The Tide of Time

As we watch the passing of events and the passage of time, we lose sight of the fact that as time passes some things become inevitable. Mr. Mugabe is 87 this year in February and is now, by any measure, an old man. When he came home from his annual leave and then was hurriedly put on an aircraft and flown to Singapore, speculation was rife about his health. A friend of mine asked his doctor what might have been wrong and he said, a man of 87 who has had cancer of the prostrate for over five years can experience some difficulties - perhaps a blockage of the Urethra and this would be both painful and uncomfortable. A minor surgical procedure would fix it but it still is surgery under a full anaesthetic and for a man of 87, this was a stressful incident. (The above is of course, pure rumour and speculation.)

For Mr. Mugabe and Zanu PF time is passing and with it the chances of maintaining their grip on power and the protection that goes with it. The chaos in the north of Africa and the continuing stalemate in the Ivory Coast do not help.

There is ample evidence that Zanu PF is struggling to find a solution to their immediate problems. Mr. Zuma and the South African and SADC governments seem determined to press for the full implementation of the GPA and then the holding of an election under SADC rules. This is a nightmare scenario for Zanu as they well know they simply could not win such an election, their support base has shrunk to the point where a wipe out is really possible.

It must have dawned on many of the Zanu PF leadership, that if an election is inevitable (and they seem to have accepted that) and if the region is really pressing for the full Monty in terms of reforms and a free and fair election, then a harmonised election (Parliament, Senate and Local Government) is not the way to go. The MDC decision to go for a Presidential election is the best option - not for the MDC but for Zanu, or at least those elements in Zanu that think they can survive and live on to fight another day.

If you think this through, an election for a new President would bring to power a MDC led government that could not ignore Zanu PF. Zanu would still hold a majority in the Upper House and a significant minority in the Lower House. In all probability Mr. Tsvangirai would have to accommodate them in the new government and perhaps appoint a Zanu PF leader as Vice President, at least until the next harmonised elections in 2013, or even 2015. This would then be a genuine national coalition government under MDC leadership and could steer the State through the rocky waters of national reconciliation and reconstruction.

Where I agree with Mr. Mugabe, is that the present government is a dysfunctional arrangement that needs to come to an end as soon as possible. We made little or no progress last year and progress is likely to be slow and tortuous if this arrangement is perpetuated. I also happen to think that Mr. Zuma and the ANC are also in a hurry - they want to see the crisis in Zimbabwe resolved and the economy firmly on a path to recovery and a substantial reduction in the presence of Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa.

The attitude of South Africa towards Zimbabwe has changed dramatically in recent months - we no longer pose a threat to the ANC Alliance - always a concern when Mr. Mbeki was President, Mr. Zuma is now firmly entrenched as President and even though the ANC are likely to get a pasting in the local government elections, he is likely to lead the ANC into the next elections in 2015.

How these changes manifest themselves in policy towards Zimbabwe is not always clear but in recent weeks we have seen the South Africans intervening to head off the attempts by Zanu PF to short circuit the 'road map' and to get to an election under conditions where all the mechanisms that Zanu has established over the years can be used to manipulate the elections and determine their outcome.

I would expect the South Africans to deliver their version of the road map to a free and fair election in Zimbabwe shortly; perhaps it will be discussed on the sidelines of the AU summit in Ethiopia today. Certainly we can expect SADC to convene the Troika in February to discuss this issue and to make certain fundamental decisions. It is clear that this road map will comply both with the GPA and the SADC protocols on elections.

Many people take me to task on my views towards the region and South African leadership on this issue. They express scepticism as to their willingness to confront the Zanu leadership on these matters and also question that they have the influence or power to force the issue. I point them to the meeting in Pretoria in September 1976 when the then President of South Africa forced acceptance of the Kissinger plan. Then the meeting in March 2007 when Thabo Mbeki, in a short meeting with Mr. Mugabe in a hotel in Ghana, forced him to accept the process of negotiations with the MDC for conditions for the next elections and then forced him to shift the date of the election from June 2010 to March 2008.

The harsh reality is that South Africa and the region have the power to insist that the leadership of Zimbabwe follow their lead. Up to now those elements in the region have been prepared to tolerate and even collude with Zanu PF in its bid to sustain grip on power but events in Africa and the tide of time are dictating change. Zanu has a choice, ride the tide onto the beach or be drowned at sea. They have lost their absolute power over the State, can no longer pillage the State’s coffers in pursuit of their own interests and are losing control of the Chiadzwa diamonds and the instruments of repression and control over elections. What they need to accept is that time is running out and the beach is looming. They need a soft landing and they should not leave it to the last minute to put this in place.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 31st January 2011