it is now for Zanu PF. The white minority was an easy target, they were fighting the whole world and had no one in support except South Africa and, at one stage, Portugal . Zanu has been much harder to deal with, they came out of a liberation war, are heroes to many and are drawn from the majority in Zimbabwe .

The struggle against Zanu has in many respects been more principled - it has not been about colonial occupation or racial segregation and discrimination, but about human and political rights and the basic tenets of democracy and freedom. Universal values, not restricted to a small region of the continent with a particular history.

The problems of Zanu this week were not restricted to the issues of non compliance with the GPA. They also involved the ongoing struggle for justice for commercial farmers who have been unlawfully dispossessed of their property over the past decade. The negotiators of a Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement with South Africa finally compromised on the issue of what to do about the many hundred of farmers of South African origin who have been dispossessed. They simply excluded them from the deal.

The farmers then took their case to the South African Courts and yesterday the South African High Court ruled that the SA government had an obligation to protect their citizens in Zimbabwe and to protect their asset rights. As has been the case in all the other legal challengers on this issue, the legal fraternity have ruled in favour of the farmers. I suspect that decision will affect the whole BIPA process but in the longer term it simply reinforces the view that once the rule of law is restored in Zimbabwe we will have no choice but to recognise the rights of land owners in Zimbabwe and then work from there.

I think this is completely just and the only way to deal with this complex issue. As with so many issues - the way forward for Zimbabwe is to do just the opposite that Zanu PF have been doing over the past 30 years. In this case, work to extend land rights to all who occupy the land and ensure this asset is used productively.

Eddie Cross
Harare , 27th November 2009