Zimbabwe: What will happen next?

Eddie Cross says a free and fair election would spell disaster for Zanu-PF

If you want a unique experience you need to try the white water rafting at the Victoria Falls. The river below the Falls runs through a deep gorge that is carved from black basalt and carries this huge river in a deep, fast running white water wonderland. Waves up to three meters high, whirlpools and the changing shape of the gorge means you are on a constant high, we were thrown out of our raft three times and I seemed to spend more time in the water than on board. Great fun, best white water in the world but not for the fainthearted.

Zimbabwe is like that and the past decade has been constant white water. But now, Zanu simply does not know what to do. The diminishing coterie of hardliners in the Party are desperate to dredge up a strategy to secure their tenuous hold on power in the face of regional hegemony in support of the GPA reform process finishing with a free and fair election. All their hard work over the past two years is in tatters and their carefully crafted ideas disabled. What do they do now?

The plans for a thinly disguised coup are now deemed unworkable. The Mugabe faction in Zanu PF plotted to hold a snap election under circumstances where they would have had the following elements in place: -

- A distorted and carefully structured voters roll that would allow massive rigging of any vote and the reduction of urban constituencies from 84 in a lower House of 210 to 52 or only a quarter of the seats after a new delimitation exercise conducted on the basis of the roll.

- A submissive Electoral Commission with a staff of former and serving security officials who have been responsible for rigging elections since 2000.

- A Zanu PF loyalist Registrar General who will administer the poll, count the vote and announce the results.

- Total control of the former large scale farming areas where they can control the vote and ensure that the MDC is totally excluded from the Districts concerned.

- Total control of the traditional leadership in the Tribal areas where their influence over the voters and the population is almost as intense as it is in the farming Districts.

- Total control of the State controlled media.

- Generous funding from the illegal sale of diamonds and other plunder.

It now looks increasingly that such a scenario is unlikely to come to fruition. SADC and South Africa are insisting that Zanu PF live up to its signature on the GPA. Although they have successfully warded off the planned reform of internal governance, the revised road map adopted by the SADC leadership is simpler, less cumbersome, but still means that in the end the Party must face the MDC on a level playing field for the first time. They know that this would be a disaster for Zanu PF and the other minority Parties. It would be like being dumped by a wave on the Zambezi and then swept away.

Their options are few, they could decide to simply abandon the GPA raft and attempt to swim to the bank, because that is what a military coup would be - suicidal and quick. Or they could tighten the buckles on their belts and ride the roller coaster to the end of the ride in 2013, hoping that something, anything might come up in the process. Failing which they would simply get off the ride at the end and leave the Gorge, half drowned. We all know what a wet chicken looks like.

Their only other option is to try to negotiate a compromise which would leave them with some dignity and the opportunity to recover and perhaps rebuild before the next elections in 2016 or 17.

While this game is being played out on the river, on the ground the situation is not standing still. The strategy to stop the economic recovery using indigenisation has been very effective. Not only has investment slowed or even stopped in many sectors, capital flight has resumed and when I spoke to a number of investment funds in South Africa a few weeks ago, I found that they were all of the same mind - they were holding their positions in Zimbabwe, but would not increase their exposure.

A magazine in the USA listed Zimbabwe this week as the second poorest State in the world after Congo Brazzaville which is on the bottom rung. Our workers are badly paid in most sectors and living standards are very low. We are unable to compete regionally for skills and our Civil Service is very restive. The data for the first quarter of this year confirms the recovery has stalled.

If this carries on for much longer it is going to create difficulties for us. There is a limit to what our staff and civil service will accept and still stay at work. We are close to those limits and if we cannot hold out any hope that things will improve, the country will start to see human flight again with people following our capital assets.

In a world where basic food prices have risen a third in the past year and where grain prices are up over 70 per cent, our own production remains dismal. We are importing all our foods - even vegetables. I estimate that perhaps 70 per cent of our total food needs will be imported this year. Imported food is always more expensive than local food.

This coupled to our existing poverty means that the ordinary person in Zimbabwe is really in a tough place. This will only change when we can get the economy back on its feet and growing strongly. The potential is there; both the World Bank and the IMF have stated we are capable of double digit growth over an extended period. But that will only happen when we finally achieve a legitimate government.

That requires we get off the white water we are riding and go back to work in the real world. What will happen next? Everything depends on what happens now. If we cannot get off the river then we have to try and limit the length of the remaining ride and ensure that we climb out of the Gorge into a situation that is acceptable to all of us. We are all Zimbabweans and we all have to live with the final outcome. It's our common future that we are dealing with.

Eddie Cross is MDC MP for Bulawayo South. This article first appeared on his website www.eddiecross.africanherd.com

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