The Dip Tank Looms

Most of my life has been tied up one way or another with cattle and if I was to choose a career it would be ranching in one of our semi arid regions. It is a tough life, not very profitable and every five years or so drought wipes you out. But for all the difficulties, providing you can afford to sink a large amount of money into a property, it is a great way of life. I have good memories of working cattle on my godparents ranch when I was still a young teenager.

An integral part of ranch life is the periodic dipping of cattle to take care of tick infestation. In the winter months you can probably slip this to once a month, but in the wet season its every fortnight or even weekly. In many areas the system used employs a dip tank and I have built many of these in both tribal and commercial farming districts.

They comprise a concrete lined trench - perhaps 10 metres long and two wide, deep at one end and then sloping up to the exit where there is a long paved passage to allow the cattle to drip off when they have been through the dip. The dip liquid then flows back into the trench or 'dip tank' to be reused. Various chemicals are used and in the early days we used arsenic at a controlled strength. The objective being to kill the ticks and other parasites on the animals but not the cattle.

On the ranches the cattle are often pretty wild and we used to have to build a holding pen for the cattle that was pretty strong and high. A Brahman bull or cow can clear a two metre high wall with ease if put under pressure. The same applies to the drainage passage beyond the dip and after that another holding pen - a bit less robust.

The situation of Zanu PF is pretty similar to the task of managing cattle on a ranch; painstakingly we have collected them from all over the place and brought them into a holding pen before dipping. This is what the GPA process has been all about. In 2006 we stated that we would force Zanu PF into negotiations, get agreement on conditions for a free and fair election and then following such a process, supervised by the region, exercise our right to a democratic transfer of power.

Since Livingstone, Zanu PF has discovered that it is caught in a closed pen and the only way out is through that dip tank. They have been trying to get out; attempts at jumping the fence have not proved successful, attempts at breaking down the gates and getting out back into the grazing area have been frustrated by the herdsmen outside the kraal.

Inside the kraal is one of the senior herdsmen - he is in there with a cattle prod and he is using it to force the cattle through the dip. At some stage one of the animals in the kraal is going to break and take the plunge and then the others will follow. In the process, the ticks and parasites that have been feeding on the cattle will be killed and will fall off the animals and a new and sanitized Zanu PF will emerge on the other side.

The importance of the Livingstone Troika summit, followed by the extraordinary summit at Sandton and now the ordinary summit of the Heads of SADC States in Luanda has been that the region has kept Zanu in the pen. They are not going to allow them to avoid the dip tank and despite every maneuver, every ploy, every diplomatic effort, Zanu PF has been unable to break the consensus in the region. I have often said that observers should not underestimate the commitment of the region to the GPA and the process it represents. Those of us, who are in the crisis in Zimbabwe, have little or no choice but to work inside the GPA process in order to make progress.

Up to now, the Zanu PF leadership has believed that they could frustrate the GPA and find an escape route. Now they know, there is no escape and they must face up to the fact that they either go through the dip or they negotiate. My own view is that the pressure to negotiate has been increasing steadily and that the hard liners, who have in the past forced the manipulation of the democratic process to stay in power, have been losing ground.

That they are desperate is evident and the death of General Mujuru may well be connected to this internal struggle in Zanu PF - it's tough inside the kraal, big animals and lots of hooves and horns, dangerous for anyone inside with the cattle. They tried at the Luanda summit to get the senior herdsman fired; instead the region reinforced his role. The moderates in favor of reform and negotiations must be very careful; the hardliners are dangerous and will stop at nothing to get their way.

What can the rest of us do? We can make sure that the dip is of just the right strength to kill the ticks and not harm the cattle. We can stand outside the kraal and react when an attempt is made to climb over the walls or break down the gate. Then when the dipping is done, get the cattle dried off as quickly as we can and take them once again out to pasture and growth. Every day in the pens, is lost production and progress and it is the owners of the Ranch that suffer - the people of Zimbabwe and the SADC region.

I have seen many reports of disappointment about the SADC Luanda summit - but I think it went to script. Regional leaders stuck to their guns and treated Morgan Tsvangirai with dignity and respect. They did the same to Robert Mugabe, but at the same time politely told him that they were not going to allow him out of the kraal, until dipping was complete. Quite a scary time for the ticks.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 20th August 2011