Luanda was a Game Changer

During the struggle to restore democracy and respect for basic rights in Zimbabwe over the past 12 years, we can point to many significant events that have changed the game on the field in a significant way. I can think of some and here are selected items: The referendum and elections in 2000 when Zanu PF suddenly woke up to the fact that they were being challenged and had almost lost their grip on power. That gave rise to the 'total onslaught' on the MDC and the Commercial farmers and their staff.

Then came the 2002 Presidential elections when Mr. Mugabe lost the election and the South Africans, working with the security chiefs here, conspired to deny Mr. Tsvangirai victory. This brought the South African presidency, diplomatic service and others into the game, in an effort to deny MDC any chance of gaining the upper hand.

Then it was the split in the MDC leadership in 2005, when Mr. Mbeki tried to control the process of change in Zimbabwe and force the MDC into a unity government. When this failed the next critical point was the declaration in December 2006 that Zimbabwe would hold harmonised elections in June 2010; that galvanized the South Africans to engage and this led to the negotiations that have now been running for 5 years. The most immediate result was the Kariba Agreement which laid the foundation for a first attempt at a free and fair election.

The March 2008 election; where Zanu was finally beaten and again Mr. Mbeki was forced to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent Mr. Tsvangirai taking power. This intervention led to the runoff, the second series of negotiations and the GPA signing ceremony in September 2008. This was followed by the formation of the GNU in February and, as they say in political literature, the rest is history.

In the subsequent struggle for ascendancy between the MDC and Zanu PF, Zanu PF has had to fight a rear guard action all the way - constantly being harassed by the other political parties and the region which has been growing increasingly impatient with their delaying tactics. At the Troika Summit in Livingstone in May 2011, for the first time, the region took the gloves off and laid into Zanu PF, calling on them to fulfill their obligations under the GPA or else.

A year has passed and now another Troika Summit, this time in Luanda, Angola where the region confirmed their position on the GPA and reiterated that no further delays of procrastination in the process would be accepted. In a clear statement the SADC Summit communique stated three things:
1. They would not allow Zanu PF to call an election without the agreement of the other Parties to the GPA and the Facilitator;
2. They would accept no significant deviations from the GPA;
3. They gave the President of South Africa complete support in his role as the facilitator and enforcer.

This was a major game changer - perhaps the most significant since 1999 as it comes against the background of the diminishing electoral support for Zanu PF in all areas of the country and the declining health of Mr. Mugabe who simply cannot be seriously taken as a likely candidate for an election in late 2013.

The result is a nightmare for Zanu PF. They are now forced to confront the issue of succession in their Party, something they have been trying to avoid for the past 15 years or more. Mr. Mugabe has been at the very centre of their political lives for so long that life after him seems difficult and nasty. The competition for succession has dissolved what used to be a coherent and united Party into several factions, some of whom appear to be ready to even fight each other.

Furthermore, they know by how much they lost the 2002 election and the 2008 election and they know their sun is not rising. They have been told by their advisors that they cannot win an election ever again in Zimbabwe, even if they pulled off their plan for a political coup in the form of snap elections without basic GPA reforms. With the full implementation of the final GPA reforms (a new Constitution, Voters Roll, Delimitation, Electoral Act, reformed media and other laws linked to elections and a reformed and independent Electoral Commission supported by regional observers) they are not just going to be defeated, I doubt they would win any seats at all.

The question is what will they pull out of the hat now? They are always very quick to review their position after a political Tsunami like Luanda, then to revise their strategies and set off in a new direction. It is difficult to know just what they can do in this situation and there are ample signs in Harare that panic and confusion reigns.

The last remaining pillar of support in Zimbabwe for Zanu is the military and security establishment. These have had their teeth pulled by the region which have made it clear that they would not tolerate any direct intervention by the armed forces. They have attempted to take control of the Zanu PF leadership and failed and are now trying to regroup around Mnangagwa who just does not have the support in Zanu PF for a bid to take over the Party leadership.

They have the guns and lots of money, but in a democratic election these will not help or even assist. So what do they do next? I for one am waiting to see just what they are going to attempt - while the hardliners and even Mr. Mugabe himself continue to make strong statements on the issue of their snap election strategies, it is clear to all that they are just barking dogs on this issue. The region has closed the door on that option.

They have any option but to call for negotiations to try and get a soft landing and a bit of space to regroup and restructure and perhaps come back at some time in the future to fight again.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 10th June 2012 .