Zimbabwe: The elusive search for democracy

Eddie Cross writes that despite Mugabe’s current obduracy, change is in the air.

When we signed the deal on the 15th September we never thought it was going to be easy. Subsequent events have shown how difficult it’s going to be to make this deal work for all of us. Problems arose almost before the ink was dry.

Anyway, here we are a month later and another painstaking and tension filled week with no progress on the formation of a new power sharing government. On the surface it looks quite simple. All we have to do is allocate 31 Ministerial portfolios and 15 deputies. The agreement clearly established the principles – this is a power sharing deal in which MDC has a slight majority because of its victory in the March elections. But no, for 4 weeks the negotiators have battled it out over the allocation, with Zanu PF claiming that it is their right to hold all the senior cabinet posts. I have yet to hear any rational explanation of why that is so, but then who said politics was a rational game?

The MDC position is clear and logical – we want a fair allocation of the more senior Ministerial posts and all other senior political appointments (such as governors). We won 5 out of 10 provinces, 100 out of 210 seats in Parliament (99 Zanu PF and 10 Mutambara and 1 independent) and we took over half of all the votes cast.

After three weeks of argument (let’s not call these ‘talks’) we had got nowhere. Several times MDC had requested SADC intervention and each time the Zanu PF team had said ‘no, we can sort this out ourselves’ and Mbeki had continued to watch from the sidelines. Eventually Mr. Mugabe made another mistake and error of judgment. He went ahead and published in the Government Gazette a full list of the Ministries and to which Party they had been allocated. This was a step too far and there was an immediate outcry with MDC stating that they would never accept such an arrangement and accusing Zanu PF of acting unilaterally and outside the letter and the spirit of the September agreement.

It was enough to bring in the South Africans. Mbeki announced on Saturday that he would fly to Harare on Monday and that his mediation would resume on Tuesday. With the changes taking place in South Africa and in the ANC, this was not a welcome development as far as Zanu PF was concerned. Mbeki arrived late on Monday in a South African military jet and on Tuesday he sat down with the negotiating teams to hear what the problem was. That afternoon he met with the three Presidents and it was then that Mr. Mugabe simply stonewalled any attempt to agree to a balanced and logical position.

This continued on Wednesday and eventually MDC tabled a written proposal, which set out what they regarded as the 20 most senior cabinet portfolios and proposed that these be equally shared between the MDC and Zanu PF. The remaining 11 portfolios would go 4:4:3 between the three Parties. That spurred a flurry of counter proposals – each more crazy than the next and eventually Mr. Tsvangirai said to the mediator, ‘this is going nowhere, let’ s take this to the SADC’. He agreed and on Monday the SADC Troika on Politics and Security will hold an emergency meeting in Swaziland to try and resolve the matter. That was the last thing Zanu wanted but by playing hardball and over reaching themselves they opened to door to regional intervention.

Morgan Tsvangirai has continued his programme to explain the situation to our long-suffering supporters and yesterday he spent the day in Bulawayo. His is a very punishing schedule – he went to bed on Friday after 23.00 hrs, was up at 04.00 hrs for a 5 hour drive to Bulawayo and then went straight into a breakfast meeting with the local business community. That went on to 10.30 when he met local MDC leaders, and then into the high density housing suburbs for a ‘walk about’, visiting a feeding scheme for the local community and then a rally in White City Stadium. I would guess we had about 25 000 people there. Then after that closed down, a quick meal and then they were off back to Harare to prepare for Swaziland.

But why is this issue so important and difficult to resolve? It’s because what is at stake is the transfer of power in Zimbabwe, from a military/civilian Junta that has held power for at least a decade and has made all key decisions in the past 5 years, to a Council of Ministers and Cabinet drawn from a newly elected House of Assembly controlled by the MDC. It is a return to democratic governance after 28 years of creeping autocracy and corruption.

The Junta has everything at stake – the loss of power, the loss of privilege, the withdrawal of protection from the law. In each sphere this small coterie of individuals has been living the life of Riley in the midst of economic collapse, unemployment, hunger and starvation. They have had access to a life style that would be the envy of most hard currency millionaires in other parts of the world – large luxury homes, every appliance you can think of, the most expensive luxury cars, girl friends and weekend retreats on farms or hunting lodges. Their orders have been instantly obeyed and they have been able to arrange the murder and rape of their critics and opponents.

Everywhere else in Africa this struggle for political power has eventually been decided in the bush and on the streets with gunfire and physical violence. In Zimbabwe, after many attempts to win power by democratic means but always being frustrated by blatant rigging and cheating, the MDC has finally won a famous victory and is now forcing its opponents to negotiate a transfer of power. No matter how you dress it up – that is what is taking place.

Evidence that things are already changing is everywhere – yesterday there were no police present – not one. Gone was the circle of roadblocks and baton wielding riot police in trucks. In Parliament, the MDC is already in charge – driving the agenda and determining the outcome. The majority, even in Zanu PF, now wants the change and wants to help make this power sharing arrangement work. So does the entire region. The Junta has simply run out of places to hide and arguments to make against the tide of change.

In Parliament this week one of our younger MDC Members of Parliament made his maiden speech. In it he read out to the House a list of the names of those killed in his constituency since the March elections, blaming young thugs controlled and directed by military officers, for the crimes. He was heard in total silence and I watched the faces of the Zanu PF members on the opposition benches – they were silent and shamed.

Later that day the MDC tabled a motion for debate on the violence and called for a Parliamentary inquiry. This evoked a strong response from the Zanu benches – MDC is being ‘divisive’ they argued. ‘This will not help the inclusive government’, they claimed. That might be true, but it does not alter the facts and that is something they will all have to face eventually.

Eddie Cross is MP for Bulawayo South and the MDC’s Policy Coordinator. This article first appeared on his website – www.eddiecross.africanherd.com/ – October 19 2008


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