THE next six months will be crucial for Zimbabwe. The outcome of the controversial constitution-making process — particularly the fate of the flawed Copac draft — will give us an indication of where the country is heading and how the current transition is likely to pan out.
Report by Dumisani Muleya
Zimbabwe could go through to democratic change or experience regression, with a precarious sliding back to violence and economic turmoil. By February next year or end of the first quarter, it would be clearer where the country is going. At the moment the situation remains touch-and-go, particularly in view of the dispute over the new draft constitution.
After stabilising the political and economic situation following a decade of a calamitous meltdown and signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) leading to the current coalition government, President Robert Mugabe and his fellow principals are now at a cross-roads over the draft constitution and the associated roadmap, critical building blocks to credible, free and fair elections.
Sadc leaders have of late been pulling out all the stops to keep the GPA and the reform agenda on track. Only last weekend, regional leaders meeting in Maputo told Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Industry and Trade minister Welshman Ncube, who lead three parties in the unity government, to move fast to conclude the constitution-making process and prepare for free and fair elections.
The international community is also taking a renewed interest in the country as the mandate of the fragile and dysfunctional coalition government rapidly runs out. The African Union is in the picture, as a guarantor of the GPA, together with Sadc.
No doubt the United Nations, which almost put Zimbabwe on the UN Security Council agenda following the blood-spattered presidential election run-off in June 2008, is watching the situation. The UN human rights high commissioner Navi Pillay was in Harare recently and underlined the importance of credible polls.
This confluence of events and factors presents the best chance in years for a lasting restoration of peace and stability in Zimbabwe, an explosive trouble spot at the heart of the region for more than a decade now.
Zimbabwe is key to regional stability and in geopolitical terms. Even if it is a relatively small country of 12 million people, the southern African region where it is situated — with a market of about 200 million people, growing oil production mainly in Angola, vast mineral deposits across the sub-continent, discoveries of gas in Mozambique and other resources, the most stable region in Africa now despite instability in DRC and Madagascar, and a location along key shipping lanes on the Indian and Atlantic oceans — is by contrast of great strategic, commercial and political importance.
It is important Mugabe and his party realise they can’t continue to eschew or stymie the tide of reform and change. A well-led and managed Zimbabwe, which has vast diamonds, platinum and gold deposits, among other minerals, could be an engine of growth for the region, providing new mining opportunities and key links to regional communication, transport and electricity grids.
Combine this with abundant mineral resources, hydro-electric power and potential gas reserves to complement existing coal-fired energy and a generally educated and productive labour force, the case for a strong rebound and integration becomes compelling and even more urgent.
Before the disastrous land reform programme and now the discredited indigenisation, Zimbabwe was widely considered a potential breadbasket for the region. But current instability in the country has been profoundly destabilising to its neighbours, hence Sadc leaders’ anxiety.
An estimated three million Zimbabweans fleeing the recent economic meltdown and political repression flooded across borders, overwhelming the job markets, social services and goodwill of South Africa, Botswana and other neighbours. Some Zimbabweans went overseas.
So Zimbabwe needs to grab the current opportunity to resolve this decade-long stalemate and move on. To achieve that, however, requires local, regional and wider international unity of purpose and consensus on the key issue — holding free and fair elections. Otherwise Zanu PF hardliners and other spoilers could undermine efforts to restore democracy, development and progress in the country.
Most importantly, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Ncube (including Arthur Mutambara) must show maturity and leadership over the draft constitution issue by coming up with a compromise to allow the country to choose a new legitimate government and start focusing on rebuilding the struggling economy and people’s ruined lives.
So far the signs are worrying. Already the GPA implementation and reform agenda are seemingly heading to another dead end, as the environment becomes politically-charged with tensions rising again. But the battle over the draft constitution, vicious as it may be, provides an opportunity for consensus, reform and change via credible elections even though the Copac draft is defective.