Please stop the Bus

Last Saturday we held a referendum, our cities were crowded with observers and suddenly there were journalists in every hotel. On the day the general consensus was that voter apathy was the order of the day and that the whole thing was a bit of a waste of time and money.

When counting was finally completed we all got a big surprise - turnout had been massive, exceeding even our most optimistic estimates. I had thought that if we got 1,5 million votes it would have been OK - the tally actually ran close to 3 million, double my own estimate. The other interesting feature was the consistency - in nearly all Districts the results were almost identical - varying by one or two per cent and nearly all over 90 per cent in favour.

However a closer examination of the results showed that voting had actually been heavier than in the March 2008 elections. In the rural areas voting was particularly heavy and all centers reported that the Electoral Commission had done a great job in organising and conducting the vote. It was of course quite simple - one ballot, one question and all you needed was a current ID. Queues did not develop and it was this that gave observers the idea that apathy was the order of the day.

The ZEC will compare the vote to the voters roll which has close to 6 million names on it, but we know that this is inflated by perhaps 3 million ghost voters who in fact do not exist (they are dead) or they are absent in the Diaspora. By this measure, the turnout was massive and we must ask why? My own view is that it was the idea that this step was in some way the key to the next in this long road to freedom and democracy. People were told that this is your future, get this done and we can then go to the next stage which is an election in middle July.

It shows that the commitment to democracy in Zimbabwe has not diminished and this is a critical factor in the context of the upcoming electoral contest that will pit the MDC (T) against Zanu PF in what is virtually a two horse race.

This morning a new Chairperson took over the reins at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and already we can sense a change. The new Chair is a tough, fair-minded Judge and takes over from the previous Chairperson who was just not up to the task. In his absence the Vice Chairperson, a staunch Zanu PF cadre, had been in charge and we were not at all satisfied with the state of affairs in the Commission. What the Referendum campaign showed me, was that this is a well oiled and managed machine and that the security apparatus of the country is embedded in the whole system.

With this behind us we can now turn towards the elections. In the next four months we have to select candidates, campaign, audit the voters roll and get hundreds of thousands of first time voters onto the roll as well as the many 'aliens' who, for one reason or another, have been disenfranchised in the past decade by a system that has tried to ensure that the potential supporters of the MDC are not able to do so. Then we have to stop the system rigging the election - something that the hardliners are still confident that they can do and get away with it. We will see about that.

From my reading of the views of the people, based on my travels around the country and talking to hundreds of ordinary people, I think that they have made up their minds. I think they are going to do just what they have done this weekend, they are going to vote for real change and that means new leadership.

To make matters worse for the Zanu PF and the hardliners in the security establishment, the Police do not seem to have appreciated that the environment within which they are operating is changing fast. They banned a meeting with the President of the MDC in Highfield, they have failed to investigate and arrest perpetrators of political thuggery of one kind or another and continue to arrest the innocent and ignore the criminal in our society.

The arrest on Sunday, with the world in the City of Harare, of the senior legal advisor to the PM and three of his staff, followed by the arrest of the lawyer responding to the raid. Is just the sort of stupidity that this entails! To then hold the lawyer, a famous human rights lawyer, in a Police cell over night when a High Court Judge has ordered her release, is yet further evidence of the arrogance and sense of impunity of the Force. They really think they can get away with this and show no understanding that the bus is moving.

Then there is the extraordinary situation last week when the Anti Corruption Commission stated that it was going after three Zanu PF Ministers - Goche, Mpofu and Kasukawere. The Commission, armed with a High Court order giving them access to the offices of all three Ministers plus the Indigenisation Board, was met with armed resistance. The Ministers were then forced to follow the humiliating procedure of asking the Courts to protect them from their own Corruption Commission. On the side, the staff of the Commission were intimidated, followed and threatened.

Those Zanu PF leaders who have DSTV (all of them - nobody watches ZTV) will be aware that yesterday the former leadership in Senegal have run afoul of their anti Corruption authorities. The son of the former Head of State is being asked to explain how he came to control a business empire worth $1,4 billion. Such events show that the issue of impunity for crimes committed whilst in power is now receiving attention in Africa.

Right now we are all locked into the GPA bus, destined for an election that is going to change everything and will result in the people of Zimbabwe asserting their rights and control. Tough call and none of us can stop the bus.

Eddie Cross
18th March 2013