Trust in the Transition

After 12 years of struggle, the transition of power from one generation to another and from one party to another is underway. The reasons are many, intensified pressure from the region, time, domestic pressures and serious divisions in the hierarchy of Zanu PF. The process is not reversible and the time table, relatively short.

But let’s face facts; the transition would not be happening if the process was not accompanied by concessions and consensus. As these painful steps are taken, many observers express outage and worse at each step and we in the MDC have come in for our fair share of criticism. But such variances from the desired objectives are common to all such transitions. They were contained in the conditions under which Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980 and under which South Africa became a democracy in 1994.

Where you have an entrenched minority, hold power through their military and financial control in the country concerned, then you require two essential elements when seeking to resolve the impasse: effective external pressure and influence; and, a negotiation process that can make the required agreements that will enable a peaceful transition.

In the case of Rhodesia it was not the pressure of the liberation armies, the Rhodesians were winning all the battles, it was South Africa who delivered the required pressure that the Rhodesians could not resist. In the case of South Africa, it was a threat from the UK Government, acting on behalf of the international Community, that basically made the stance of the entrenched minority in South Africa accept the changes.

But in both cases, all internal Parties to the process had to make concessions to the other to facilitate the needed changes. In our situation in Zimbabwe in 2012, it is the democratic forces that are trying to wrest power from another entrenched minority who hold the guns and the bank vaults. We also will have to make concessions in the process and people need to understand that.

In 2007, after five months of secret talks, the MDC signed what became known as the Kariba Agreement. This contained a draft constitution and changes to the way the next elections would be held. In October that year, the MDC voted in Parliament with Zanu PF to implement the agreed changes and Civil Society organisations and many individuals expressed outrage that they had not been included in these talks or even consulted.

But it was the changes that were agreed and signed at Kariba in 2007, that gave us our first clear electoral victory in March 2008. It was this that broke the Zanu PF grip on total power and initiated the process that we are now engaged in and which, in my view, will lead to real change in the near future.

Since 2008, we have been engaged in negotiations facilitated by South Africa. Progress has been slow, but steady and now the region has decreed that the Parties must wrap this up and resolve outstanding issues. Even at this stage, the process is a delicate one. This is not resolution by armed force – that is the route being pursued in Syria with all the attendant destruction and the outcome is by no means clear. The media love a civil war – it is so easy to report on and get exposure on the media – so we see Syria on TV every day, graphic images of bodies and broken buildings and smoking guns.

Our process is not so delectable to the media, even though the extent and impact of suffering is probably just as great, or even greater. Ours is a war of words and stealth. Since the recent summits in Addis and Luanda, the local hardliners have appreciated that we either manage the process of transition or it happens over our heads. So last week we wrapped up the new draft Constitution and two critical new Bills – the Human Rights Commission Act and the Electoral Act. In the process we have been obliged to make concessions. At the same time, the international community is considering what to do about the restrictions on the 200 odd Zanu PF leaders and some of their key corporate supporters.

We in the MDC have argued that it is time to scrap the restrictions – this would strip Zanu PF of their mantra that all their failures are due to “sanctions” and make them stand individually in front of the global system of justice and human rights. We have also done this because our regional and continental supporters have argued that these restrictions are no longer helpful when it comes to the actual issue of securing change.

Our supporters and many in Civil Society have howled outrage at these concessions – and they have not yet seen what compromises we have made in the constitutional draft that now goes to the next all stakeholders’ conference. I am sure there will be more of an outcry when the draft is revealed and debated. Newspaper headlines designed to sell news papers do not help; “2008 Killers to get off the Hook” cause all sort of anguish.

The reality is that the prescription of the date from which the Human Rights Commission can start its work as February 2009, does not change the status of anyone who is guilty before the law (local or international) for violations of the basic rights of the Zimbabwe people. If found guilty they will suffer the appropriate penalties; nothing was changed by the stipulations in the Human Rights Act.

When Mandela crafted the final deal with his Nationalist Party adversaries, he made concessions that many veterans of the struggle for democracy in South Africa would have found painful. But those concessions were necessary if the needed transition was to take place.

Our situation is no different and in my own view, I think we have done rather well in the recent negotiations leading to the events last week. In the meantime, I would hope that our critics would temper their remarks with understanding. We in the MDC have more at stake than most in this process, we understand the suffering and sacrifices that have been made to get to this point and we will never, abuse or neglect the fundamental interests of our people in this process.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 16th July 2012