A Time to Reflect

9/11 for Americans is a time to reflect on the impact and consequences of the most audacious act of terror in world history. To take over four fully loaded passenger aircraft and deliberately fly them into three of the most significant buildings in the USA, the Twin Towers - perhaps the centre of global capitalism, and the Pentagon - the centre of US military power across the globe and at the same time attempt a strike on the White House, was an astonishing feat. It was planned, financed and executed by a quiet, retiring young man with a distinctive beard from Saudi Arabia. There was no warning.

I was driving up to Harare to visit my daughter and son in law and had just turned into their street when I heard the story break on my car radio. We ran into the house, turned on the TV and saw the second aircraft go into the second tower. It was a seminal moment, and from that day, one knew that the world as seen from the USA, would never be the same again.

Our own 9/11 started two years earlier when a large crowd gathered to launch a new political Party known as the Movement for Democratic Change. Our name for the new organisation had come from a single mom, Grace Kwingi and our slogan 'Chinga Maitiro'

(real change) had come from an inspired peasant farmer in the Masvingo Province. The day had been conceived, planned and organised by a little known Trade Union leader, a quiet, unassuming man with a distinctive laugh and ready sense of humour from a small rural village in the south east of the country.

The crowd at the launch was quite distinctive, unlike political events organised by the invincible bastion of Zimbabwe politics, Zanu PF, there were few cars, busses or trucks. The people had walked there and the leaders were largely ordinary workers and rural peasants. A small handful of whites sat in one corner of the stadium watching events and it was totally unrecorded, few journalists bothered to come and there were no television cameras. But we were making history on that day at Rufaro Stadium in Harare.

Zanu PF mocked the event. They had seen it all before, the Centre Party, the Forum Party, ZUM; all had started with a spurt and then simply disintegrated. As Mugabe said the following year when questioned by a BBC reporter, 'What can a railway engine driver (Gibson Sibanda) and a worker from a textile mill with no education (Morgan Tsvangirai) do?' Asked by the same reporter to comment at a later Press Conference, Tsvangirai responded 'Well at least train drivers keep their trains on the tracks.' Laughter was to characterise our walk on the road to overcoming our own tyranny.

Mugabe no longer mocks the MDC or that 'uneducated peasant'. Zanu PF has come to appreciate that this was no flash in the pan; this was their worst nightmare, a genuine, grass roots democratic movement that would simply not give up until it had achieved its goals. That launch was on the 11th of September1999, twelve years ago today. It was our 9/11 and just like the American incident, Zimbabweans will remember that day as one that marked a real milestone in our own national history.

It was at Rufaro Stadium that we launched our Independence in 1980. On that occasion I was part of the team working on the transition and was invited and sat with the Heads of State and other dignitaries - I was just behind the President of India, Indira Ghandi and sat just a few metres from the podium where Prince Charles and Lord Soames together with Robert Mugabe sat and watched the festivities. The launch of the MDC was a very different affair in the context of a very different crisis, a crisis brought about by the man who that day in 1980 was the centre of world attention.

We had great hopes, the end of the civil war had been negotiated, a democratic election held and the winner was now taking power. There were 17 PhD graduates from Universities across the world in that first Cabinet and I had been engaged for several months in getting them ready for their new roles. We had the support of the world and the hopes of our people in our hands, but the euphoria and hope was not to last very long.

Simmering resentment in the south Western regions, a short lived rebellion by Zipra supported by the Soviet Union spawned the genocide of Gukurahundi that started in 1983 and only ended when Zapu conceded and was absorbed into Zanu - the only concession being the addition of 'PF' to the name. Total power corrupted totally and in the subsequent decade, Zanu PF the liberators, became the oppressors. Corruption started its slow cancerous growth until it was eating away at the very fibre of one of Africa’s most resilient economies. Zanu PF leadership became wealthy, indolent and arrogant. Mugabe, a tyrant dictator, feared by all his associates and savage in his retribution for perceived insults.

When Zanu PF suddenly realised that they were in a real fight in 2000, they set about defeating and crushing this movement of small people. MDC, new to the political game was naive in the extreme - expecting support from the so called 'democratic countries' and the region, instead found itself fighting a lone battle with a monster. We never thought it would take 12 years, we knew we had the people with us, just underestimated the determination and cunning of the ruling clique and the duplicity of other political dispensations.

MDC has survived and grown, today I work in an organisation that now looks like a professional political Party; we have procedures, policies and grass roots structures throughout the country. We are the only national political Party in Zimbabwe, claiming majority support in every District and Province. Zanu PF is now commonly referred to as 'the former ruling Party' and every time they read that phrase it reminds them never again to ignore the small man. This modern David has the measure of Goliath and it is not too soon to celebrate.

Eddie Cross
Harare 11th September 2011