The Ambush Disrupted

In the war that led to Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980, we learned on both sides of the war, that to be caught in an ambush was a terrible experience. It happened to me twice and on both occasions there was complete surprise and for a few minutes we were given a hammering. There was little we could do in response but keep our heads down and then had to rely on the follow up.

However, if you can glean the intelligence that an ambush is planned and then take appropriate counter measures, it can turn into a turkey shoot, very tough on the opposition. In the case of Zimbabwe, this political contest has been going on for 13 years and no quarter has been given on either side. Looked at from the outside however, it is clear that the MDC has been slowly pushing Zanu PF back. In response, Zanu PF has been carefully planning an electoral ambush for the MDC. Unable to defeat us diplomatically or with violence in its many different forms, they have fallen back onto their tried and tested system of a manipulated and tightly managed election.

First call was way back in late 2010, then in early 2011 and in late 2011, then again in March and September 2012, most recently March 2013. In each and every case we have simply responded that they (ZANU) cannot call for an election unilaterally. We have been supported in this view by regional States and on each occasion Zanu PF has backed down. The ambush was carefully planned – a manipulated voters roll, the JOC system extended right down to bases in all Districts manned by agents of the State security forces, subliminal violence and extra judicial killings, harsh restrictions on the media and on political activity with restricted movement of people and restricted freedoms of association, followed by a carefully managed election with vote rigging, ballot stuffing and finally, if it was needed, simply falsely reporting the results. They did this in 2002, 2005 and 2008 – all successful, why not again?

We on the other hand had a powerful tool – in September 2008, they had signed the Global Political Agreement and this laid down a road map to elections that would have prevented all these flagrant abuses of the democratic process. So they developed a mantra that went like this: “Zimbabwe is a sovereign State. The GNU government is dysfunctional (we agree), Mr. Mugabe is the State President and has the right to call for an election. We (Zanu PF) demand an election now to resolve the issue of just who is in charge.”

The plan was to circumvent all these inconvenient reforms and go for an election that they could win by hook or by crook; declare Mr. Mugabe as President and then rule the country as before. Our difficulty was how to avoid the trap and yet make progress? We had all the ingredients in the form of the undertakings of the SADC States and the views of the international community, but how to translate that into coercion on those who are reluctant to commit to the GPA process? Our main problem was the ambivalence of our neighbors who were reluctant to force the delinquents in their midst to stick to the rules and play the game properly.

For whatever reason, this situation has suddenly changed and since early 2011, the SADC States have increasingly taken on the task that they accepted on paper in 2008, to supervise and enforce the process of reform that would make a free and fair election in Zimbabwe possible. In this they have been supported by consistent and strong views from both sides of the Atlantic.

This is now being translated into tangible progress on the ground in Zimbabwe. In the past few weeks the long and prolonged process of drafting and adopting a new Constitution has been completed. Not without blood on the floor I might add – but read the revised draft and understand whose blood? I met the President of the MDC after his marathon meeting with the other political parties and he looked totally exhausted and wrung out, but quietly satisfied and confident.

Now suddenly he has started to take charge of the situation – meetings with all the players are taking place and with the agencies concerned with the elections. He has the authority to do so and is now using this authority as Prime Minister to get the conditions for the forthcoming referendum and elections in place. It is clear that he has the support of regional States for this and the continued opposition of Zanu PF to these changes and developments is being gradually overcome. Suddenly this is a new game.

So now we are faced with a national referendum on a new Constitution that is not perfect – I said the other day that this will not take us into the Promised Land, but for sure it will get us across the river and give us a base for further progress. All parties will endorse this and we will ask the population to say “Yes” so as to allow us to implement the new law that will reduce the powers of the President, limit terms of office on all key leaders in the State, grant full citizenship with dual citizenship rights to all who have been born in Zimbabwe or have Zimbabwe parents, a devolved State that will share resources equitably and a strong human rights section that will never again allow the State to abuse the people of this country the way we have been abused since 1980.

But the other critical thing this does is that it opens the way to an election in the next six months – certainly before August, where the people of this country, battered and bruised by decades of conflict and authoritarian rule, by the near total collapse of the economy and all services, will be able to go to the polls and decide who they want to take control of the State. Having done that, for the first time they can do so with the assurance that this time, there will be a transfer of power and then real change can begin.

I am just so sorry that John Makumbe and Seiso Moyo will not be there to celebrate that day with all of us.

Eddie Cross
29th January 2013