Sorting out the Wood from the Trees

Zimbabweans have become very adept at confusing everyone about what they are doing, by what they are saying. It is very difficult to work out what is going on at times and whether we are making progress? Mugabe said it once - 'do not listen to what we say - watch what we do'.

In 2011 two things became abundantly clear; Mugabe lost to battle to maintain support and protection from the regional community in SADC. At successive SADC summits, he was confronted by regional leaders with the demand that he meets his obligations as a signatory to the Global Political Agreement and halt his abuse of basic democratic norms in how he was conducting political affairs in Zimbabwe.

Secondly he lost the battle with his body; starting during his annual leave in Malaysia he had to be rushed to a hospital in Singapore 10 times in 2011 and during the past year he has aged dramatically. Both he and his Party now understand that the fuse is short and burning and for both of them, time is running out.

2012 has not been much better; Mugabe met with the outgoing Chairman of the AU in mid January where they discussed his strategy for a snap election he could control and military and security co-operation between the two countries. Despite desperate diplomatic efforts and the support of the Chairman of the AU, the subsequent summit of 54 African leaders in Addis gave no quarter to Mugabe. President Zuma as facilitator and Chairman of the SADC Troika gave his report which was adopted without debate. Mugabe came home furious, but subdued.

In the past 18 months, Zanu has put all their eggs in one basket - that of a snap election under their direct control and management. They have carefully constructed the required conditions for such an election and the preparations have been elaborate to say the least. They have tightened control of the rural areas, activated the JOC structures at Provincial, District and Ward level; activated their bases in all areas. Created a voters roll that bears little relationship to reality and contains 6 million names - half of them ghost voters, with 75 per cent in rural areas and 25 per cent in urban areas. They are ready for a carefully controlled delimitation exercise, similar to the last exercise they did in 2007 when they reduced the number of urban seats to 84 out of 210. In this new delimitation they were ready to get that total down to 52 with 158 seats in rural areas.

They had their campaign ready - posters printed, jingles recorded for TV and radio, they had their people in place in the ZEC and were ready to control not only the vote, but the counting and reporting of the outcome to their central command centre in Harare. They were ready to deliver a two thirds victory over MDC in the House of Assembly and a clear majority for an aging Mugabe.

Since August 2010 they have been saying the same thing: the GPA has run its course, the GNU is not working; we have a constitution and are a sovereign country. Mugabe as State President has the right to prorogue Parliament and call an election. They called for an election in March 2011, then in October and since then they have been stating that it would be held in March 2012. It is now quite clear to everybody, except the media slaves on Pockets Hill; that this is simply not going to happen.

So what happened on Monday and Wednesday last week is of critical importance. On those two days, the three Principals to the Global Political Agreement met in Harare and agreed on the way forward. Even the summary drafted by the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Sibanda, made the outcome clear. The three leaders agreed that Zanu could not unilaterally call for an election; that such an election would follow, not precede the full implementation of the agreed reforms to create conditions for a credible, free and fair election.

This marks a huge shift for Zanu PF, it closes the door on their strategy to hijack the electoral process and engineer a political coup in Zimbabwe. It opens the door to a Zanu PF nightmare, an election without violence, using a new voter's roll and following an independent and professional delimitation, a supervised election with observers in every polling station and transparency in the count and the reporting. For Zanu PF this is the end of the world, Armageddon.

But the attention of the media was not on this huge event, it was on the fate of the Commissioner General of the Police, Chihuri. The three Principals agreed that the President could not unilaterally reappoint him after his contract ran out in January. Instead they agreed that the Police Services Commission would accept applications for the post and interview them and make a recommendation to the President who would then act in consultation with his two colleagues. The same treatment was about to be given to the Commander of the Armed Forces, Chiwenga, who sees himself as a contender for the post of State President and whose own contract falls due at the end of February.

The Bill Boards said it all - the Herald and the Chronicle 'Principals agree to reappoint Chihuri'. The Newsday 'Chihuri loses the battle for reappointment'. The Daily News was similar, if more muted. The minutes of the meeting make it clear - Mugabe backed down on this issue among all the other matters on the table.

The JOC could not accept this and Charamba announced that the President had extended his contract. This was a step too far, even for Mugabe and the JOC overrode Mugabe's agreement, revealing what we had suspected for some time, that he is no longer in charge when the fundamentals are at stake. The next stage in this saga will play out today when the Principals meet to review progress. I would love to be a fly on the wall. This is dramatic stuff, even if it does not make CNN or the BBC.

So once again it comes back to regional influence and power. I recall the developments in Pretoria in September 1976 when the President of South Africa forced Ian Smith to accept majority rule; that was the end of Smith's power, he no longer played any significant role in the final outcome. I remember Lancaster House in late 1979 when Mugabe threatened to go 'back to the bush' and he was confronted by the Presidents of Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique who told him that if he did he would be on his own, it was the start of a deal that led to Independence in 1980.

I remember Mugabe coming home from Ghana on the 10th March 2007 and declaring, without any warning that he had agreed to talks with the MDC and had abandoned his plans for an election in June 2010, it would now be held in March 2008, 12 month's time. In each case it was regional pressure, not international pressure, that made the change and in each case there was no going back and the consequences changed this country fundamentally, not always for the good, but as Kissinger said, they broke the logjam and progress was again possible.

I am betting that we will see that the Zanu PF leadership in Harare is now unable to go back, they are locked in a process over which they have little real control and the outcome of which will be annihilation at the polls. They are not going to accept that and once they appreciate that a coup, political or military, is simply not possible, they are going to negotiate a soft landing. If we are sensible, we will give it to them, it's the least cost option.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 13th February 2012