Polls: A line has been drawn in the sand

Nothing dramatic or new, but the party simply set out to remind everybody what had been agreed and signed by all three parties under the Global Political Agreement (GPA), issues agreed to subsequently at the level of the three principals and in cabinet and finally what Sadc and the AU had set out in the past 18 months as the basis for any elections in Zimbabwe.

Taken together the documents make powerful reading and the message was very clear: Zanu PF has agreed and signed up to a raft of reform measures, which if implemented in full, would deliver free and fair democratic elections in Zimbabwe whose outcome could not be challenged by anyone.

At the press conference, Morgan Tsvangirai defended the strategies of the MDC-T that had led to this position over the past 12 years. He acknowledged the criticisms and the view of many both inside and outside the country, that the MDC-T should have used a different mix of measures to bring about change. But he reiterated that the MDC-T strategy of working for change using democratic, peaceful and legal means was a deliberate choice. He said that the refusal of the organisation, no matter what the provocation, to retaliate or use violence in any form had been a deliberate and conscious choice.

In September 2008 when the GPA was signed in Harare, the three political parties had first sight of what had been negotiated behind closed doors by the three teams assisted by the South Africans. The negotiations had been conducted in complete secrecy at the insistence of the facilitator. The reaction in Zanu PF was shock. Senior figures in the politburo asked their leadership what they thought they were doing –– recognising immediately, that the GPA, if implemented, would lead to the destruction of Zanu PF in a future election.

The decision was taken to go along with the deal but to fight a rearguard action to impede MDC-T power and role in the upcoming GNU and to slow down or even subvert the reform process. The result was a five month fight over the power-sharing deal during which time Zanu PF put together a strengthened Joint Operations Command (JOC), a parallel government of senior civil servants and appointees in all arms of the state and moved to take over the diamond mines in Manicaland as an alternative funding source to those that had been used to loot the state up to then.

Regional changes impeded their progress when Thabo Mbeki was summarily pushed aside by the ANC and replaced by an acting president who was more sympathetic to the democratic process. Assisted by these changes, the MDC-T made some gains.

Once locked into government with the MDC-T, Zanu PF stalled the reform process. Ploy after ploy was used and after some early gains the whole reform process was brought to a halt, creating another crisis in the country, greater uncertainty and slowed economic recovery. In mid-2010 Zanu PF took the decision to abandon the GPA altogether –– they did not announce this but simply began to plan on an alternative.

The result was the call for a snap election whose outcome they could manipulate, control and dictate. To do so they had to get into a position where they could call for and get away with an election that did not comply with the reforms they had signed up to in the GPA. So, backed by the conditions of a dysfunctional state they themselves had created in the country in the first place, they argued that “the GPA was unworkable, the GNU was deadlocked, economic recovery was stalled by political uncertainty and the only way to clear up the mess was an immediate election”.

This position was reinforced by the mantra repeated constantly in all forums that Zimbabwe is a sovereign state, we have a constitution, Mugabe is the state president and has the power to suborn parliament and call for elections. This was reinforced by saying that the existing voters’ roll was “clean” and would provide the basis for delimitation and the new poll. Everything was in place and ready to go.

Inside the party, Zanu PF preparations were detailed and considerable in scope. Paper was imported for posters, jingles written for radio and television, a campaign was planned around agreed themes, JOC and parallel state mechanisms were mobilised to manage the campaign and determine the outcome.  The structures of oppression and violence were deployed to every district and ward and a quiet campaign of elimination, abduction, imprisonment and intimidation was put in place. They were careful not to repeat the mistakes made in 2008 when public violence simply made a credible election impossible.

Their only difficulty lay in the changes taking place around them. In South Africa President Jacob Zuma came to power and appointed a tougher facilitation team, established a powerful intelligence network inside Zimbabwe to keep himself informed and began the process of strengthening regional consensus on what to do in Zimbabwe to resolve the deepening crisis. Outside the region, the Arab spring began to gain momentum and African leaders became more proactive in seeking to halt the conflicts on the continent.

The final result has been a regional and continental consensus that the leadership in Zimbabwe must abide by their agreements, implement the needed reforms and only then hold elections. Despite all their efforts, both diplomatic and secret, Zanu PF has been unable to shift African opinion. This was clearly demonstrated in the series of Sadc summits in 2011; Livingstone, Sandton and then Luanda and finally at the AU summit in Addis Ababa in February 2012.

The result is that despite regular demands that they are able and entitled to call for an election, the Zanu PF leadership has been unable to convert their rhetoric into reality. The efforts of JOC to engineer conditions for a military intervention have also been frustrated and today, given the changes that are taking place in the rank and files of the armed forces, JOC is looking isolated and unable to take any sort of unilateral action to derail the democratic process that is under way

This is the background to the pending visit to Zimbabwe by Zuma in yet another effort to keep the process launched by South Africa in March 2007 on track. He is taking his time and will come fully briefed and prepared and I personally expect significant developments. To back this up, it now seems that a breakthrough is taking place in the constitution-making process.

After two years of painfully slow progress and discussion, an agreement is close on all key elements and Zanu PF is again disappointed and frustrated –– this time because they were unable to control the process and dictate the outcome. The final result is a compromise –– we cannot claim to be happy ourselves, but it is ok as a transitional constitution and is better than what we have got, and that was essential.

For Zanu PF it is decision time, once again. They are locked into a process that will take them to defeat in a free and fair poll and they know it. They have some hard choices to make and this time it is MDC-T which has drawn the line in the sand which will dictate the outcome. This time there is no fudging the issues or distorting the outcome.

Cross is a senior MDC-T official and MP.

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